Libya's second largest city Benghazi, has a history which extends from
when the city was first inhabited in the 6th century BCE to the
present day. Throughout its history, the city has been continuously
conquered by different Ancient and Colonial forces.
1 Ancient Greek colony
2 Roman settlement
3 The Arabs and the advent of Islam
4 Ottoman province
5 Italian invasion
6 Modern Benghazi
7 See also
Ancient Greek colony
A panathenaic amphora found in
Benghazi from the times of Euesperides,
the Ancient Greek city that is now Benghazi.
Benghazi lies in the province of Cyrenaica, an area which was
heavily colonised by the Greeks in antiquity. After the war of Othomi
in 464-460 BC. the Messenians settled in Naupaktos. In 399 BC,
expelled once more by the Spartians, they took final refuge in
Euesperides. The Greek city that existed within the modern day
Benghazi was founded around 525 BC. It was called
Euesperides and was one of five important cities in
Cyrenaica known as
the Pentapolis — the other four were the chief city Cyrene, its port
Apollonia, Taucheira, and Barca. Euesperides was probably founded by
people from Cyrene or Barca on the edge of a lagoon which opened from
the sea. At the time, the lagoon may have been deep enough to receive
small sailing vessels. The name Euesperides was attributed to the
fertility of the area, and gave rise to mythological associations with
the garden of Hesperides. The city was located on a raised piece of
land opposite what is now the Sidi Abeid graveyard, in the Eastern
Benghazi suburb of Sebkha Es-Selmani (Es-Selmani Marsh).
Euesperides is first mentioned by ancient sources in Herodotus'
account of the revolt of Barca and the Persian expedition to Cyrenaica
in c.515 BC; the punitive force sent by the satrap in Egypt conquered
Cyrenaica and reached "as far west as Euesperides". The
oldest coins minted in the city date back to 480 BC. One side of the
coin has an engraving of Delphi, whilst the other has an engraving of
a silphium plant.
Silphium once formed the crux of trade from
Cyranaica because of its use as a rich seasoning and as a medicine.
Euesperides's coinage suggests that it must have enjoyed an
intermittent autonomy from Cyrene in the early 5th century, because
Euesperidean coins had their own types, distinct from those of Cyrene
with the legend EU(ES). An inscription found in modern
dated around the middle of the 4th century BC, shows that the city had
a similar constitution to that of Cyrene, with a board of chief
magistrates (ephors) and a council of elders (gerontes).
The city was located in hostile territory surrounded by inhospitable
tribes, and had a turbulent history. The Greek historian Thucydides
mentions a siege of the city in 414 BC. by Libyan tribes who were
probably the Nasamones. Euesperides was saved by the chance arrival of
Gylippus and his fleet, who were blown to
contrary winds on their way to Sicily. Another important event in
the city's history was the assassination of the Cyrenean king
Arcesilaus IV. The King used his chariot victory at the Pythian Games
of 462 BC. to attract new settlers to Euesperides, where Arcesilaus
hoped to create a safe refuge for himself against the resentment of
his own people in Cyrene. This proved totally ineffective, since when
the King fled to Euesperides during the anticipated revolution (around
440 BC), he was assassinated, thus terminating the almost two hundred
year rule of the Battiad dynasty.
Cyrenaica was a supporter of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great and subsequently
became part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Later in the 4th century BC,
during the unsettling period which followed Alexander's death, the
Euesperides backed the losing side in a revolt led by the Spartan
adventurer Thibron; he was trying to create an empire for himself, but
was defeated by the Cyreneans and their Libyan allies. After the
marriage of Ptolemy III to Berenice, daughter of the Cyrenean Governor
Magas, around the middle of the 3rd century, many Cyrenaican cities
were renamed to mark the occasion. Euesperides became Berenice and the
change of name also involved a relocation. Its desertion was probably
due to the silting up of the lagoons; Berenice, the place they moved
to, lies underneath Benghazi's modern city centre. The Greek colony
had lasted from the 6th to the mid-3rd centuries BC. The remains of
this settlement were discovered in the early 1950s by Mr. Frank
Euesperides was refounded as Berenice and became part of the Roman
Pentapolis. This section of the Roman
Tabula Peutingeriana itinerarium
(road map) shows Berenice and the other cities of the Pentapolis which
were bequeathed to Rome.
