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Thread: [History] The Libyan Kingdom of the Garmantians

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    Default [History] The Libyan Kingdom of the Garmantians

    Title: The Libyan Kingdom of the Garmantians
    Author: LinusLinothorax

    The Garmantians It took me some time of writing, but now I finally finished my small article about the Garamantians. In the first post I will summarize the Garamantian history while also shortly mentioning other aspects of Garamantian culture (Mostly architecture). In later posts I might add other stuff like more pictures and so on. I would like to thank David Mattingly who allowed me to post pictures of his works (See literature below).

    The History of the Garamantians

    The field of Libyan archaeology and historical studies isn't exactly the most popular, especially when it's dedicated to indigenous cultures. One of these indigenous cultures, also the most "famous" of them, were the Garamantians. The Garamantians were a Berber people in what is now known as Fezzan, which is either the indigenous Berber name for the landscape or an Arabic transliteration of Roman "Phazania".
    The Garamantians were the successors of pastoralist cattle nomads who roamed the Sahara since the 7th millennium BC. These Saharan nomads are today renowned for their often very complex cave paintings, depicting varying scenes out of their life, like the hunt, the watch over the cattle herd or diverse anthropomorphic depictions. Here a beautiful example, found in Tassili, Algeria:

    In general, these nomads are barely tangible from an archaeological perspective, but we have records of Ancient Egyptians clashing with some of them throughout the whole late second millennium – early first millennium BC. In the later phase they were even able to establish a dynasty in Egypt, known as the 22nd and 23rd dynasty, ruling parts of Egypt until they had been defeated by the Kushite king Piye / Piankhi in the late 8th century BC. However, just at the time Libyans had been exterminated in Egypt, something was happening in their initial homeland: The time which the scholars call the “Early Garamantian Period” (Ca. 1000-500 BC) had begun. This phase marks the first permanent settlements and forts in the Wadi al-Ajal, in what should later become the core of royal Garamantian territory. Archaeology had proven a strong material continuity between the Neolithic cultures and the early Garamantians in these sites, especially in Zinkhera, the most important early Garamantian site. Zinkhera also allows us to take a view on early Garamantian architecture: Apparently, the people were living in “rough stone-built (or stone-footed) oval huts, whose upper walls were perhaps made of mud and organic materials, and roofed with a thatching of palm fronds. Most of these structures were of simple form, compromising one or two oval or sub-rectangular rooms, sometimes with small enclosures associated (perhaps for animals)”.
    A thing that goes hand in hand with settled populations is the introduction of agriculture. As surveys had proven, Garamantians in Zinkhera grew bread wheat, barley, grape vine, figs and most importantly, date palms.

    Beside growing plants Garamantians also bred animals, in particular pigs, sheep & goats, bovines and, most noteworthy, donkeys and horses. Indeed, Garamantians are thought to be the initial introducer of the horse to Libya, and eventually the whole Sahara. Horses should become of very high importance for the Garamantians, since it allowed them to travel through wide landscapes in considerable speed.
    The next phase in Garamantian history is the “Proto-Urban Phase” and spans from roughly 500 BC – 0 AD. This phase saw the shift of the hillfort of Zinkhera to the city of Garama down there in the valley, leading to the assumption that there was now a somewhat secured situation provided in the Fezzan. The foundation of Garama has been dated to 400-300 BC. In its early phase Garama only consisted of mudbrick buildings, but this should change soon.
    In this period the Garamantians also introduced the foggara, so stone tunnels which connected natural water reservoirs with the Garamantian fields, allowing the Garamantians to grow even very “thirsty” plants like cotton (Which was introduced in a large scale during the later Garamantian phase). It is very likely that the foggaras were introduced via Egypt. The Garamantians were indeed now in relatively close contact to their northern neighbours, not only Egypt. For example excavators found several Phoenician potteries, beads as well as other objects which appear to be of Phoenician or Greek origin, like for example this bearded face, resembling glass pendants how they were found in Carthaginian territory:

    Beside these finds, Garamantians also finally stepped into the light of historiography, with Herodotus (5th century BC) describing them as the habitants of the Fezzan, owning chariots and cattle with horns that big that the cattle has to graze backwards.
    All these facts let one assume that the Garamantians had become the most important ethnicity of the Fezzan, that they had won suzerainty over the other Berber people of that region. We are still pretty ignorant about the details, but eventually it was during the course of this phase that the Garamantians did the final step from a bare confederation to a proper kingdom, with Garama as its capital. The first trustworthy mention of a Garamantian king is by Tacitus, who stated that Tacferinas, a Berber auxiliary who revolted against Rome during the early 1st century AD, united with the Garamantian king. Reports of the Garamantians being governed by kings stretch until the very end of the kingdom.
    Probably it was also during this period that the Garamantians introduced the Berber script called Tifinagh, which is said to be a variation of the Phoenician alphabet. See here the currently only known written record certainly ascribed to Garamantians, an ostraca found in Garama (1st-Early 2nd century):

