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Names of Libya (Africa)

Map of Ancient Africa

Homer used the term "Libya" to refer to the area beyond the western border of Egypt. By the 5th century B.C., the Greeks used the name to refer to the continent of what would later be called Africa. The term 'Africa' was first used by the Romans to refer to the land they had captured from their great rival, Carthage. Carthage, and many other trading posts, had been established by the Phoenicians along the southern coast of the Mediterranean and the eastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Berber territory. West of Africa lay the Berber kingdoms of Numidia and, still further to the west, Mauretania. The Greeks called the peoples who lived west of Egypt, 'Libyans'. South of Numidia and Mauretania lay unknown territory. During Carthaginian times, from 800 to 500 BC, the Garamantes and other groups used horse-drawn chariots to raid and trade in the Sahara. The Garamantes have been linked with the Mande or Manding. The Mande spoke a language that is related to ancient Egyptian and Elamite (the Niger-Congo language family). Others link the Garamantes with the Berbers. The people of the western Sahara had domesticated cattle by 5000 BC. or earlier. Around 2000 BC, the Sahara entered a dry period and many moved to the Fezzan, a fertile valley, and to nearby oases. The capital city of the Garamantes was Garama or Jerma. In Roman times, African imports came mostly from north of the Sahara. The Berbers continued to trade with peoples south of the Sahara, but only for local goods. (1, 2, 3)

The Greeks called the peoples who lived south of Egypt, 'Ethiopian'. South of Egypt lay the kingdoms of Kush/Meroe and Aksum (Ethiopia). Ports on the Red Sea were important links with trading ports on the Erythraean Sea (Indian Ocean). (1)

The east African coast was called Azania by the Greeks and Romans. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea ('Voyage of the Indian Ocean'), was a guide to ports in the Erythraean Sea (Indian Ocean) for Greek ships. The southernmost port was called 'Rhapta' (perhaps in modern Tanzania). The Greeks knew very little about the people of Azania. By 500 AD, the people were iron-using Bantu-speakers. Khoisan-speaking hunters and gatherers lived in the area before the arrival of the Bantu-speakers.(1)

Aksum and Sheba

Egyptian Names (Female)

Egyptian Names (Male)

Kush (Napata and Meroe)

Numidian and Mauritanian Names


(1) History of Africa, Kevin Shillington, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1989, 1995.

(2) A Guide to the Ancient World: A Dictionary of Classical Place Names, Michael Grant, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986, 1997.

(3) Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern, Ivan Van Sertima (ed.), New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1983.

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Updated November 20, 2009