Cyrenaica became a Roman province when it was bequeathed to Rome by
Ptolemy Apion on his death in 96 BC. At first, the Romans gave
Berenice and the other cities of the Pentapolis their freedom. By 78
Cyrenaica was formally organised as one administrative
province together with Crete. It became a senatorial province in 20
BC, like its far more prominent western neighbour Africa
Tetrarchy reforms of
Diocletian in 296 changed the
administrative structure and
Cyrenaica was split into two provinces:
Libya Inferior and
Libya Superior (which comprised Berenice and the
other cities of the Pentapolis, with Cyrene as capital). Berenice
prospered for most of its 600 years as a Roman city; it even
superseded Cyrene and Barca as the chief center of
Cyrenaica after the
3rd century AD. Many structures were built in Roman Berenice, and
mosaics were to be found on the floors of several important buildings.
A public bath and churches were built in the city later on in its
The inhabitants of the city practiced different religions throughout
the centuries. During Pagan times, the worship of Apollo was very
important in Berenice. Whilst still a pagan city, a Jewish community
existed in Berenice around the time the city was first founded after
moving from the Euesperides site. It probably contained many poor
members, but three Jewish inscriptions found in
Benghazi show that a
comfortable and even wealthy stratum existed in the Jewish community.
There was also a synagogue in Berenice. Despite relative peace,
religious strife was not unheard of; a Jewish insurgency in 118 AD had
destroyed much of Cyrenaica. Christianity later came to Berenice from
Egypt, and many of the early Christians there were non-trinitarian
Sabellians and Carpocrations. After the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,
Cyrenaica had been recognized as an ecclesiastical province of the See
By 431, the whole of
Libya was conquered by the Vandals. These
Germanic people from Europe quickly set about invading the country
under their leader
Geiseric with as many as 80,000 settlers in tow.
Cyrenaica in the 5th century, and Berenice became part of
their empire. The Romans recognised the Vandal ascendancy, as long as
civil administration remained in Roman hands. Berenice suffered
enormous damage during the Vandal invasion.
There was a brief period of repair when the Byzantines took control of
Berenice in the 6th century and the city came under the rule of
Justinian I. According to Procopius, Justinian rebuilt the walls of
Bernice and also built a public bath. After later reorganisation by
Byzantine Emperor Maurice (582-602),
Cyrenaica belonged to the
province of Egypt. In general, Byzantine control over the region was
weak, except in Berenice and other urban areas which were relatively
under control. Berber rebellions were frequent in the insecure
hinterland, and later reduced the area to anarchy. The potential
prosperity of Berenice was thus squandered. Byzantine Rule was deeply
unpopular, not least because taxes were increased dramatically in
order to pay for military upkeep, while Berenice and other cities were
left to decay.
The Arabs and the advent of Islam
Islam came to North Africa at a moment when there was nothing of a
calibre sufficient to oppose it, while there were many native elements
favourable to its advance. The Romans were largely obliterated except
in Berenice and the rest of the small area under Byzantine rule.
Civilisation in Berenice was almost extinct, due to depopulation under
the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century fearful of a Jewish rising, and
its equally fearful suppression. The towns were deserted and prey to
marauding bands of Berbers. Berber peasantry was exploited by crushing
taxation and were keen for new rule. The official Church had alienated
the mass of the population by its intransigent attitude to what it
considered as heresies.
In the year 642, the Treaty of Alexandria was concluded between 'Amr
ibn al-'As and the Patriarch Cyrus, the last Byzantine governor of
Egypt, ratifying the conquest of his territory by the Arabs. Shortly
thereafter, on 17 September 642, the last Byzantine garrison evacuated
Alexandria. But Amr ibn alAs, the conqueror of Egypt, thought it
necessary to annex
Cyrenaica as well. Since the last reorganisation by
the Emperor Maurice (582-602),
Cyrenaica had in fact belonged to the
province of Egypt, as had Tripolitania. 'Amr marched on
the beginning of 643, and seized it almost without meeting any
resistance. He found neither Greeks nor Byzantines to oppose him, only
Berbers of the Luwata and Hawwara groups. These, surrendering, agreed
to pay an annual tribute of 13,000 dinars, which henceforth
constituted part of the tribute payable by Egypt. By then Berenice
had dwindled to an insignificant village among magnificent ruins. It
began to be known by its Arabic name Barneeq.
