The traditional Berber religion is the ancient and native set of beliefs and deities adhered to by the Berbers. Many ancient Berber beliefs were developed locally, whereas others were influenced over time through contact with others like ancient Egyptian religion, or borrowed during antiquity from the Punic religion, Judaism, Iberian mythology, and the Hellenistic religion. Some of the ancient Berber beliefs still exist today subtly within the Berber popular culture and tradition. Syncretic influences from the traditional Berber religion can also be found in certain other faiths.

Funerary practices

Archaeological research on prehistoric tombs in the Maghreb shows that the bodies of the dead were painted with ochre. While this practice was known to the Iberomaurusians, this culture seems to have been primarily a Capsian industry. The dead were also sometimes buried with shells of ostrich eggs, jewelry, and weapons. Bodies were usually buried in a fetal position.[1]

Unlike the majority of mainland Berbers, the Guanches mummified the dead. Additionally, in 1958 University of Rome Professor Fabrizio Mori (1925–2010) discovered a Libyan mummy around 5,500 years old—roughly a thousand years older than any known Ancient Egyptian mummy.[2][3]

Cult of the dead

Herodotus in The Histories stated that the cult of the dead was one of the distinguishing characteristics of Libya in antiquity.[4] Pomponius Mela reported that the Augilae (Modern Awjila in Libya) considered the spirits of their ancestors to be deities. They swore by them and consulted them. After making requests, they slept in their tombs to await responses in dreams.[5]

Herodotus (484 BCE–425 BCE) noted the same practice among the Nasamones, who inhabited the deserts around Siwa and Augila. He wrote:

They swear by the people among themselves who are reported to have been the most lawful and brave, by these, I say, laying hands upon their tombs; and they divine by visiting the sepulchral mounds of their ancestors and lying down to sleep upon them after having prayed; and whatsoever thing the person sees in their dream, this they accept.[6]

The Berbers worshiped their rulers, too.[7] The tombs of the Numidian rulers are among the most notable monuments left by the Classical Berbers.

The veneration (not worship) of saints which exists among the modern Berbers in the form of Maraboutism—which is widespread in northwest Africa—may or may not contain traces of prior beliefs or customs concerning the dead.[citation needed]

Ancient Berber tombs

The mausoleum of Madghacen

The tombs of the early people and their ancestors indicate that the Berbers and their forebears (the Numidians and Mauretanians) believed in an afterlife. The prehistoric people of northwest Africa buried bodies in little holes. When they realized that bodies buried in unsecured holes were dug up by wild animals, they began to bury them in deeper ones. Later, they buried the dead in caves, tumuli, tombs in rocks, mounds, and other types of tombs.[1]

These tombs evolved from primitive structures to much more elaborate ones, such as the pyramidal tombs spread throughout Northern Africa. The honor of being buried in such a tomb appears to have been reserved for those who were most important to their communities.

These pyramid tombs have attracted the attention of some scholars, such as Mohamed Chafik who wrote a book discussing the history of several of the tombs that have survived into modern times. He tried to relate the pyramidal Berber tombs with the great Egyptian pyramids on the basis of the etymological and historical data.[8] The best known Berber pyramids are the 19-meter (62 ft) pre-Roman Numidian pyramid of the Medracen and the 30-meter (98 ft) ancient Mauretanian pyramid.[9] The Numidian pyramid in Tipaza is also known as Kbour-er-Roumia or Tomb of Juba and Sypax, mistranslated by the French colonists as Tomb of the Christian Woman.[9] The Tomb holds the graves of King Juba II and Queen Cleopatra Selene II, the rulers of Mauretania.

