Throughout the period of Punic and Greek colonization of the coastal plain, the area known as Fezzan was dominated by the Garamentes, a tribal people who entered the region sometime before 1000 B.C. In the desert they established a powerful kingdom astride the trade route between the western Sudan and the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes left numerous inscriptions in tifinagh, the ancient Berber form of writing still used by the Tuareg. Beyond these and the observations of Herodotus and other classical writers on their customs and dealings with the coastal settlements, little was known of this extraordinary and mysterious people until the advent of modern archaeological methods.
The Garamentes' political power was limited to a chain of oases about 400 kilometers long in the Wadi Ajal, but from their capital at Germa they controlled the desert caravan trade from Ghadamis south to the Niger River, eastward to Egypt, and west to Mauretania. The Carthaginians employed them as carriers of goods--gold and ivory purchased in exchange for salt--from the western Sudan to their depots on the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes were also noted as horsebreeders and herders of longhorned cattle. They succeeded in irrigating portions of their arid lands for cultivation by using foggares, vast underground networks of stone-lined water channels. Their wealth and technical skill are also attested to by the remains of their towns, which were built of stone, and more than 50,000 of their pyramidal tombs.
Rome sent several punitive expeditions against the Garamentes before concluding a lasting commercial and military alliance with them late in the first century AD. The Roman occupation attached this territory of "Phazania" to the Mediterranean world. Although expeditions penetrated deep into Fezzan, in general Rome sought to control only those areas in the African provinces that were economically useful or could be garrisoned with the manpower available.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|