Ancient tribe Berbers
The Berber ethnic identity is the result of a fusion between indigenous middle stone age populations of the Caspian period and Neolithic immigrants who moved to North Africa as farmers from the Middle East. The latter component has also provided crucial cultural and linguistic impulses.
Berber peoples were first mentioned in writings of the Egyptians during the predynastic period (4000-3032 B.C.). During the New Empire (1550-1070 BC), the Egyptians fought on the western border against the Meshwe (Ma) and Libu. From about 945 B.C. onwards, the Egyptians were ruled by the Berber people of the Meshvess, who ruled the 22nd Dynasty under Sheshonq I. (946-924 B.C.). This marked the beginning of a long period of Berber rule in Egypt, during which the Berbers represented the main population in the western desert.
For many centuries the Berbers inhabited the coast of North Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean. During this time the coastal regions of North Africa experienced a long line of conquerors, settlers and colonizers: the Phoenicians who founded Carthage, Greeks (mainly in Cyrene), Romans, Vandals, Alans, Byzantines.
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The Berber languages are a branch of the Afro-Asian language family. Berber today has about 40 million speakers. Until the Middle Ages, the Berber languages were a continuum of dialects, which were only fragmented by the invasion of Arabic. This is especially true for the north of the Berber language area.
The language of the Numidians, Numidian, is closely related to Libyan (Old libyan). There are more than 1100 Numidian inscriptions preserved, most of them monolingual. The modern Berber languages are also related to Numidian, but not direct continuators of this language, which disappeared in late antiquity.
Although the Numidians as a people and their language have perished, their writing lives on in the modern Berber script Ti-Finagh.
The historical distribution area of the Berber population in Roman times was further north and concentrated in the coastal area of the Mediterranean Sea.
At the time of the Arab invasion in the 7th century AD, the Masmuda, the Sanhaja and the Zanata were the main peoples of the region. The subsequent migration of Arabs to North Africa pushed the Berbers inland.
Today the language communities with Berber mother tongue are like islands in the middle of the Arabic-speaking majority population. The population density of the Berbers is constantly decreasing from west (Morocco) to east (Libya). The Tuareg are the southernmost Berber population.
The Numidians were Berber and closely related to the Libyans.
The Greek colonists of the Kyrenaica (northwestern Libya) called the non-sedentary populations, which were spread in northern Africa west of Libya to the area of today's Morocco. "nomades" (nomads). This is where the name of the Numidians came from, which the Romans called "Numidae".
At no time were the Numidians politically united. The kingdoms they founded were each supported only by regional tribal federations.
Probably before the 4th century B.C., two densely populated and socially tightly organized tribal groups had gained a distinct profile, the Massyler (in the region of western Tunisia and eastern Algeria) and the Masaesyler south and west of it (in southern Tunisia, western Algeria and Morocco). During the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.), the Masaesyler were strengthened in the Carthaginian hinterland and were the first Numidian tribal group to determine the balance of political power in North Africa.
Both the Carthaginians and the Romans tried to win the Masaesyler as allies. The shaping of the political relations of the Numidian kings with the Carthaginian government depended partly on Carthaginian interests and partly on inner-Numidian rivalries. King Massinissa was one of the winners of the Second Punic War due to his pro-Roman attitude. As allies of Rome, the Massyles played a part in the destruction of Carthage's political power in the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.). The relationship of the Numidians to the Romans, who ruled North Africa since the end of the Third Punic War, was changeable. In the years 111 to 105 B.C. they rebelled under their king Jugurtha in a revolt (Jugurthinian War) against the colonial rulers, but in vain. Numidia was divided. In 46 B.C., the largest part was administratively absorbed into the Roman province Africa nova.
Towards the end of the Roman colonial period many Numidians had acculturated and adopted the Roman way of life. Christianity spread very early. Those who did not bow to the Roman assimilation pressure moved inland.
Probably the most famous African of Berber descent was Aurelius Augustinus (354-430 AD), whose mother was Numidin and whose father came from Italy. He wrote all his writings in Latin.
The name of the Libyans (Old Libyans) was used in ancient times to refer to all population groups living west of Egypt. Their settlement areas were summarized under the ancient name "Libya". The relationship of the Libyans to their neighbours, the Egyptians in the east and the Greeks in the northern coastal area, was changeable and often tense.
The culture of Egypt has radiated far into Libya. But the local cultural traditions have never been transformed.
The Libyans of today, i.e. the Arab inhabitants of Libya, are not direct descendants of the Libyans (Old Libyans) of antiquity. The contemporaries of the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Greek colonists were Berbers. Culturally and linguistically the closest to the Libyans were the Numidians. Ethnically, Libyans and Numidians were, despite their very similar language, independent peoples with their own cultural profile. The language of education of the Libyans was Egyptian.
The Garamantes were an ancient Berber people living in the Fessan. They settled at the latest since the 5th century BC, possibly even since the 9th century BC in the interior of Libya in today's Fessan. They were horse breeders. By using chariots they were able to subjugate the surrounding peoples. There are also rock paintings of the Garamantes in the Sahara.
The Tuareg are a Berber people. They are said to be descendants of the ancient Berber Garamantes, who developed a warlike camel nomadism around the birth of Christ in the regions of today's southern Tunisia and Libya. In the 11th century, they were driven out of the Fessan by Arab Bedouins and saw themselves pushed into the areas of the central Sahara, where they have lived as nomads since then. In this respect, they were able to escape the Arabization of their culture. Nevertheless, they adopted Islam. Since the middle of the 20th century many of them have settled down. In recent years there have been repeated uprisings by the Tuareg, who feel impeded in continuing their pastoral-nomadic way of life.
More than two dozen Berber ethnic groups are widespread in northern Africa. About 36 million people, about half of the current population of North Africa, are Berber in a broader sense, i.e. they speak a Berber language, are descended from Berbers or have at least one Berber representative in the grandparent generation.
Today, the number of those who actively speak one of the Berber languages is about 6 million. The main groups (including bilingual speakers) are Tamaschek/Tamazight (3.5 million), Taschelheit/Tachelit (3.5 million) and Kabyllic (3 million). Quite a few have abandoned their parents' Berber mother tongue and assimilated to Arabic; others are bilingual (with a Berber language as their primary language and Arabic as their second language).
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