Ptolemais, Cyrenaica

Ptolemais (Greek: Πτολεμαΐς) was one of the five cities that formed the Pentapolis of Cyrenaica, the others being Cyrene, Euesperides (later Berenice, and now Benghazi), Tauchira/Teuchira (later Arsinoe, and now Tocra), and Apollonia (now Susa).[1]

Its ruins are at a small village in modern Libya called Tolmeita (Arabic طلميتة), after the ancient name.[2]

Tolmeitha ruins
Ruins of Ptolemais
Ptolemais, Cyrenaica is located in Libya
Ptolemais, Cyrenaica
Shown within Libya
LocationNear Tolmeita, Libya
Coordinates32°42′N 20°57′E / 32.700°N 20.950°ECoordinates: 32°42′N 20°57′E / 32.700°N 20.950°E
Founded3rd century BC
Abandoned7th century AD
PeriodsHellenistic period to Byzantine Empire
Site notes
ConditionIn ruins


Cyrenaica Marmarica
Map of Roman Cyrenaica and Marmarica
Ptolemais (5283376622)
Ptolemais ruins
Ptolemais Byzantine Cistern

The city was founded by and named after one of the rulers of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, probably Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 BC). What had been a small Greek settlement of unknown name that originated in the late 7th century BC and that acted as a port for the city of Barca, 24 kilometres (15 mi) inland, he transformed into a city that enclosed 280 hectares within its walls. Ptolemais probably served as the residence of the Ptolemaic governor of the region but, in spite of its large area, its population did not rival that of Cyrene, which under Roman rule became the capital of the region that, from then on, and still today, is called Cyrenaica. However, the term "Pentapolis" also continued to be used.[3][4]

Ptolemais Villa of Columns
Villa of Columns

Ptolemais became a Roman possession in 96 BC. It was soon included in the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. With Diocletian's alteration of the administrative structure, Ptolemais became the capital of the province of Libya Superior or Libya Pentapolis. It later decayed and was replaced as capital of the province by Apollonia.[3]

The 365 Crete earthquake struck the region and destroyed all the five major cities of the Pentapolis. Ptolemais survived the tragedy in relatively good condition. It served as capital of Cyrenaica until 428. The city was destroyed by the Vandals after they established their kingdom in 439. During the reign of Justinian I the city was rebuilt, but it never regained its powers and was again destroyed during the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century.


Buried in the sands, the town's ruins have been remarkably well preserved.[5] Excavation of the site began in the 1930s, revealing a planned city of rectangular shape, some 1650 by 1400 metres (about one square mile) and composed of blocks of about 180 by 36 metres. It held a hippodrome, an amphitheatre and three theatres, the smallest of which, used as an odeon, was adapted for water spectacles in the 4th or 5th century.[3]

A Roman aqueduct, probably of the time of Hadrian, brought water from 20 km away, which was stored in two large open reservoirs in the east of the city, while further west a porticoed space, now called the Square of the Cisterns, stood above a set of seventeen vaulted cisterns, capable of holding 7,000 kilolitres.[3] These were rediscovered during the Italian occupation, when they were found to be used as a hiding place for rebels, two or three hundred of whom could easily hide in them.[2]

West of the city stands a conspicuous and tower-like Hellenistic mausoleum, known as Qasr Faraoun. There are many chamber tombs in the quarries east and west of the city, which have yielded a few tombstones and numerous inscriptions. Important sculptures and inscriptions have also been found within the city, including imperial edicts such as that by which Diocletian attempted to fix prices.[3]

In 2001 an archaeological mission from Warsaw University started excavations on the site.

In May 2011, a number of objects excavated from Ptolemais in 1937 and held in the vault of the National Commercial Bank in Benghazi were stolen. Looters tunnelled into the vault and broke into two safes that held the artifacts which were part of the so-called Benghazi Treasure. The objects have not been traced.[6]


The Ptolemais of Libya, whose ruins are located near the Libyan city of Tolmeita, was also the Seat of the ancient Christian bishopric of Libya Pentapolitana.[7][8][9]

Ptolemais became a Catholic Church diocese at an early stage, since it seems to have been the see of the Pentapolitan bishop Basilides to whom, in a letter of about 260 quoted by Eusebius,[10] Pope Dionysius of Alexandria said he had sent a copy of a commentary on Ecclesiastes. Another early bishop of Ptolemais is Saint Theodore of Sykeon, martyred during the anti-Christian persecutions.