Megalithic culture

Augustine of Hippo mentioned that the polytheistic Africans worshipped the rocks.[10] Apuleius stated as well that rocks were worshipped in the second century.[10] The megalithic culture may have been part of a cult of the dead or of star-worship.[10]

The monument of Msoura is the best-known megalithic monument in northwest Africa. It is composed of a circle of megaliths surrounding a tumulus. The highest megalith is over 5 meters (16 ft). According to legend, it is the sepulchre of the Greaco-Roman giant Antaeus.[11] Another megalithic monument was discovered in 1926 to the south of Casablanca. The monument was engraved with funerary inscriptions in the Berber script known as Tifinagh.[10]

Herodotus mentioned that the ancient Berbers worshipped the moon and sun and sacrificed to them. He reported:

They begin with the ears of the animal, which they cut off and throw over their house: this done, they kill the animal by twisting the neck. They sacrifice it to the Sun and Moon, but not to any other deities. This worship is common to all the Libyans.[12]

Tullius Cicero (105–43 BCE) also reported the same cult in On the Republic (Scipio's Dream):

When I (Scipio) was introduced to him, the old man (Massinissa, king of Massyle) embraced me, shed tears, and then, looking up to heaven, exclaimed I thank thee, O supreme Sun, and you also, you other celestial beings, that before I departed from this life I behold in my kingdom, and in my palace, Publius Cornelius Scipio.[13]

There were some Latin inscriptions found in Northwest Africa dedicated to the sun-god. An example is the inscription found in Souk Ahras (the birthplace of Augustine; Thagaste in Algeria) written "Solo Deo Invicto".[14] Samuel the Confessor appears to have suffered from the sun-worshiping Berbers who tried unsuccessfully to force him to worship the sun.

The Berber pantheon also contained multiple deities, known by the Romans as the Dii Mauri (lit. the Moorish gods), represented on reliefs and also the subject of dedications.[15] During the Roman period, Saturn and Ops was the focus of an important cult, subsuming that of Baal Hammon and Tanit, two deities of Punic origin.[citation needed]

Libyan-Egyptian beliefs

The Ancient Egyptians were the neighbors of the Berbers, as such traces of the worship of ancient Egyptian deities by the Berbers was found, and it has been theorized that both cultures shared at least some of these gods:

The cult Isis and Set by the Berbers was reported by Herodotus when saying:

However, none of these Libyan tribes ever taste cattle's flesh, but abstain from it for the same reason as the Egyptians do, neither do they breed swine. Even at Cyrene, the women and men think it wrong to eat the flesh of the cattle, honoring Isis, the Egyptian goddess whom they worship both with fasts and festivals. Additionally the Barcaean women and men abstain also from the flesh of swine.[16]

Those Libyans did not eat the flesh of swine, because it was associated with Set, while they did not eat the cattle's flesh, because it was associated with Isis.[17]

The most remarkable common god of the Berbers and the Egyptians was Amun and Amunet.[18] These deities are hard to attribute to only one pantheon. Although most modern sources ignore the existence of Amun and Amunet in Berber mythology, he and she were two of the greatest ancient Berber deities.[19] He and She was honored by the Ancient Greeks in Cyrenaica, and was united with the Phoenician god Baal and goddess Anat due to Libyan influence.[20] Early depictions of rams and ewes (related possibly to an early form of the cult of these deities) across North Africa have been dated to between 9600 BCE and 7500 BCE.
The most famous temple of Amun and Amunet in Ancient Libya was the augural temple at Siwa Oasis in Egypt, an oasis still inhabited by Berbers.

Possible Berber origins to Egyptian deities

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The Egyptians considered some Egyptian deities to have had a Libyan origin, such as Neith who has been considered by Egyptians to have emigrated from Libya to establish her temple at Sais in the Nile Delta. Some people also believe links between the way Egyptians depicted certain deities and the way they depicted Libyan people exist, such is the case for Ament.

Osiris was also among the Egyptian deities who were venerated in Libya and Dr. E. A. Wallis Budge (in addition to a few other scholars) believed that Osiris was originally a Libyan god saying of him that "Everything which the texts of all periods recorded concerning him goes to show that he was an indigenous god of Northern Africa (modern day Libya), and that his home and origin were possibly Libyan."[21]

Some legends even tell that Athena was born in Lake Tritonis (in modern Libya).

