(Κυρήνη; Ghrenna, in modern Arabic), a city in Upper Libya, founded by a colony of Greeks from Thera (Santorini), a small island in the AEgean Sea (Thirlwall's History of Greece, vol. ii, ch. 12). Its name is generally supposed to be derived from a fountain (but according to Justin, Hist. xiii, a mountain), called Κυρή, Cyre, near its site. It was built on a table-land, 1800 feet above the level of the sea, in a region of extraordinary fertility and beauty. It was the capital of a district, called from it Cyrenaica (Barca), which extended from the Gulf of Plataea (Bomba) to the Great Syrtis (Gulf of Sidra). With its port Apollonia (Musa Soosa), about ten miles distant, and the cities Barca, Teuchira, and Hesperis, which at a later period were named Ptolemais, Arsinoe, and Berenice (Strabo, xvii; vol. 3, p. 496, ed. Tauchn.), it formed the Cyrenaic Pentapolis (Mel. 1:4, 8; Pliny, v. 5; Ptolem. 4:4, 11; Amm. Marcell. 22:16). It is observable that the expression used in Ac 2:10, "the parts of Libya about (κατά) Cyrene," exactly corresponds with a phrase used by Dion Cassius (Λιβύη ἡ περὶ Κυρήνην, 53:12), and also with the language of Josephus (ἡ πρὸς Κυρήνην Λιβύη; Ant. 16:6, 1). See LIBYA. Its inhabitants were very luxurious and refined, and it was, in a manner, a commercial rival of Carthage (Forbioer, Handb. der alt. Geogr. 2:380 sq.; Ritter, Erdk. 1:946 sq.). The Greek colonization of this part of Africa under Battus began as early as B.C. 631, and it became celebrated not only for its commerce, but for its physicians, philosophers, and poets (Herod. 4:155, 164). It would seem that the old Hellenic colonists cultivated friendly relations with the native Libyans, and to a much greater extent than usual became intermingled with them by marriage relationships (Herod. 4:186-189). For above 180 years the form of government was monarchical; it then became republican, and at last the country became tributary to Egypt, under Ptolemy Soter. It was bequeathed to the Romans by Apion, the natural son of Ptolemy Physcon, about B.C. 97 (Tacitus, Ann. 14:18; Cicero, De leg. Agrar. 2:19), and in B.C. 75 formed into a province (Strabo, 17:3). On the conquest of Crete (B.C. 67) the two were united in one province, and together frequently called Creta-Cyrene. See CRETE. An insurrection in the reign of Trajan led to great disasters, and to the beginning of its decay. In the 4th century it was destroyed by the natives of the Libyan desert, and its wealth and honors were transferred to the episcopal city of Ptolemais, in its neighborhood. The Saracens completed the work of destruction, and for centuries not only the city, but the once populous and fertile district of which it was the ornament, has been almost lost to civilization. During three parts of the year the place is tenanted by wild animals of the desert, and during the fourth part the wandering Bedouins pitch their tents on the low grounds in its neighborhood. — Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.; Penny Cyclopoedia, s.v. Cyrenaica, Cyrene; Rawlinson's Herodotus, 3, 108 sq.
Strabo (quoted by Josephus, Ant. 14:7) says that in Cyrene there were four classes of persons, namely, citizens, husbandmen, foreigners, and Jews, and that the latter enjoyed their own customs and laws (comp. Dio Cass. 58:32). Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, introduced them, because he thought they would contribute to the security of the place (Joseph. c. Apion. 2:4). They became a prominent and influential class of the community (Ant. 14:7, 2), and they afterwards received much consideration from the Romans (xvi. 6, 5). See 1 Maccabees 15:23; comp. 2 Maccabees 2:23. We learn from Josephus (Life, 76) that soon after the Jewish war they rose against the Roman power. The notices above given of the numbers and position of the Jews in Cyrene (confirmed by Philo, who speaks of the diffusion of the Jews southward to Ethiopia, adv. Flacc. p. 523) prepare us for the frequent mention of the place in the N.T. in connection with Christianity. Simon, who bore our Savior's cross (Mt 27:32; Mr 15:21; Lu 23:26), was a native of Cyrene. Jewish dwellers in Cyrenaica were in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Ac 2:10). They even gave their name to one of the synagogues in Jerusalem (Ac 6:9). Christian converts from Cyrene were among those who contributed actively to the formation of the first Gentile church at Antioch (Ac 11:20), and among those "who are specially mentioned as laboring at Antioch, when Barnabas and Saul were sent on their missionary journey, is Lucius of Cyrene (Ac 13:1), traditionally said to have been the first bishop of his native district. Other traditions connect Mark with the first establishment of Christianity in this part of Africa. SEE AFRICA.
See Della Cella, Viaggio da Tripoli, etc. (Genoa, 1819); Pacho, Voyage dans la Mt-armarique, la Cyrenaique (Paris, 1827-29); Trige, Res Cyrneenses (Hafn. 1828); Beechey, Expedition to Explore the north Coast of Africa (London, 1828); Barth, Wanderungen durch das Punische u. Kyrendische Kiustenland (Berlin, 1849); Hamilton, Wanderings in North Africa (London, 1856), p. 78; Smith and Porcher, Hist. of Discoveries at Cyrene (Lond. 1865).