Entrance to the ancient city of Germa

Germa (Garama)

The Ancient Capital of The Garamantes (Protected Archaeological Site).


The Garamantian Kingdom

The following notes are prepared by Temehu.com to serve as a general introduction to the world of the ancient Garamantes, including a small bibliography of some of the most important works in the field. Germa, pronounced locally as /Jerma/, is located approximately 160 kilometres South-West of Sabha, Fezzan, Southern Libya. The deserted remains were once the capital city of the ancient Berber Garamantian Kingdom of Fazzan, widely considered as Libya's first indigenous empire. The Garamantes were placed by Pliny twelve days journey from the Augilae and ten days by Herodotus in the interior of Libya. The Garamantes had control over a wide area, spanning the entire region from Tibesti to Acacus including the enigmatic Messaks and Wadi Metkhandoush. They occupied the most habitable region of the Sahara: Wadi al-Hayat (Wadi Al-Agial), Wadi Ashati (Sciati), and the oases from Murzuk to Zuila. They initially run their kingdom from the nearby capital Zinchecra (on the hills of Messak Settafet - a rich site of rock engraving of a very advanced nature), then from Germa or Garama in the first century AD, so named after their eponymous ancestor Garamas.

the city of Old Germa

The Ancient City of Germa

The Garamantes were fierce, powerful and warlike Berber people, who skillfully employed the horse and the chariot, as attested by the various cave paintings and drawings left behind by the ancient inhabitants of Phazania. Herodotus informs us that the Garamantes were a very numerous tribe of people, who spread soil over salt to sow their seeds in, and hunt in four-horse chariots. Archaeological discoveries indicate that the Garamantian cities were thriving urban centres, with markets and public entertainment forums. The city of Germa appears to have a number of towers and a square market, used as a transit point for caravans and for the horses the Garamantes then exported to Rome. Recent satellite research revealed more than one hundred "fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns" still buried beneath the desert's sand, and therefore the true picture will take decades if not centuries to complete. The capital became so powerful and quickly gained complete control over the lucrative caravan trade routes of the central Sahara, and even carried out successful raids on Berber-Carthaginian Carthage, Berber-Roman Leptis Magna, and on the authority of Herodotus on the troglodyte Ethiopians whom they hunted on four-horse chariots.

a plan of the ancient city of Germa

From Charles Daniels' The Garamantes Of Southern Libya, 1970.


the city of Old Germa


The History of The Garamantian Kingdom

Historical data such as that left by Herodotus, Strabo and Pliny does not tell us much, and apart from some geographical information and place names we hardly know anything of value about the Garamantes. The kingdom was shrouded with mystery in the past as it is a mystery today. In terms of modern data, Charles Daniels relates that: "Some years ago Diole wrote: "The name of the Garamantes . . . does little more, really, than designate our ignorance." Even the website of the new NTC failed to mention the Berber connection in their somewhat mashed-up history of Libya.

Herodotus says they lived about ten days journey from the Augilae, while Pliny lists the various tribes and place names between the Libyan coast and the Garamantian territories, including Phazania (Fezzan) and the tribe Phazannii, then the cities of Alele, Cillaba, Cydamae (Ghadames), the Black Mountain, a desert (the Serir ben Afen/Ramlat el-Chebira), and finally the towns of Garama, Thelgae and Debris, near which there is a spring with boiling hot water from midday to midnight and freezing cold water from midnight to the following midday. In the 1990s, Daniels' work was resumed by the Fazzan Project, with the approval of the Libyan government, bringing together a number of researchers collecting and analysing data from the Garamantian region, including David Mattingly, the editor of one of the most important books published about the subject: "The Archaeology of Fazzan" (by D. J. Mattingly, Charles M. Daniels, J. N. Dore, D. Edwards, and J. Hawthorne). The two volumes report the results of  the two Anglo-Libyan projects in Fazzan: Charles Daniels led the first expeditions between l958 and l977, and David Mattingly directed the subsequent Fazzan Project from l997 to 2001. 


acheulian stone implements from Fazzan

Acheulean Oval and Pear-Shaped Hand-Axes & Stone Tools; Germa Museum, Fezzan.

