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Judith McKenzie, Gordon Campbell, R. R. R. Smith, Wiktor A. Daszewski, A. H. Enklaar, Dominic Montserrat, C. Walters, Wladyslaw B. Kubiak, Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Egyptian city situated on the Mediterranean coast west of the delta of the River Nile, capital of Egypt from c. 320 bc to ad 642, seaport and centre of ancient Greek culture.

Judith McKenzie

Alexandria was founded in 331 bc by Alexander, on the site of the small Egyptian settlement of Rhakotis. Its location, with access by canal to the River Nile, enabled it to become an important and highly prosperous trading centre, and by c. 320 bc Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. During Ptolemaic times (304–30 bc) it became a major centre of learning, with famous scholars of literature, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and geography, and it played a major role in the transmission of Greek culture to the East.

With the defeat of the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII (51–30 bc), by Octavian (later called Augustus) at the Battle of Actium in 30...

Article

Cyrene  

F. B. Sear and Susan Kane

[Arab. Shaḥḥāt]

City in Libya, 8 km from the coast and 620 m above sea-level on a plateau of the al-Jabal al-Akh?ar (Green Mountain). The Greek city flourished from its founding as a Dorian colony c. 630 bc to Hellenistic times, and its Greek culture was maintained during the long period of Roman rule, when its fortunes declined somewhat.

F. B. Sear

Cyrene’s principal monuments, restored by their Italian excavators, reveal the splendours of the Greek city. It changed only superficially in Roman times, when alterations to existing buildings were more common than new projects.

Herodotus (IV. cl–clviii) related how a party of Therans, forced by drought to leave their native island, settled at Cyrene because of its high rainfall. Their leader, Battos, became king and established a dynasty that lasted until 440 bc. The site is protected on three sides by gorges with gently sloping ground to the east. A low hill, the acropolis, rises to the west and immediately below its north slopes is the Sanctuary of Apollo. Springs emerge from the rock at this point, ensuring a constant water supply. The plateau is divided by the valley street, which runs from the east gate down to the Sanctuary of Apollo and then past the north necropolis to the port of Apollonia, 19 km away. Parallel to the valley street is the Street of Battos, which runs from the south-east gate through the agora to the acropolis. A main transverse street intersected both streets just east of the Hellenistic gymnasium. The earliest settlers presumably occupied the acropolis, and the eastern fringe of the later agora seems to have been used as a burial ground, which suggests that the early town could not have extended far to the east. Other evidence for the early city is pottery from ...

Article

R. J. A. Wilson

Source of a group of late 2nd-century bc Greek works of art. In 1907 an ancient shipwreck was located by sponge-divers in the waters off Mahdia on the east coast of Tunisia. The subsequent careful exploration of the ship and the lifting of its extensive cargo, carried out between 1908 and 1913, was the first operation of its kind in the Mediterranean. The principal cargo consisted of 60 marble columns, together with Ionic and Corinthian capitals, but also on board was a whole range of sculpture in both bronze and marble. The bronzes include an archaistic herm, a Dancing Eros, three grotesque dancing dwarfs (with suspension rings attached), statuettes of Eros with a Lyre, satyrs, Hermes and actors, two lamp holders in the form of an Eros and a Hermaphrodite, and various assorted appliqués, vessels, candelabra (for illustration see Candelabrum), lamps and couch attachments. The marbles, some badly corroded, include heads or busts of ...

Article

F. B. Sear

[Arab. Tolmeita; Tolmeta; Tulmaythah]

Hellenistic and Roman city in Cyrenaica, Libya, the only natural harbour between Eusperides-Berenice (now Benghazi) and Apollonia (now Susa). It was probably founded in the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 bc), although the site had been used as the port of nearby Barca since the 6th century bc. Ptolemais came under Roman control in 96 bc and under Diocletian (reg ad 284–305) became the capital of Libya Pentapolis. Its buildings extend the whole width of a fertile, 2 km-wide coastal plain, bounded to the south by the foothills of the Jabal al-Akhdar (the Green Mountain).

There are traces of the Hellenistic grid plan with at least five transverse streets (decumani) intersected by two main longitudinal ones (cardines), enclosing blocks measuring 180×36 m. Most of the major streets are 8.8 m wide, but the principal thoroughfare, the Street of the Monuments, is 14.8 m wide including the colonnades either side. The city walls, as is so often the case, are unrelated to the street-plan. They are punctuated by square towers and extend from the sea to the Jabal, where they enclose a commanding triangle of high ground. There were probably seven gates in the circuit, of which the best preserved is the Taucheira gate, flanked by two massive square towers with finely drafted masonry....