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African Kingdoms

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Libya

FeatureThe section of the North African coast to the west of Egypt has been known as Libya for several millennia. Much of its population has always lived close to the coastline, as a very large proportion of the area of modern Libya is formed by desert (up to ninety per cent, although the desert is a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing only in the last four thousand years or so). Therefore much of its recorded history has concentrated on the struggle for ownership of this coastline. Berbers have existed here since about 8000 BC, attracted by the Mediterranean climate and the prospects for early farming.

The name Libya is ancient, and comes via Classical Greece and Rome. Berber tribesmen known as the Libu were attested by Egypt in the eighth century BC, and the Meshwesh Libyans provided Egypt's twenty-second and twenty-third dynasties. The Tamahu and Tjehenu were also important tribes. In the classical period Libya was known to the Greeks as a place of fairly barbarous, tough-fighting kings who led a tribal peoples but which appeared not to be a unified kingdom, more a series of territories perhaps ruled by individual kings. In the south, the Garamantes developed their own fully independent pan-Saharan civilisation. No firm borders and very few dynasties are known, but the region was a continual threat to Egypt.

fl c.1210s BC

Merirey

Leader of the Labu, who were associated with the Sea Peoples.

c.1208 BC

A body of Lukka take part in the Libyan-led attack on Egypt which includes various Sea Peoples. Two hundred casualties are recorded for the Lukka at the Battle of Per Yer, a very small part of the overall number.

Libyan coastline
Libya is a mixture of rocky coastline, verdant fields and an increasing expanse of desert

Mawasun

First known in a dynasty of native Libyan Meshwesh rulers.

Neb-Neshi

c.1100 BC

In the south of Libya, a native civilisation begins to emerge in the form of the water-mining Garamantes, which spans the Sahara and extends into sub-Saharan Africa. The civilisation flourishes from the fifth century BC.

Pasouti

fl c.1000 BC

Sheshonq

fl c. 970s BC

Nimlot

c.943 - 720 BC

A series of Meshwesh Libyans rules Egypt from circa 943 BC until 720 BC, beginning with Nimlot's successor, Shoshenq. They had been settled in Egypt since the Twentieth Dynasty. Although the dynasty seems to have originated at Bubastis, the kings almost certainly rule from Tanis, which is their capital and the city in which their tombs have since been excavated.

836 - 805 BC

At the start of the reign of Shoshenq III of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, a separate group of Libyans in Leontopolis gains power over the Middle and Upper Egypt area. By 805 BC a further group, the Libu, gain the western Delta around Sais.

fl c.810s BC

Iarbos / Hiarbas

Native ruler of eastern Libya.

814 BC

Neighbouring Carthage becomes a colony of Tyre when it is founded by Elissa, sister of the king of Tyre. The men of Utica greet their brother Phoenicians warmly, and the 'king of Libya', Iarbos, gives them free entry into his territory. He allows Elissa (whom the natives call Deido or Dido, the 'wandering one') to select the hill of Byrsa, where the city is built and named Qarthadasht, or 'new city'.

Events in Libya remain unchronicled for about two centuries, until the founding of the Greek colony of Cyrene in the mid seventh century BC. In the south, a native civilisation emerges in the form of the water-mining Garamantes.

Cyrene (Cyrenaica / Libya)
c.630 BC - 75 BC

Cyrene was a Greek city state colony founded in the eastern half of modern Libya. Greek settlers from Thera who were escaping famine founded settlements on Libya's coast. They developed several cities, including the largest, Cyrene, which was founded in 631 BC. Together with four other newly-founded cities - Arsinoe (Teucheira, today better known as Tocra), Balagrae (modern al Bayda), Barce (modern al Marj), and Euesperides or Bernice (not far from modern Benghazi) - the Greek colony became known as the Pentapolis, or alternatively as Cyrenaica.