    In conclusion, this phase set all foundation stones for the upcoming golden Age of the Garamantian Kingdom, with the most important ones definitely being the introduction of the foggara as well as the foundation of Garama, which acquired a “monumental character” during the first century BC. Such a “monumental character” is proven by the excavation of this temple (GER001.3), which was founded during that era and maybe was dedicated to Ammon:

    Indeed, the Garamantian kingdom was well established enough to enter its Golden Age, a time we now call the “Classic Garamantian Period” (Ca. 0 AD – 400 AD). The start of this period is marked not by an internal development but an exterior one: In 46 BC, the Romans have conquered the Berber Kingdom of Numidia after the battle of Thapsus and therefore also annexed it easternmost territories in northern Libya. The Garamantian kingdom now faced the mightiest empire the western world has seen to this point. During the 20’s BC this Empire decided to go to war with diverse kingdoms to its southern borders: The Yemenite Kingdom of Saba, Kush in Nubia as well as Garamantia. The exact reasons are not determined, but eventually it was either simply a war ridden by Imperialistic motives or a reaction to Garamantian or Garamantian supported raiding activities in the “Africa Proconsularis” province. Be it as it may, in 21-20 BC the governor of that province, Cornelius Balbus, decided to strike against the last independent Berber kingdom. He assembled a force in Sabratha, a town west of modern Tripoli and marched south, towards Garama, which was reported by Pliny to be “very famous”. Although Pliny stated that Garamantian raiders filled the wells beside the caravan routs with sand the Roman army was able to cross the desert, first marching over Ghadamis and then south-east, towards Garama. After sacking the city the Romans returned north.

    If the initial reason of this campaign was the permanent conquest of the Garamantians it wasn’t a success, even if Balbus was granted a triumphal procession in Rome. Only 5 years later the Roman governor of Crete and Cyrene had to take action against Garamantian raiders, though this campaign was probably restricted entirely to this province. Also from an archaeological view there are no hints for a Roman occupation of the Fezzan. That being said, conflicts between Romans and Garamantians, involved both directly or indirectly, should continue atleast until Justinian (Mid 6th century AD), eventually even until the Arabs conquered the whole region.
    The invasion of Balbus aswell as the following wars and Garamantian raids are a concrete proof that Romans and Garamantians cared for eachother and were interested to keep close relations, military but also economical ones. Indeed, with Balbus invasion Garamantia was definitely integrated into the Mediterranean civilization, also achieved by the upcoming trade between those two states. Although already Herodotus (5th century BC) reported of some type of trade route we can certainly say that with the beginning of the close contacts with Rome the first extensive Sub-Saharan trade routes were established. See below a map depicting these trade routes running through the Fezzan, heavily orientating on the numerous oasis settlements:

    From what we can say by archaeology the trade started to kick off from around the mid 1st AD century onwards. It seems that Garamantia would have exported wild beasts required for Roman arenas, ivory as well as slaves, all captured in the area around Lake Chad, described as “Agisymba” by Ptolemy. The amount of slaves traded with Rome was apparently rather limited. Meanwhile, slaves were kept within Garamantian territory in significant numbers, mostly to do the dirty and extensive tasks within the extensive Garamantian agriculture, like the construction of foggaras. As it seems the Garamantian hunting not only brought captured slaves back to Fezzan but also goods like cotton, sorghum, pearl millet and cowry shells.
    Anyway, other exported goods were semi-precious stones like red carnelian, known in Romans sources as “Garamantian Carbuncles”, and eventually also salt, gold, natron, surplus agricultural produce and manufactured jewelry.
    In exchange for their exported goods the Garamantians received oil, wine, eventually fish, glassware (Even though Garamantians produced glass on their own) and rotary querns, atleast for a limited amount of time before copying their design. Indeed, the amount of imported pottery is overwhelming and, remarkably, not only found in elite but even ordinary graves. Those are clear hints on what substantial role the trade with Rome played.
    The influence of Roman and Mediterranean culture is not only visible in the imported goods, but also the fact that Garamantians started to implement Roman styles into their architecture. While the aforementioned temple GER001.3 was already founded during the 2nd century BC, high status buildings made of stone became especially popular during the “Classic Garamantian Period”. The most spectacular Garamantian stone building in situ is this mausoleum at Qasr Watwat:

    See here more stonework fragments from Garama:

    Furthermore, here a hypothetical phase 7 (Ca. 100-200 AD) reconstruction of the colonnade of temple GER001.3, about which have talked earlier already:

    Back then the stone buildings were plastered and painted with chalk and gypsum. Fragmentary remains of such were found in Garama:

    See here a map depicting all stone buildings in the, so far, excavated area of Garama:

