Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What Happened to the Ancient Libyans? Chasing Sources across the Sahara from Herodotus to Ibn Khaldun

By Richard L. Smith
Source : Journal of World History, 14.4 (2003)

Piecing together the ethnic history of the ancient world in a systematic way is an impossible mission. One particularly perplexing problem is the fate of groups that lived beyond the bounds of city and empire: hundreds of them come and go in the historical record. We think we know what happened to a few, such as the Franks and the Angles and Saxons. Many others, however, simply disappear from the historical record, presumably the victims of larger or more martial groups, although the disappearance of an entity was more likely to have meant absorption or fragmentation than complete annihilation.1 Even prominent or notorious peoples came to mysterious ends: the Scythians fade away while the Huns lose their storied warlord and make a precipitous exit. What about the people the Greeks called "Libyans," and, in particular, those who lived in the Sahara?2 Were the Libyans, described by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C.E., the same people Ibn Khaldun wrote about under the name "Sanhaja" almost two thousand years later? Ethnic history rarely provides straight yes and no answers.


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