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Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Cyrenaica

   A country of Africa, east of the Syrtis Minor and west of Marmarica. It corresponds with the modern Barca. Cyrenaica was considered by the Greeks as a sort of terrestrial paradise. This was partly owing to the force of contrast, as all the rest of the African coast along Coins of Cyrene, bearing the sacred Silphium Plant. the Mediterranean, from Carthage to the Nile, was a barren, sandy waste, and partly to the actual fertility of Cyrenaica itself. It was extremely well watered, and the inhabitants, according to Herodotus, employed eight months in collecting the productions of the land; the maritime places first yielded their fruits, then the second region, which they called the hills, and lastly those of the highest part inland. One of the chief natural productions of Cyrenaica was an herb called silphium, a kind of laserpitium or assafoetida. It was fattening for cattle, rendering their flesh also tender, and was a useful aperient for man. From its juice, too, when kneaded with clay, a powerful antiseptic was obtained. The silphium formed a great article of trade, and at Rome the composition above mentioned sold for its weight in silver. It is for this reason that the silphium appeared always on the medals of Cyrene. Its culture was neglected, however, when the Romans became masters of the country, and pasturage was more attended to. Cyrenaica was called Pentapolis from its having five cities of note in it--Cyrene, Arsinoe, Apollonia, Ptolemais, Berenice, and Teuchira. All of these exist at the present day under the form of towns or villages.

This text is cited Sep 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Cyrenaica

  Cyrenaica (he Kurenaie chore, Herod. iv. 199; he Kurenaia, Strab. xvii. p. 837; he Kurenaike eparchia, Ptol. iv. 4; Cyrenaica Provincia, Cyrenaica Africa, and Cyrenaica simply, Mela, i. 8. § 1; Plin. v. 5, &c.: Adj. Kurenaikos, especially with reference to the philosophic sect founded by Aristippus, he Kurenaike philosophia, Strab. xvii. p. 837; Diog. Laert. ii. 85; Kurenaios, Cyrenaicus, Cyrenaeus, Cyrenensis), a district and, under the Romans, a province of N. Africa, also called, from the time of the Ptolemies, Pentapolis (Pentapolis, Ptol.; Agathem. ii. 5), Pentapolis Libyae (Pentapolis Libues, Joseph. vii. 38; Sext. Ruf. 13), and Pentapolitana Regio (Plin. l. c.). The former name was derived from Cyrene the capital of the district; and the latter from its five chief cities, namely, Cyrene, Barca, Teucheira (aft. Arsinoe), Hesperides (aft. Berenice), and Apollonia which was at first the port of Cyrene. The names may, however, be distinguished from one another; Cyrenaica denoting the whole district or province in its widest sense, and Pentapolis being a collective name for the five cities with their respective territories.
  In its widest sense the term includes the whole of the country which was subject to Cyrene, when that city was most flourishing, from the borders of Carthage on the W. to those of Egypt on the E. On both sides, as was natural from the character of the intervening deserts, the boundaries varied. On the E. they seem never to have been perfectly defined, being placed at the Chersonesus Magna (Ras-et-Tin), or at the Catabathmus Major (Marsa Sollom or Akabet et Kebira, the present boundary of Tripoli and Egypt), according as Marmarica was included in Cyrenaica or not. On the W. the boundary was fixed, after long disputes, at the bottom of the Great Syrtis. On the S. the nominal limits of the country reached as far as the oasis of Phazania (Fezzan). (Scylax, p. 45; Strab. xvii. p. 838; Stadiasm. p. 451; Sail. Jug. 19; Mela, Plin. ll. cc.). On the N. the shore was washed by that part of the Mediterranean which was called the Libyan Sea (Libycum Mare), and on the W. by the Greater Syrtis.