The Garamantian civilisation was said to be around 2900 years old. The civilisation was made known to the outside world when it came in contact with the ancient Libyan kingdoms of the north (like those of the Nasamons) and then with the Roman empire in the west around the first and second centuries AD, when the capital city was a bustling trade centre, connecting the coastal ports of Libya with the interior of sub-Saharan Africa. However, archaeological excavations and research strongly indicate a longer continuity in the region. McBurney had documented more than half a century ago the continuous existence of Libyans in Libya for the last 100,000 years. To assume that the Garamantes sprung from no where in the 9th century BC does not make sense, since they must have had ancestors just like we do. Also the idea of civilisations "appearing advanced all of a sudden", as many had presumed the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, is now widely rejected. Many archaeologists today believe that the Garamantes and their ancestors were responsible for the rock art of Tadrart Acacus, the Messaks and the surrounding areas, most of which spans a continuous period of history going back, at least 12,000 years. In addition to the archaeological sites and the looted tombs, there are hundreds of thousands of prehistoric cave drawings and rock engravings found across the region, including those of chariots, which are yet to shed their mystery.

Archaeological artifacts and stone tools discovered in various sites from Fazzan were definitely dated to the late Acheulean and the Aterian cultures (circa 100,000 - 30,000 BC). As described and illustrated in Germa Museum, local Libyan archaeological studies of prehistoric burial chambers suggest that the Fazzanian graves date from the Late Stone Age (around 50,000 years ago). Acheulean (Acheulian) culture belongs to the Lower Paleolithic era across Africa, particularly the central parts of Africa which now we know as the Sahara. It is characterised by the distinctive pear-shaped hand-axes, just as illustrated in the above poster from Germa Museum in southern Libya. Archaeologists generally agree that the Acheulean culture started in Africa and then spread to West Asia and Europe when waves of homo erectus left Africa to colonise Europe and Asia more than one million years ago.

Around the year 19 BC the Garamantes were brought under Roman control when the Proconsul of Africa  Lucius Cornelius Balbus reached Fazzan. The Balbus expedition left Sabratha for Ghadames, then across the Red Hamada to Adiri (Idri) and finally across the Ubari sand dunes to the capital Germa. But although the Garamantes were quick to regroup from the surprise attack and eventually succeeded in expelling the Roman forces to beyond their borders, and even later on attacked Leptis Magna itself around the year 70 AD, they somehow never fully recovered; as from there on their empire began to decline and slowly disappear whence it came - into the dark corridors of time. Robert Graves, who relates the Garamantes were of Cushite-Berber stock, argues that they were subdued by the matrilineal Lemta Berbers before they eventually fused with the aboriginals of the south bank of the Upper Niger, where they adopted their language and survive today only in a single village under the name of Koromantse. While others have connected them with the present town of Djerma in Algeria, and Djerma or Zerma of the western Niger. The Garamantes are widely considered as the direct ancestors of the eastern Tuaregs of the Sahara and Niger.


Old Germa
The Ancient City of Germa.


Origin & Etymology of Garama

It is far from sure to ascertain the etymology of the name Garama or Garamantes, but we do have a few suggestions to explore. The Greeks preserved a considerable amount of Libyan history in their borrowed mythology, which Roberts Graves (in his Greek Myths) rightly compares to corrupted political cartoons; and therefore one can wade through its chapters in search of forgotten clues. The Greeks knew of the Garamantes’ ancestor Garamas as ‘the first of men’, which is a reference to the antiquity of this legendary people. According to the Greek Olympian creation myth the Earth’s first children of semi-human form were the hundred-handed giants Briareus, Gyges and Cottus, but according to Robert Graves the Libyans claim that Garamas was born before the Hundred-handed Ones. Robert Graves further relates that the name Garamantes is derived from the words gara, man, and te, meaning ‘Gara’s state people’; where Gara is the Goddess Ker or Q’re who went on to become the Italian divinatory goddess Carmenta (‘Car the Wise’). He also points out that the Garamantian settlement of Amon was joined with the Northern Greek settlement of Dodona in a religious league which, according to Sir Flinders Petrie, may have originated as early as the third millennium BC. The Garamantes connection with Amon is further indicated by the Nasamones, whose ancestor Nasamon himself descended from the legendary Garamas, the ancestor of the Garamantes, who appeared in mythology as the Son of the Sun, and who offered Mother Earth a sacrifice of the sweet acorn.

