CYRENE (sīrē'nĭ, Gr. Kyrēnē, wall). A Libyan city in, west of Egypt, separated from it by a part of the Libyan Desert. It was situated some 2,000 feet (625 m.) above and ten miles (seventeen km.) away from the Mediterranean. The coastline afforded a natural shelter from the heat of the Sahara. It was protected by steps of descending ranges about 80 miles (133 km.) to the south. The fertility and climate of the city were delightful and productive.
Cyrene, originally a Greek colony, was founded by Battus in 603 b.c. This veritable “oasis in the desert” attracted travelers and commerce from early times. Among its distinguished citizens was Carneacles, the founder of the new academy at Athens. Aristippus, the Epicurean philosopher and friend of Socrates, also came from this city. Ptolemy Euregets I incorporated Cyrene as a part of Egypt in 231. It later passed into the hands of the Romans, being willed to them by the last Ptolemy.
Cyrene is not mentioned in the OT but becomes important in the NT. A native of Cyrene, Simon by name, was impressed by the Roman soldiers into carrying the cross of Jesus (
CYRENE sī re’ nĕ (Κυρήνη, G3255). Chief city of the ancient district of , called Cyrenaica or Pentapolis.
Located seventeen m. from the sea on a plateau, the city was settled by Gr. colonists under Battus in the 7th cent. The city derived its importance from trade with the natives of the interior, and agriculture. The land was very fertile particularly in the production of silphium, a spice which the ancients prized. The five cities of the Pentapolis enjoyed great prosperity until competition from the Ptolemaic cities, internal disruptions and careless use of the soil caused them to decline. From a city of 100,000 in its greatest era, Cyrene was reduced to a vast ruin by the 5th cent. a.d.
The city was ruled by the Battiadae until the establishment of a democracy in the 4th cent. b.c. It surrendered to in 331 and was soon incorporated into the Ptolemaic empire. During late Hel. and Rom. times a large portion of the populace were Gr.-speaking Jews who encouraged other Jews to settle there. The city was bequeathed to the Romans in 96 b.c. and joined to Crete as a senatorial province in 27 b.c. A major revolt of the Jews of the city broke out in a.d. 115-116. Pagan monuments were destroyed and over 200,000 (?) inhabitants were killed according to Cassius Dio (68.32). Hadrian rebuilt much of the city, but its harbor Apollonia replaced it in importance.
The city was excavated by the Americans in 1910-1911 and by Italians just before World War II. The finds have included an archaic temple of Apollo, rebuilt several times, the tomb of Battus in the center of the agora, a Rom. theater, numerous temples and shrines and a large Rom. bath. Exceptional examples of archaic sculpture and important inscrs. have also come to light.
A number of Cyrenians figured in events of the NT. Simon, who carried the cross of Christ (
Cyrene was an important intellectual and medical center in antiquity. Among its famous citizens were the poet Callimachus, Carneades, the founder of the New Academy at Athens, and Erotasthenes, the historian. The name Cyrenaics was applied to an important school of Gr. philosophy because Cyrene was the birthplace of its founder, Aristippus. One of the earliest Socratic schools, they emphasized one aspect of Socrates’ teachings. Happiness, later interpreted as pleasure, was the highest good.
U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Kyrene (1928); A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, ch. 12 (1937); P. Romanelli, La Cirenaica romana (1943); A. Rowe, A History of Ancient Cyrenaica (1948).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Cyrene was a city of Libya in, lat. 32 degrees 40’ North, long. 22 degrees 15’ East. It lay West of ancient Egypt, from which it was separated by a portion of the Libyan desert, and occupied the territory now belonging to Barca and Tripoli. It was situated upon an elevated plateau about 2,000 ft. above the sea, from which it was distant some 10 miles. A high range of mountains lies to the South, about 90 miles inland. This shelters the coast land from the scorching heat of the Sahara. The range drops down toward the North in a series of terrace-like elevations, thus giving to the region a great variety of climate and vegetation. The soil is fertile.
Cyrene was originally a Greek colony rounded by Battus in 630 BC. Because of the fertility of the soil, the great variety in climate and vegetation, together with its commercial advantages in location, the city soon rose to great wealth and importance. Greater fame, however, came to it through its distinguished citizens. It was the home of Callimachus the poet, Carneacles the founder of the New Academy at Athens, and Eratosthenes the mathematician. To these must be added, from later times, the elegant ancient Christian writer Synesius. So important did this Greek colony become that, in little more than half a century, Amasis II of Egypt formed an alliance with Cyrene, marrying a Greek lady of noble, perhaps royal, birth (Herod. ii.181). Ptolemy III (Euergetes I), 231 BC, incorporated Cyrene with Egypt. The city continued, though with much restlessness, a part of the Egyptian empire until Apion, the last of the Ptolemies, willed it to Rome. It henceforth belonged to a Roman province.
In the middle of the 7th century, the conquering Saracens took possession of Cyrene, and from that time to this it has been the habitation of wandering tribes of Arabs.
3. Biblical Importance:
In the ruins of Cyrene are to be seen the remains of some beautiful buildings, and a few sculptures have been removed. The most interesting remains of the wondrous civilization of this Greek colony are in a great system of tombs, some built, but the finest cut in the solid rock of the cliff. Doric architecture and brilliant decorative painting adorn these tombs.
Herodotus ii; Josephus, Apion; Thrige, Res Cyrenensium.