  But the district actually occupied by the Greek colonists comprised only the table land, known as the plateau of Barca, with the subjacent coast. It may be considered as beginning at the N. limit of the sandy shores of the Great Syrtis at Borbum Pr. (Ras Teyonas, S. of Ben-Ghazi), between which and the Chersonesus Magna the country projects into the Mediterranean in the form of a segment of a circle, whose chord is above 150 miles long, and its are above 200, lying directly opposite to the Peloponnesus, at the distance of about 200 miles.
  From its position, formation, climate, and soil, this region is perhaps one of the most delightful on the surface of the globe. Its centre is occupied by a moderately elevated table-land, whose edge runs parallel to the coast, to which it sinks down in a succession of terraces, clothed with verdure, intersected by mountain streams running through ravines filled with the richest vegetation, well watered by frequent rains, exposed to the cool sea-breezes from the N., and sheltered by the mass of the mountain from the sands and hot winds of the Sahara. The various terraces enjoyed a great diversity of climates, and produced a corresponding variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruits, and the successive harvests, at the different elevations, lasted for eight months out of the twelve. (Herod. iv. 198, 199; Diod. iii. 50; Arrian. Ind. 43; Eustath. ad Dion. Perieg. 312.) The table land extends some 70 or 80 miles in breadth between the Sahara and the coast, but it is only on its N. and NW. slopes that it enjoys the physical advantages now described, and on account of which it is called to this day Jebel Akdar, i. e. the Green Mountain. Among its products are enumerated corn, oil, wine, all kinds of fruits, especially dates, figs, and almonds (Scyl. p. 46; Diod. iii. 49; Plin. xiii. 4. s. 9, xvii. 30. § 4; Synes. Epist. 133, 147); cucumbers (Plin. xx. 1. s. 3), truffles (misu, Ath. ii. p. 62; Plin. xix. 3. s. 12); cabbage (Ath. i. p. 27, iii. p. 100), box (Theophr. Hist. Plant. iii. 15), saffron (Ath. xv. p. 682; Plin. xxi. 6. s. 17; Synes. Epist. 133), flowers from which exquisite perfumes were extracted (Theophr. H. P. vi. 6; Ath. xv. p. 689; Plin. xxi. 4. s. 10); and a very rare plant, for which the country was especially celebrated, namely, Silphium, or laserpitium, the plant which produced the gum resin, called laser (opos Kurenaios), which was in the highest esteem among the ancient physicians (Herod. iv. 169; Dioscor. iii. 84; Theophr. H. P. vi. 3; Arrian. Anab. iii. 28; Strab. ii. p. 131; Plin. ix. 3. s. 15, xix. 3. s. 1, xxii. 23; Plaut. Rud. iii. 2. 16; Eckhel, Doctr. Num. Vet. vol. iv. p. 119; Mionnet, Descr. de Med. vol. vi. pp. 373, foll.: the plant, which had already become scarce in the time of the Romans, is now found in abundance: Della Cella, Viaggio da Tripoli, &c.; Pacho, Voyage dans la Marmarique, &c., p. 250). The district was also famous for its honey (Synes. Epist. 147); its horses, large studs of which were kept at Cyrene and at Barca (Pind. Pyth. iv. 2; Ath. iii. p. 100; Dionys. Perieg. 213; Synes. Epist. 40; Diod. xvii. 49; Strab. xvii. p. 837; Steph. B. p. 155), and its ostriches (Synes. Epist. 133). As some check upon all these advantages, the country was terribly subject to the annual ravages of locusts (Plin. xi. 29. s. 35; Liv. Epit. lx.; Jul. Obseq. 90; Oros. v. 11; Synes. Epist. 58); and the great abundance of natural gifts disposed the inhabitants to luxury.
