Cyrenaica or Cirenaica (Κυρηναϊκή, Arabic: برقه, Barqah) is the eastern coastal region of Libya and also an ex-province or State ("muhafazah" or "wilayah") of the country (alongside Tripolitania and Fezzan) in the pre-1970s administrative system. What used to be Cyrenaica in the old system is now divided up into several "Sha'biyat" (see administrative divisions in Libya). In addition to the coastal region, i.e. historical Cyrenaica, the former Province, during the Kingdom and the Italian era extended to the south to include the entire eastern section of the country (see relevant map).
The name Cyrenaica is derived from Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony around which the region evolved, while the Arabic name Barqah is similar to Barca and might also be related to Barneek or Berenice, the ancient names of Benghazi, capital of the region in modern times. Kufra, a vital oasis for overland travel is situated amid the desert southern part of the ex-Province of Cyrenaica.
Cyrenaica was an area heavily colonized by the Greeks. The east of the province was called Marmarica (no major city), but the important part was in the west, comprising five cities, hence known as the Pentapolis— Cyrene (near the modern village of Shahat) with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), Arsinoe or Teucheira (Tocra), Berenice (modern Benghazi) and Barca (Al Marj)— of which the chief was the eponymous Cyrene. The term "Pentapolis" continued to be used as a synonym for Cyrenaica. In the south Cyrenaica faded into the Saharan tribal areas, including the pharaonic oracle of Ammonium.
Conquered by Alexander the Great, it passed to the diadoch dynasty of the Lagids, better known as the Ptolemaic dynasty. It briefly gained independence under Magas, stepson of Ptolemy I Soter, but was reabsorbed into the Ptolemaic empire after his death. It was separated from the main kingdom by Ptolemy VIII and given to his son Ptolemy Apion, who, dying without heirs in 96 BC, bequeathed it to the Roman Republic.
Although some confusion exists as to the exact territory Rome inherited, by 78 BC it was organized as one administrative province together with Crete. It became a senatorial province in 20 BC, like its far more prominent western neighbor Africa proconsularis, and unlike Egypt itself which became an imperial domain sui generis (under a special governor styled praefectus augustalis) in 30 BC.
The Tetrarchy reforms of Diocletian in 296 changed the administrative structure. Cyrenaica was split into two provinces: Libya Superior comprised the above-mentioned Pentapolis with Cyrene as capital, and Libya Inferior the Marmarica (only significant city now the port Paraetonium), each under a governor of the modest rank of praeses. Both belonged to the Diocese of Egypt, within the praetorian prefecture of Oriens. Its western neighbor Tripolitania, the largest split-off from Africa proconsularis, became part of the Diocese of Africa, subordinate to the prefecture of Italia et Africa. After the earthquake of 365, the capital was moved to Ptolemais. After the Empire's division, Cyrenaica became part of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, bordering Tripolitania, now belonging to the Vandal Kingdom to the west, until its conquest by Belisarius in 533.
Christianity spread to Pentapolis from Egypt; Synesius of Cyrene (370-414), bishop of Ptolemais, received his instruction at Alexandria in both the Catechetical School and the Museion, and he entertained a great deal of reverence and affection for Hypatia, the last pagan Neoplatonist, whose classes he had attended. Synesius was raised to the episcopate by Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, in 410 A.D. Since the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., Cyrenaica had been recognized as an ecclesiastical province of the See of Alexandria, in accordance with the ruling of the Nicaean Fathers.The patriarch of the Coptic Church to this day includes the Pentapolis in his title as an area within his jurisdiction.. The Eparchy of the Western Pentapolis was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria as the Pope of Alexandria was the Pope of Arica, The most senior position in The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church after the Pope was the Metropolitan of Western Pentapolis, but since its demise in the days of Pope John VI of Alexandria as a major Archiepiscopal Metropolis and now being held as a Titular See attached to another Diocese.
After often being destroyed and then restored, during the Roman period it became a mere borough but was, nevertheless, the site of a bishopric. Its bishop, Zopyros (Zephyrius is a mistake), was present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. The subscriptions at Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) give the names of two other bishops, Zenobius and Theodorus. The see must have disappeared when the Arabs conquered the Pentapolis in 643-44.
Although it retained the title "Pentapolis", the ecclesiastic province actually included all of the Cyrenaica, and not just the five cities and Pentapolis remains included in the title of both Popes of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Cyrenaica was conquered by the Islamic Arabs during the tenure of the second caliph, Omer Bin Khattab, in 643/44, and became known as Barka after its new provincial capital, the ancient Barca. After the breakdown of the Ummayad caliphate, it was essentially annexed to Egypt, although still under the same name, under the Fatimid caliphs and later under the Ayyubid and Mamluk sultanates.
Ultimately, it was annexed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1517 (it was mentioned in the full style of the Great Sultan as the vilayet of Barka, alongside Tripoli, with which it had been joined); its main cities became Bengazi and Derna.