This obscure history was the source of confusion. Dr. M. S. Ayoub (Fezzan, p.19), in quoting Apolionius of Rhodes, relates a Greek legend which refers to Garama as the grandson of the Cretan King Minos, who was born on the shores of Lake Tritonis in Libya, and concludes that the Garamantes had been living on the shores between present-day Zuwarah in Libya and Gabes in Tunisia (p. 45), an area that includes the legendary Lake Tritonis, where Libyan Poseidon allegedly ruled Atlantis; in total agreement, Dr. Ayoub relates, with  lbn Khaldun who stated that Germanah (Germa) was first settled by the Laguanten tribe, who also inhabited the coastal regions of Tripolitania; before he went on to add that they fled the coastal region and immigrated to Fezzan as a result of the Phoenicians' arrival. In support of his confused supposition Dr. Ayoub says: "On the mountain of Zenkekra in Germa, people are drawn with plumes on their heads which resembles drawings in Egyptian texts showing the maritime peoples." There is no doubt that the plume is a Libyan feature generally agreed on by most scholars and in fact the Egyptians themselves always  represented Libyan gods and goddesses with plumes, as in the case of Libyan Amen, Libyan Ament and Libyan Shu, long before the arrival of the sea-people. Moreover there are a number of  scholars who argue to the contrary - in that the Cretans themselves were a Libyan colony. It has been already stated that a Libyan settlement was expelled from their homes in the Egyptian Delta during the forced unification of Egypt, by Menas, and subsequently left for Crete between 4000 and 3000 BC, long way before the Minoan or Cretan civilisation was created. The same view was maintained by Robert Graves; by Elinor W. Gadon (The Once & Future Goddess); by Sir Arthur Evans (1901), the discoverer of the Cretan civilisation itself; and by Professor Flinders Petrie who pointed out that the similarity between certain Cretan characters and the prehistoric Libyan and Egyptian early forms of writing was not the work of coincidence.

The Garamantes Garments & Features

Ancient Libyan attire as covered by Bates was scarce by nature. Heat and terrain require scant clothing, and apart from the tunic and the long robe, used as marks of rank and dignity, European writers referred to them as 'lightly clad' and 'naked Garamantes',  in the same way they referred to their northern brothers as 'nude Nasamones'.


garaments features

From Eastern Libyans, Oric Bates.

"Types of negroid Libyans are shown in Figs 3 and 4 [Above]. The degree of negrism is not high, but it is clearly marked by the platyrhinism and thick lips; the example shown might well be compared with the "Garamantic Type" of Duveyrier." The Eastern Libyan, p. 43.

Garaments garments


Garamantian Chariots

Herodotus in his Histories (IV. 170) states that the four-horse chariot was also known in Cyrenaica, in Eastern Libya, where the Greeks learned the art of chariot-racing from the Libyans.

garamantian chariots

A selection of drawings illustrating the various prehistoric chariot designsfound in the Sahara.


The Garamantian Irrigation System

Perhaps one of the best achievement of the Garamantians, namely their agricultural genius, was said to have brought their downfall. The hundreds of underground channels, known as foggara, which were used to direct water from underground reserves to their farms, were said to have ultimately drained underground reserves. But, according to other sources, the disappearance of the Garamantes around the fifth century coincides more with the invasions than with the drying up of underground reserves. The foggara tunnels were said to extend thousands of kilometres, with vertical shafts for maintenance at regular intervals. The underground tunnels are therefore comparable to the Great Man-Made River -- one of the largest engineering projects in the world, through which deep water is extracted and tunneled across the whole of Libya to irrigate land as well as provide drinking water.


Garamantian Religion & Pyramids

The Garamantes appear to have had an advanced system of religion and mythology, in which sacrificial stones and pyramid-like burial chambers played an important role. Most of the Garamantian architecture is now in ruins, except the royal pyramid tombs of Ahramat al-Hattia, which, like the pyramids of Egypt, were designed to stay (see video below). However, most of these tombs and cemeteries were robbed or destroyed and so we may never know the full story of their religious and mythical beliefs and practices.