In the 13th century, the small settlement became an important player
in the trade growing up between Genoese merchants and the tribes of
the hinterland. In 16th century maps, the name of Marsa ibn Ghazi
The Ottoman flag is raised during Mawlid celebrations in
1896. The city was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
Benghazi had a strategic port location, one that was too useful to be
ignored by the Ottomans. It was in 1896 that the Turks invaded
Benghazi and it was ruled from
Tripoli by the Karamanlis from 1711 to
1835, then it passed under direct Ottoman rule until 1911. Under
Benghazi was the most impoverished of the Ottoman
provinces. It had neither a paved road nor telegraph service, and the
harbor was too silted to permit the access of shipping. Greek and
Italian sponge fishermen worked its coastal waters. In 1858, and again
Benghazi was devastated by bubonic plague.
Benghazi under Italian rule
Benghazi was invaded by the Italians, and by 1912 they had
established the colony of Cyrenaica. The local population of Cyrenaica
under the leadership of
Omar Mukhtar resisted the Italian occupation.
Cyrenaica suffered ruthless oppression, particularly under the fascist
dictator Mussolini; about 125,000 Libyans were forced into
concentration camps, about two-thirds of whom perished.
The Italians modernised and expanded the port, and developed the city,
constructing a district of white Italianate villas and other buildings
by the shore.
Benghazi grew as an administrative and commercial
centre, and by the start of
World War II
World War II was home to about 22,000
Heavily bombed in World War II,
Benghazi was later rebuilt with the
country's newly found oil wealth as a gleaming showpiece of modern
Libya. On 15 April 1986 US Airforce and Navy planes bombed Benghazi
and Tripoli. President Ronald Reagan justified the attacks by claiming
Libya was responsible for terrorism directed at the USA, including the
bombing of La Belle discotheque in West Berlin ten days before.
In February 2011
Benghazi was the scene of protests again the
Gaddafi-led government, which caused numerous killings by paramilitary
internal security forces and commando teams, and the burning down of
the houses of those suspected of anti-Gaddafi regime
sympathies. Beginning in late February 2011, Benghazi
was no longer under control of the government in Tripoli, but was
National Transitional Council
National Transitional Council of Libya.
Following the overthrow of the Gaddafi government, the city would be
plagued by instability due to weakened interim governments, a split
between the Tripoli-based government and the Libyan National Army,
infighting between militias, and reemerging Islamist militancy. In
Benghazi became the center of controversy in the United States
when the American diplomatic mission in
Benghazi was attacked by a
heavily armed group of Islamist 125–150 gunmen. The outbreak of the
second Libyan Civil War in 2014 also saw heavy fighting in and around
Benghazi between the Libyan National Army-aligned House of
Representatives government, and the Islamist Shura Council of Benghazi
Revolutionaries (which have become entrenched in the central coastal
quarters of Suq Al-Hout and al-Sabri) and the ISIL-aligned Wilayat
Barqa; Suq Al-Hout and al-Sabri would subsequently suffer intensified
bombardment and war damage by the LNA during the closing months of the
battle between late-2016 and mid-2017. Wilayat Barqa militants
Benghazi in early January 2017, while the LNA declared
the city cleared of the Shura Council on 5 July 2017; fighting would
officially end on 27 July.
Timeline of Benghazi
Richard Hodges and David Whitehouse, Mohammed, Charlemagne, and the
Origins of Europe: The Pirenne Thesis in the Light of Archaeology,
1983, p. 69.
^ Ham, Anthony, Libya, 2002, p.156
^ Göransson, Kristian: The transport amphorae from Euesperides: The
maritime trade of a Cyrenaican city 400-250 BC, Acta Archaeologica
Lundensia, Series in 4o No. 25, Lund/Stockholm 2007, 29.
^ Herodotus, IV.204.
^ Economou, Maria, "Euesperides: A devastated Site", Digital Library
and Archives, Virginia Tech, August 1993, Accessed February 6, 2009.
^ Guy Wilson, Nigel, Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, 2006, p.198
^ a b Cohen, Getzel, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea
Basin, and North Africa, 2006, p.390.
^ Applebaum, Shimon, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, 1979, p.160
^ Ham, pp. 11-12.
^ Persson Nilsson, Martin, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its
Survival in Greek Religion, 1971, pp.57-58.
^ Hrbek. I, General History of Africa, III Africa from the Seventh to
the Eleventh Century, p.120.
^ Marshall Cavendish Corporation, World and its Peoples, North Africa,
See also: Timeline of
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