The stunning ancient Greek city of Libya

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The ruins of the great city of Cyrene. Public domain

Cyrene, the ancient Greek and then Roman city near present-day Shahhat, Libya, was the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region.

He gave eastern Libya the classical name of Cyrenaica which it retained until modern times. Nearby is the ancient necropolis of Cyrene.

Over two thousand years ago, a group of Greeks from the island of Thira (also known as Santorini) headed south, looking for a new place to live. Their journey ended in the northern part of Africa, in present-day Libya.

These Greek settlers established a new city, calling it Cyrene. The city, founded in 631 BC. AD, was soon dominated by its first king, Battus.

Battus was the first powerful figure in what later became the famous Battiad dynasty.

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Cyrene ancient Greek city
Cyrene, North Africa

The Battiads ruled Cyrene for eight generations until 440 BC. Under their rule, the port city of Apollonia was founded, as well as Berenice, present-day Benghazi.

Cyrene was prosperous and had trade links with all the Greek cities of what is now the mainland and islands of modern Greece.

It was one of the main cities of the ancient Greek world with its temples, tombs, agora, gymnasium and amphitheater of Cyrene, all inspired by the historical structures of Delphi.

The city became a Republic in 460 BC following the political tradition that Athens had established.

Cyrene ancient Greek city
The Temple of Zeus at Cyrene. Credit: David Stanley, CC BY 2.0/Wikipedia Commons

Philosophy flourished in the ancient city of Cyrene

Cyrene contributed to the intellectual life of the ancient Greek world through its renowned philosophers and mathematicians.

Philosophy flourished on the Cyrenaic plateau at the school of Cyrene. ‘Cyrenaica’ developed here, a minor Socratic school founded by Aristippus, who may have been Socrates’ friend or, according to some accounts, a grandson of Aristippus of the same name.

The French Neo-Epicurean philosopher, Michel Onfray, called Cyrene “a philosophical Atlantis” because of its considerable importance in the creation and early development of the ethics of pleasure.

Cyrene was also the birthplace of Eratosthenes, who determined the circumference of the earth. The great thinker later traveled to Alexandria. Statues of philosophers, poets, the Nine Muses and a bust of Demosthenes have been discovered in Cyrene, testifying to the great culture that once flourished in this region of North Africa.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. AD, the Republic of Cyrene became subject to the rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty, and a few centuries later it became part of the Roman Empire as a province.

The famous “Venus of Cyrene”, a headless marble statue of the goddess Venus, a Roman copy of a Greek original, was discovered here by Italian soldiers in 1913. She was transported to Rome, where she remains until 2008 when it was returned. to Libya.

The ruins of Cyrene remain there as a reminder of the region’s rich past, which was shaped by the Greeks and Romans.

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982, Cyrene today ranks among the most neglected and endangered UNESCO sites in the Mediterranean Basin due to poor restoration and massive looting of its Greek artifacts.

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