Battus I of Cyrene
Battus I of Cyrene was the founder of the Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 colony of Cyrenaica
Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya.Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it was part of the Creta et Cyrenaica province during the Roman period, later divided in Libia Pentapolis and Libia Sicca...

 and its capital, Cyrene
Cyrene, Libya
Cyrene was an ancient Greek colony and then a Roman city in present-day Shahhat, Libya, the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region. It gave eastern Libya the classical name Cyrenaica that it has retained to modern times.Cyrene lies in a lush valley in the Jebel Akhdar...

. He was the first king of Cyrenaica, the first Greek king in Africa, and the founder of the Battiad dynasty
In Greek mythology, the Battiadae are descendants of Battus, the founder of Cyrene. A famous descendant of Battus and thus one of the Battiadae was Callimachus, the Greek poet and the best known member of the Neoteroi....



Battus was born in an unknown village on the Greek island of Thera. What is known of Battus’ family background is from the Greek historian Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

. His father, Polymnestus, was a Therean nobleman and his mother was named Phromina. She was a princess of Oaxus (a city on the Greek island of Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

). Her father, Etearchus or Eteachos, was King of Oaxus. When Phronima’s mother, then Queen of Oaxus (whose name is unknown) died, Etearchus remarried. Phronima’s stepmother (whose name is also unknown) became Queen. She did everything to torment Phromina, most notably by falsely accusing her of fornication. When Etearchus heard of this, he befriended a Therean merchant living in Oaxus called Themiston and convinced him to swear an oath that he would perform any task the king asked him to do. Etearchus fetched Phronima, had her put in Themiston’s charge, and asked him to throw her into the sea. Themiston, in order to clear himself of the obligation, took Phronima on his ship, lowered her into water with a rope, and hauled her back in the ship (i.e. he did not kill her as ordered). Themiston then sailed with Phronima back to his home island of Thera. There, Phronima became the mistress of a distinguished nobleman called Polymnestus, who was a member of the Minyan
According to Greek mythology and legendary prehistory of the Aegean region, the Minyans were an autochthonous group inhabiting the Aegean region...

 family of the Euphemidae. Phronima bore Polymnestus a son, Battus. Herodotus does not give his real name, but according to Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

, his birth name was Aristotle. Justin gives him the name of Aristaeus and states after his death in Cyrene he was worshipped by the name of Aristaeus. In any case, Battus in ancient Greek means stammer (because he had a speech impediment as a child), while in the Libyan language battus means king. Herodotus opines that he was not known as Battus until he left for Libya.

Delphic Consultations

In ca. 639 BC the king of Thera, Grinnus, travelled from the island to visit the oracle of Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

, to seek advise on various matters. At that time, Thera had a severe drought and there was no rainfall for seven years. The population was also increasing and could no longer support its residents. One of the men that accompanied the king was Battus. When Grinnus asked for the priestess' advice, she gave him a seemingly irrelevant response. She told him that he must go to Libya and found a city there, on advise from the God Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

. The king was too old for this journey and commissioned Battus to complete the task. The only problem was that neither of them knew where Libya was.

When Grinnus and Battus returned to Thera, the drought had worsened and the people were in great distress. The king sent some Thereans to once again seek the advice of the Oracle. The priestess repeated the same message, that they must found a colony in Libya for their fortunes to mend.

Grinnus then sent a group of men from the island to travel to Crete to inquire about the natives of Libya or anyone who had been to Libya. The group of men landed in Itanus and met a fisherman called Corobius, who explained to the men that he had once been blown out of course and ended up on Platea, an island off the Libyan coast.