Garamentes ancient Berber inscriptions from Fezzan tombs in Libya

The above inscriptions, written in the Berber script Tifinagh, were collected from sites in the vicinity of Germa. According to Charles Daniels, they comprise the first collection of Garamantian inscriptions ever to be attempted. They were found inscribed, or cut or painted on dark grey amphorae, in the tombs of Garamentian cemeteries, such as those of Saniat ben Howedi. The tombs were badly destroyed, but a number of vessels survived in the graves. Despite having been discovered long time ago, no one has yet managed to decipher them. The data collected by the Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus, which has located more than one hundred Tifinagh and Tifinagh-related sites in Fezzan, is the first archive of Tifinagh rock inscriptions from the Acacus region. Many of Germa's archaeological finds can also be found in Germa Museum, famous for the time-graph, showing the different periods of cave art in the area. A copy of the Tifinagh archive was also given to the head of Germa Museum [The British Library: EAP265: The tifinagh rock inscriptions in the Tadrart Acacus mountains (SW Libya): an unknown endangered heritage].


Garamantian Burial Tombs & Pyramids


Garamantian Burial Pyramids


Like the fate of most archaeological sites from around the world many of the Garamantian tombs were robbed. The twist is that the ancient Garamantes buried their sacred treasures outside the tombs (altogether), and so it seems certain that they knew very well the nature of tomb raiders from the future, because of which the Ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to hide their tombs in the valley of the kings. The Garamantes buried their dead in graves of simple cairns in which the bodies were crouched. Some of the royal cemeteries found in the area, like the Royal Cemetery of Germa (Caputo's Necropoli Monumentale & Orientale [Scavi, p. 292 & 357]), consisted of several hundred tombs including stepped tombs. In total it was said there are at least 120,000 tombs in the valley. There are also a number of cemeteries, as those of Charaig and el-Hatia, which consist of true pyramids. The four-sided pyramids are made of coarse mud-bricks and built over a grave shaft. 


germa museum, graves from the late stone age

Garamentian graves from the Late Stone Age

The Garamantian  tombs were divided into four groups: circular tombs or prehistoric tombs, in which the bodies were covered with leather in a vertical hole, then filled with sand, and covered with a flat stone (as those shown above, from Germa Museum) to form a truly prehistoric burial chamber, going back to the stone age (Late Stone Age). The second type is the "square, two step-style tombs", which are plastered and painted with white chalk, and in which the burial chambers are between one and four meters deep, containing pottery, glass, lamps, gold and bracelets of Amazon and Cornelian stones. The third type is the pyramidal tombs, between two and four meters high, constructed of mud-bricks, in which the burial chamber beneath the pyramid is about three meters deep, and most of which were looted and desecrated. The fourth type is the mausoleum type, also used by the Berber Numidians of the north.

Garamantian Stone Altars


Garamantian Hand-Altar
The Garamantean Hand Altars


offering tables and hand altars from Germa

Garamantian Offering Tablets & Hand-Shaped Altars, Germa Museum, Fezzan.

These offering tablets were widely found in Fezzan and belong to the Garamentian civilisation. They were used for sacrificial purposes during worship, probably in honour of the Goddess. Some of the altars and tablets are clearly hand-shaped, recalling the famous Berber Hand, generally found across North Africa.




The Largest & Oldest Stone Age cemetery in the Sahara desert was discovered in northern Niger in 2000 AD. The uncovered 200 burials are said to belong to two "vastly different cultures that span five thousand years": the Kiffian culture (7700 to 6200 BC) and the Tenerian culture (5200 to 2500 BC).

More information at: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/08/080814-sereno-sahara-missions.html

Watch the National Geographic video "Gobero: Ancient Cemetery Brings Green Sahara to Life", at




  1. Lost Cities of the Libyan Sahara: according to University of Leicester Press Office, UK, satellite imagery revealed a lost Garamantian civilisation of the Libyan south-western Sahara, comprising "more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating between AD 1-500." The castle-like buildings were said to have been built with mud brick and some of their surviving walls are up to four metres high. The British team from the University of Leicester that discovered the “lost cities” say the culture of the people who built the lost cities is far more advanced than previously suggested. Click here for the full article which contains some satellite images of the lost cities.

  2. Rare Aerial Look at Fezzan: where ancient societies thrived and collapsed as the rains came and went.

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