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Garamantes

An ingenious desert people, the Garamantes can coax life from the driest ground - and have mighty cavalry with which to defend their oases.

Between the 17th and 14th century BCE, a significant environmental shift had a lasting impact on the Saharan landscape. The continuous decline in precipitation levels transformed the Saharan savannah into an arid desert and had a profound impact on the way of life of the human settlements in the region. Grouped ever closer to the oases, the Fezzan Garamantian communities discovered a way to cultivate these areas in a durable way and, as a result, enjoyed remarkable growth between the 6th century BCE and 3rd century CE.

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The Garamantes are a Libyan or “proto-Berber” speaking people whose emergence into today’s central Libya archaeologists date back to around 900 BCE. Settled around their capital of Garama, in the middle of the Saharan expanse, they were mentioned for the first time by Greek sources in the 5th century BCE. This large population, which was hierarchically structured into clans and led by a monarch, prospered in this hinterland until the first centuries CE, with their culture expressed in the permanency of their agricultural holdings and in the design of their towns and necropolises.
This largely sedentary, urban society was able to support a large population in an arid, difficult-to-access region, thanks to its mastery of farming and irrigation techniques (the foggaras) and a heavy dependence on slave labor. In their oases and surrounding areas, the Garamantes managed to sustain a lasting and abundant agricultural production of wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives and even cotton.
For centuries, Garamantian merchants and camel-trains traveled the length and breadth of the trans-Saharan trade routes. Ideally situated in the center of this area, they connected Lake Chad and the Niger and Nile River basins with the Mediterranean. Exporting salt and semi-precious stones, they also transported gold, slaves and exotic products from the south to the north, while bringing back manufactured goods in the opposite direction.

Did you know?

By all accounts, the Garamantes were experts in breeding and training horses, which they traded at the Phoenician trading-posts on the Tripolitanian coast. And the chariots, depicted in the famous rock paintings of Tassili, would in fact have been used for breaking-in foals rather than as a means of transport.