Distinct features of Libyans


BETWEEN the sea and the Gaitules, extending from the Atlas mountains to the Syrtis Major in Libya were men ‘with many wives and children’ who ‘in many respects were like the nomadic Arabians’. 

They are described as plaiting their hair, polishing their teeth, filing their nails, wearing gold ornaments and they rarely touched one another as they walked ‘so that they wouldn’t disturb the arrangement of their hair which held totemic sanctity’. 

They followed horse breeding with exceptional interest. 

A very similar description is given of the Nasamones in Libya by Gabrinius within the same century: 

“They wear gold ornaments, they polish their teeth and file their nails. We very seldom see them touch one another as they stroll around for they do not like their hair dressing disturbed. Their horse-borne warriors have spears and swords, they wear unbelted robes and some use war chariots. They have many wives and children and resemble the wandering shepherds of Arabia.” 

But instead of ‘plaiting’ their hair, ‘they curled it’. (Curling the hair with hot irons was a practice of the Nubians as well). 

The Nasamones foretold the future by going to lay on the graves of their ancestors.

The semi-nude and completely nude state was a mark of the Libyans at the time of Christ. 

Nasamonians were seen nude as often as they were seen in robes. 

Garamantes and Pharusii were described as a people wandering about half-nude and nude which is how the Libyans were often portrayed in early Egyptian iconography and Saharan rock art. 

The Garamantes, Nasamonians, Pharusii and Maurusioi were accustomed to using small war chariots as well as four-horsed chariots.

Thus the early demographers in the first few centuries AD. commented on several facets of the lifestyle common to tribes located in North Africa under various names. 

These traits included their pre-occupation with desert raids, horse rearing, hygiene and hair dressing, their access to gold and its usage in accessorising their dress, their ‘polygamous’ social relations which the Greeks interpreted as a form of promiscuity and the social status and liberty of Libyan women and their resemblance to the wandering tribes of Arabia.

The last but certainly not the least important of the distinguishing features which the early Greeks and Romans ascribe to the Libyans is a black complexion which was sometimes said to be accompanied by a reddish cast. 

All of the most important Libyan tribes are described as black-skinned. 

Martial, Corripus, Procopius, Juvenal and Silius ltalicus refer to the Maures as black-skinned. 

Polemon in his Physiognomical Scriptures and Admantius ‘confused’ the Libyans with the Ethiopians because of their like colour. 

They were also at times described as ‘light of build’ and ‘woolly haired’.

The predominant type in ancient East Africa, like those of ancient Nubia, Egypt and Arabia, were basically a lightly built, gracile or lanky type which is typical of the many of the pastoralists of Abyssinia and Erythraea extending to Northern Kenya and some of the tribes of modern Arabia. 

The description of the wandering tribes of North Africa from the earliest periods to early Medieval times recalls the phenotypical attributes and customs typical of the peoples of the speakers of the Cushitic and Nilosaharan dialects as well as pastoral Fulani and other Sahelian pastoralists. 

This is borne out by the skeletal evidence found in the Sahara and Fezzan eras dating from the era of the Garamantes and even before.

Libyan ethnohistory before the 5th Century AO

In the reign of Ramses II (19th dynasty, 13th Century BC) the name of Libou or the Libyans first appears. 

The garments of the Libou chiefs were garments which are decorated similarly to those of the Tamehou whose name appears as early as the 6th dynasty several centuries eariler. 

Tjemehu or Tamehou, as I have stated before, occupied the oases adjacent to Nubia in Sudan and presumably Kharga in the western desert in southern Egypt. 

At Es Sebua in Nubia an inscription tells of the Temehou who in the 5th year of Merneptah (19th dynasty) led a raid against Egypt under the Temehou Maraye, son of Ded, along with other Libyans called Kehek and the peoples of the Sea. 

It was the Libou who, as a branch of the Tamehou, launched invasions against the Egyptian dynasty of Merneptah. 

They did so in alliance with the descendants of the non-African Sea peoples who were of Euro-Asian origin. These Euro-Asians are also represented in Egyptian iconography of the ‘westerners’.

The name of one king of the Libou of that time was Meshken. 

It is, according to Bates, the same as the much later name of the Numidian king called Misagenes by the Romans, a son of a ruler named Massinissa of the 3rd Century BC, and in Berber, according to him, would mean ‘son of heaven’.

The existence of kings among the Numidians and Mauri, ‘is first directly attested to at the end of the 5th Century before Christ’, about the same time Herodotus wrote of the Libyans by the end of the 3rd Century BC. 

The kingdoms of the Masaesyli (who are one of the Libyans mentioned by Herodotus) and Massyli ‘had emerged from among the Mauri’ in the western part of North Africa. 

Some of the names of the rulers of the Maures as named by Procopius and others seem to reflect their ethnic affinity with the so-called ‘hamitic’ stock of Ethiopia and Sudan, especially modern Cushitic speakers. 

Gaia, Bagoda, Acallis, Baga are reminiscent of the present names for rulers, chiefs and princes not only among modern Tuarek or Berbers but Nilotic and Cushitic tribes of East Africa. 

Gaia was probably Kaya among Berbers and Kushites and the same Qe means ruler in Meroe (Nubia). 

Acallis or Agallid, is Aguellid or Okel of the Berbers and Kel of the East African area. 

Bagoda is prince or religious head as is Bukharis of ancient Nubia and the modern Cushites, a legendary Hausa king and god of the Nilo-saharan Teda.

In the 4th Century AD the Mauri Bauers or Bavares are mentioned along with Quinquegentiani or Mauri Gensani and Frexus (Afer or Ifuraces) as breaking into the Moroccan area of ancient Numidia.  

The Bavares or Baueres are also called Bavares of the Kabyli (or Kabyles). 

It was one of the Kabyle chieftains, Gildo (whose name is the Berber title Gallid or Aguellid) whom Claudian, complained about when he spoke of all the ‘hideous Ethiopian hybrids’ being conceived with the Roman women. Gildo belonged to a family of rebellious rulers of the Kabylian Bavares who were Mauri Baueres of other texts. 

He had a brother named Mascezel, which is Amazegzel, the modern Berber or Tuareg tribal name.

In the east were other descendants of the Lebou. 

Herodotus describes a Libyan contingent in the Persian army 480 BC using wooden spears. 

After the death of Xerxes, the Persian king of the 5th Century BC, Ianheru (Inaros) chief of the Adyrmakidae (or Adyrmalekhidae) in alliance this time with the Greeks ,led a revolt against the Achaemenids of Persia who were in control of Egypt.   

The Libyan Adyrmachidae had a nymph named Amphithemis as their ancestress, as did the Psylli, and Machyles, according to the ancient writer Agrostus. 

That name may be connected with that of the Akkadian water goddess Tiamat.


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