African home of the Gurunsi culture in Burkina Faso (Upper Volta) - a remnant of the type their ancestors once built before moving further southward. Many of the populations of early medieval Ghana were of similar origin to the original Mauri or Beriberi of the Maghreb (North Africa). The name Berber comes from the ethnic name Beri or Beriberi an ethnonym of the Zagha'i, Izghan or Zaghawa culture known as Sughai or Songhai throughout the Sudan in later times.
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Remnants of the "Ethiopic" town of Germa of Fezzan in Libya.
This article covers the Pre-Islamic and pre-Christian Black Africans called "Mauri" through the Byzantine Period and their East African Origins Enjoy!: )
Wonderful vintage photo of the remnants of the Berber Mauri in the Riff region of northern Morocco. Early 20th century _ Getty photo
A few centuries before the Christian era the Mauri had taken part in incursions into Spain before the Christian era,[i] Early and medieval inhabitants of Iberia were very familiar with what Africans looked like of the coast of Mauretania looked like. The 7th century Christian bishop, St. Isidore of Seville, Spain wrote poetically of the Mauri as “black” in complexion. His exact words being “The Moors have bodies black as night, while the skin of the Gauls is white.” [Etymologies XIX.xxiii.7] Of the bishop, Jonathan Conant writes, “…by the time Isidore of Seville came to write his Etymologies the word Maurus or ‘Moor’ had become an adjective in Latin, for the Greeks call black ‘mauron’. In Isidore’s day Moors were black by definition.” [ii]
Most of the Mauri were comprised mainly of nomadic herders. Pliny and Ptolemy claimed Mauretania extended southward to Essaouira or Mogador and included the Atlas. In the 1st century Caligula divided the land of Mauretania into Caesariana and Tingitana named for Tingis (Tangiers).[iii] The 7th century text Laterculus Veronesis lists the lands of the Mauri that were then Roman provinces as Mauretania Tingitana in northern Morocco (with capital Tingi - the later Tangiers), Mauretania Caesariensis (Algeria), and Mauretania Sitifensis (Algeria) emerging from the Eastern part of Caesariensis and the Mauri peoples there include the Mauri Quinquegentiani, Mzaceces (Mazices), Bacquates ( Baccuates), and Mauri Barbares or Bavares.[iv] [v]
Pliny mentions the major inhabitants of Mauretania in his time as the Mauri and Masaesyli as being decimated in his time. The Autololes were among the Mauri tribes that arose after this time. The Bacquates were thought to be the later Bergwata inhabited the mountains of the Middle Atlas.[vi] The Bavares occupied Mauretania Cesareiensis.[vii]
Mauri Mazikes or Mazazeces were found in Tripolitania, the interior of Libya and Mauritania Caesariensis. The 4th century Expositio Totius Mundi speaks of a people in the desert that was called Mazices and Ethiopian. “Deinde post Africae omnem regionem adjacent et deserta terra maxima in austri partibus: ubi aiunt in minima parte ipsius derserrti habitare barbarorum paucam gentem, quae sic vocatur Mazicum et Aethiopum”. [viii]
It is likely the people called Mauri were the same as the people occupying the coast of North Africa in the time of Strabo, and that they were among people that were a people self-identified as “Mauri” or Maure[ix] and later known as “Berbers”. The first century Manilius, however, claimed the Moors derived the name Moor “from the color of their faces” and the name proclaimed their identity [Astron. 4.729}. [x]
he Riff Mountain Moors called Chefchaouen are reminiscent of the peoples once known as Masmuda Berbers that occupied the region. Described by medieval times (in the works of Abu Shama, Nasr Khusrau, Ibn Butlan and others as in the time of Isidore of Seville as black =skinned and of robust build. : )
The term black or black-skinned is frequently used to describe to the “Mauri” ethnic groups. William Smiths Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography and says MAURI Μαυροί, “Blacks,” in the Alexandrian dialect, Paus. i, 33 § 5, 8.43. [2.297] § 3; Sal. Jug. 19; Pomp. Mela, 1.4.3; Liv. 21.22, 28.17; Hor. Carm. 1.22. 2, 2.6. 3, 3.10. 18; Tac. Ann. 2.52, 4.523, 14.28, Hist. 1.78, 2.58, 4.50; Lucan 4.678; Juv. 5.53, 6.337; Flor. 3.1, 4.2); …These Moors, who must not be considered as a different race from the Numidians, but as a tribe belonging to the same stock…” They are likely the same population as mentioned by Euphorus of the 4th century BC according to Strabo who in his Geography states that
‘“Ephorus says the Tartessians report that Ethiopians overran Libya as far as Dyris, and that some of them stayed in Dyris, while others occupied a great part of the sea-board.” [xi] Dyris or Daris is another name for the Atlas mountains. [xii]
