Analysis of a Surveyed Landscape: Euesperides, Cyrenaica

 “Euesperides (Benghazi). Area H, looking southwest.”

Analysis of a Surveyed Landscape: Euesperides, Cyrenaica

By Josiah Canon DeSarro-Raynal



Lying on the northwest coast of Cyrenaica in modern Libya, Euesperides is an important archaeological site that has been the focus of extensive research through surveys and excavations since the mid-twentieth century. Demonstrated through the findings later explored in this analysis, the site offers an exceptional opportunity to reconstruct the physical appearance of a Greek city from the late-sixth century to the mid-third century BCE, when it was suddenly abandoned and inhabitants relocated to a nearby site called Berenice.1 A Greek colony, the city experienced a short yet dramatic history concluding with an unusual departure. Various excavations and surveys since the mid-twentieth century paint this history for archaeologists and historians. Despite Euesperides’ unique story, decades of archaeological study have revealed a level of connectivity between the site and other parts of the Mediterranean. Such evidence allows historians to draw conclusions about life and settlement in the broader region during the fifth through third centuries BCE.

Euesperides is only part of a larger group of sites in Cyrenaica; the nearby, younger city of Berenice plays an important role in the history of settlement in the region surrounding the modern city of Benghazi. This analysis of the surveyed landscape of Euesperides will primarily focus on the city center and its immediate surroundings. Berenice, the successor site to Euesperides, will largely not be covered since most surveys have not incorporated Berenice into their scope. Much of its site currently lies under the developed cityscape of Benghazi, so not enough information about Berenice is available. Euesperides does not have this issue at such a scale, even though modern human presence remains a factor in conducting regional surveys. This analysis will cover the major archaeological activities conducted at Euesperides over the past seventy years and present how researchers have adopted varying lines of inquiry into the site over time. Following this investigation will be a brief review of the survey reports, which help provide context for the archaeological work. The results of the collective surveys and excavations paint a clear picture of the Greek city-state, which can be used to draw more general conclusions about cities in the wider Mediterranean.


Summary of Surveys

Foundational Excavations

The surveys and excavations at Euesperides can be grouped into three stages: the initial excavations in the 1950s, the British Schools’ programs in the 1960s, and the resurgence of activity in the late 1990s. The first archaeological work began in the 1950s when aerial photographs taken by the British military displayed a layout of an ancient city outside Benghazi in Cyrenaica, Libya. City walls and the outlines of streets and buildings, impossible to see from the ground, were clearly depicted from the air.2 The findings of Richard Goodchild, one of the first British archaeologists to research Cyrenaica, and those under the management of C. N. Johns in 1952 were instrumental in determining foundational information about the site. Important findings from their excavations included locating areas “littered with Greek pottery, much of it in remarkably fine quality.”3 Close analysis determined that much of this pottery originated in the Aegean cities of Corinth and Rhodes.4 Also found were mosaics, wall decorations, and the foundation of a temple likely dedicated to Aphrodite.5 The excavations further yielded the important limited information known about Berenice, which has been adapted and supported by later excavations: Berenice was founded during the mid-third century BCE, immediately preceding the abrupt abandonment of the settlement at Euesperides.6 Additional evidence from the 1950s excavations indicated that the small inland lakes next to the acropolis of Euesperides were drying up during the third century.7 Goodchild’s research also demonstrated that Euesperides was founded soon after the formation of Cyrene further along the Libyan coast.8 All of these findings would serve as the control for the conclusions of future excavations at the site.

Developing a Narrative in the 1960s

The next significant phase of archaeological activity at Euesperides took place in the 1960s. A series of excavations following surveys in 1968 and 1969 were jointly sponsored by the British Schools at Rome and Athens.9 Pottery finds confirmed the city’s foundation date near the end of the sixth century BCE.10 Archaeologists judged that the original nucleus of the city was located on the slightly elevated area surveyed a decade earlier, now the site of the Sidi Abeid cemetery.11, 12 Close reconstruction of the ancient streets was another accomplishment of the work done during these surveys. The uniformity of Euesperides’ road network is similar to that of other Greek settlements such as Olynthus and Rhodes.13 Evidence indicated that two stages of urban planning occurred at the site: the first at its initial construction in the late sixth century and the second in the early fourth century, when new defenses and extension of the city southwards took place.14 After these conclusions were drawn, largely from pottery findings and measurements of wall construction, Euesperides would not see notable survey activity or excavation until construction work and development accidentally uncovered additional artifacts and evidence nearly thirty years later in the 1990s, sparking a resurgence of interest.15

