BARCA (mod. Merj), an ancient city founded in the territory of Cyrene in the middle of the 6th century B.C. Rising quickly to importance it became a rival of the older city, and gave its name to the western province of the latter's territory. The name as a provincial designation is still in occasional use, but is now applied to all the province of Bengazi. Barca is said to have owed its origin to Greek refugees flying from the tyranny of Arcesilaus II. (see CYRENE), but it is certain that it was rather a Libyan than a Greek town at all times. A Persian force invited by the notorious Pheretima, mother of Arcesilaus III., in revenge for Barcan support of a rival faction, sacked it towards the close of the 6th century and deported a number of its inhabitants to Bactria. Under Ptolemaic rule it began to decline, like Cyrene, and its port Ptolemais (Tolmeita) took its place: but after the Arab conquest (A.D. 641) it became the chief place of the Cyrenaica for a time and a principal station on the Kairawan road. Though now a mere village, Merj is still the chief centre of administration inland, and has a fort and small garrison. No ruins of earlier period than the late Roman and early Arab seem to be visible on the site. The latter lies, like Cyrene, about ten miles from the coast on the crest of Jebel Akhdar, here sunk to a low downland. It owed its early prosperity to its easy access to the sea, and to the fact that natural conditions in Cyrenaica and the Sahara behind it, tend to divert trade to the west of the district - a fact which is exemplified by the final survival of Berenice (mod. Bengazi). Merj stands in a rich but ill-cultivated stretch of red soil. (D. G. H.)
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