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Cyrenaica in modern day Libya

Cyrenaica (Greek: Κυρηναϊκή Kūrēnaïkē, Arabic: برقه, Barqah) is the eastern coastal region of Libya and also an ex-province or state ("muhafazah" or "wilayah") of the country (alongside Tripolitania and Fezzan) in the pre-1963 administrative system. What used to be Cyrenaica in the old system is now divided up into several "shabiyat" (see administrative divisions in Libya). In addition to the coastal region, i.e. historical Cyrenaica, the former province, during the Kingdom and the Italian era extended to the south to include the entire eastern section of the country.

The ancient Greeks founded several colonies on its coast and developed several major cities. The most important foundation was that of Cyrene in 631 BCE by colonists from the island Thera, who had left the island because of a famine.[1] Their commander Aristoteles took the Libyan name Battos.[2] His dynasty, the Battaid, maintained itself in spite of heavy resistance by the Greeks in neighbouring cities.

The east of the province was called Marmarica (no major city), but the important part was in the west, comprising five cities, hence known as the Pentapolis: Cyrene (near the modern village of Shahat) with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), Arsinoe or Teucheira (Tocra), Euesperides or Bernice (near modern Benghazi) and Barce (Al Marj) – of which the chief was the eponymous Cyrene.[1] The term "Pentapolis" continued to be used as a synonym for Cyrenaica. In the south the Pentapolis faded into the Saharan tribal areas, including the pharaonic oracle of Ammonium.

In 525 BCE, after taking Egypt, the Persians took the Pentapolis.[1] They were followed by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, who received tribute from these cities after he took Egypt.[1] The Pentapolis was formally annexed by Ptolemy I Soter and it passed to the diadoch dynasty of the Lagids, better known as the Ptolemaic dynasty. It briefly gained independence under Magas of Cyrene, stepson of Ptolemy I, but was reabsorbed into the Ptolemaic empire after his death. It was separated from the main kingdom by Ptolemy VIII and given to his son Ptolemy Apion, who, dying without heirs in 96 BCE, bequeathed it to the Roman Republic, which gave it its current name, Cyrenaica.


Roman province

Northern Africa under Roman rule.
Roman-era marble statue found in Cyrene

Although some confusion exists as to the exact territory Rome inherited, by 78 BC it was organized as one administrative province together with Crete. It became a senatorial province in 20 BC, like its far more prominent western neighbor Africa proconsularis, and unlike Egypt itself which became an imperial domain sui generis (under a special governor styled praefectus augustalis) in 30 BC.

The Tetrarchy reforms of Diocletian in 296 changed the administrative structure. Cyrenaica was split into two provinces: Libya Superior or Libia Pentapolis comprised the above-mentioned Pentapolis with Cyrene as capital, and Libya Inferior or Libia sicca the Marmarica (only significant city now the port Paraetonium), each under a governor of the modest rank of praeses. Both belonged to the Diocese of Egypt, within the praetorian prefecture of Oriens. Its western neighbor Tripolitania, the largest split-off from Africa proconsularis, became part of the Diocese of Africa, subordinate to the prefecture of Italia et Africa. After the earthquake of 365, the capital was moved to Ptolemais. After the Empire's division, Cyrenaica became part of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, bordering Tripolitania. It was briefly part of the Vandal Kingdom to the west, until its reconquest by Belisarius in 533.


According to one tradition, Saint Mark the Evangelist was born in the Pentapolis, and later returned after preaching with Saint Paul in Colosse (Col 4:10) and Rome (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:11); from Pentapolis he made his way to Alexandria.[3].

Christianity spread to Pentapolis from Egypt; Synesius of Cyrene (370-414), bishop of Ptolemais, received his instruction at Alexandria in both the Catechetical School and the Museion, and he entertained a great deal of reverence and affection for Hypatia, the last pagan Neoplatonist, whose classes he had attended. Synesius was raised to the episcopate by Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, in 410 A.D. Since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., Cyrenaica had been recognized as an ecclesiastical province of the See of Alexandria, in accordance with the ruling of the Nicaean Fathers.The patriarch of the Coptic Church to this day includes the Pentapolis in his title as an area within his jurisdiction.[4]

The Eparchy of the Western Pentapolis was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria as the Pope of Alexandria was the Pope of Africa, The most senior position in The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church after the Pope was the Metropolitan of Western Pentapolis, but since its demise in the days of Pope John VI of Alexandria as a major Archiepiscopal Metropolis and now being held as a Titular See attached to another Diocese.