Recent Findings from the 1990s and 2000s

The final important stage of surveys and excavations at Euesperides was conducted in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, after a gap in activity.16 Gar Younis University in Benghazi sponsored one of the first surveys in 1995, the aim of which was to “evaluate further the preservation of the ancient city, to refine understanding of its extent and development, and to raise public awareness of the presence of important ancient remains in this part of Benghazi.”17 This survey specifically focused on the northern section of the city, near its center, where problems of determining the urban topography were left unresolved from the 1960s excavations.18 Evidence of wells was found, along with extensive soil samples taken from human remains dated to the fourth and third century BCE. These findings resulted in definitive environmental, economic, and dietary data about the inhabitants of Euesperides.19 For instance, ancient diets of the site were dominated by wheat, barley, vines, and figs, in addition to substantial seafood, proven by the abundance of fish vertebrae and shellfish remains.20

Other research during the 1990s proved important claims about the general nature of Euesperides as a Greek city. It was revealed that occupation of the site dates all the way back to the early sixth century, before the foundation of a full-fledged city.21 The city was established within the defensive lagoon on the coast of Cyrenaica as the westernmost of the region’s first cities.22, 23 Evidence indicated that throughout the occupation of the site, lasting until the mid-third century, the walls and buildings were constantly rebuilt and improved.24 Distinct periods of construction coincided with important demographic shifts. These trends included new waves of Greek settlers arriving in the fifth century and consistent aggression from native Libyan tribes, which kept the population from increasing for decades.25, 26 Euesperides’ economic activity was additionally affected by important evidence found during the excavations in the 1990s–2000s. Abundant evidence of shellfish used for luxury purple dye was discovered, along with a wide variety of ceramic material from all over the Mediterranean, including Sicily, Punic North Africa, and the Aegean.27 This makes sense considering the presence of significant amounts of food products from elsewhere, which suggests trade supplemented the city’s lower agricultural production.28 All of these conclusions, based on the excavations and surveys, combine with those from earlier archaeological research to form a relatively clear image of a typical Greek city during the fifth through third centuries BCE with particular regard to what people ate, what they produced for trading, and how they used physical space to live and work.


Analysis and Implications

The chronology of survey work and excavation at Euesperides has resulted in a complex and turbulent history of human settlement from the foundation of the Greek colony to the abrupt abandonment of the site, spanning over three centuries. All surveys agree that the city was one of the earliest settlements in Cyrenaica, originating in the late sixth century BCE, and that the newer city of Berenice was established close by in the mid-third century at a site directly adjacent to the Mediterranean coast.29 The patterns of urban development expressed through the layout of walls and roads mimic those of other Greek cities; Euesperides is an exemplar of broader Greek colonization and migration in the Mediterranean region. The ceramics and pottery material from other Greek cities support this conclusion. The economic and cultural connections between the site and other settlements are shown through pottery found in Euesperides with Punic origins. The pottery evidence uncovered in the city spans centuries and multiple regions, demonstrating “a considerable degree of contact, both in terms of trade and transmission of technologies, between Greek-speaking Cyrenaica and…Punic-speaking North Africa.”30 Such connections between Euesperides and other sites help historians to conceptualize the scale of trade during the fifth and fourth centuries.

The results of these surveys and excavations have proven helpful in informing historians about the patterns of settlement in Euesperides. The physical extension of the city, the rebuilding and construction of walls, and the limited number of public buildings each allow archaeologists to make conclusions about specific judgments, including estimating the number of inhabitants of the site at a given time. Information pertaining to how people lived within a class system can also be determined. For instance, the existence of mosaics in buildings atop the elevated northern region compared to buildings in other areas lacking such decoration suggests that inhabitants of the city had a wide range of social statuses.31 This conclusion is one example in which survey results yield what could eventually be determined as historical fact. In a broader example, the realization that the city was abandoned around 250 BCE in favor of a new settlement on the coast highlights a rising reliance on the sea for travel, trade, and food. Combined with relatively lower rates of agricultural production and attacks from native Libyan tribes, the city’s relocation can be considered a necessary demographic shift for the continued presence of a Greek colony in the area. With regard to the surveys and studies described throughout this analysis, most were helpful in both supplying information confirming previously held assumptions and yielding new information that might have challenged such assumptions, particularly the reasoning for Euesperides’ abandonment around 250 BCE.

A critical analysis of these various sources supplements the subject matter by taking into account the studies’ contexts and how information is presented. The delivery of information in many of the survey reports was, for the most part, succinct and clear, but very few authors described the specific methodology of how they found evidence. This absence of discussing methodologies is common for archaeological work of the 1960s to the 1990s, thus representing a wider insufficiency in the field. It is unclear what was determined through survey, photography, or virtual rendering technology and what was determined through intensive treatment of the environment, such as involved in excavations. However, despite this shortcoming, some sources acknowledge the general use of advanced virtual technology, particularly geographic information systems (GIS), in the later phases of research. Such utilization of modern information technology allowed “different types of data (maps, plans of excavated areas, photographs…) [to] be put together so as to make the computer screen into a window to the archaeology and history of an ancient Greek colony.”32



Setting the site of Euesperides in the greater context of the entire Mediterranean region is important for understanding broad themes present in ancient history. Euesperides shares many characteristics of a typical Greek settlement and maintains abundant evidence of trade through maritime commercial networks. The site’s cultural continuity and economic circumstances prove interconnectedness played an important role in the Mediterranean world, even before the political unification of the whole region under the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean was long interwoven with complex economic and cultural relationships throughout a wide variety of settlements; the surveys and excavations at Euesperides have produced a wealth of information that supports this conclusion. Euesperides can be considered a testament to the interconnectedness of the pre-Roman period in the Mediterranean.


