Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast near present-day Shahhat, a town located in north-eastern Libya. The precise location of the ancient city was thirteen kilometres from the coast ...
... Cyrene gradually gained political independence until it became a republic in about 460 BCE. During the Peloponesian war, Cyrene supported the Spartan army by providing them with ships and sailors. The city lost its political independence again during the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty, after the death of Alexander III of Macedon (323 BCE).
During the time between the foundation of the city and the Roman occupation, Cyrene had an uninterrupted Greek character and its prosperity led to the foundation of four cities on the coast: Eusperides, which the Ptolomeis renamed “Berenice” in modern Benghazi); Taucheira (renamed Arsinoe); Ptolemais (founded by the Ptolemaic dynasty) and finally Apollonia, which was originally the port of Cyrene but eventually, due to its growth, became a city in its own right. The name Cyrenaica normally refers to the region surrounding Cyrene containing the five cities, sometimes referred to as Libya Pentapolis by the Romans.
Finally, in in the year 74 BCE, the city became under Roman control.
The Roman occupation actually helped Cyrene to increase its status: the Ptolemaic rulers administered Cyrenaica from the city of Ptolemais and the importance of Cyrene declined during their time. The Romans, on the other hand, granted Cyrene the title of metropolis and turned the city into the local centre of administration; Cyrene prospered once more. The beginning of the end of this new prosperity period came towards the last days of Emperor Trajan’s reign (r. 98-117 BCE), when a revolt led by the local Jewish community against the Romans took place. This was a major episode of social disorder which suggests that the local Jewish community increased significantly during the Ptolemaic period and early Roman occupation. The conflict lasted from 115 to 117 CE and it had a disastrous impact on the economy and demographics, in addition, causing serious damage to the city's buildings.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) did all he could to restore Cyrenes’s former glory: he encouraged the migration of new settlers in Cyrene and made funds available to rebuild the most important structures ruined during the revolt. Despite these imperial efforts, the city never fully recovered and even some of the major buildings remained unrepaired seventy years later. During the late third century, the city was at war with some of the Libyan tribes of the interior. Under the name of Libya superior, Cyrenaica was made a province in its own right by the Roman emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 CE). By this time, the Libyan neighbours still remained on hostile terms with Cyrene and the city rapidly declined. Things got even worse after two earthquakes (262 and 365 CE). The Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, reported by the end of the 4th century CE that Cyrene was deserted. It may be the case that Ammianus is actually referring to the civic life, which at that time was non-existent. However, archaeological studies indicate that during that time, and for a while after, Cyrene was garrisoned by an army unit and the forum had been turned into a fortress. During the Arab period, no surviving record mentions Cyrene.
The ruins of Cyrene rest on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the coastal plain. Four theatres have been found. The spring that attracted the original Greek settlers is situated in a triangular area that was filled by monuments during antiquity: shrines, temples, fountains and baths. The north-eastern hill holds the largest building: the Temple of Zeus, the circus and the city’s cathedral, which was built in the late period.
The intramural area of Cyrene is of about 110 hectares, which means that the city had room for 10,000 people. The population that Cyrene had, is just a matter of speculation, but 5,000 people is a likely guess for a city located at the margin of the Greek world. This population level might have been sustained from 300 BCE to 250 CE. The archaeological site of Cyrene is considered part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
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