The colony took about eight years to establish, following a failed two-year period on the island of Platea and six years at Aziris, south of Platea. The leader of the Greeks who moved to Cyrene about 631 BC was Aristoteles, maternal grandson of King Etearchus of Oaxus and a descendant of Euphemus, helmsman on the Argo under the command of Jason of Iolkos. He took the Libyan name, Battos, and founded the Battaid dynasty as a result.

c.638 - 600 BC

Aristoteles / Battos / Battus I

Leader during the settlement and first king.

c.600 - 583 BC

Arcesilaus I

Son.

c.583 - c.560 BC

Battus II / Eudaimon 'the Blessed'

Son.

fl c.570 BC

Adicran

Native king of Libya.

c.570 BC

The Libyans have become resentful of the flourishing and expanding Greek colony, and seek an alliance with Egypt. The Egyptian troops who are sent by Pharaoh ApriÍs are wiped out by the Cyrenaeans at the Battle of the Well of Thestis, almost to a man due, according to Herodotus, to not taking the Greeks seriously as an opponent.

c.560 - 550 BC

Arcesilaus II

Son. Strangled by Learchus.

c.550 BC

Learchus is the ill-mannered advisor to Arcesilaus II who, when his plotting to replace the king is discovered, flees to the Cyrenaean city of Barce (or founds it). He invites other disaffected Cyrenaeans to join him in forming an independent splinter state. When the king attacks him, he initially flees, but when he does give battle near a place called Leucon he is victorious. The king subsequently falls ill and is then strangled by Learchus who is able to claim the throne. He is almost immediately overthrown by Cyrenaean nobles.

c.550 BC

Learchus / Laarchus

Advisor to the king, and later a usurper.

c.550 - 530 BC

Battus III 'the Lame'

Son of Arcesilaus.

c.530 - 515 BC

Arcesilaus III

Son. Persian vassal from c.521 BC. Killed by Cyrenaean exiles.

c.521 BC

The Persian ruler Darius the Great becomes the first official Twenty-Seventh Dynasty pharaoh of Egypt after the death of Cambyses, who appears to have spent much of the last years of his reign in Egypt. Darius also conquers the Pentapolis and exacts tribute from Nubia.

c.515 - 465 BC

Battus IV 'the Fair'

Son. Persian vassal.

c.465 - 440 BC

Arcesilaus IV

Son. Persian vassal. Killed by the people.

440 BC

Battus V

Son. Killed by the people. Never ruled.

440 - c.300 BC

The Cyrenaean people, tired of the increasingly tyrannical rule of Arcesilaus IV, rebel and throw out the kingship, deciding on a republic to replace it, although one that is still under the suzerainty of Persia. It is probable that the Cyrenaeans are also trading for salt with the Garamantes people to the south.

332 BC

Egypt is handed over to Alexander the Great of Macedonia without a fight. Soon afterwards, the Greek king receives tribute from the cities of the Pentapolis.

Gladiator mosaics

The period between Greek, Egyptian and Roman domination left behind a rich heritage of ruins and remains, including this gladiator mosaic now at the museum in Tripoli

323 - 322 BC

Thibron of Sparta

Briefly commanded under Ptolemy I of Egypt.

313 - 308 BC

Ophellas

Briefly commanded under Ptolemy I of Egypt.

c.300 - 276 BC

The Pentapolis is formally annexed by Ptolomey I Soter of Egypt. Later in his reign he marries Berenice I, who already has a son by a former marriage. The son, Magas, is given the governorship of Libya, and following the death of his stepfather, he makes several attempts to gain independence, finally crowning himself king about 276 BC.

c.276 - 250 BC

Magas of Cyrene

Stepson of Berenice I of Egypt. Greek Macedonian.

274 - 250 BC

Magas attacks Egypt, but has to call off his planned invasion thanks to a revolt of the native Libyan Marmaridae. The remainder of Magas' rule is concerned with maintaining his kingdom's independence, and following his death a relative is invited from Greece to take the throne.

264 - 241 BC

The First Punic War erupts between Rome and Carthage. Following its conclusion, there is a rebellion amongst mercenaries who have not been paid. The leaders of the Libyan mercenaries, Spendius and Matho, lay siege to Utica and nearby Hippocritae. Despite being rescued by generals Hanno and Hamilcar of Carthage, both cities defy Carthaginian governance and have to be brought into line by force.

c.250 - 249 BC

Demetrius the Fair

Son of Demetrius I Poliorcetes of Macedon. Killed.

249 - 246 BC

With the death of Demetrius at the hands of Berenice, his wife, Cyrene becomes a republic again in 249 BC, but the state's short-lived experiment with renewed kingship and republicanism is ended when it is recaptured by Ptolemy II of Egypt in 246 BC.