In the 1st century, Diodorus Siculus Book 20:57 – wrote of people met by the Greek Agathocles on the coast of Tunisia “men called the Asphodelodes who are similar to the Ethiopians in colour. [xiii] Oric Bates identified the Nasamones originally of the Syrtic (Sidra) coast of Libya as the people that made use of the asphodel plant in North Africa.[xiv]
The 1st c. AD Silius Italicus wrote of “black-skinned Moors and Numidians, and the Garamantes whom the god Ammon sees…” Elsewhere (Pun. 2.432-52) he states, “Not far off, the sunburnt sister of a black Moor soothes the lionesses trained by her native tongue.” [xv] Similarly Juvenal in his Satires (V. 53) refers to “A black, deformed Gaetulian noted for his villainy,or a Moor with long, black, scrawny hands, whom he would even hesitate to pass on the street, waits on him.”[xvi] Another translation reads, “a running footman from Gætulia, or the bony hand of some Moor, so black that you would rather not meet him at midnight” [xvii]
As well, the 1st century Roman poet Martial (born in Spain) in his Epigrams (p. 213) described the hair of a Moor as woolly or kinky. A recent translator says, “Santra a fictional slave cook in a scurrilous epigram of Martial, fathers on his master’s wife a Moorish looking boy with crinkly hair” [xviii]
A little later speaking of the Moorish inhabitants of North Africa and their dealings with Syro-Roman women, Claudian writes “When tired of each noblest matron Gildo hands her over to the Moors. Married in Carthage city these Sidonian mothers needs must mate with barbarians. He thrusts upon me an Ethiopian as a son-in‑law, a Berber as a husband. The hideous half-breed child affrights its cradle.”[xix]
Another later translation of this same passage of Gildo reads, “He gives us an Ethiopian son-in-law, a Nasamonian husband, the mixed-race infant frightens its cradle“ (De Bello Gildonico 192-193) [i]The Nasamones were closely tied ethnically to the Garamantes who are also clearly referenced as black-complexioned or nearly black population Ptolemy [1.8.5; 1.9.7] Frontinus, Strat. [1.2.18] and Diodorus [20.57.5] [ii] and in some instances they even classified as an “Ethiopian” people. “The dregs of the Garamantes have now advanced to our region and the house slave Niger …rejoices in his pitch-black body. If the voice discharged from his lips did not make him sound human, the gristly demon would terrify living men….
Another later translation of this same passage of Gildo reads, “He gives us an Ethiopian son-in-law, a Nasamonian husband, the mixed-race infant frightens its cradle“ (De Bello Gildonico 192-193) [xx]
The Nasamones were closely tied ethnically to the Garamantes who are also clearly referenced as black-complexioned or nearly black population Ptolemy [1.8.5; 1.9.7] Frontinus, Strat. [1.2.18] and Diodorus [20.57.5] [xxi] and in some instances they even classified as an “Ethiopian” people. “The dregs of the Garamantes have now advanced to our region and the house slave Niger …rejoices in his pitch-black body. If the voice discharged from his lips did not make him sound human, the gristly demon would terrify living men….”[xxii] Isidore in the 7th c. wrote that “There are three tribes of Ethiopians: Hesperians, Garamantes and Indians” (Book IX ii 128). [xxiii]
The Hesperians were said by Pliny (in Natural History, 8:32) to have lived in the area of the Atlas and river Nigris.[xxiv] (Gaetulia stretched as far as Nigris which separated Africa (Tunisia) from Ethiopia (the Sudan). They worshipped Mt. Atlas considering it their temple (Maximus Tyrius). Hesiod speaks of the Atlas as the home of the Hesperian Nymphs. [xxv]
Fabulous early 20th c. vintage photo of the Algerian Moors or Mauri of Wargla oasis who epitomized by the Berber people of Corripus time in Algeria and Tunisia and whose inhabitants were said to have been Jews since the time of Solomon. : ) "Black faces filled up the tents..." Corripus 6th century
Flavius Corripus of the 6th century in writing of the Moors under Antalas of Central Algeria mentioned their black faces in their tents comparing them to a scene out of hell. One classical historian writes, “…during an officers’ meeting, the Moorish chief Antalas is ‘Hades’ surrounded by ‘black faces’ (nigra facies), a war council of a ‘thousand monsters’ lining the ‘broad path out of Hell’.”[xxvi] And, “Roman citizens in Carthage triumphantly deride Moorish female captives and their children”, and Corippus describes one mother with her children as looking like the crow or raven with her chicks.[xxvii]
Another of the tribes he mentions under the Moorish chiefs were Silcadenit[xxviii] or Kel Cadenit and the Macares probably designations for the Tuareg tribes of Kel Cadenit and Imaqqoran.