After often being destroyed and then restored, during the Roman period it became a mere borough but was, nevertheless, the site of a bishopric. Its bishop, Zopyros (Zephyrius is a mistake), was present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. The subscriptions at Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) give the names of two other bishops, Zenobius and Theodorus. The see must have disappeared when the Arabs conquered the Pentapolis in 643-44.

Although it retained the title "Pentapolis", the ecclesiastic province actually included all of the Cyrenaica, and not just the five cities and Pentapolis remains included in the title of both Popes of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.


Cyrenaica was conquered by the Islamic Arabs during the tenure of the second caliph, Omer Bin Khattab, in 643/44,[5] and became known as Barqah after its new provincial capital, the ancient city of Barce. After the breakdown of the Ummayad caliphate, it was essentially annexed to Egypt, although still under the same name, under the Fatimid caliphs and later under the Ayyubid and Mamluk sultanates.

Ultimately, it was annexed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1517 (it was mentioned in the full style of the Great Sultan as the vilayet of Barka, alongside Tripoli, with which it had been joined); its main cities became Benghazi and Derna.

Modern history

The Italians occupied Cyrenaica during the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 and declared it an Italian protectorate on 15 October 1912. Three days later, the Ottoman Empire officially ceded the province to the Kingdom of Italy. On 17 May 1919, Cyrenaica was established as an Italian colony, and, on 25 October 1920, the Italian government recognized Sheikh Sidi Idriss as the leader of the Senussi, who was granted the rank of Emir until in 1929. In that year, Italy "derecognized" him and the Senussi. On 1 January 1934, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan were united as the Italian colony of Libya.

There was heavy fighting in Cyrenaica during World War II between the Allies and the Afrika Korps of the German Wehrmacht. In 1942 the British occupied Cyrenaica and administered it until 1951.[6]

On 24 December 1951, Cyrenaica became part of the Kingdom of Libya and Sidi Idriss was proclaimed King Idris I. On 1 September 1969, after the overthrow of the al-Sanussi dynasty by Muammar al-Gaddafi, Cyrenaica has occasionally witnessed anti-regime, nationalist activity, such as a military rebellion at Tobruk in 1980.[7]

See also


  • Westermann Grosser Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German).
  1. ^ a b c d Ring, Trudy et al. (1996) "Cyrene (Gebel Akhdar, Libya)" International Dictionary of Historic Places: Volume 4: Middle East and Africa Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago, p. 194, ISBN 1-884964-03-6
  2. ^ Details of the founding are contained in Book IV of Histories, by Herodotus of Halicarnassus
  3. ^ "St. Mark the Apostle, the Founder of the Coptic Church", Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, accessed 19 May 2009
  4. ^ "Atiya, Aziz S. "The Copts and Christian Civilization
  5. ^ "Early Medieval and Byzantine Civilization: Constantine to Crusades"
  6. ^ Stewart, John (1996) "Cyrenaica" The British Empire: an encyclopedia of the Crown's holdings, 1493 through 1995 McFarland & Co., Jefferson, North Carolina, p. 125, ISBN 0-7864-0177-X
  7. ^ Associated Press, 'Libyan Opposition to Khadafy Growing but Fragmented Says Expert,' 17 April 1986.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CYRENAICA, in ancient geography, a district of the N. African coast, lying between the Syrtis Major and Marmarica, the western limit being Arae Philaenorum, and the eastern a vague line drawn inland from the head of the gulf of Platea (Bomba). On the south the limit was undefined, but understood to be the margin of the desert, some distance north of the oasis of Augila (Aujila). The northern half of this district, which alone was fertile, was known as Pentapolis from its possession of five considerable cities (1) Hesperides-Berenice (Bengazi), (2) Barca (Merj), (3) Cyrene (Ain Shahat-Grenna), (4) Apollonia (Marsa Susa), (5) Teucheira-Arsinoe (Tocra). In later times two more towns rose to importance, Ptolemais (Tolmeita) and Darnis-Zarine (Derna). These all lay on the coast, with the exception of Barca and Cyrene, which were situated on the highland now called Jebel Akhdar, a few miles inland. Cyrene was the first city to arise, being founded among Libyan barbarians by Aristotle of Thera (later called Battus) in the middle of the 7th century B.C. (see Cyrene). For about Soo years this district enjoyed great prosperity, owing partly to its natural products, but more to its trade with interior Africa.

