IN the 1st Century BC, Diodorus Siculus stated that in northern Tunisia, a lieutenant of a Greek tyrant from Syracuse called Agathocles overcame a people in the 4th Century BC whose skin colour ‘was like that of the Ethiopians.’
In the time of this invasion, ‘Libyans’ called Massyles were in control of the Tunisian area. These indigenous Libyan tribesmen were later called ‘Afri’ or ‘Afer’, ‘Afaricani’ or ‘Frexus’ by the Romans and ‘Maures’ or ‘Maurusioi.’
The writings of Pliny, Josephus, Cleodemus and later, Arab tradition all say that they both came across Africa with Hercules and by way of the Red Sea or Berber region now called Abyssinia and Erithrea and imply that they were associated with the incense-trading peoples on both sides of the Red Sea.
Perhaps the name of the present day Afar in Djibouti and Ethiopia is connected. Certain Tuareg tribes, especially in Niger, still call their ancestors Argulen.
Although Carthage, which was in the area of Tunis, was a Phoenician (Punic) colony, mostly Libyans like the Afar composed the Carthaginian army; native Carthaginians formed a very small portion of the troops.
The Egyptian portrayal of Carthaginian soldiers leaves no question as to the ‘Ethiopian-like’ appearance of the ‘Libyans’ or North Africans of that area and era. Sometimes Greek and Gaulic mercenaries were used as well.
The Afaricani, in particular had learned new military techniques serving as heavy infantry in the Punic army and the best light infantry troops were javelin throwers recruited from the Numidians and Mauri… who were the inhabitants of Northern Algeria and what is now called Morocco.
“They adopted municipal institutions of Carthage but frequently revolted against Carthaginian rule.” This had happened once after the Carthaginians abandoned a large force of Libyans in Sicily a few centuries before Christ.
Before the rise of the Carthaginian statesman, Hanno, in the 3rd Century BC, Carthage, as the Phoenician colony, had been paying tribute to the surrounding Libyans.
After this period, during the time of Hamilcar Barca and his son Hannibal (who incidentally in ancient texts was called Hannibal the Afer), Carthage was holding sway over the area.
Numidians and other Libyans went with the Afar or Afra warriors, led by Hannibal, across the Alps to subjugate the Romans who were becoming a formidable and unbearable presence in Africa.
Several centuries later, after the 6th Century AD, descendants of these tribes under the name of Beni Ifren or Ifuras (Afer), Mazighzel, Luwata, Goddula (Gaitules) and Kitama or Imakitan (Makidae) swept into Europe in the name of Mohammed.
The present day names of the dark-coloured Tuareg tribes of Iforas or Kel Faruwan, around Ghat in Libya and Asben in Niger and elsewhere, are the same as those of the peoples called Beni Ifren in Algeria by the Arabs and are the Ifuraces or Frexus of Pliny, Aferi of Tunisia and the Pharusii of the Atlas in Morocco of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The Beni Ifren mentioned in Arab writings were found in the area of Tlemcen near Oran in north-west Algeria quite close to Morocco and in the Gharian in western Libya. Representations of chariots from Hoggar to southern Oran through southern Morocco and the western High Atlas may be associated with them.
The Iforas, Iforaces or Frexus in the Tunisian area in Pliny’s time are the reason the name Afrika originally denoted the Tunisian area.
Historians know that one of the earliest mentions of the camel in North Africa first appears in association with a Berber people called Zenata whom were comprised of the Ifuras and other tribes.
The Zenata also earlier occupied the Cyrene area of the country now called Libya during the Roman era. The word Afra and Afer came to be used for a time for black Africans according to Rogers.
Mauri Mezikes are mentioned as a small nation of ‘Ethiopians’ in the area of Tripoli and Tunis in the 4th Century AD.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Mezikes, who were called a fierce ‘Libyan’ people and who had ravaged the oases next to Egypt and the Fezzan area (Libya) were said by Evagrius to be in allegiance with the Blemmyes of Nubia.
The word Blemmyes comes from Belhmt, the Coptic word for the Bedja or Bedouin tribes of the Nubian Desert.
The Mezikes were the people called Levathes by Procopius and Corripus by the 6th Century. They are said to have, among them, the pitiless pillaging Astacures or Astrikes who were mentioned earlier as being inhabitants of both Ethiopia and Libya.
It is possible that the Austura and Mezikes were the same as the people called Blemmyes in Ethiopia whose rulers were called Ilam Meshi. In any case it is known that the Luwata tribes are in part the ancestors of the modern Tuarek.
The people of the Astures or Astrikes are known under similar names today. From their name probably comes the modern name of the Tuarek who are also called Tura or Targi, depending on the region.
Some suppose, however, that the name Tuarek is the same as the Arab word meaning tribe. The Tuareg are a confederation of Berber tribes whose men wear veils and turbans. They are camel-owners now dwelling in the Saharan and Sahel areas. The description of the Austures as fierce and much feared pillagers is one that was quite appropriate for the Tuareg to the beginning of this century.
Their nobles are still called Imoshagh or Amazighen (Mazikes). In fact, lmoshagh is a generic term for Berber nobles. Tamashek the language of the Tuareg, means belonging to the Mashek or Mezikes.
In their least modified form, they are dark-brown in colour, tall and lanky, with elongated limbs, long faces and narrow noses and an extreme long headedness which one noted historian felt was due to having migrated from their ‘hamitic homeland in East Africa.’
The Tuareg women ‘marry at will, speak in council, serve as heads of encampments, hold property, govern the home.’
The children take on the name and rank of their mothers. Tuareg women, rather than men, teach their children to write. They are found in areas extending from Mauretania through Mali and Algeria to Chad and Libya.
The Tuareg have many customs and features in common with the Bedja Cushites which may speak for a common region of origination.