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Euesperides: the Rescue of an Excavation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2015

Michael Vickers
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
David Gill
University College of Swansea, Maria Economou
Maria Economou
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


There was a time when the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford was prosperous enough to support a venture which called itself the Ashmolean Expedition to Cyrenaica. The form this exercise took was the excavation over three seasons between 1952 and 1954 of parts of the site of the Greek city of Euesperides situated on the outskirts of Benghazi (Fig. 1 ).

Euesperides does not figure large in history. We first hear of it in 515 in connection with the revolt of Barca from the Persians: a punitive expedition was sent by the satrap in Egypt and it marched as far west as Euesperides. Euesperides played a part in the downfall of the Battiads, the ruling house of Cyrene. Arcesilas IV tried to create a safe haven against the day when his regime might be overthrown, and in 462 in effect refounded the city with a new body of settlers attracted from all over Greece.

Greek and Hellenistic Periods
Copyright © Society for Libyan Studies 1994

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1 It was an age of grandiose titles; compare the ‘Cyrenaican Expedition of the University of Manchester’: e.g. Rowe, A., Cyrenaican Expedition of (he University of Manchester 1952 (Manchester 1956)Google Scholar.

2 See Chamoux, F., Cyrène sous la monarchie des Battiades (Paris, 1953)Google Scholar, passim, but esp. 161, 174–5, 198, 205; Johnson, D. L., Jabal al-Akhdar, Cyrenaica: an Historical Geography of Settlement and Livelihood (University of Chicago Department of Geography Research Paper 148), (Chicago, 1973)Google Scholar.

3 Hdt. 4.204. Strata once linked to the Persian sack (Jones, G. D. B., ‘Excavations at Tocra and Euesperides, Cyrenaica 1968–1969’, Libyan Studies 14 [1983] 110–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, ‘Beginnings and endings in Cyrenaican cities’, in Baker, G., Lloyd, J., and Reynolds, J. [eds], Cyrenaica in Antiquity [BAR International Series 236], [Oxford, 1985]32)Google Scholar should now be dated to the fourth century BC; cf. Vickers, M. and Gill, D. W. J., ‘Archaic Greek pottery from Euesperides, Cyrenaica’, Libyan Studies 17 (1986) 97CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Letter from Johns to Harden, 21 June, 1953.

5 Thuc.7.50.

6 Paus. 4.26.2; but cf. Diod. 14.34, who speaks of 3000 Messenians going to Cyrene: clearly ‘Cyrenaica’ was meant.

7 Paus. 4.26.3; Laronde, A., Cyrène et la Libye hellénistique. Libykai historiai de l'époque républicaine au principat d'Auguste (Paris, 1987) 27Google Scholar.

8 Diod. 18.20.3; Laronde [supra n. 7) 41–2.

9 Fraser, P. M., ‘An inscription from Euesperides’, Bulletin de la Société Royale d'Archéologie d'Alexandrie 39 (1951) 132–43Google Scholar; 40 (1953) 62; SEG 20, No. 772.

10 See T. D. Buttrey in this volume, pp. 138–144 (who rejects the arguments of A. Laronde [supra n. 7, 379–94] to the effect that the abandonment of the site was punitively imposed).

11 For earlier visits to the site see Bourville, J. Vattier de, ‘Lettre à M. Letronne sur les premiers résultats de son voyage à Cyrène’, Revue Archéologique 5 (1848) 150–4Google Scholar; idem, Lettre à M. Lenormant sur les antiquités de Cyrénaïque, Revue Archéologique 6 (1849) 56–8Google Scholar; idem, Rapport au Ministre’, Archives des Missions Scientifiques (1850)Google Scholar; Dennis, G., ‘On recent excavations in the Greek cemeteries of the Cyrenaica’, Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature n.s. 9 (1867) 148Google Scholar.