Under the Ptolemies, the inland cities declined in comparison with the maritime ones, and the Cyrenaica began to feel the commercial competition of Egypt and Carthage, whence easier roads lead into the continent. After all N. Africa had passed to Rome, and Cyrenaica itself, bequeathed by Apion, the last Ptolemaic sovereign, was become (in combination with Crete) a Roman province (after 96 B.C.), this competition told more severely than ever, and the Greek colonists, grown weaker, found themselves less able to hold their own against the Libyan population. A great revolt of the Jewish settlers in the time of Trajan settled the fate of Cyrene and Barca; the former is mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus in the 4th century A.D. as "urbs deserta," and Synesius, a native, describes it in the following century as a vast ruin at the mercy of the nomads. Long before this its most famous article of export, the silphium plant, a representation of which was the chief coin-type of Cyrene, had come to an end. This plant, credited with wonderful medicinal and aromatic properties, has not been certainly identified with any existing species. The similar Thapsia garganica (Arab. drias), which now grows freely in Cyrenaica, though it has medicinal properties, has not those ascribed to silphium. Henceforward till the Arab invasion (A.D. 641) Apollonia was the chief city, with Berenice and Ptolemais next in order. After the conquest by Amr ibn el-`Asi, inland Cyrenaica regained some importance, lying as it did on the direct route between Alexandria and Kairawan, and Barca became its chief place. But with the substitution of Ottoman for Arab empire, resulting in the virtual independence of both Egypt and Tripoli, the district lying between them relapsed to anarchy. This state of things continued even after Mahmud II. had resumed direct control over Tripoli (1835), and in the middle of the 19th century Cyrenaica was still so free of the Turks that Sheik Ali bin-Senussi chose it as the headquarters of his nascent dervish order. All over the district were built Senussi convents (zawia), which still exist and have much influence, although the headquarters of the order were withdrawn about the year 1855 to Jarabub, and in 1895 to Kufra, still farther into the heart of Africa. In 1875 the district, till then a sanjak of the vilayet of Tripoli, was made to depend directly on the Ministry of the Interior at Constantinople; and the Senussites soon ceased to be de facto rulers of Cyrenaica. Their preserves have now been still further encroached upon by a number of Cretan Moslem refugees (1901-1902). This is not the first effort made by Turkey to colonize Cyrenaica. In 1869 Ali Riza Pasha of Tripoli tried to induce settlers to go to Bomba and Tobruk; and in 1888 an abortive effort was made to introduce Kurds. To protect the Cretans the Ottoman government has extended the civil administration and created several small garrisoned posts. The district is accordingly safer for Europeans than it was; but these still find themselves ill received. The Ottoman officials discourage travel in the interior, partly from fear of the Senussites, partly from suspicions, excited by the lively interest manifested by Italy in Cyrenaica.

At the present day we understand by Cyrenaica a somewhat larger district than of old, and include ancient Marmarica up to the head of the gulf of Sollum (Catabathmus Magnus). The whole area is about 30,000 sq. m., and has some 250,000 inhabitants, inclusive of nomads. Projecting like a bastion into the Mediterranean at a very central point, Cyrenaica seems intended to play a commercial part; but it does not do so to any extent because of (1) lack of natural harbours, Bengazi and Derna having only open and dangerous roads (this is partly due to coastal subsidence; ancient ports have sunk); (2) the difficulty of the desert routes behind it, wells beings singularly deficient in this part of the Sahara. The ivory and feather caravans from Wadai and Borku have latterly deserted it altogether. Consequently Cyrenaica is still in a very backward and barbarous state and largely given up to nomad Arabs. There are only two towns, Bengazi and Derna, and not half a dozen settlements beside, worthy to be called villages. In many districts the Senussi convents supply the only settled element, and the local Bedouins largely belong to the Order. There are no roads in the province, and very little internal communication and trade; but a wireless telegraphic system has been installed in communication with Rhodes: and there is a landline from Bengazi to Tripoli.