    Not only Garama prospered during this era, but also other cities like Qasr ash-Sharabba, which even extended over a larger area than Garama, probably because it lacked external restrictions like Garama did with its moat. See here a layout comparison between the two cities during the Garamantian era:

    The population in these cities was booming, the largest cities like the ones mentioned above wielded a population of around 2500, maybe even more. All in all, the Garamantian kingdom probably contained somewhere between 100.000 and 150.000 humans. For comparison: The population of 19th and early 20th century Fazzan was estimated to be around 24.000-34.000. Indeed, the Garamantian age was the golden era in the history of the region.
    However, as every Golden Age the one of the Garamantians had to come to an end as well. The era of the Garamantian decline and fragmentation is described as “Late Garamantian Period” (Ca. 400-700 AD). Its start is marked by an increasing fortifying of Garamantian towns, while undefended villages were abandoned. In many cities there were built fort-like structures, called “Qasr’s” in Arabic. One such Qasr was established during the early “Late Garamantian Period” right in the center of Garama. See here a reconstruction of Garma during this phase:

    Although the quality of the imported goods from the north was not necessarily declining the quantity definitely was. This can be based on the decline of the Tripolitanian cities, eventually through raids of the Berber Austuriani, and the Western Roman Empire in general. Another possible reason for the Garamantian decline might have been seismic events in the 360’s. The classical explanation of the Garamantian kingdom dying because of a massively declining water table is only partial true: While some regions were definitely affected by this problem Garama itself preserved a relatively high water table well until the 20th century.
    We don’t know any details, which we actually barely do while talking about Garamantia, but it seems that the Kingdom was indeed fragmenting in this time, possibly in many petty kingdoms. However, the Garamantians were still able to threat the Romans in the north after they reconquered Tripolitania from the Vandals: During the mid 6th century, the Roman emperor Justinian made a peace treaty with diverse Berber peoples, under them also the Garamantians. It is also said that the Garamantians accepted Christianity during that time, but we totally lack any archaeological proof for that and despite that, Roman influence barely stretched far beyond the Tripolitanian coast at that point, therefore excluding large-scaled Roman aid by building up Christian infrastructure in that area. Except of that, Phazanian Christians are not mentioned when the Arabs conquered the region.
    With the Arabs we also move to the final chapter of the history of the Kingdom of the Garamantians. Their first foothold in Africa was Egypt which they conquered in 640 AD. From there they sent forces into the South and West. While they were defeated in the South (Nubia), they made slow but steady progress in the West. The conquest of the Fezzan was described by Ibn ‘Abd-Al Hakam in the 9th century AD. In particular, he describes how ‘Uqba bin Nafi and his 400 riders conquered several Phazanian petty kingdoms like the kingdom of Zuwila and Waddan and also humiliated the Garamantian king:

    “When he (‘Uqba) approached he sent a messenger, calling the inhabitants to accept Islam, which they did. He stopped six miles from the town and their king came out to see ‘Uqba. The latter sent his cavalry, which cut the king off from his retinue and then made him walk. He reached ‘Uqba in a state of exhaustion, for he was soft, and began to spit blood. He then asked: “Why have you treated me this way after I have obeyed you and come? ‘Uqba answered: “To teach you a lesson, for when you remember this you will not make war on the Arabs.” Then he imposed on the king a tribute of 360 slaves.”

    The route of ‘Uqba conquering the whole Fezzan can be reconstructed like this:

    However, the Arabic conquest didn’t meant immediate Islamization and Arabization of the Garamantians. Instead, it seems that a large-scaled Islamization didn’t occur in the Fezzan until the 11th-12th, so roughly around the time the Arabic Banu Hilal devastated the region. This date can be estimated by archaeology (First mosque in Garama and Zuwila founded during the 11th century, considerable amounts of found pig bones).
    With the Arabs the Kingdom of the Garamantians very likely found its end after almost one millennium, even though there is one Arabic report of the area around the Wadi al-Ajal being separated from the Kingdom of the Banu Khattab (10th-12th century). If this was a direct continuity of the Garamantian Kingdom may be disputed.

    What concluding can we say about the Kingdom of the Garamantians? Definitely that it was the first indigenous Libyan state. That it introduced / popularized several innovations in the Sahara, like horses & chariots, the script, large-scaled agriculture, stonework buildings and possibly more. In summary, I would describe it as a slave-based kingdom secured by the military and prospering by groundwater exploitation and booming trade with its northern neighbors.


    -David J. Mattingly, 2003: "The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 1. Synthesis"
    -II II, 2013: "The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 4, survey and excavations at old Jarma (Ancient Garama) carried out by C.M. Daniels (1962-69) and the Fazzan Project (1997-2001)"
    -Erwin Ruprechtsberger, 1989: "Die Garamanten"
    Last edited by joerock22; December 30, 2016 at 03:46 PM.

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