  The native Libyan tribes, who are mentioned as inhabiting the country in the earliest known times, were the Auschisae on the W., the Asbystae in the centre, and the Giligammae on the E.; but in the time of Herodotus these peoples had already been driven into the interior by the Greek settlers; and, during the whole period of ancient history, Cyrenaica is essentially a part of the Hellenic world. (A few other tribes are mentioned by Ptolemy, iv. 4. s. 10.) The first Greek settlement, of which we have any clear account, was effected by Battus (Diet. of Biog. s. v.), who led a colony from the island of Thera, and first established himself on the island of Platea at the E. extremity of the district, and afterwards built Cyrene (B C. 631). The dynasty, which he there founded, governed the country during 8 reigns, though with comparatively little power over some of the other Greek cities. Of these the earliest were Teucheira and Hesperides then Barca a colony from Cyrene; and these, with Cyrene itself and its port Apollonia formed the original Lybian Pentapolis. The comparative independence of Barca, and the injury inflicted on the country by the Persian invasion under Cambyses, diminished the power of the later kings of Cyrene, and at last the dynasty was overthrown, and a republic established about the middle of the 5th century B.C. When Alexander invaded Egypt the Cyrenaeans made an alliance with him (Diod. xvii. 49; Curt. iv. 7). The country was made subject to Egypt by Ptolemy the son of Lagus, B.C. 321. (Diod. xviii. 19-21, xx. 40; Justin. xiii. 6.) It appears to have flourished under the Ptolemies, who pursued their usual policy of raising new cities at the expense of the ancient ones, or restoring the latter under new names. Thus Hesperides became Berenice, Teucheira was called Arsinoe, Barca was entirely eclipsed by its port which was raised into a city under the name of Ptolemais, and Cyrene began to decay in consequence of the favours conferred upon its port Apollonia. After these changes, the term Pentapolis, which became the common name of the country, refers to the five cities of Cyrene, Apollonia, Ptolemais, Arsinoe, and Berenice. The last king of the Egyptian dynasty, Apion, an illegitimate son of Ptolemy Physcon (on whose death in B.C. 117, he had obtained the government), left the country to the Romans by his testament, in the year B.C. 95, according to Livy, though Appian gives a later date, apparently through a confusion with the time of its erection into a Roman province. (Liv. Epit. lxx.; Appian. B.C. i. 111, Mithr. 121; Justin. xxxix. 5; Eutrop. vi. 11; Sext. Ruf. 13.) At first the Romans granted the cities their freedom, and bestowed upon them the former royal domain, only exacting a tribute (Cic. de Leg. Agr. ii. 1. 9); but quarrels soon broke out between the different states; and, after Lucullus had made, by order of Sulla, a vain attempt, real or affected, to reconcile them (Plut. Lucull. 2; Joseph. Antiq. xiv. 7. § 2), the Romans applied their usual last remedy, and reduced the country to a province, under the name of Cyrenaica (probably in B.C. 75), which was united with Crete, on the conquest of that island by Q. Metellus Creticus, B.C. 67. In the division of the provinces under Augustus, the united province, under the name of Creta-Cyrene, Creta et Cyrene, or Creta simply, was constituted a senatorial province, under the government of a propraetor, with the title of proconsul, who had a legatus, and one if not two quaestors. (Orelli, Inscr. Nos. 3658, 3659; Bockh, Corp. Inscr. Graec. Nos. 2588, 3532, 3548; Gruter, p. 415, no. 5, p. 471, no. 6; Eckhel, vol. iv. p. 126; Tac. Ann. iii. 38, 70; Strab. xvii. p. 840; Senec. Controv. iv. 27; Suet. Vesp. 2; Marquardt, Becker's Rom. Alterth. vol. iii. pt. 1, p. 223.) Under Constantine, Crete and Cyrenaica were made separate provinces; the latter was called Libya Superior, and was placed under the government of a praeses. (Bocking, Notit. Dign. vol. i. p. 137; Marquardt, l. c.) It should be observed that, under the Romans, the E. boundary of the province, which divided it from Marmarica was formed by an imaginary line drawn southwards from Axylis, a town somewhat to the W. of the Chersonesus Magna.
