1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cyrenaica

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CYRENAICA, in ancient geography, a district of the N. African coast, lying between the Syrtis Major and Marmarica, the western limit being Arae Philaenorum, and the eastern a vague line drawn inland from the head of the gulf of Platea (Bomba). On the south the limit was undefined, but understood to be the margin of the desert, some distance north of the oasis of Augila (Aujila). The northern half of this district, which alone was fertile, was known as Pentapolis from its possession of five considerable cities (1) Hesperides-Berenice (Bengazi), (2) Barca (Merj), (3) Cyrene (Ain Shahat-Grenna), (4) Apollonia (Marsa Susa), (5) Teucheira-Arsinoë (Tocra). In later times two more towns rose to importance, Ptolemais (Tolmeita) and Darnis-Zarine (Derna). These all lay on the coast, with the exception of Barca and Cyrene, which were situated on the highland now called Jebel Akhdar, a few miles inland. Cyrene was the first city to arise, being founded among Libyan barbarians by Aristotle of Thera (later called Battus) in the middle of the 7th century B.C. (see Cyrene). For about 500 years this district enjoyed great prosperity, owing partly to its natural products, but more to its trade with interior Africa.

Under the Ptolemies, the inland cities declined in comparison with the maritime ones, and the Cyrenaica began to feel the commercial competition of Egypt and Carthage, whence easier roads lead into the continent. After all N. Africa had passed to Rome, and Cyrenaica itself, bequeathed by Apion, the last Ptolemaic sovereign, was become (in combination with Crete) a Roman province (after 96 B.C.), this competition told more severely than ever, and the Greek colonists, grown weaker, found themselves less able to hold their own against the Libyan population. A great revolt of the Jewish settlers in the time of Trajan settled the fate of Cyrene and Barca; the former is mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus in the 4th century A.D. as “urbs deserta,” and Synesius, a native, describes it in the following century as a vast ruin at the mercy of the nomads. Long before this its most famous article of export, the silphium plant, a representation of which was the chief coin-type of Cyrene, had come to an end. This plant, credited with wonderful medicinal and aromatic properties, has not been certainly identified with any existing species. The similar Thapsia garganica (Arab. drias), which now grows freely in Cyrenaica, though it has medicinal properties, has not those ascribed to silphium. Henceforward till the Arab invasion (A.D. 641) Apollonia was the chief city, with Berenice and Ptolemais next in order. After the conquest by Amr ibn el-’Asi, inland Cyrenaica regained some importance, lying as it did on the direct route between Alexandria and Kairawan, and Barca became its chief place. But with the substitution of Ottoman for Arab empire, resulting in the virtual independence of both Egypt and Tripoli, the district lying between them relapsed to anarchy. This state of things continued even after Mahmud II. had resumed direct control over Tripoli (1835), and in the middle of the 19th century Cyrenaica was still so free of the Turks that Sheik Ali bin-Senussi chose it as the headquarters of his nascent dervish order. All over the district were built Senussi convents (zawia), which still exist and have much influence, although the headquarters of the order were withdrawn about the year 1855 to Jarabub, and in 1895 to Kufra, still farther into the heart of Africa. In 1875 the district, till then a sanjak of the vilayet of Tripoli, was made to depend directly on the Ministry of the Interior at Constantinople; and the Senussites soon ceased to be de facto rulers of Cyrenaica. Their preserves have now been still further encroached upon by a number of Cretan Moslem refugees (1901–1902). This is not the first effort made by Turkey to colonize Cyrenaica. In 1869 Ali Riza Pasha of Tripoli tried to induce settlers to go to Bomba and Tobruk; and in 1888 an abortive effort was made to introduce Kurds. To protect the Cretans the Ottoman government has extended the civil administration and created several small garrisoned posts. The district is accordingly safer for Europeans than it was; but these still find themselves ill received. The Ottoman officials discourage travel in the interior, partly from fear of the Senussites, partly from suspicions, excited by the lively interest manifested by Italy in Cyrenaica.

