The Commonwealth war graves cemetery located at the city of Benghazi, Eastern Libya, is the last resting place of over 1000 commonwealth servicemen who gave their lives in the North African desert wars of British Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery and German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during World War 2.
“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons,”
Herodotus – Greek Historian 484 BC – 409 BC.
Buried and commemorated at the cemetery are Australian, British, Greek, Indian, Jewish, Libyan, Norwegian, South African and Sudanese servicemen. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) built and continues to maintain the cemetery.
Note: I visited Libya just before the Libyan civil war in 2011, a war which has left Libya in a complete state of lawlessness and terror. Many thousands of lives have died, and according to Amnesty International, it is estimated that almost a million people across Libya need humanitarian aid.
Founded by the Greeks, Cyrene is a one of the great cities of antiquity. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vast evocative ruins of Cyrene in North Eastern Libya are one of the most impressive of the ancient world and provide a majestic insight to its wondrous and celebrated past.
In the 7th century BC, the Greek island of Thera (modern Santorini) was experiencing a severe drought which overwhelmed its limited resources, causing its monumental struggles in sustaining its increasingly distressed population. Because of this, the island’s leaders sent a committee to mainland Greece to seek advice from Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi, the largest and most famous mystical spiritual centre in the ancient Mediterranean world.
The Oracle at Delphi advised the committee that to change their fortunes and to survive as a people that they had to establish a new settlement in the lush north-eastern coast of Libya, a place that rained regularly, a place that the “sky leaked through a hole in the heavens”.
So in 631 BC, led by Heroic Battus (the first Greek King in Libya) the Therans founded their new city-state, Cyrene, on the fertile highland ground overlooking the Green Mountain plateau or Jebel Akhdar uplands, 13 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean. Note: The famous Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes the foundation of Cyrene in his ‘Histories’, which is the founding work of history in Western literature.
Cyrene produced and traded olives, dates, apples, grapes, and cereals and was renowned for its horses and medicinal plant silphium.
The city and people thrived in the lush environment, and Cyrene quickly established a profitable maritime trade with other Greek cities. Cyrene soon became the principal and most prosperous city of Libya and because of its success; four more cities were founded in the region. Known as the Pentapolis, these flourishing cities were Cyrene, Apollonia, Teuchira, Ptolemais and Eusperides.
The city was established as a Roman province in 74 BC and continued to prosper and be a major influence and important player in the Mediterranean world. Cyrene was severely damaged in AD 115 because of the Jewish revolt and then completely rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138).
In 365 AD, a catastrophic earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) struck off the Western coast of Crete that lifted that island 9 metres. Because of this event, Cyrene and many other cities in the region were severely damaged or destroyed and many thousands of people died. Cyrene never recovered from this and eventually declined as an influence and fell under the Arab conquest in 643; however, by then it was only dusty footprint of its glorious and opulent past.
Famous Ancient Greeks from Cyrene:
Eratosthenes–Born 276 BC – Died 194 BC (82 years). Mathematician, Geographer, Poet, Astronomer and Librarian. First, to prove the earth was a sphere. The first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. First, to calculate the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day. He created the first map of the world and inventing the idea of latitude and longitude. Became the Chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria: the most important library of the ancient world.
Arete–Born c 400 BC – Died c. 340 BC (60 years). Teacher and Philosopher. Daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene, who was a close follower of Socrates. Arete was a career teacher of natural and moral philosophy at the academies and various schools of Ancient Greece. She also wrote over forty books.
Arete was so highly esteemed that they had inscribed on her tomb a truly beautiful epitaph which declared:
she was the splendour of Greece, and possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus, the soul of Socrates and the tongue of Homer.
On the northwestern coast of Libya, the extensive archaeological site of Leptis Magna is one of the most splendid and unspoiled Roman sites in the Mediterranean. The ancient city encompasses some of the finest Roman monuments that were ever built.
Founded by the Phoenicians at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the colony existed without real influence until the 4th century BC when Carthage became a Mediterranean force. The town eventually became part of the Roman Republic (and then Roman Empire) and it was integrated in to the province of Africa around 46 BC. The city was expanded and became a major trading centre and leading city of Roman Africa during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus and Tiberius.
The city reached its glorious pinnacle during the reign of Lucius Septimius Severus (193-211 AD), who was born there and the first Roman Emperor to be from Africa (he was of Phoenician rather than black African descent).
Severus mastered and instigated an ambitious building program that incorporated the latest and finest architectural and artistic elements, which completely transformed the city into one that was the envy of the Roman world.
What is observed now is chiefly from this remarkable age. There after the city was plundered and then become a stronghold of the Byzantine and then the Arabs. The drifting sands of the Sahara helped its preservation by burying the city over several centuries.
Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Libya – Archaeological Site of Cyrene. Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna. Archaeological Site of Sabratha. Old Town of Ghadames and the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus.
Magnificently sited on the water’s edge of the palm fringed white sandy west coast of Libya and North Africa, the ancient seaport city of Sabratha shines majestically as one of the most beautiful and spectacular Roman cities of the ancient Mediterranean.
Originally founded as a trading post by the Carthaginians around 500 BC, Sabratha’s importance and wealth attracted settlement by Hellenistic Greeks around the second century BC. With the rise of the Roman Empire, Sabratha continued to prosper and grow under the Empire’s influence and most of the ruins seen today are a legacy of that period.
The ancient theatre is perhaps the most graceful and spectacular of the ancient Roman world and the mosaics of the Roman and later Byzantine eras are also very impressive. Sabratha is one of the three cities of ancient Tripolis, which included Leptis Magna and Oea (Tripoli) and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.