Initial Efforts

The Thereans paid Corobius to come with them to Thera and shortly after, with a small party and Corobius as pilot, they set sail for Libya. The men landed on Platea and left Corobius there with enough supplies for a short while and then returned to their island bringing good news about finding the new colony. Corobius agreed to wait on Platea for a length of time, however his supplies began to run out. Luckily, a Samian
Samos Island
Samos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of Asia Minor, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a separate regional unit of the North Aegean region, and the only municipality of the regional...

 vessel bound for Egypt under command of Colaeus was re-routed to Platea due to poor weather conditions. The crew gave Corobius enough food to last one year. Colaeus and his crew were anxious to reach their destination as easterly winds prevented them to travel to Egypt and they were driven as west as the Pillar of Hercules (modern Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar
The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Spain in Europe from Morocco in Africa. The name comes from Gibraltar, which in turn originates from the Arabic Jebel Tariq , albeit the Arab name for the Strait is Bab el-Zakat or...

). By their luck they landed at the wealthy trading post of Tartessus
Tartessos or Tartessus was a harbor city and surrounding culture on the south coast of the Iberian peninsula , at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. It appears in sources from Greece and the Near East starting in the middle of the first millennium BC, for example Herodotus, who describes it as...


When the group of Thereans returned to their island and had told everyone of the new settlement, they decided then to send a new party of people representing the seven villages of the island (drawn by lot). The King and the people picked Battus as the leader for the journey to Platea. Battus and the others sailed in two penteconters. When the two ships had reached the coast, Battus could not decide what next to do and ordered that they sail back home. When they returned to Thera, however, the locals refused to allow them back on the shore and threw things at them from the harbour, shouting for Battus and his crew to go back.

Founding of Cyrene

Battus and the two ships journeyed once more to Platea, where they lived for two years, unable to establish themselves properly there. Leaving one man on the island, they returned to Delphi and consulted the Oracle again about Libya and their current poor conditions. She advised them to settle on the mainland. So, they sailed back to Platea, and established a settlement, a town called Aziris (south of Platea near a river and many valleys). The Thereans lived there for six years on friendly terms with the Libyans. After a treaty with the locals, the Libyans persuaded them to leave Aziris and took them west through fine agricultural country called Irasa to Apollo's Fountain. The Libyan guides told Battus and his group of men ‘this is the place for you settle in, for here there is a hole in the sky’. This may refer to amount of great rainfall in the area, which is rare in Africa.

Battus named this new settlement (founded in ca. 630 BC) Cyrene. The name comes from a fountain called "Cyre", which was believed to have been consecrated to Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

. In addition to naming the settlement, Battus made all the colonists swear an oath. There is an inscription dated from the 4th century BC, which claims to contain the original oath.

Although little is known of Battus' reign, he appeared to govern with mildness and moderation. He was also apparently a vigorous ruler, successful in cementing a colony and taking advantages of the natural surrounding environment.


Battus died in 600 BC and was worshipped as a heroic
Greek hero cult
Hero cults were one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. In Homeric Greek, "hero" refers to a man who was fighting on either side during the Trojan War...

 figure by his subjects. His grave is near the marketplace which joins the road he ordered the construction of, leading to the temple of Apollo. A statue of Battus was dedicated at Delphi, by the subjects of Cyrene. He is represented riding in a chariot driven by the nymph of Cyrene
Cyrene (mythology)
In Greek mythology, as recorded in Pindar's 9th Pythian ode, Cyrene was the daughter of Hypseus, King of the Lapiths. When a lion attacked her father's sheep, Cyrene wrestled with the lion. Apollo, who was present, immediately fell in love with her and kidnapped her. He took her to North...

, with a figure symbolising Libya in the act of crowning him King.

His dynasty is known as The Battiad dynasty. He was succeeded by his son Arcesilaus I
Arcesilaus I of Cyrene
Arcesilaus I or Arcesilaus I of Cyrene was the second Greek king of Cyrenaica and the second king of the Battiad dynasty.-Ancestry:...



  • Boardman, John, The Greeks Overseas, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973 (1964)
  • Herodotus, The Histories, Book 4.
  • Morkot, R., The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece, Penguin Books, The Bath Press - Avon, Great Britain, 1996.
  • Burn, A R. The Penguin History Greece, Penguin Books, Clay Ltd, St Ives P/C, England, 1990.
  • Cyrenaica at
  • Battus at eh 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Cyrene in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, by William Smith (1873)
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