At the present day we understand by Cyrenaica a somewhat larger district than of old, and include ancient Marmarica up to the head of the gulf of Sollum (Catabathmus Magnus). The whole area is about 30,000 sq. m., and has some 250,000 inhabitants, inclusive of nomads. Projecting like a bastion into the Mediterranean at a very central point, Cyrenaica seems intended to play a commercial part; but it does not do so to any extent because of (1) lack of natural harbours, Bengazi and Derna having only open and dangerous roads (this is partly due to coastal subsidence; ancient ports have sunk); (2) the difficulty of the desert routes behind it, wells being singularly deficient in this part of the Sahara. The ivory and feather caravans from Wadai and Borku have latterly deserted it altogether. Consequently Cyrenaica is still in a very backward and barbarous state and largely given up to nomad Arabs. There are only two towns, Bengazi and Derna, and not half a dozen settlements beside, worthy to be called villages. In many districts the Senussi convents supply the only settled element, and the local Bedouins largely belong to the Order. There are no roads in the province, and very little internal communication and trade; but a wireless telegraphic system has been installed in communication with Rhodes: and there is a landline from Bengazi to Tripoli.

Geologically and structurally Cyrenaica is a mass of Miocene limestone tilted up steeply from the Mediterranean and falling inland by a gentle descent to sea-level again at the line of depression, which runs from the gulf of Sidra through Aujila to Siwa. This mass is divided into two blocks, the higher being the western Jebel Akhdar, on which Cyrene was built (about 1800 ft.): the lower, the eastern Jebel el-Akabah, the ancient Marmaric highlands (700 ft.). There is no continuous littoral plain, the longest strip running from the recess of the Syrtis round past Bengazi to Tolmeita. Thereafter, except for deltaic patches at Marsa Susa and Derna, the shore is all precipitous. Jebel Akhdar, being without “faults,” has no deep internal valleys, and presents the appearance of downs: but its seaward face is very deeply eroded, and deep circular sinkings (swallow-holes) are common. There is much forest on its northward slopes, and good red earth on the higher parts, which bears abundant crops of barley, much desired by European maltsters. Plenty of springs issue on the highlands, and wide expanses of grassy country dotted with trees like an English park are met with. Here the Bedouins (mostly Beni Hassa) pasture flocks and herds, amounting to several million head. The climate is temperate and the rainfall usually adequate, but one year in five is expected to be droughty. The southward slopes fall through ever-thinning pasture lands to sheer desert about 80 m. inland. Jebel el-Akabah is much more barren than Jebel Akhdar, and the desert comes right down to the sea in Marmarica, whose few inhabitants are more concerned with salt-collecting and sponge fishing than with agriculture. They have, however, the only good ports on the whole coast, Bomba and Tobruk. Much might be made of Cyrenaica by judicious colonization. All kinds of trees grow well, from the date palm to the oak; and there are over 200,000 wild olives in the country. The conditions in general are very like those of central Italy, and there is ample room for new settlers.

Bibliography.—(1) Ancient Cyrenaica: J. P. Thrige, Historia Cyrenes (1819); C. Ritter, Erdkunde, i. (1822); A. F. Gottschick, Gesch. der Grundung und Blute des hell. Staates in Kyrenaika (1858).

(2) Modern Cyrenaica: Paul Lucas, Voyage (1712); T. Shaw, Travels and Observations (1738); J. Bruce, Travels (1790); P. della Cella, Viaggio da Tripoli, &c. (1819); G. F. Lyon, Narrative of Travels (1821); A. Cervelli, in Recueil de voyages, pub. by Soc. de Géog., ii. (1825); J. R. Pacho, Relation d’un voyage (1827); F. W. Beechey, Proceedings of Expedition to explore N. Coast of Africa (1828); H. Barth, Wanderungen, &c. (1849); V. de Bourville, Rapport (1850); J. Hamilton, Wanderings in N. Africa (1856); R. M. Smith and E. A. Porcher, Hist. of Discoveries (1864); G. Rohlfs, Von Tripoli nach Alexandrien (1871); G. Haimann, La Cirenaica (1882); M. Camperio, Una Gita in Cirenaica (1881); H. Duveyrier, “La Confr. musulmane de Sidi Moh. Ben Ali es-Senousi” (Bull. soc. géog., 1884); H. W. Blundell in Geog. Journ. v. (1895) and Annual Brit. Sch. at Athens, ii. (1895); D. G. Hogarth in Monthly Review (Jan. 1904); G. Hildebrand, Cyrenaïka, &c. (1904); G. de Martino, Cirene e Cartagine (1908).

(3) Maps: The best are that by P. Carlo, to illustrate Camperio and Haimann’s Report, in Petermann’s Mitth. (1881); and Sheet No. 2 of Carte de l’Afrique (Service géog. de l’armée, 1892).  (D. G. H.)