Geologically and structurally Cyrenaica is a mass of Miocene limestone tilted up steeply from the Mediterranean and falling inland by a gentle descent to sea-level again at the line of depression, which runs from the gulf of Sidra through Aujila to Siwa.

This mass is divided into two blocks, the higher being the western Jebel Akhdar, on which Cyrene was built (about 1800 f t.): the lower, the eastern Jebel el-Akabah, the ancient Marmaric highlands (700 ft.). There is no continuous littoral plain, the longest strip running from the recess of the Syrtis round past Bengazi to Tolmeita. Thereafter, except for deltaic patches at Marsa Susa and Derna, the shore is all precipitous. Jebel Akhdar, being without "faults," has no deep internal valleys, and presents, the appearance of downs: but its seaward face is very deeply eroded, and deep circular sinkings (swallow-holes) are common. There is much forest on its northward slopes, and good red earth on the higher parts, which bears abundant crops of barley, much desired by European maltsters. Plenty of springs issue on the highlands, and wide expanses of grassy country dotted with trees like an English park are met with. Here the Bedouins (mostly Beni Hassa) pasture flocks and herds, amounting to several million head. The climate is temperate and the rainfall usually adequate, but one year in five is expected to be droughty. The southward slopes fall through ever-thinning pasture lands to sheer desert about 80 m. inland. Jebel el-Akabah is much more barren than Jebel Akhdar, and the desert comes right down to the sea in Marmarica, whose few inhabitants are more concerned with salt-collecting and sponge fishing than with agriculture. They have, however, the only good ports on the whole coast, Bomba and Tobruk.. Much might be made of Cyrenaica by judicious colonization.. All kinds of trees grow well, from the date palm to the oak; and there are over 200,000 wild olives in the country. The conditions in general are very like those of central Italy, and there is ample room for new settlers.


(I) Ancient Cyrenaica: J. P. Thrige, Historia Cyrenes (1819); C. Ritter, Erdkunde, i. (1822); A. F. Gottschick, Gesch. der Gri ndung and MUM des hell. Staates in Kyrenaika (1858).

(2) Modern Cyrenaica: Paul Lucas, Voyage (1712); T. Shaw, Travels and Observations (1738); J. Bruce, Travels (1790); P. della Cella, Viaggio da Tripoli, &c. (1819); G. F. Lyon, Narrative of Travels (1821); A. Cervelli, in Recueil de voyages, pub. by Soc. de Geog., ii. (1825); J. R. Pacho, Relation d'un voyage (1827); F. W. Beechey, Proceedings of Expedition to explore N. Coast of Africa (1828); H. Barth, Wanderungen, &c. (1849); V. de Bourville, Rapport (1850); J. Hamilton, Wanderings in N. Africa (1856); R. M. Smith and E. A. Porcher, Hist. of Discoveries (1864); G. Rohlfs, Von Tripoli nach Alexandrien (1871); G. Haimann, La. Cirenaica (1882); M. Camperio, Una Gita in Cirenaica 0880; H. Duveyrier, "La Confr. musulmane de Sidi Moh. Ben Ali esSenousi" (Bull. soc. geog., 1884); H. W. Blundell in Geog. Journ. v. (1895) and Annual Brit. Sch. at Athens, ii. (1895); D. G. Hogarth in Monthly Review (Jan. 1904); G. Hildebrand, Cyrenaika, &c. (1904);: G. de Martino, Cirene e Cartagine (1908).

(3) Maps: The best are that by P. Carlo, to illustrate Camperio and Haimann's Report, in Petermann's Mitth. (1881); and Sheet No. 2 of Carte de l'Afrique (Service geog. de l'armee, 1892).

(D. G. H.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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  1. A Roman province on the North African coast, now part of Libya


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