Ethnic Connections of the Moors with the Horn of Africa and the Yemen
For the most part, ancient black-skinned inhabitants of Libya known as Mauri, Gaitules and Berbers were linked by ancient authors to the peoples of East Africa and southern Arabia. In the medieval era much of Arabia was otherwise referred to as India Minor or Little India,[xxix] while the region of Abyssinia is “Middle India”.[xxx] From the early Byzantine era until a late period, southern Arabia and parts of the Horn were at times referred to as “Indian”, just as parts of India would be referred to as “Ethiopian”. (For example, the famed Christian Theophilus, the Indian, is also called “the Ethiopian’ and was thought to have been born in the Maldive Islands.)[xxxi]
Marco Polo (13th c.) specifically makes reference to both Aden and Abyssinia as “Middle India”. As well “Benjamin of Tudela speaks of Aden as being in India.[xxxii] This may in part explain the tradition of the Moors being led to North Africa by the “Indian” Heracles/Hercules.
Josephus considered the “Evileans” (biblical “Hevila”) of Somalia to be ancestors of the Getulians (Berbers) that later became the Masyli and Masaesyli of North Africa by Herodotus. Josephus in Antiquities 1.134 claimed the “children of Ham” were “Sabas, who founded the Sabeans; Evilas, who founded the Evileans, who are called Getuli; Sabathes founded the Sabathens, they are now called by the Greeks Astaborans; Sabactas settled the Sabactens…”[xxxiii] The “Evileans” are considered to be the trading people between Arabia and Africa that founded and gave their name to the town of Zeila (ancient Avalis).[xxxiv]. The “Astaborans” were considered people of the Blue Nile or river Astapus. Strabo also considered the inhabitants of Meroe to be Sabaeans.
In Arabia the tribe appears to be the traders that were named Hawila or Huwaila.[xxxv] The 12th c. Yakut al-Hamawi informs the Mahra dialect in Hadramaut was actually still named “Hawil”.[xxxvi] In ancient South Arabian inscriptions the name Havilah is found as Khawlan and they are dwelling near Sanaa in Yemen.[xxxvii]
Some ancient authors distinguished the Getules from the Mauri. Others such as Pomponius Mela made no distinction bwtween the two. [xxxviii] Around the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, the tribes of Masaesyli and Masyli arose in Numidia from the Getuli.[xxxix] The name of the Masyli of Numidia is very possibly linked to that of the Mosyli in the Horn of Africa and the coastline of Aden.[xl] According to Pliny (6, 174) there was also Ethiopian harbor of the Mossylites,[xli] now considered Ras Antarah.
The ancient Garamantes occupied the area then called Phazania or Fezzan, with Germa as its major city. Some consider they were anciently called Gamphasantes.[xlii] Peoples called Phazaniae are mentioned by Ptolemy not far from the “Ethiopian mountains” and west of Meroe.[xliii] The Phazani are thus mentioned in an area stretching between North Africa (“Libya”) and Ethiopia (the areas south of Egypt). Pliny [5.5.35] for example mentions the Phazania tribe in relation to the region of the Libyan towns of Zala (Zeila?), Sabratha and Ghadames.[xliv]
As with Germa of the Garamantes. The Libyan Ghadames was once a town of Numidia and otherwise "Sudaniyya" and the people were once one and the same.
The name of the Macae tribe of the Syrtis in Libyan coast is another name likely linked to Arabia as there was an Arabian tribe named Macae. Both Ptolemy [6.7.14] and Pliny [6.26] mention the Macae tribe in Arabia.[xlv] Diodorus made the Macae of the North African region also “more numerous than the other Libyans”. Strabo considered the Gaitules the largest of the Libyan tribes. In any case Strabo also said the tribes between the Gaitules and the Sea basically “resembled” those of Arabia.[xlvi]
The later variant Macetae is mentioned by Synesius. [xlvii]
In addition the Hebrew Targums persistently identify the people of north west Africa especially with the children of Cush. Zeugis (Zeugitani) as Sabtecha, and Mauretania with Ra’amah son of Cush. “ They were traders in spices, precious stones and gold; Ezekiel 27:22. Here the Targum related the name to Lubai, or Lehabim and Raamah however, the Targum (Yonathan) has Mavryatinos, which is Mauretania, a district in northwest Africa. Mavry in Greek means the blacks. (cf. Yebamoth 63a;) Usually transliterated as Sabteca. The Targum renders it Zingain, possibly the African Zeugis.