12 Salvadori, A., La Cirenaica ed i suoi servizi civili (Rome, 1914) 69Google Scholar.

13 Goodchild, R., ‘Euesperides — a Devastated City Site’, Antiquity 26 (1952) 209CrossRefGoogle Scholar, n. 1. A letter to Goodchild from Mr Frank Jowett is preserved among the Johns papers in Oxford. One paragraph reads: ‘On the Northern end of the Sebkhat Ain es-Selmani I have found abundant remains of Greek and Roman pottery, coins, and arrowheads, etc. There are a number of tessellated pavements of presumably Roman date in the vicinity, and one has definite traces of bases of pillars on one side. A great many pieces of black and red figured ware have come to light and also some figurines, and a mould for a plaster cast of a woman's face. Captain Burton-Brown has seen the site and the remains, and is of the opinion, I believe, that this was the site of ancient Benghazi, but I expect that full-scale excavation would have to take place before this can be definitely ascertained’.

14 These were deposited in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. A catalogue is being prepared by David Gill.

15 Goodchild (n. 13 supra) 208–12; cf. Castagnoli, F., Ippodamo di Mileto e l'urbanistica a pianta ortogonale (Rome, 1956) 20Google Scholar, fig. 6, who notes that there are insulae measuring 35 × 100 metres in the northern part of the grid, and 44 ×80 and 130 metres in the southern. He puts this discrepancy down to different planning periods. See too, Kraeling, C. H., Ptolemais, City of the Libyan Pentapolis (University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications 90 [1962]) 43–4Google Scholar, Fig. 6.

16 See Ashmolean Museum Annual Report 1952, 15Google Scholar.

17 Letter from Johns to Harden, 21 June 1953.

18 Jones, G. D. B. and Little, J. H., ‘Coastal settlement in Cyrenaica’, Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971) 65–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jones 1983 (n. 3 supra), 109–21, esp. 109–13; idem 1985 (n. 3 supra), 27–33.

19 This section was cleaned in 1968 and redrawn: Jones 1985 (n. 3 supra) 31–2.

20 Lloyd, J., ‘Some Aspects of Urban Development at Euesperides/Berenice’, in Baker, G., Lloyd, J., and Reynolds, J. (eds), Cyrenaica in Antiquity (BAR International Series 236) (Oxford, 1985) 52, 56Google Scholar.

21 Vickers and Gill (n. 3 supra) 97–108. Brogan, O., ‘Euesperides’, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites (Princeton, NJ, 1976) 320Google Scholar, understandably does not mention the Ashmolean Expedition; cf. Laronde (n. 7 supra) 389.

22 Jones, G. D. B., ‘Excavations at Tocra and Euesperides, Cyrenaica 1968–1969’, Libyan Studies 14 [1983] 109–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 A handlist compiled by M. V. in 1969–70 (when the material was stored in the Cyrene Museum) is on file in the Ashmolean. The boxes are now in Benghazi.

24 Gill, D. W. J., Attic Black-Glazed Pottery in the Fifth Century B.C.: Wortehops and Export (Oxford DPhil thesis, 1986)Google Scholarpassim; S.Hinds, Euesperides: a Devastated City Site (Leicester MA thesis, 1991)Google Scholar.

25 Letter from Johns to Harden, 22 February 1954.

26 Letter from Goodchild to Johns, 26 June 1954.

27 Letter from Johns to Wilson, 7 July 1954. The ‘Benghazi’ provenance of some of these BUS sherds given by Beazley, J. D., Attic Red-figure Vase-painters, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1963) 1186Google Scholar, No. 26; 1430, No. 28; 1501, No. 3, should be emended to ‘Euesperides’.

28 See Gill, D.W. J.,‘The Greek Cities of Cyrenaica’, Classical Association News 7 (1992) 14Google Scholar.

29 Letter from Goodchild to Johns, 9 October 1954: ‘Wilson's finds have already been divided, at Harden's express request – a difficult task when it was only a fraction of a much larger haul from the same site’.

30 This evidence consists of black-gloss pottery of c. 390–70 BC found beneath a burnt layer during Barri Jones's excavation of an insula in the lower city. This layer was at first taken to be an indication of a Persian sack in 515, but it is now clear that this is not the case (see n. 3 supra).