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Cyrene, the ancient Greek city (in present-day Libya) was the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region and gave eastern Libya the classical name 'Cyrenaica' that it has retained to modern times. It lies in a lush valley in the Jebel Akhdar uplands.
Cyrene was founded as a colony of the Greeks of Thera, traditionally led by Aristotle (later called Battus) of Thera, about 630 BC. Details concerning the founding of the city are contained in Book IV of the Histories of Herodotus. Cyrenaica became part of the empire controlled by the Ptolemies from Alexandria in Egypt and later passed to the Roman empire. Cyrene was the birthplace of Eratosthenes and there are a number of philosophers associated with the city including Callimachus, Carneades, Aristippus and Arete.
The inhabitants of Cyrene at the time of Sulla (c. 85 BC) were divided into four classes: citizens, farmers, resident aliens, and Jews, who formed a restless minority. Lucullus was sent to Cyrene by Sulla to quell disturbances in which the Jews were taking a prominent part. In 74 BC Cyrene was created a Roman province; but, whereas under the Ptolemies the Jewish inhabitants had enjoyed equal rights, they now considered themselves oppressed by the autonomous Greek population. Cultural conflicts were exacerbated by the resurgence of Jewish nationalism and resentment of Hellenistic culture with which many Jews had accommodated. Tensions came to a head in the insurrection of the Jews of Cyrene under Trajan (AD 117). This revolt was quelled by Marcius Turbo, but not before about 200,000 Romans and Greeks had been killed (Dio Cassius, lxviii. 32). By this outbreak Libya was depopulated to such an extent that a few years later new colonies had to be established there, according to Eusebius.
Cyrene's chief local export through much of its early history -- the medicinal herb silphium -- was pictured on most Cyrenian coins, until it was harvested to extinction. Though commercial competition from Carthage and Alexandria reduced its trade, Cyrene, with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), remained an important urban center until the earthquake of 365. Ammianus Marcellinus described it in the 4th century as a deserted city, and Synesius, a native of Cyrene, described it in the following century as a vast ruin at the mercy of the nomads.
Cyrene is now an archeological site near the village of Shahat. One of its more significant features is the Temple of Apollo which was originally constructed as early as 7th century BC. Other ancient structures include a Temple to Demeter and a partially unexcavated Temple to Zeus (the latter was intentionally damaged under orders of Moammar Al Qadhafi in the summer of 1978). There is a large necropolis approximately 10 kmē between Cyrene and its ancient port of Apollonia.
See also List of Kings of Cyrene
Cyrene A titular see of Northern Africa. The city was founded early in the seventh century B.C. by a Dorian colony from Thera and named after a spring, Kyre, which the Greeks consecrated to Apollo; it stood on the boundary of the Green Mountains (Djebel Akhaar), ten miles from its port, Apollonia (Marsa Sousa). It was the chief town of the Lydian region between Egypt and Carthage (Cyrenaica, now vilayet of Benghazi), kept up commercial relations with all the Greek cities, and reached the height of its prosperity under its own kings in the fifth century B. C. Soon after 460 it became a republic; after the death of Alexander it passed to the Ptolemies and fell into decay. Apion bequeathed it to the Romans, but it kept its self-government. In 74 B.C. Cyrene became a Roman colony. There were many Jews in the region, with their own synagogue at Jerusalem (Mat., xxvii, 32; Acts, ii, 10; vi, 9, xi, 20, sq.), who rebelled, A.D. 73, against Vespasian and in 115 against Trajan.
Cyrene is the birthplace of the philosophers Aristippus, Callimachus, Carneades, Eratosthenes and Synesius; the latter, a convert to Christianity, died Bishop of Ptolemais. Lequien (II, 621) mentions six bishops of Cyrene, and according to Byzantine legend the first was St. Lucius (Acts, xiii, 1); St. Theodorus suffered martyrdom under Diocletian; about 370 Philo dared to consecrate by himself a bishop for Hydra, and was succeeded by his own nephew, Philo; Rufus sided with Dioscorus at the Robber Synod (Latrocinium) of Ephesus in 449; Leontius lived about 600. Lequien (III, 1151) mentions also six Latin bishops, from 1477 to 1557. The Latin titular see was suppressed by a papal decree of 1894. The old city, ruined by the Arab invasion in the seventh century, is not inhabited, but its site is still called Qrennah (Cyrene). Its necropolis is one of the largest and best preserved in the world, and the tombs, mostly rock-hewn, are of Dorian style.
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