Phoenician-Berber beliefs

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[clarification needed]

The Phoenicians were originally a Semitic people who inhabited the coast of modern Lebanon, and later also of Tunisia. The Phoenicians of Lebanon were seafarers and they founded Carthage in 814 BCE. They later gave birth to the so-called Punic culture, which had its roots in the Berber and Phoenician cultures. Some[who?] scholars distinguish the relationships between the Phoenicians and the Berbers in two phases:

Before the Battle of Himera (480 BCE)

When Phoenicians settled in Northwest Africa, they stayed in the coastal regions to avoid wars with the Berbers. They maintained their deities which they brought from their homeland. Therefore, early Carthaginians had two important Phoenician deities, Baal and Anat.

After the Battle of Himera

Carthage began to ally with the Berber tribes after the Battle of Himera, in which the Carthaginians were defeated by the Greeks. In addition to political changes, the Carthaginians imported some of the Berber deities.

Baal and Anat were the primary deities worshipped in Carthage. Depictions of these deities are found in several sites across Northern Africa. Also, the goddess Tanit and god Baal Hammon were worshipped, who are thought to be of Berber origin [citation needed]. The names themselves, Baal Hammon and Tanit, have Berber linguistic structure. Many Feminine and Masculine names end with "t" and "n" and in the Berber languages. Some scholars believe that the Egyptian goddess Neith and Egyptian god Khnum were similar to the Libyan goddess Tanit and the Libyan god Baal Hammon. There are also Massyle and Phoenician names that apparently contain roots from the god Baal, such as Adherbal and Hannibal and names also derived from Anat.

Greek-Libyan beliefs

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The ancient Greeks established colonies in Cyrenaica. The Greeks influenced the eastern Libya pantheon, but they were also influenced by Libyan culture and beliefs. Generally, the Libyan-Greek relationships can be divided into two different periods. In the first period, the Greeks had peaceful relationships with the Libyans. Later, there were wars between them. These social relationships were mirrored in their beliefs.

Before the Battle of Irassa (570 BCE)

The first notable appearance of Libyan influence on the Cyrenaican-Greek beliefs is the name Cyrenaica itself. This name was originally the name of a legendary Thessalian woman warrior and queen who was known as Cyrene, ruled Thessaly in Greece and later Cyrene in Libya. Cyrene was, according to the legend, a courageous huntress woman and queen who hunted and ate lions and all other animals. She gave her name to the city Cyrene in Libya. The emigrating Greeks made her their protector besides their Greek god Apollo.[22]

The Greeks of Cyrenaica also to have adopted some Berber customs. Herodotus (Book IV 120) reported that the Libyans taught the Greeks how to yoke four horses to a chariot (the Romans used these Libyan chariots later, after they were taught to do so by the Greeks). The Cyrenaican Greeks built temples for the Libyan deities Amun and Amunet instead of their original god Zeus and Hera. They later identified their thunderstorm god and goddess Zeus and Hera with the Libyan Amun and Amunet.[23] Some of them continued worshipping Amun and Amunet themselves. Amun and Amunet's cult was so widespread among the Greeks that even Alexander III of Macedonia decided to be declared as the son of Amun and Amunet in the Siwan temple of Amun and Amunet by the Libyan priests of Amun and Amunet and was declared so.[24]

The ancient historians mentioned that some Greek deities were of Libyan origin. The daughter of Brontes and Metis, Athena was considered by some ancient historians, like Herodotus, to have been of Libyan origin. Those ancient historians stated that she was originally honored by the Libyans in Libya in Lake Tritonis where she had been born from the god Brontes and goddess Metis, according to the Libyan legends. Herodotus wrote that the Aegis and the clothes of Athena were typical for Libyan women.