246 - 163 BC

Apart from three limited breaks, Egypt retains direct control of Cyrene until 163 BC. In 240 BC a republic is briefly declared under the Megalopolitan philosophers, Ecdelos and Demophanes, mentioned by Plutarch. The details are unknown, but it seems probable that Egypt retakes control almost immediately.

240 BC

Ecdelos

Joint head of the Cyrenaean republic.

240 BC

Demophanes

Joint head of the Cyrenaean republic.

205 - 204 BC

Philemon

Another attempt at removing Libya from Egypt's control?

163 BC

Upon being deprived of the pharaonic throne, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II claims the throne of Cyrene in Libya, which he retains throughout the rest of his life, even during two further periods of rule in Egypt.

163 - 116 BC

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II 'Physcon'

Pharaoh of Egypt (171-163 BC, 145-131 BC, & 127-116 BC).

116 - 110 BC

Ptolemy Apion

Son.

110 BC

Nikostratos the Tyrant

Briefly usurped power.

110 - 96 BC

Ptolemy Apion

Restored.

96 - 34 BC

Cyrene becomes part of the Roman republic in 96 BC, and in 75 BC is made a province of Rome. In 37 BC it is restored to the Ptolemies by Marcus Antonius of Rome (Mark Antony), and his daughter by Cleopatra VII of Egypt is made queen in Cyrene.

34 - 30 BC

Cleopatra Selene II

Dau of Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Marcus Antonius of Rome.

30 BC

Egypt and Libya became Roman provinces, although the Garamantes to the south remained free of Roman control. Roman Libya is retained within the empire, and its subsequent Eastern Roman division.

Garamantes / Mande of the Fezzan
c.400 BC - AD 400

The Garamantes amount to a lost Saharan civilisation, one that is little known today. Even the only name for them, Garamantes, or Mande of the Fezzan, is Greek. This warrior culture flourished from about 1100 BC between areas of southern Libya, in the Fezzan (south-western Libya, near modern Germa), and sub-Saharan Africa, centred on the middle of the Sahara itself. Inhabiting an area around the busiest of the ancient trans-Saharan crossroads, the Garamantes were settled around three parallel areas of oases known today as the Wadi al-Ajal, the Wadi ash-Shati, and the Zuwila-Murzuq-Burjuj depression with its capital at Jarmah (a derivation of Garamantes).

Coming to prominence around the fourth century BC, the Garamantian civilisation was unique. Its foundation is believed to have marked the first time in history when a riverless area of a major desert was settled by a complex urban society which planned its towns and imported luxury goods. Indeed the sophistication of Garamantian building design, not least of its fortifications, may have been copied by the Romans, some of whose forts in North Africa are strikingly similar in appearance.

In 2011, while the ongoing civil war eventually ousted the dictator of modern Libya, Colonel Gaddafi, new research made use of satellite imagery which suggests that the Garamantes built more extensively and spread their culture more widely than previously thought. Hundreds of new villages and towns were identified. They were tenacious builders of underground tunnels, mining fossil water with which to irrigate their crops. Occupying an area of some 402,000 square kilometres (250,000 square miles), the Garamantes are now known to have practised a sophisticated form of agriculture, occupying villages laid out around square forts or qasrs.

While Herodotus is not always the most reliable of chroniclers of the ancient world, he mentions them in his Histories, describing them colourfully as herding cattle that 'grazed backwards' and hunting Ethiopians from their chariots. However, he seems to have been spot on with his description of the Garamantes as a 'very great nation'. The very existence of the desert culture, however, was based on their use of underground water extraction tunnels, known as foggara in Berber, one of the peoples from whom the Garamantes were descended. The construction of these tunnels was highly labour-intensive, requiring the acquisition of large numbers of slaves. The Garamantians relied heavily on slave labour from sub-Saharan Africa to underpin their civilisation. Indeed, it is believed that they traded slaves as a commodity in exchange for the luxury goods that they imported in return. There were caravans of hundreds of camels every year carrying all sorts of trading goods. Eventually, this reliance on a very necessary underground water supply and its interlinked high demand for slaves would be their undoing.

c.900 BC

The earliest capital of the Garamantes appears to be Zinchecra, which is first occupied around this time. It is situated on a mountain spur south of the Wadi Al-Ajal. The Garamantes themselves are a tribal people at this time, and probably pursue a way of life that is mostly nomadic.

c.400 - 200 BC

The civilisation of the Garamantes reaches a peak around this time, and a new capital is soon founded at Garama (Jarmah). The construction of water-mining tunnels reaches its apogee, as does the trade in sub-Saharan slaves to keep the water supply running smoothly. Village and town construction also reaches a peak, and the extinct lakes of the Sahara, dry now for almost six millennia, are mined for their salt content. The Garamantes become famous salt traders. However, the subsequent rise in population will eventually put an ever-increasing strain on the limited water supply.

