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CYRE´NE or CYRENAE ( Κυρήνη: Eth. and Adj. as those of CYRENAICA: Ghrennah, very large Ru.), the chief city of CYRENAICA and the most important Hellenic colony in Africa, was founded in B.C. 631 by Battus and a body of Dorian colonists from the island of Thera. (The date is variously stated, but the evidence preponderates greatly in favour of that now given; Clinton, F. H. vol. i. s. a.: for the details of the enterprise, and of the subsequent history of the house of Battus, see Dict. of Biog. s. v. Battus, and Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. iv. p. 39, seq.) The colonists, sailing to the then almost unknown shores of Libya, in obedience to the Delphic oracle, took possession first of the island of Platea, in the Gulf of Bomba, which they seem to have mistaken for the mainland. Hence, after two years of suffering, and after again consulting the oracle, they removed to the opposite shore, and resided in the well-wooded district of Aziris for six years, at the end of which time some of the native Libyans persuaded them to leave it for a better locality, and conducted them through the region of Irasa, to the actual site of Cyrene. Though Irasa was deemed so delectable a region that the Libyan guides were said to have led the Greeks through it in the night lest they should settle there, the spot at which their journey ended is scarcely inferior for beauty and fertility to any on the surface of the globe. In the very middle of that “projecting bosom of the African coast” (as Grote well calls it), which has been described under CYRENAICA on the edge of the upper of two of the terraces, by which the table-land sinks down to the Mediterranean, in a spot backed by the mountains on the S. and in full view of the sea towards the N., and thus sheltered from the fiery blasts of the desert, while open to the cool sea breezes, at the distance of 10 miles. from the shore, and at the height of about 1800 feet, an inexhaustible spring bursts forth amidst luxuriant vegetation, and pours its waters down to the Mediterranean through a most beautiful ravine. Over this spring which they consecrated to Apollo, the great deity of their race (hence Ἀπόλλωνος κρήνη, Callim. in Apoll. 88), the colonists built their new city, and called it Cyrene from Cyre of the fountain. At a later period an elegant mythology connected the fountain with the god, and related how Cyrene, a Thessalian nymph, beloved of Apollo, was carried by him to Africa, in a chariot drawn by swans. (Müller, Dorians, Bk. 2.3.7.)

The site of Cyrene was in the territory of the Libyans named ASBYSTAE; and with them the Greek settlers seem from the first to have been on terms of friendship very similar to those which subsisted between the Carthaginians and their Libyan neighbours. The Greeks had the immense advantage of commanding the abundant springs and fertile meadows to which the Libyans were compelled to resort when the supplies of the less favoured regions further inland began to fail. A close connection soon grew up between the natives and the Greek settlers; and not only did the former imitate the customs of the latter (Hdt. 4.170); but the two races coalesced to a much greater extent than was usual in such cases. It is very important to remember this fact, that the population of Cyrene had a very large admixture of Libyan blood by the marriages of the early settlers with Libyan wives (Hdt. 4.186-189; Grote, vol. iv. p. 53). The remark applies even to the royal family; and, if we were to believe Herodotus, the very name of Battus, which was borne by the founder, and by his successors alternately, with the Greek name Arcesilaüs, was Libyan, signifying king; and we have another example in that of Alazir, king of Barca. For the rest, the Libyans seem to have formed a body of subject and tributary Perioeci (Hdt. 4.161). They were altogether excluded from political power, which, in strict conformity with the constitution of the other states of Spartan origin, was in the hands exclusively of the descendants from the original settlers, or rather of those of them who had already been among the ruling class in the mother state of Thera.

