New insight on the major Libyan tribes from the Antiquity to the Middle Ages/الجديد حول كبرى القبائل الليبية من القديم إلى الوسيط/7-10 م

A. M’Charek (Prof. Emeritus, University of Tunis)

This presentation revolves around the reassessment of the role played by the Berber tribes in Libya from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. The “old thesis” postulates the arrival of the “New Berbers” at the end of Antiquity, adding that this migration caused the regression of the Roman civilization in the province called Africa.

The opposed view — it has gained momentum in the last two decades — considers that there was an old settlement mainly based in the Aurès Mountains. Besides, they took part in romanization, urbanization and christianity.

Tripolitania somehow lacks sources but it is possible to rely on materials pertaining to Africa and the Zab regions.

The talk focuses on two linked aspects: names and territories.

A wave?

The classical thesis narrates a break caused by camel herders — the Ṣanhāǧa/Barāniṣ and the Zanāta/Butr — coming from the East and literally sweeping the Roman civilization. The Ṣanhāǧa sedentarized in the mountains, the Butr nomadized in the plains. From a demographic perspective they were a new generation replacing an older one. Authors like Gautier, Courtois or Camps supported with nuances this broad scenario.

What Ibn Ḫaldūn says about Zanāta… (also see the attached pdf for the full passage, courtesy Hafed Abdouli, thanks!).

Better and new materials

We have now much better editions of Greek and Latin sources (Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, Julius Honorius, Procopius, Corippus, but also Victor of Vita and Strabo).

                  The Libyan onomastics has improved a lot in quantity and quality (texts and epigraphy) so that we have access today to important databases (e.g. Sfaxi, 630 entries).

                  The edition of the Kitāb al-ʿIbar by Chabbouh, based on the Cairo ms. (see picture infra) — the one used by A. M’charek for his presentation — provides the richest documentary corpus on Berber tribes.

Indicative bibliography

Both M. Benabbès’ and H. Abdouli’s PhD theses complete the work of D. Mattingly on the Arabic sources. We shall add:

Y. Modéran Y., Les Maures et l’Afrique romaine, 2003.

I. Sfaxi, Contribution à la connaissance de la langue libyque : l’apport de l’onomastique, Aix-en- Provence,  2016 (dir. Salem Chaker).

Ibn Khaldūn, Kitāb al-ʿIbar, éd. Chabbouh, vols 11 and 12, Tunis, 2011-12.

A. M’Charek, « Continuité de l’ethnonymie, continuité du peuplement au         Maghreb de l’Antiquité à nos jours : le cas des Auares (Haouara) et Dianenses ou Zanenses (Zanata) », CRAI  (2015/1), pp. 425-445; M’Charek  A., « Continuité de l’ethnonymie, continuité du peuplement au Maghreb de l’Antiquité au Moyen Âge : le cas des Gétules Misiciri  dans le Livre des Exemples d’Ibn Khaldūn, CRAI (2018/2) et Actes de la rencontre sur les tribus au Maghreb organisée par la SEMPAM à Paris en avril 2018) en cours de diffusion.

Ibn Ḫaldūn and the tribal names

In his K. al-ʿIbar (7/3), he elaborates on the origine of Zanāta.

The ethnonyms are attested since Antiquity (Roman times): Avares/Auru for Haouara; Audianenses/[Z]entheos for Zanata.

Desange (1964) for example identifyed Zana with Diana Veteranorum (see the map infra), confirmed linguistically by Gascou (1984).

Besides, ZNTn could be a corrupted form of Tentheos/Zentheos, due to a copyist’s mistake. The map below shows the Limes of [Z]en(a)Theos (= Zanāta).

Temporary conclusion

The extant documentation analyzed here allows us to bridge both periods, Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and link the Berber tribes (or confederations) to the pre-Islamic era, contrary to what had been suggested so far. The continuity (tawāṣul) seems to prevail over the rupture (qaṭīʿa). Philology (studying ethonyms and toponyms) recognized the ancestors of Zanāta and Huwwāra. History and archaeology determined their respective territories.

We add hereafter other maps commented by A. M’charek during his talk.

Last but not least, we add a bibliography that was kindly provided by Prof. M’charek for those willing to discover his main writings produced during a long academic career.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
Sébastien Garnier (5 octobre 2023). New insight on the major Libyan tribes from the Antiquity to the Middle Ages/الجديد حول كبرى القبائل الليبية من القديم إلى الوسيط/7-10 م. LibMed. Consulté le 19 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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