Magas of Cyrene


    Magas1, king of Cyrene, son of Berenice I by her first husband Philip2, governor c. 3003 and king of Cyrene, succeeding between c282 and the mid 270s4, married Apama daughter of the Seleucid king Antiochus I and Stratonice I c. 2755, here identified with Arsinoe, mother of his only known child Berenice II6; died 2507 of the effects of prolonged overindulgence8.

    [1] PP VI 14533. Gr: MagaV. Ý

    [2] Pausanias 1.7.1. The paternity is confirmed by an inscription published by P. M. Fraser, Berytus 12 (1958), 101, no 2 at 105, 108, which names the eponymous priest of Apollo as Magas son of Philip. Fraser notes that the name "Magas" is Macedonian and otherwise unknown in Cyrene. Ý

    [3] The question of Magas' dates has been examined in detail by F. Chamoux, RH 216 (1956) 18, and the conclusions of this analysis are accepted here.

    The constraints are (i) Pausanias 1.6.8 states that he captured Cyrene in the fifth year after a rebellion; (ii) he reigned for 50 years (Athenaeus 12.550); and (iii) Berenice II, as his successor, was engaged to Ptolemy III before his accession to the throne of Egypt, which occurred in 247/6 (Justin 26.3).

    A statement by Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 237 that Demetrius the Fair, who came to Cyrene after Magas' death, died in Ol. 130,2 = 259/8 can just be squared with this if one supposes that Ophellas, the first governor of Cyrene, had died in revolt against Ptolemy I in 309/8 while leading an expedition against Agathocles of Syracuse, and was immediately succeeded by Magas. This would suggest a reign of 309/8-259/8. However, as K. J. Beloch (Griechische Geschichte IV.2 187) and Chamoux point out, every indication is that Ophellas died as a loyal servant of Ptolemy I, in that he left Cyrene totally exposed to Egypt, and there is no mention of the installation of Magas in Diodorus, who survives complete down to 302/1.

    Beloch and Chamoux correctly argue that Eusebius has confused Demetrius the Fair with Demetrius II of Macedon: the passage concerned is in the middle of a discussion of the Macedonian kingship which places Demetrius "the fair" as a king between Antigonus Gonatas and Antigonus Doson, and it is stated in the preceding paragraph both that Demetrius succeeded Gonatas as king and that he obtained Cyrene, which is definitely not true of Demetrius II. They conclude that Porphyry may be rejected on this point and Magas' accession as governor must be constrained between 304/3 (=309/8-5) and 297/6 (=247/6+50).

    Chamoux plausibly concludes that the Cyrenian rebellion happened in the aftermath of Ptolemy's defeat at Salamis, hence 306/5; further, a little time must be allowed for the brief reign of Demetrius the Fair in Cyrene and the subsequent republican phase after Magas' death. Thus Magas' accession to the governorship may be estimated to occur in around 300, perhaps in the aftermath of Ipsus. Ý

    [4] Pausanias 1.7.1. The general context of the passage is a list of the crimes committed by Ptolemy II against his siblings. His assumption of the crown is apparently dated by context to some time after the marriage of Ptolemy II with Arsinoe II, i.e. the mid-late 270s. However, R. A. Hazzard (Phoenix 41 (1987) 140) reinterprets this passage as a list of Ptolemy's crimes in order of iniquity, and dates the executions of Ptolemy's brothers to the period immediately following his accession, in which case Magas' revolt should be dated to approximately the same time, i.e. the late 280s or early 270s. There is no reason to suppose that he revolted against Ptolemy I. Pausanias' text (1.7.2) suggests that his aborted invasion of Egypt occurred very shortly after his rebellion. The presence of Gauls in Ptolemy's army suggests that these events took place a couple of years after the Gallic invasion of Macedonia, hence mid 270s. Ý

    [5] Pausanias 1.7.3. From this, they were married between the accession of Antiochus I in 280 and the start of the First Syrian War in 274/3. Her elder half-sister Phila, daughter of Seleucus and Stratonice, was married to Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedon, in 276. A marriage date c. 275 seems most likely. Ý

    [6] See discussion under Apama. Ý

    [7] Agatharcides of Cnidus (at Athenaeus 12.550) gives him a reign of 50 years, evidently including both his governorship and his independent rule. For his accession date of c. 300 rather than c. 308 see discussion above. This gives a death date of c. 250.

