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Cyrenaica in modern day Libya
Cyrenaica ( Kūrēnaïkē, Arabic: برقه, Barqah) is the eastern coastal region of Libyamarker and also an ex-province or state ("muhafazah" or "wilayah") of the country (alongside Tripolitania and Fezzanmarker) 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 Theramarker, who had left the island because of a famine. Their commander Aristoteles took the Libyan name Battos. 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 Apolloniamarker (Marsa Susa), Arsinoe or Teucheiramarker (Tocra), Euesperides or Bernice (near modern Benghazimarker) and Barcemarker (Al Marjmarker) – of which the chief was the eponymous Cyrene. 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 Ammoniummarker.

In 525 BCE, after taking Egypt, the Persians took the Pentapolis. They were followed by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, who received tribute from these cities after he took Egypt. 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 kingdommarker 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 Cretemarker. 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 comprised the above-mentioned Pentapolis with Cyrene as capital, and Libya Inferior 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 Ptolemaismarker. After the Empire's division, Cyrenaica became part of the East Roman 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 Colossemarker (Col 4:10) and Romemarker (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:11); from Pentapolis he made his way to Alexandriamarker..

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.

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 Ephesusmarker (431) and Chalcedonmarker (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, and became known as Barqah after its new provincial capital, the ancient city of Barcemarker. 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 Benghazimarker and Dernamarker.

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 Fezzanmarker 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.

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 Tobrukmarker in 1980.

See also


  • Westermann Grosser Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German).

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