Castles, kings, and caravans The Garamantes of Fazzan
Barbaric hut- and tent-dwelling nomads, dressed in skins: so Greek and Roman sources dismissed the shadowy people who lived and traded in Libya’s central Saharan region of Fazzan. But, as David Mattingly and his team discovered, they deserve much better.
ABOVE The remains of a mudbrick ‘castle’ – or qasr – with side towers, gates, internal rooms, and an enclosing ditch or moat.
While the Garamantes did not leave magnificent monumental cities like Lepcis Magna, Sabratha, or Cyrenaica, a 15-year programme of survey and excavation is providing dramatic archaeological data to show that this ancient people was as sophisticated, complex, and technologically advanced as their illustrious neighbours to the north.
Their society was based on oasis agriculture and sophisticated underground irrigation systems, called foggaras (see CWA 9), enabling them to grow crops and graze cattle in hostile, arid conditions. Their settlements were permanent towns and villages with complex mudbrick architecture and monumental structures; they traded extensively with both the
Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa; they even had a written form of their Berber language; and, their lifestyle was supported by the same technologies that characterised contemporary Mediterranean civilisations – agriculture, metallurgy, and textile and craft production.
State-builders We know from evidence collected by Charles Daniels in the 1960s from the hillfort site of Zinkekra that the Garamantes evolved into a proto-urban society by the late 1st millennium BC. Later, in the 1990s, excavations at Old Jarma by David Mattingly provided proof that a true urban centre, with monumental buildings, streets, and houses, emerged here in the latter centuries BC and early centuries AD. However, few other sites
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