The First Council of Nicaea confirmed the custom whereby the bishop of Alexandria held authority over the churches in the Pentapolis, although they were not situated in the same Roman province.[11] Accordingly, none of the bishoprics in the Pentapolis was a metropolitan see for the others, but all acted as suffragan bishops of Alexandria.[12]

Ptolemais was the home of Arius, after whom the Arianism condemned at Nicaea in 325 was named. Secundus, who was bishop of Ptolemais and a patron of Arius, is listed among those present at the council. He refused to accept its decree and was deposed by the bishop of Alexandria, but later recovered power. His Arian successor Stephanus was deposed in about 360.

Synesius was bishop of Ptolemais from about 407 to 413, and was succeeded by his brother Evoptius, who took part in the Council of Ephesus (431), which condemned Nestorius. The acts of the Second Council of Constantinople (553) were signed by Georgius of Ptolemais. The last bishop of Ptolemais mentioned by the sources is Gabriel (6th century), the signing Archbishop Gabrielis Pentapolis. Information on all of these can be found, for instance, in Michel Le Quien's work.[12]

No longer a residential bishopric, Ptolemais in Libya is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[13][14] [15] The current archbishop, personal title, is Cyril Vasiľ, secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.[16]

Known Bishops

  • Basilide (mentioned in about 260)
  • Saint Theodorus (before 321 - 325 deposited) (Aryan Bishop)
  • Secundus of Ptolemais (about 325) (Aryan Bishop)
  • Stefanus (about 360 depossed) (Aryan Bishop)
  • Siderio (apostolic administrator)
  • Synesius (about 407 - 413)
  • Euoptius (mentioned in 431)
  • Giorgio (mentioned in 553)
  • Gabriele
  • Raffaele Virili (1915 - 1925)
  • Cesare Orsenigo (1922 - 1946)
  • Carlo Angeleri (1948 - 1979)
  • Cyril Vasiľ (from 2009 - current)


  1. ^ Ronald Bruce St John, Libya: Continuity and Change (Routledge 2013 ISBN 9781136824050), p.3
  2. ^ a b Jane Soames Nickerson (Biblo & Tannen Publishers 1968 ISBN 9780819602190), p. 20
  3. ^ a b c d e O. Brogan, "Ptolemais (Tolmeta), Cyrenaica, Libya" in Richard Stillwell et alii, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites (Princeton University Press 1976)
  4. ^ McEvedy, Colin (2011). Cities of the Classical World: An Atlas and Gazetteer of 120 Centres of Ancient Civilization. Penguin Books Limited. p. 380. ISBN 978-0-14-196763-9.
  5. ^ Kraeling, Carl H. et al. (1962) "Ptolemis, City of the Libyan Pentapolis" The Oriental Instuitute, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, OCLC 1063867
  6. ^ "Benghazi Treasure". Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
  7. ^ Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, vol. 5, стр. 324; vol. 6, стр. 349; vol. 7, стр. 314—315; vol. 8, стр. 471—472.
  8. ^ Michel Lequien, Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus, (Parigi, 1740), vol.II, coll. 617—622.
  9. ^ Pius Bonifacius Gams, Series episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, (Leipzig, 1931), p462
  10. ^ Eusebius, Church History, 7:26:2.
  11. ^ First Council of Nicaea, canon 6
  12. ^ a b Quien, Michel le (1740). Oriens christianus: in quatuor patriarchatus digestus : quo exhibentur ecclesiae, patriarchae caeterique praesules totius orientis. 2. Paris: Imprimérie Royale. p. coll. 617-622.
  13. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 993
  14. ^ David Cheney, Diocese of Ptolemais of Libya, at
  15. ^ Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, vol. 5, стр. 324; vol. 6, стр. 349; vol. 7, стр. 314—315; vol. 8, стр. 471—472.
  16. ^ Annuario Pontificio, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 2003, ISBN 88-209-7422-3

External links

Apollonia (Cyrenaica)

Apollonia (Greek: Ἀπολλωνία) in Cyrenaica (modern Libya) was founded by Greek colonists and became a significant commercial centre in the southern Mediterranean. It served as the harbour of Cyrene, 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest.

Apollonia became autonomous from Cyrene at latest by the time the area came within the power of Rome, when it was one of the five cities of the Libyan Pentapolis, growing in power until, in the 6th century A.D., it became the capital of the Roman province of Libya Superior or Libya Pentapolitana. The city became known as Sozusa, which explains the modern name of Marsa Susa or Susa, which grew up long after the cessation of urban life in the ancient city after the Arab invasion of AD 643.Sozusa was an episcopal see and is included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees.


Arius (; Koinē Greek: Ἄρειος, 250 or 256–336) was a Libyan presbyter and ascetic, and priest in Baucalis in Alexandria, Egypt. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God's uniqueness and the Christ's subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology, Homoousian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.