Josiah Canon DeSarro-Raynal is a junior in the Joint Degree Program at the College of William and Mary and the University of St Andrews, majoring in history.



1. John A. Lloyd, “Some aspects of urban development at Euesperides/Berenice,” in Cyrenaica in Antiquity ed. Graeme Barker, (Oxford: BAR, 1985), 50.

2. Richard G. Goodchild, “Euesperides: a Devastated City Site.” Antiquity no. 26 (1952): 208.

3. Ibid, 208-9.

4. John Boardman, “Evidence for the dating of Greek settlements in Cyrenaica.” Annual of the British School at Athens no. 61 (1966): 155-6.

5. Goodchild, 209-11.

6. Ibid, 210.

7. Ibid, 212.

8. Boardman, 149.

9. G. D. B. Jones, “Excavations at Tocra and Euesperides, Cyrenaica 1968-1969.” Libyan Studies no. 14 (1983): 109.

10. Ibid, 110-1.

11. Ibid, 109.

12. Lloyd, “Some aspects,” 53.

13. Jones, “Excavations,” 111-2.

14. Lloyd, “Some aspects,” 53.

15. Buzaian, A. and Lloyd, John A., “Early urbanism in Cyrenaica: new evidence from Euesperides (Benghazi).” Libyan Studies, no. 27 (1996): 132.

16. A. Buzaian and John A. Lloyd, “Early urbanism,” 129.

17. John A. Lloyd, A. Buzaian, and J. J. Coulton, “Excavations at Euesperides (Benghazi), 1995.” Libyan Studies no. 26 (1995): 97.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid, 99-100.

20. Ibid, 100.

21. Andrew Wilson, “Euesperides (Benghazi): Summary of Excavations 1999-2006.” Libya Antiqua no. 6 (2011-12): 131.

22. Buzaian and Lloyd, “Early urbanism,” 129.

23. David W. J. Gill and P. Flecks, “Defining domestic space at Euesperides, Cyrenaica,” in Building Communities. House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond, edited by R. Westgate, (London: British School at Athens, 2007), 205, 211.

24. Buzaian and Lloyd, 145.

25. Ibid, 129-30.

26. Gill and Flecks, 205.

27. Wilson, “Euesperides (Benghazi),” 131, 133.

28. Ibid.

29. Lloyd, “Some aspects,” 49-50.

30. Andrew Wilson, “Trading Across the Syrtes: Euesperides and the Punic World.” in The Hellenistic West: Rethinking the Ancient Mediterranean ed. J. W. Prag and J. C. Quinn, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 120.

31. Goodchild, 209.

32. Michael Vickers, David Gill, and Maria Economou, “Euesperides: the Rescue of an Excavation.” Libyan Studies, 25 (1994): 133.


Works Cited

Boardman, John. “Evidence for the dating of Greek settlements in Cyrenaica.” Annual of the British School at Athens no. 61 (1966): 149–56.

Buzaian, A. and Lloyd, John A. “Early urbanism in Cyrenaica: new evidence from Euesperides (Benghazi).” Libyan Studies, no. 27 (1996): 129–52.

Gill, David W. J. and Flecks, P. “Defining domestic space at Euesperides, Cyrenaica.” In Building Communities. House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond edited by R. Westgate, 205–11. London: British School at Athens, 2007.

Goodchild, Richard G. “Euesperides: a Devastated City Site.” Antiquity no. 26 (1952): 208–12.

Jones, G. D. B. “Excavations at Tocra and Euesperides, Cyrenaica 1968–1969.” Libyan Studies no. 14 (1983): 109–21.

Jones, G. D. B. and Little, J. H. “Coastal settlement in Cyrenaica.” Journal of Roman Studies no. 61 (1971): 64–79.

Lloyd, John A. “Some aspects of urban development at Euesperides/Berenice.” In Cyrenaica in Antiquity edited by Graeme Barker, 49–66. Oxford: BAR, 1985.

Lloyd, John A., Buzaian, A. and Coulton, J. J. “Excavations at Euesperides (Benghazi), 1995.” Libyan Studies no. 26 (1995): 97–100.

Vickers, Michael, David Gill, and Maria Economou. “Euesperides: the Rescue of an Excavation.” Libyan Studies no. 25 (1994): 125–36.

Wilson, Andrew. “Euesperides (Benghazi): Summary of Excavations 1999–2006.” Libya Antiqua no. 6 (2011–12): 131–3.

Wilson, Andrew. “Trading Across the Syrtes: Euesperides and the Punic World.” In The Hellenistic West: Rethinking the Ancient Mediterranean edited by J. W. Prag and J. C. Quinn, 120–56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.