Garamantes underground paintings
The Romans knew the Garamantes as the Fezzan, or south-west Libyan desert Phasania, and it was they who left behind these underground wall paintings

96 - 30 BC

To the north, Cyrene becomes part of the Roman republic in 96 BC. In 37 BC it is restored to the Ptolemies by Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), and his daughter by Cleopatra VII of Egypt is made queen in Cyrene. This arrangement lasts for just seven years before Egypt is permanently incorporated within the republic and subsequent empire. Romans are now a fixed feature on the northern edge of the Garamantes' territory.

49 - 46 BC

The arrival of the Romans in the north has a definite impact on the Garamantes. According to the Roman poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (Lucan), the first conflict takes place when the Garamantes join the Numidian king, Juba I, during the war between Julius Caesar and the Senate. Juba's army defeats the Roman commander, Curio, in 49 BC, but a retaliatory strike by Caesar defeats the Garamantes in turn.

19 BC

The Garamantes who had served in Juba's army of 49 BC may have been nomads, but Roman attention is now focussed on them. Pliny the Elder records in his work, Natural History, that General Lucius Cornelius Balbus marches against the Phazanians and Garamantes, probably causing a good deal of upheaval. It seems to be about this time that the older capital at Zinchecra is abandoned and the royal residence is moved to Garama. Various skirmishes occur over subsequent years, probably between Rome and Garamantes nomads.

AD 24

Writing at the end of the first century AD, the historian, Tacitus, mentions the Garamantes assisting the Numidian rebel, Tacfarinas, raiding Roman coastal settlements.

c.400

The Garamantes appear to outgrow their ability to exploit the environment around them. They have extracted an estimated thirty billion gallons of water through the foggara system of subterranean tunnels during the six centuries of their peak. In about the fourth century the water starts to run out, and to dig deeper and further in search of it requires more slaves than the Garamantes' military power can successfully deliver. From this moment their civilisation is doomed to decline.

429 - 439

The Vandali and Alans migrate from Spain into Roman North Africa. Once there, they carve out a kingdom over the course of a decade, taking the cities of Carthage and Utica in 439. The subsequent loss of Roman trade probably harms the Garamantes and possibly even sounds their final death knell as a civilisation. Some scholars contend that the use of the water mines continues to around AD 700, but by then the civilisation has long since passed its peak.

Roman & Islamic Libya
30 BC - AD 1951

Egypt and Libya became Roman provinces in 30 BC, under Emperor Augustus, although the Garamantes to the south remained free of Roman control. Libya was retained within the empire, and its subsequent Eastern Roman division, despite a period of Vandali incursion, until AD 643. Cyrenaica remained unconquered by the Vandali, although by the seventh century AD the city's days of glory were a long-faded memory.

Then, in the tumultuous events of the seventh century, Libya was conquered by the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. Following the destruction of the Umayyad caliphs in 750, Libya was annexed by Abbasid Egypt. It remained under Egyptian control until 1517, when the entire region was taken by the Ottoman empire under Selim I Yavuz.

1149

The collateral line assumes the Fatamid throne in Tunisia and is no longer considered to be Shiite Imams. The Almohads occupy Tunis, stretching the empire farther east than the Almoravids had done before them. They also encroach into modern Libya, maintaining dominion over territory that is closer to the coast.

1212

The Almohad ruler, Muhammad ibn Yaqub, suffers a devastating defeat in Spain at Los Navos de Tolosa. Humiliated, they are forced to give way, and their army never fully recovers from the disaster. In the east, the weakened empire fades as local tribes begin to rebel against Almohad rule. Libya soon falls out of Almohad control.

