National Geographic : 1940 Dec
Old-New Battle Grounds of Egypt and Libia BY W. ROBERT MOORE SLEXANDRIA has fallen to the fleet and soldiery of Rome." Had there been radio broadcasters or telegraphic agencies, such might have been the news flashed from Egypt in the year 30 B. c.* Newsreels of the event could have shown Octavianus (Augustus) taking the salute as his soldiers marched through the town. Flash backs would have included the naval battle of Actium the year before when the fleets of the glamorous Cleopatra and her doting Mark Antony had been defeated. Film editors might also have included a few feet of scenes showing Julius Caesar in Alexan dria 18 years previously when he had cham pioned Cleopatra's cause. Actually the capture of Alexandria by Octavianus marked no spectacular change in Egypt at the time. For, upwards of a century and a half, puppet Ptolemies had held the throne; the country's foreign policy had been almost completely dictated by Rome. One Ptolemy had bequeathed the province of Cirenaica, the part of Libia bordering on northwestern Egypt, to the Romans in 96 B. c. A few years ago archeologists digging in the ruins of the ancient city of Cirene turned up a tablet bearing that decree of the Egyptian king. A Parade of Alien Powers It was not the first time that a foreign power had gained control over these key lands of northern Africa-nor the last. Through the ages Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, and Turks established rule here, often with chaotic results. Such a period of internal strife existed when, a little more than a half-century ago, Britain entered the Egyptian scene. Her interests in the Suez Canal, purchased from the Egyptian ruler, were constantly menaced. Under Anglo Egyptian rule, order was established and fabu lous prosperity brought to this historic land. In 1912 Libia was taken from the Turks by Italy. Armies are again on the march here. Under modern dress and conditions the an cient conflict is revived (map, page 811). The Rome of old assumed overlordship to guarantee shipments of supplies from the granaries of coastal Cirenaica and the rich val ley of the Nile. She sought and secured domination of the Mediterranean. Modern Rome with one hand is re-estab lishing agricultural colonies in northern Libia; with the other she is massing her legions for a drive through Egypt to Suez. Again the cry "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea) is revived. Today Egypt is richer than ever before. Ferdinand de Lesseps' "ditch in the sand," too, has provided a route of empire outstrip ping the old caravan route across Suez to the East (page 818). Originally a part of the Turkish Empire, Egypt became a British Protectorate in 1914. This Protectorate ended in 1922. In 1936 an Anglo-Egyptian treaty was signed whereby military occupation by British forces was terminated, but special British interest in de fense of the Suez Canal Zone was recognized, and the right accorded Britain to use Alex andria and Port Said as naval bases. Let us cruise the coasts of Libia and Egypt from Bengasi to Suez and re-explore briefly these old-new battle grounds. Airplanes and Golden Apples Fly into Bengasi on an Italian skyliner, and hard by the airport you look down on the legendary Garden of Hesperides. Here grew the golden apples that Hercules sought. In this vicinity, Italian colonists are putting Herculean efforts into expanding gar dens to raise "golden apples" of prosperity. Extending beyond the isthmus, dividing salt lakes and sprawling along the coastal plain, are the dazzling white buildings of this capital town in the Cirenaica district. In three dec ades under Italian control Bengasi has more than tripled in size. Its peacetime population numbers about 65,000 persons. A new town with wide thoroughfares and park areas has been transplanted beside the old Arab quarter. That Italy's colonists might play, a new stadium has also been built where in normal years six days in late September are devoted to horse racing, football, foot races, and other athletic events. With war in progress Bengasi has become one of the chief bases for landing troops and military supplies from Italy. The land hereabout is rich; orchards, vine yards, and barley fields have spread in an ever-widening circle in recent years. Rainfall along the coastal belt of Cirenaica is usually adequate for cultivation without irrigation. Only about one year in five is there a drought. And against that fifth year Italian engineers are developing the springs and wells. Drive eastward on the new metaled high road that forms a speedway clear across north Libia from Tunisia to the Egyptian frontier, * See "By Felucca Down the Nile," by Willard Price, and 2-page map of Egypt, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1940.