The Ancient Capital of The Garamantes (Protected
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 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
whom they hunted on four-horse chariots.
From Charles Daniels' The Garamantes Of Southern Libya, 1970.
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
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.
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
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'.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
The Archaeology of Fazzan, by D. J. Mattingly, C. M. Daniels,
J. N. Dore, D. Edwards, J. Hawthorne, and Edited by D. J. Mattingly: Volume 1:
Synthesis, 2003, Edited by D. J. Mattingly; Volume 2: Site Gazetteer, Pottery
and other Survey Finds, 2007, Edited by David J. Mattingly.
Tacitus, Annals, III ; IV. [Garamantes].
Tacitus, Histories, IV. [Garamantes].
Ptolemaeus, C., Geographia. Ed. Muller, Paris, 1883-1901.
Lucan, Pharsalia IV - XI.
Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Tr. and annot. G. and H. Rawlinson and
J. G. Wilkinson, New York, 1859.
Ibn Khaldun (Kheldoun 1332-1406), Abu Zayd 'Abd er-Rah'man Ibn Muhammed Ibn
Kheldoun Al-Xedrami Al-Maghribi, [cited as Ibn Kheldoun], Kitab el-'Ibar wa diwan
al-mubtada wa al-khaber (Universal History), 1868 edn. 7 vols (Bulak). A.H. 1284.
Leo Africanus (H'asan Ibn Moh'ammad el-Wezaz el-Fasi), Africae descriptio,
Sergi, G., The Mediterranean Race: A Study Of The Origin Of European Peoples,
Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1914.
Evans, A. J., Scripta Minoa, Oxford, 1909.
Gsell, S., Histoire ancienne de l'Afrique du Nord, 8 vols., Paris, 1913-1929.
Duveyrier, H., Leso Tuareg du Nord, Paris, 1864.
Daniels, C., The Gararnantes of Fezzan: excavations on Zinchecra 1965-7,
Antiquaries Journal, 50,1, 37-66, 1970a
Daniels, C., The Garamantes of Southern Libya, London, Oleander Press, 1970b.
Daniels, C., The Garamantes, Geology, Archaeology and Prehistory of Southwestern
Fezzan, Libya, PESL 11th Cong., pp. 31-52 (1969).
Ayoub, M. S., Fezzan: A Short History, Libyan Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities,
Department of Antiquities, 1968.
Goodchild, R. G.,Oasis forts of legio III Augusta on the routes to the Fezzan, Papers
of the British School at Rome, 22, 56-68.1954
Il linguaggio berbero di El-Fogaha (Fezzan), Ann. Istit. Univ. Orient. Napoli,
XIII, 1963, 93-126.
Paradisi U., El Fogaha, oasi berberofona del Fezzan. Riv. Studi Orientali,
XXXVI, 1961, 293-302.
Herzog R., Ethnische und soziale Differenzierung unter den Bewohnern der
Oasen des Wadi es-Sati im Fezzan, AuU, XLIX (1966), 136-144.
Beguinot, F., Studi linguistici nel Fezzan dans Bol. R. Soc. Geogr. Ital.,
serie 6, vol. 12, 1935, pp. 660-5.
Beguinot, F., I Iinguaggi dans Fezzan e oase di Gat, 1937, PP. 493-513.
Beguinot, F., Le iscrizioni berbere del sahara dans La rivista d'Oriente,
1935, PP. 59-62.
Dassaud, R., Les Civilisations prehelleniques, Paris, 1910.
Duprat P., Essai historique sur les races anciennes et modernes de l'Afrique
Septentrionale, Paris, 1845.
Duveyrier, H., Leso Tuareg du Nord, Paris, 1864.
Gootlob, A. K., Sprache von Ghat in der sahara, 1884.
Lanfry, J., Deux notes sur le berbere de Ghadames, GLECS, 16 (1971-1972),
Lange, D., La Region du lac Tchad d'apres la geographie d' Ibn Said: texte
et cartes, AI, 1980.
Wiedemann, Stelac of Libyan origin. In PSBA, xi. 1889, P. 227.
Mattingly, D.J., al-Mashai, M., Aburgheba, H., Balcombe, P., Eastaugh, E.,
Gillings, M., Leone, A., McLaren, S., Owen, P., Pelling, R., Reynolds, T., Stirling,
L., Thomas, D., Watson, D., Wilson, A.I. and White, K. 1998 The Fezzan
Project 1998: preliminary report on the second season of work. Libyan Studies,
29, pp. 115-144.
Mattingly, D.J., al-Mashai, M., Balcombe, P., Drake, N.A., Knight, S., MacLaren,
S., Pelling, R., Reynolds, T., Thomas, D., Wilson, A.I. and White, K. 1999 The
Fezzan Project 1999: preliminary report on the third season of work. Libyan Studies,
30, pp. 129-145.
White, K., McLaren, S.J., Black, S. and Parker, A. 2000 Evaporite
minerals and organic horizons in sedimentary sequences in the Libyan Fezzan:
Implications for Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. In McLaren, S.J. and Kniveton,
D.R. (Eds.) Linking Climate Change to Land Surface Change, Amsterdam: Kluwer,
Mattingly, D.J., Al-Mashai, M., Balcombe, P., Barnett, T., Brooks, N.P.J.,
Cole, F., Dore, J., Drake, N.A., Edwards, D., Hawthorne, J., Helm, R., Leone,
A., McLaren, S.J., Pelling, R., Preston, J., Reynolds, T., Townsend, A., Wilson,
A.I. and White, K. 2000 The Fezzan Project 2000: Preliminary report
on the fourth season of work. Libyan Studies, 31, pp. 103-120.
Brooks, N.P.J., White, K., Warr, B., Drake, N.A., McLaren, S.J. 2000 Remote
Sensing for Dryland Geoarchaeological Investigations in Southern Libya: Preliminary
Findings from the Fezzan Project. Adding Value to Remotely Sensed Data, Proceedings
of the 26th Annual Conference of the Remote Sensing Society, 12-14September
2000, University of Leicester, 17pp., ISBN 0 946226 30 X
Mattingly, D.J., Brooks, N., Cole, F., Dore, J., Drake, N., Leone, A., Hay,
S., McLaren, S., Newson, P., Parton, H., Pelling, R., Preston, J., Reynolds,
T., Schrüfer-Kolb, I., Thomas, D., Tindall, A., Townsend, A. and White, K. 2001, The
Fezzan Project 2001: Preliminary report on the fifth season of work. Libyan Studies,
32, pp. 133-153.
White, K., Brooks, N.P.J., Drake, N.A., Charlton, M. and MacLaren, S.J. 2003 Monitoring
vegetation change in desert oases by remote sensing; a case study in the Libyan
Fazzān. Libyan Studies, 34, pp. 153-166.
Drake, N.A., Wilson, A., Pelling, R., White, K., Mattingly, D.J. and Black,
S. 2004 Water table decline, springline dessication and the early
development of irrigated agriculture in the Wadi al-Ajal, Libyan Fazzan. Libyan
Studies, 35, pp. 95-112.
White, K. and Mattingly, D.J. 2006 Ancient lakes of the Sahara.
American Scientist, 94, pp. 58-65.
White, K., Charlton, M., Drake, N., McLaren, S., Mattingly, D. and Brooks,
N. 2006 Lakes of the Edeyen Ubari and the Wadi al-Hayat. In Mattingly,
D., McLaren, S., Savage, E., al-Fasatwi, Y. and Gadgood, K. (Eds.), The Libyan
Desert, Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage, London: The Society for Libyan
Studies, pp. 123-130.