1801 - 1805

Having recommissioned its navy in 1794, the USA is becoming increasingly reluctant to pay tribute to ensure the safe passage of its merchant ships in the Mediterranean. The pasha of Tripoli demands fresh tribute of the new government of Thomas Jefferson which is refused, so Tripoli declares war on the USA. Morocco and Algiers do not join Tripoli in the conflict. The small but highly modern American navy defeats Tripoli's vessels in a number of naval skirmishes during the First Barbary War, until Tripoli agrees peace terms and the US buys back its captured seamen.

1815 - 1816

The Second Barbary War is fought by the USA in response to renewed pirate raids while it has been preoccupied with the War of 1812. A squadron of US ships captures several Algerian vessels and, after negotiations, the dey of Algiers agrees to return American captives and vessels in return for a large one-off final payment. Although this concludes the war, it does not conclude the piracy threat, so the following year, Britain sends a 'diplomatic mission' that is eventually forced to bombard Algiers for nine hours on 27 August 1816. The dey loses many of his corsairs and shore defences, and the threat of organised Barbary piracy is ended once and for all.

1911 - 1934

Ottoman Libya is invaded by Italy. An Italian protectorate is declared in 1912. Sheikh Sidi Idriss is recognised as leader of the Senussi and is granted the rank of emir, until the decision is reversed in 1929.

1920 - 1929

Sheikh Sidi Idriss

Recognised leader of the Senussi. Later king of Libya.

1934 - 1942

The Libyan provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica are united by Italy as the colony of Libya.

1942 - 1951

Libya is captured by Great Britain during the Desert War between Britain and Germany. Britain retains the colony and controls its administration until it is granted independence.

Modern Libya
AD 1951 - Present Day

The modern state of Libya is located on the North African coast, with Egypt to the east, Sudan to the far south-east, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. The capital city is Tripoli.

The region was first properly colonised as the Greek kingdom of Cyrene, before being subjugated by Rome, Egypt and Italy. Freed by Great Britain during the Second World War, the country gained full independence in 1951 when the former emir, Sheikh Sidi Idriss, was pronounced king of Libya. It was initially made up of the provinces of Tripolitania (in the north-west), Fezzan (south-west), and Cyrenaica (the eastern half of the country), but these were later subdivided into several smaller divisions known as shabiyat. Today, Libya boasts Africa's largest proven oil reserves and has a small population of only six million.

1951 - 1969

Idris

One and only king of modern Libya. Died aged 94 in 1971.

1969 - 1992

Hasan as-Senussi

Son and heir. Never ruled. Died 1992.

1969

The ailing Idris is in Turkey to receive medical treatment when he is ousted in a bloodless coup which is led by Colonel Gaddafi. His intention to abdicate in favour of his son, dated to just before the coup, is never enacted.

1969 - 2011

Muammar al-Gaddafi

Military colonel and dictator.

1970s

Gaddafi elects to run the country along the 'Third Way' between communism and capitalism via 'People's Committees' supposedly untainted by partisan politics. In later years, it is Gaddafi's son, Saif, who is often regarded as the driving force behind Libya's gradual escape from the international diplomatic isolation that envelops it until the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Colonel Gaddafi

Colonel Gaddafi seized power in the 1969 coup, and held onto it through tough controls

1975 - 1987

Libya becomes involved in the long-running war in Chad, hoping to take control now that France has lost any influence, but this ends when the Chadians force them out in 1987.

1992 - Present

Muhammad as-Senussi

Son of Hasan. Born 1962.

2011

A wave of popular protests against a deeply unpopular and dictatorial government in Tunisia forces the president to flee the country, paving the way for fresh elections and a new start. The protests strike a chord in Arabs across North Africa and the Middle East, and similar protests are triggered in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen.

Unlike some security forces in Tunisia and Egypt, their Libyan counterparts are less hesitant to react violently to the protests in a country where dissent is not tolerated and political parties are banned. The protests quickly turn into a fully-fledged uprising against Gaddafi, with key areas in western Libya and most of eastern Libya being removed from his control by an enthusiastic mixture of civilians and military. As Gaddafi's forces strike back with superior firepower, the United Nations and Nato become involved, enforcing a no-fly zone over the country which provides the poorly-organised uprising with its own air cover. Gaddafi's territory begins to shrink and his regime falls apart when Tripoli is taken by the uprising. On Thursday 20 October 2011, Gaddafi is discovered and killed at the heart of his final stronghold in Sirte, his birthplace. News of his death is announced by the National Transitional Council, paving the way for the establishment of a new government.