The dynasty of the Battiadae lasted during the greater part of two centuries, from B.C. 630 to somewhere between 460 and 430; and comprised eight kings bearing the names of Battus and Arcesilaus alternately; and a Delphic oracle was quoted to Herodotus as having defined both the names and numbers. (Hdt. 4.163.) Of Battus I., B.C. 630--590, it need only be said that his memory was held in the highest honour, not only as the founder of the city, but also for the benefits he conferred upon it during his long reign. He was worshipped as a hero by his subjects, who showed his grave, apart from those of the succeeding kings, where the Agora was joined by the road (σκυρωτὴ ὁδός), which he made for the procession to the temple of Apollo. (Pind. Pyth. v.; Callim. Hymn. in Apoll. 77; Paus. 3.14, 10.15; Catull. 7.6; Diod. Excerpt. de Virt. et Vit. p. 232.) Nothing of importance is recorded in the reign of his son, Arcesilaüs I., about B.C. 590--574; but that of his successor, Battus II. (about B.C. 574--554), surnamed the Prosperous, marks the most important period of the monarchy; nothing less, in fact, than a new colonization. An invitation was issued to all Greeks, without distinction of race, to come and settle at Cyrene, on the promise of an allotment of lands. It seems probable that the city of Apollonia, the port of Cyrene, owed its foundation to this accession of immigrants, who arrived by sea direct, and not, like the first colonists, by the circuitous land route from the Gulf of Bombay. (Grote, p. 55.) The lands promised to the new settlers had of course to be taken from the natives, whose general position also was naturally altered for the worse by the growing power of the city. The Libyans, therefore, revolted, and transferred their allegiance to Apries, king of Egypt, who sent an army to their aid; but the Egyptians were met by the Cyrenaeans in Irasa, and were almost entirely cut to pieces. This conflict is memorable as the first hostile meeting of Greeks with Egyptians, and also as the proximate cause of the overthrow of Apries. Under Amasis, however, a close alliance was formed between Egypt and Cyrene, and the Egyptian king took his wife Ladice from the house of Battus. (Hdt. 2.180-181.) The misfortunes of the monarchy began in the reign of Arcesilaüs II., the [p. 1.735]son of Battus II., about B.C. 554--544, Whose tyranny caused the secession of his brothers, the foundation of Barca, and the revolt of a large number of the Libyan Perioeci, in a conflict with whom no less than 7000 hoplites were slain; and the king was soon afterwards strangled by his brother Learchus. To this loss of prestige, his successor, Battus III. added the disqualification of lameness. The Cyrenaeans, under the advice of the Delphic oracle, called in the aid of Demonax, a Mantineian, who drew up for them a new constitution; by which the encroachments of the royal house on the people were more than recovered, and the king was reduced to political insignificance, retaining, however, the landed domain as his private property, and also his sacerdotal functions. The political power, in which it would seem, none but, the descendants of the original colonists had any share, was now extended to the whole Greek population, who were divided by Demonax into three tribes:--(1.) The Theraeans, to whom were still attached the Libyan Perioeci: (2) Greeks from Peloponnesus and Crete: (3) Greeks from the other islands of the Aegean: and a senate was also constituted, of which the king appears to have been president. (Hdt. 4.161, 165.) In other respects the constitution seems to have resembled that of Sparta, which was, through Thera, the original metropolis of Cyrene. We read of Ephors, who punished with atimia litigious people and impostors, and of a body of 300 armed police, similar to the Hippeis at Sparta (Heracleid. Pont. 4; Hesych. Τριακάτιοι; Eustath. ad Hom. Od. p. 303; Grote, pp. 59, 60; Müller, Dor. Bk. 3.4.5, 100.7 § 1. 9.13.) After the time of Battus IlI., his son Arcesilaüs III. and his mother Pheretime attempted to overturn the new constitution, and to re-establish despotism. Their first efforts led to their defeat and exile; but Arcesilaüs returned at the head of a new body of emigrants, chiefly from lonia, took Cyrene, and executed cruel vengeance upon his opponents. Whether from a desire to confirm his position, or simply from dread of the Persian power, he sent to Memphis to make his submission to Cambyses, and to offer him an annual tribute, as well as a present; the 500 minae which formed the latter, were deemed by Cambyses so inadequate, that he flung them contemptuously to his soldiers. After these things, according to the motive assigned by Herodotus (4.163, 164), Arcesilaüs became sensible that he had disobeyed the Delphic oracle, which, in sanctioning his return, had enjoined moderation in the hour of success; and to avoid the divine wrath, he retired from Cyrene to Barca, which was governed by his father-in-law, Alazir. His murder there, and the vengeance taken on the Barcaeans by his mother Pheretime, by the aid of a Persian army, sent by Aryandes, the satrap of Egypt, are related under BARCA Though the Persians ravaged a great part of the country, and extended their conquests beyond Barca as far as Hesperides, and though they were even inclined to attack Cyrene on their way back to Egypt, they left the city unmolested (Hdt. 4.203, 204). The effect of these events on the constitution of Cyrene is thus described by Grote (vol. iv. p. 66): “The victory of the third Arcesilaüs, and the restoration of the Battiads broke up the equitable constitution established by Demonax. His triple classification into tribes must have been completely remodelled, though we do not know how; for the number of new colonists whom Arcesilaüs introduced must have necessitated a fresh distribution of land, and it is extremely doubtful whether the relation of the Theraean class of citizens with their Perioeci, as established by Demonax, still continued to subsist. It is necessary to notice this fact, because the arrangements of Demonax are spoken of by some authors as if they formed the permanent constitution of Cyrene; whereas they cannot have outlived the restoration of the Battiads, nor can they even have been revived after that dynasty was finally expelled, since the number of new citizens and the large change of property, introduced by Arcesilaüs III., would render them inapplicable to the subsequent city.” Meanwhile “another Battus and another Arcesilaüs have to intervene before the glass of this worthless dynasty is run out.” Of Battus IV., surnamed the Handsome, nothing needs to be said; but Arcesilaüs IV. has obtained a place, by the merits of the Libyan breed of horses rather than by his owns in the poetry of Pindar, who, while celebrating the king's victories in the chariot race (B.C. 460), at the same time expostulates with him for that tyranny which soon destroyed his dynasty. (Pind. Pyth. iv. v.) It seems to have been the policy of this prince to destroy the nobles of the state, and to support himself by a mercenary army. How he came to his end is unknown; but after his death a republic was established at Cyrene, and his son Battus fled to Hesperides, where he was murdered, and his head was thrown into the sea; a significant symbol of the utter extinction of the dynasty. This was probably about B.C. 450.