  The decline of the country in prosperity may be dated chiefly from the reign of Trajan, when, the Jews, large numbers of whom had settled there under the Ptolemies (Joseph. Ant. Jud. xiv. 7, c. Apion. ii. 4; Act. Apost. ii. 10), rose in insurrection, massacred 220,000 Romans and Cyrenaeans, and were put down with great difficulty and much slaughter. (Dion Cass. lxviii. 32.) The loss of population during these bloody conflicts, and the increasing weakness of the whole empire, left the province an easy prey to the Libyan barbarians, whose attacks were aided by the ravages of locusts, plagues, and earthquakes. The sufferings of the Pentapolis from these causes at the beginning of the 5th century are pathetically described by Synesius, the bishop of Ptolemais, in an extant oration, and in various passages of his letters (Catastasis &c.; Epist. 57, 78, 125; de Regno, p. 2), and at a later period by Procopius (Aedif. vi. 2). In A.D. 616, the Persian Chosroes overthrew the remains of the Greek colonies so utterly, as to leave only the gleanings of the harvest of destruction to the Arab conquerors, who finally overran the country in A.D. 647. (Gibbon, vol. viii. p. 227, vol. ix. p. 444, foll., ed. Milman.)
  For the purposes of descriptive geography, the Cyrenaic coast must be divided into two parts at the promontory called Boreum (Ras Teyonas), S. of which, along the E. shore of the Syrtis Major, were numerous small and unimportant places, whose positions are very difficult to determine (Ptol. iv. 4. § 3; Syrtes). N. of this promontory lay Hesperides (aft. Berenice: Benghazi), upon the little stream called Lathon the only river in the country, which took its rise in the sand-hills called Herculis Arenae and near it the little lake called Triton, or Lacus Hesperidum, which some of the ancients confounded with that at the bottom of the Lesser Syrtis. Following the curve of the coast to the NE., we come to Teucheira (aft. Arsinoe, Taukra), then to Ptolemais (Tolmeita), originally the port of Barca, but under the Ptolemies the chief of the Five Cities: Barca itself lay about 12 miles inland: the next important position on the coast is the promontory and village of Phycus (Ras Sem or Ras-al-Razat), the N.-most headland of the part of the African coast E. of the Lesser Syrtis; then Apollonia (Marsa Sousa), the former port of Cyrene which lies inland, about 8 miles from the coast, SE. of Phycus and SW. of Apollonia. Further to the E. was the port called Naustathmus (Marsa-al-Halal, or Al Natroun), then the promontory Zephyrium then Darnis (Derna), Axylis, and the Chersonesus Magna (Ras-at-Tyn), where the coast formed a bay (G. of Bomba), in which lay the island of Platea (Bomba), the first landing-place of the colonists from Thera. Another little island off the shore near Pr. Zephyrium was called Laea or the Island of Aphrodite (Laia e Aphrodites nesos, Ptol. iv. 4. § Al Hiera). Ptolemy (§§ 11-13) mentions a large number of places in the interior, most of them mere villages, and none apparently of any consequence, except Barca and Cyrene. Of the hills which run parallel to the coast, those along the E. shore of the Syrtis Major were called Herculis Arenae (Herakleous Thines), SW. of which were the Velpi M. (ta Ouelpa ore), and considerably to the E., on the S. frontier, the Baecolicus M. (to Baikolikon oros: Ptol. l. c. § 8). The oasis of Augila was reckoned as belonging to Cyrenaica. (Della Cella, Viaggio da Tripoli di Barberia alle Frontieri Occidentali dell' Egitto, Genoa, 1819; Beechey, Expedition to explore the N. coast of Africa, from Tripoli E.-ward, &c., London, 1828, 4to.; Pacho, Relation d'un Voyage dans la Marmarique, la Cyrenaique, &c. Paris, 1827-1829, 4to.; Barth, Wanderungen durch das Punische und Kyrenaische Kustenland, c. 8, Berlin, 1849: and for the coins, Eckhel, vol. iv. pp. 117, &c.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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