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The Undiscovered Country, Ancient Libya

posted on: Jul 6, 2022

History of Ancient Libya

By: Antonia Wagura / Arab America contributing writer.

The ancient history of Libya, the undiscovered country, is unknown to many. However, there are various stories used to describe ancient Libya. Many know Libya through Egyptian references and loose Greek and Roman descriptions.

Sallust wrote in his Jarguthine War that “Africa in the beginning, had Gaetulians and Lybians, Jude and uncivilized tribes, who substituted on the flesh of wild animals or the herbage of the soil like cattle.

Some say that the ancient Libyans came from Asia, while Supremacists assume Libyans escaped Europe’s Ice age. On the other hand, Aryans argue Libyans were Greek invaders. Gaddafi says they came from Yemen. Some Euro-centrists connect them with blond sea pirates, while exotic writers derive them from Libyan Poisedon’s Atlantis. Others say it is somewhere between the lines of Plato’s Atlas Mountain in Libya landing, from Orion, Sirrus or Draco derails the project.

Nevertheless, Libya and the North African region belonged to an indigenous group of Berber tribes. Libya is the mother of human civilization. It is the ancient center where civilizations radiated to populate the Mediterranean world.

The Native Berbers of the Ancient Egyptian Period

Libya and Egypt had various tribes who inhabited the area, such as the Temehu, the Tehenu, the Ribu, and Meshwesh. Ancient Egyptians and Berbers are strongly related tribes and share one common origin. Ancient Egyptian, confused with the current Arabic Egyptian, and Berber (Tamazight) are sister languages that belong to the same linguistic branch.

In addition, the cultural traits of the ancient Egyptians and the Libyan Berbers and their mythologies and religion connect. Writings from the old kingdom are perhaps the earliest recorded information about the Berbers of Libya. Nevertheless, the Palermo stone illustrates the early days of Libyans in lower Egypt by listing the succession of Libyan pre-dynastic kings and queens from lower Egypt.

The Phoenicians Invading Libya

The Phoenicians descended from North Africa, as affirmed by linguistic evidence. The proto-Semitic branched from proto-Berbers-Libyan about 7000 years ago. The Phoenicians settled in several cities including Leptis Magna, Tripoli, Sabratha, and Carthage.

By 517BC, the Berber Phoenician empire was gaining influence all around the Mediterranean; eventually bringing terror and fear to Romans.

Greek Invasions

Greeks established five colonies in Cyrenaica, known as Pentapolis: the five cities of Cyrene, Apollonia, Ptolemais, Taucherra, and Berenice. Evidence indicates that some of these settlements existed before Greek’s arrival.

The level of civilization attained by Cyrene was so high. It quickly became one of the most cultural, philosophical, and academic cities in North Africa. Furthermore, produced some of the finest scholars of the time.

Two hundred years later, Greek influence started to diminish, and Cyrenaica surrendered to Rome. The popular philosophy of Cyrene is moral cheerfulness and happiness.

Invasion of Ancient Libya by The Romans

Several Berber kingdoms were influential when Roman arrived in Northwest Africa; however, the most influential was Numidia. Once the Coastal regions were under Roman control, the Roman generals wanted to conquer the Sahara. At the end of the first century AD, Rome had completed the pacification of Siritica, and Cyrenaica was handed over to them by the Greeks.

Germanic Vandals Invade Ancient Libya.

In 429AD Libya was invaded by the Germanic vandals under the command of Genseric. Germanic Vandals strengthened their positions and proceeded towards Rome which was ransacked. Before the end of the Vandal’s kingdom at the hands of Byzantine Belisarius in 534. The Berbers find themselves in limbo being pushed to the square while Romans regained control over North Africa.

History of Libya

The history of Libya dates back to around 8000BC when ancient Berbers had occupied Libya’s coastal areas. Following the Berbers, Libya had successive colonization, notably by the Romans, the Greeks, the Vandals, Byzantines, the Persians, the Arabs, and the Turks.

Cyrene is one of the best places to learn about Greek history, an ancient city, and now a UNESCO heritage site. Also, Leptis Magna, a Roman ruin excavated in 1994. It is known to be a tremendous Roman ruin in the country.

In the capital, Tripoli, there is only one Roman monument, the Arch of Marcus Aurelis. However, there is plenty of architecture dating back Ottoman Empire.

The most famous piece is a complex palace that overlooks the city, known as Assaraya Al-Hamra. By 647 AD, a continent of Arab warriors liberated the region from waning Byzantium rule and Berber influence, converting the locals into Islam.

Later, it came under Abbasid rule before the rising Ottoman Empire arrived in the mid-16th Century. His purpose was to restore order among Tripoli’s city of pirates. The reign lasted until the Second Barbary War of 1815, which they lost to the British and American allied forces.

Independence in Libya

Italy ruled Libya from 1912 until 1927 as Italian North Africa when it administered two separate parts of the country: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. More than 100,000 Italians were encouraged to move to Libya, making up one-fifth of the population.

Often, the Italian rule was atrocious, with half of the Bedouin population wiped out by the early 1930s. Some of the architecture from his period are in the city of Ghat, home to the Fortress of Ghat. Building the fortress began in the 19th Century, although the Italians completed it to cement their control in this trading post.

Sheikh Idris 1 led a rebellion against the Italians during the World Wars, and it wasn’t until the latter years of WWII that the British and French regained control of the territory. The return of Idris from his Egyptian exile happened when Italy had relinquished all claim to Libyan territory in 1947. Whereas the British remained in the former Italian colonies until the year 1951.

Libya formally declared independence in December 1951, and Idris became the first king. The decade that followed was one of the most stable times in the history of Libya. In 1959, they unearthed oil. That led to large amounts of investment from Western countries such as the USA and the UK. However, there was a concern about how wealth was to be shared. That led to Arab nationalism and eventually a coup d’etat.

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