After Emperors Licinius and Constantine legalized and formalized the Christianity of the time in the Roman Empire, Constantine sought to unify the newly recognized Church and remove theological divisions. The Christian Church was divided over disagreements on Christology, or, the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God. Homoousian Christians, including Athanasius of Alexandria, used Arius and Arianism as epithets to describe those who disagreed with their doctrine of coequal Trinitarianism, a Homoousian Christology representing God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son as "of one essence" ("consubstantial") and coeternal.

Negative writings describe Arius's theology as one in which there was a time before the Son of God, when only God the Father existed. Despite concerted opposition, Arian Christian churches persisted throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, especially in various Germanic kingdoms, until suppressed by military conquest or voluntary royal conversion between the fifth and seventh centuries.

The Son's precise relationship with the Father had been discussed for decades before Arius's advent; Arius intensified the controversy and carried it to a Church-wide audience, where others like Eusebius of Nicomedia proved much more influential in the long run. In fact, some later Arians disavowed the name, claiming not to have been familiar with the man or his specific teachings. However, because the conflict between Arius and his foes brought the issue to the theological forefront, the doctrine he proclaimed—though not originated—is generally labeled as "his".


Cyrenaica ( SY-rə-NAY-ik-ə; Arabic: برقة‎, romanized: Barqah; Koinē Greek: Κυρηναϊκή [ἐπαρχία], romanized: Kurēnaïkḗ [eparkhíā], after the city of Cyrene) is the eastern coastal region of Libya. Also known as Pentapolis ("Five Cities") in antiquity, it formed part of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica, later divided into Libya Pentapolis and Libya Sicca. During the Islamic period, the area came to be known as Barqa, after the city of Barca.

Cyrenaica was the name of an administrative division of Italian Libya from 1927 until 1943, then under British military and civil administration from 1943 until 1951, and finally in the Kingdom of Libya from 1951 until 1963. In a wider sense, still in use, Cyrenaica includes all of the eastern part of Libya, including the Kufra District. Cyrenaica borders on Tripolitania in the northwest and on Fezzan in the southwest. The region that used to be Cyrenaica officially until 1963 has formed several shabiyat, the administrative divisions of Libya, since 1995.

The 2011 Libyan Civil War started in Cyrenaica, which came largely under the control of the National Transitional Council (headquartered in Benghazi) for most of the war. In 2012, the National Transitional Council declared Cyrenaica to be an autonomous region of Libya.

Index of Byzantine Empire-related articles

This is a list of people, places, things, and concepts related to or originating from the Byzantine Empire (AD 330–1453). Feel free to add more, and create missing pages. You can track changes to the articles included in this list from here.

Note: People are listed by first name. Events, monuments and institutions like "Battle/Siege/Council/Church/Duchy/etc. of NNN" are listed by the location/name.


Ptolemais, an Ancient Greek place name and feminine personal name, may refer to :

Places in AfricaPtolemais (Cyrenaica), a city in present-day Libya probably named after Ptolemy III Euergetes

Ptolemais Euergetis alias Crocodilopolis, an Egyptian city renamed Ptolemais Euergetis by Ptolemy III Euergetes

Ptolemais Hermiou, a Greek colony established in Egypt by Ptolemy I Soter

Ptolemais Theron, a city on the African coast of the Red Sea, established by Ptolemy II PhiladelphusPlaces elsewherePtolemais (Ionia), a Greek city in Ionia in Asia Minor

Ptolemais (Macedonia), a Greek city in Northern Greece, named after Ptolemy I Soter

Ptolemais, a name that may have been given to Larisa (Troad)

Ptolemais in Phoenicia, named Antiochia Ptolemais after Ptolemy I Soter, now Acre, IsraelPersonsPtolemais of Cyrene, a third-century BC mathematician and musical theorist, author of Pythagorean Principles of Music

Ptolemais, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and mother of Demetrius the Fair

Zopyrus (bishop of Barca)

Zopyrus (Bishop of Barca), (Ζώπυρος) was a Bishop of the ancient Roman Town of Barca in Cyrenica, (Marj, Libya, North Africa).Zopyros is best known to history as an attendee present at the Council of Nicaea in 325. He was one of the Arian Bishops at that Council. Even though Arius (the founder of Arianism) and his bishop Secundus of Ptolemais were from the neighboring city (and Barca's port) of Ptolemais, Cyrenaica, Zopyrus eventually signed the Nicean Creed with the other Arian supporters, Theognis of Nicaea, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Maris of Chalcedon. He (probably) did not sign the condemnation of Arius. It is unclear if he was exiled with the other three Arian bishops.

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