    Against this, Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 237 states that Demetrius the Fair, who came to Cyrene after Magas' death, died in Ol. 130,2 = 259/8. However, there is a clear confusion with Demetrius II of Macedon in this passage. See discussion above on this point.

    A second datum for the end of the reign is the 13th rock edict of the Mauryan emperor Asoka which records sending envoys to a list of Mediterranean monarchs, including Magas, in his 13th year. F. Chamoux, RH 216 (1956) 18, dates this between 251 and 248, but it is more conventionally dated between 258 and 254. While there could well have been a long delay for news to travel between Cyrene and India, either date tends to support a date of c. 250 for Magas' death rather than c. 258.

    T. V. Buttrey, LS 35 (1994) 137, argues that the coinage of the Cyrenean city of Euesperides is best interpreted assuming the earlier date of c. 258. From Cyrene, the following sequence of coinage is securely determined:

  1. coins with the head of Ptolemy I or Berenice I overstruck with Magas' monogram

  2. bronzes with the head of Ptolemy I and Libya of Group I without a monogram
  3. bronzes of the Koinon overstruck on the previous two types
  4. bronzes with the head of Ptolemy I and Libya of Group II and later

  5. These evidently correspond to (i) the period after Magas' revolt when he was reconciled to Egyptian suzereinty (ii) the unsettled period immediately after his death when the affair of Demetrius the Fair occurred (iii) the period of the Cyrenean Koinon (republic) after that and (iv) the return to Ptolemaic rule. The manufacturing techniques of types (1)-(3) resulted in there being surface holes, while those of type (4) did not.

    Solinus 27.54 informs us that Berenice II, who he explicitly identifies as the wife of Ptolemy III, fortified the city of Berenice, named for her, which was very close to the city of Euesperides. This event is normally dated to the period after the accession of Ptolemy III, which has the effect of pushing the Koinon after this time: in effect, of implying that the Koinon actually took place under Ptolemaic rule. However, Buttrey notes that apart from one find which in his view has been incorrectly identified as type (2) but is actually only a much later stray of Group IV-B, only coins of type (1) are documented at Euesperides. Euesperides was therefore abandoned around the time of the death of Magas, presumably in order to found Berenice. He notes that this conclusion allows the Koinon to precede the accession of Ptolemy III, and hence the return to Ptolemaic rule, as implied numismatically by the change in manufacturing technique following the end of the Koinon. He also notes that the iconography of the Koinon coinage recalls that of Cyrene before the initial imposition of Ptolemaic rule, and that the weight standard was that of independent Cyrene. Finally, he notes that Solinus' identification of Berenice II as the wife of Ptolemy III does not necessarily imply that she was already married to him at the time that Euesperides was abandoned.

    It seems to me that Buttrey's relative chronology is reasonable and very probably correct, but its implications for absolutely chronology are inconclusive. While he does not explicitly make the point, he clearly supposes that there is insufficient time to accommodate two new types between the death of Magas, if this is dated to c. 250, and the return to Ptolemaic rule in or shortly before 246. To the contrary, it seems to me that the abrupt abandonment of Euesperides for a more easily defended location indicates that the royal government was quite insecure after Magas' death and only lasted for a short period of time before establishment of the Koinon. A division of, say, 1-2 years for the regime of Apama/Demetrius the Fair/Berenice and 2-3 years for the Koinon would seem sufficient. Ý

    [8] Agatharcides of Cnidus (at Athenaeus 12.550). Ý

Update Notes:

8-9 Feb 2002: Added individual trees
15 Feb 2002: Split out into separate entry
23 Aug 2003: Added Xref to online Justin.
13 Sep 2004: Add Xref to online Eusebius
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription
24 July 2008: Added Fraser's inscription naming Magas son of Philip
9 Nov 2008: Added Xref to online Athenaeus
9 Nov 2008: Discuss Buttrey's analysis of Magas' chronology and coinage
10 Nov 2010: Fix broken Perseus links, add link to Solinus (Latin)

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