Of the condition of the new republic we have very little information. As to its basis, we are only told that the number of the tribes and phratriae was increased (Aristot. Pol. 6.4); and, as to, its working, that the constant increase of the democratic element led to violent party contests (ibid.), in the course of which various tyrants obtained power in the state, among whom are named Ariston and Nicocrates. (Diod. 14.34; Plut. de Virt. Mul.; Polyaen. Strat. 8.38.) The Cyrenaeans concluded a treaty with Alexander the Great (Diod. 17.49; Curt. 4.7), after whose death the whole country became a dependency of Egypt, and subsequently a province of the Roman empire. [CYRENAICA] The favours bestowed on APOLLONIA its port, under the Ptolemies, greatly diminished the importance of Cyrene, which gradually sank under the calamities which it shared with the whole country. Under the Romans it was a colony, with the surname of FLAVIA. (Euseb. Chron.; Eckhel, vol. iv. pp. 127, foll.)

At the height of its prosperity Cyrene possessed an extensive commerce with Greece and Egypt, especially in silphium: with Carthage, its relations were always on a footing of great distrust, and its commerce on the W. frontier was conducted entirely by smuggling. At what period its dominion over the Libyan tribes was extended so far as to meet that of Carthage at the bottom of the Greater Syrtis is disputed [ARAE PHILAENORUM]; some referring it to the republican age, others to the. period of the Ptolemies. (Grote, vol. iv. p. 48, holds the latter opinion.)

Cyrene holds a distinguished place in the records of Hellenic intellect. As early as the time of Herodotus it was celebrated for its physicians (Hdt. 3.131); it gave its name to a philosophic sect founded by one of its sons, Aristippus; another, Carneades, was the founder of the Third. or New Academy at Athens; and it was also the birthplace [p. 1.736]of the poet Callimachus, who boasted a descent from the royal house of Battus, as did the eloquent rhetorician Synesius, who afterwards became bishop of Apollonia.

The ruins of Cyrene, though terribly defaced, are very extensive, and contain remains of streets, aqueducts, temples, theatres, and tombs, with inscriptions, fragments of sculpture, and traces of paintings. In the face of the terrace, on which the city stands, is a vast subterraneous necropolis; and the road connecting Cyrene with its port, Apollonia, still exists. The remains do not, however, enable us to make out the topography of the city with sufficient exactness. We learn from Herodotus (4.164) and Diodorus (19.79) that the Acropolis was surrounded with water. The ruins are fully described by Della Cella (pp. 138, foll.), Pacho (pp. 191, foll.), and Barth (p. 421, foll.).

The coins of Cyrene are numerous. In the second of the two specimens here annexed the obverse represents the head of Zeus Ammon and the reverse the silphium, which formed the chief article in the export trade of Cyrene.



hide References (19 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (19):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 6.1319b
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.34
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.49
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.180
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.165
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.181
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.131
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.161
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.163
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.164
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.170
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.186
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.189
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.203
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.204
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.15
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.14
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 4.7
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.79
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