Islamic Period – Identity of the Mauri as al-Berabir
Corripus’ Maures or Moors refers to the Berbers under Antalas called Ifuraces[xlviii] in Central Algeria and other tribes of the people called Laguatan. Most historians have identified with the Tuareg Ifuraces or Iforas tribe. Most other tribes of the Laguatan Maures are retained by the Tuareg, Tubu Gor’an/Qaran also called Kara, the Zaghawa and other populations of the Sahara and Sahel regions....
[i] Bates, Oric. (1914). The Eastern Libyans, p. 235.
[ii] Conant, Jonathan. (2012). Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, Cambridge University Press. p. 269.
[iii] Sigman, Marlene C. The Romans and Inigenous Tribes of Mauretania Tingitana
[iv] p. 172, Leveau, P. (1973). L'aile II des Thraces, la tribu des Mazices et les praefecti gentis en Afrique du Nord. Antiquites Africaines. 1.7. https://www.persee.fr/doc/antaf_0066-4871_1973_num_7_1_1450
[v] “Bacquates” Desanges, J. (1991) Baquates », in Gabriel Camps (dir.), 9 | Baal – Ben Yasla, Aix-en-Provence, Edisud (« Volumes », no 9) [En ligne], mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2012, consulté le 19 avril 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/encyclopedieberbere/1285; G. Camps, « Bavares », Encyclopédie berbère, 9 | 1991, 1394-1399.
[vi] Marlene C. Sigman. (1977). The Romans and the Indigenous Tribes of Mauritania Tingitana. Historia: Zeitschrift FÃ¼r Alte Geschichte, 26(4), 415-439. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4435574
[ix] Geography of Strabo 17.3. 26 https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/17C*.html
[x] P. 27 Martine de Marre. (2002). Dissertation: “The Role and Position of Women in North African Society.”
[xi] Geography of Strabo. 1.2 26.
[xii] (“Dyris”) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0064%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DD%3Aentry+group%3D7%3Aentry%3Ddyris-geo
[xvi] Starks, John H. “Was Black Beautiful in Vandal Africa”, African Athena: New Agendas. Editors Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra, Tessa Roynon;
See also Connery, John R. (1941) Juvenal and the Foreigner , MA Thesis, p. 253. https://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1111&context=luc_theses
[xviii] Dalby, Andrew. (2002). Empire of Pleasures: Luxury and Indulgence in the Roman World. Routledge. p. 87.
[xix] P. 113, Platnauer, Maurice. ( 1922 ). Claudian The War Against Gildo by Claudian, Vol. 1, p. 113. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Claudian/De_Bello_Gildonico*.html
[xx] p. 162, Ware, Catherine. (2012). Claudian in Roman epic Tradition. Cambridge University Press. p. 162.
[xxi] De Marre, Martine Agnes. (2002). Dissertation: “The Role and Position of Women in North African Society.” p. 27, fn. 26.
[xxii] Conant, Jonathan. (2012). Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge University Press. P. 271
[xxiii] Barney, Stephen. (2006). The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press. p. 199.
[xxiv] Pliny’s Natural History. 8:32
[xxv] Malte-Brun, M. (1834). A System of Universal Geography, Or a Description of All Parts of the World. Vol. 2, p. 52.
[xxvi] Starks Jr., John H. (2011). “Was Black Beautiful in Vandal Africa”, African Athena: New Agendas. Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra, Tessa Roynon. p. 256.
[xxvii] Conant, Jonathan. (2012). Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean. 439-700, Cambridge University Press, p. 272.
[xxviii] Mattingly, D. J. ( 1983 ). “The Laguatan: A Libyan Tribal Confederation of the late Roman Empire”, Libyan Studies 14. p. 100.
[xxix] Mayerson, P. (1993). A Confusion of Indias: Asian India and African India in the Byzantine Sources. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 113(2), 169-174. pp. 172-174.
[xxx] Adler, Marcus Nathan ( 1907). The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Critical Text, Translation and Commentary (New York: Phillip Feldheim, Inc. “ fn. 148. https://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/texts/tudela.html
[xxxviii] Note 62 - Piny the Elder Natural History http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:abo:phi,0978,001:5:1
[xxxix] p. 192, Ilẹvbare, J. (1974). The Impact of the Carthaginians and the Romans on the administrative System of the Maghreb. Part I. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 7(2), 187-197. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/41857007
[xlvii] P. 67, Bates,, Oric. (1967). The Eastern Libyans.