Herodotus also stated that Poseidon (an important Greek water god) was adopted from the Libyans by the Greeks. He emphasized that no other people worshipped Poseidon from early times apart from the Libyans who spread his cult:

These I think received their naming from the Pelasgians, except Poseidon; but about this god the Hellenes learnt from the Libyans, for no people except the Libyans have had the name of Poseidon from the first and have paid honour to this god always.[25]

Some other Greek deities were related to Libya. The goddess Lamia was believed to have originated in Libya, like Medusa and the Gorgons. The Greeks seem also to have met the god Triton in Libya. The modern day Berbers may have believed that the Hesperides were situated in modern Morocco. The Hesperides were believed to be the daughters of Atlas, a god who is associated with the Atlas Mountains by Herodotus. The Atlas Mountain were worshipped by the Berbers and the Canary Islands represented the daughters of Atlas.

After the Battle of Irassa

The Greeks and the Libyans began to break their harmony in the period of Battus II of Cyrene. Battus II began secretly to invite other Greek groups to Libya, Tunisia and East Algeria. The Libyans and Massyle considered that as a danger that had to be stopped. The Berbers began to fight against the Greeks, sometimes in alliance with the Egyptians and other times with the Carthaginians. Nevertheless, the Greeks were the victors.

Antaeus is depicted with long hair and beard, contrary to Heracles.

Some historians believe that the myth of Antaeus and Heracles was a reflection of those wars between the Libyans and Greeks.

Roman-Berber beliefs

The Romans allied firstly with the Massyle against Carthage. They defeated Carthage in 146 BCE. But later, they also annexed Massyle to the Roman Empire.

The Imperial Period

According to Pliny the Elder, the Libyans honored the war goddess Ifri, who was considered to be the protector of her worshipers (and seemed to have been an influential goddess in North Africa) and depicted her on the Berber coins. This goddess was represented in diverse ways on Numidian coins from the first century BCE. When the Romans conquered Northern Africa, she appeared in sculpture and on the coins of the Roman states in North Africa.

The Roman pantheon seems to have been adopted generally, although the cult of Saturn and Ops, as mentioned above, was perhaps the most important.

A new god appears in later texts, identified with tribes such as the Austuriani outside the Roman frontiers of Libya. Gurzil was a war god who identified with the son of Amun and Amunet. He was taken by the Berbers to their battles against the Byzantines. Corippus mentioned that the chiefs of the Laguata took their god Gurzil into battle against the Byzantines and Arabs. It is very likely that the sanctuary of Gurzil was located in Ghirza, in Libya, where remarkable reliefs show a noble Libyan receiving tribute while seated on a curule chair.[26]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and the death.” El-Haraka
  2. ^ "Wan Muhuggiag". Retrieved 16 November 2015. (See Uan Muhuggiag for some additional details.)
  3. ^ Hooke, Chris (Director) (2003). The mystery of the Black Mummy (Motion picture). Libya, USA: Magellan TV. Archived from the original on 2020-04-01. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  4. ^ Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. 1996. The Berbers. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 35
  5. ^ Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress p. 35
  6. ^ Herodotus, Histories, Book 4, 170
  7. ^ James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 - p. 512
  8. ^ Tawalt, Libyan Massyle Site Archived 2007-01-02 at the Wayback Machine (in Arabic), Chafik, Mohammed. Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides].
  9. ^ a b Chafik, Mohammed. Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides
  10. ^ a b c d . “The Berbers and rocks.”
  11. ^ Tertre de M'zora Archived 2004-06-24 at the Wayback Machine (in French)
  12. ^ Herodotus, Histories, book IV, 168–198.
  13. ^ M. Tullius Cicero (105-43 BCE): from On the Republic (Scipio's Dream).
  14. ^ James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 p. 508.
  15. ^ Elizabeth Fentress, 1978, 'Di Mauri and Dii Patrii' Latomus 37, 2-16
  16. ^ Herodotus: The Histories.
  17. ^ "Women and the Transmission of Libyan Culture", Women's Influence on Classical Civilization, Routledge, pp. 139–149, 2004-07-31, doi:10.4324/9780203209653-13, ISBN 978-0-203-20965-3, retrieved 2023-08-14
  18. ^ William Shaler (1824). Communication on the language, manners, and customs of the Berbers or Brebers of Africa, in a series of letters to P.S. Duponceau, read before the Amer. phil. soc. and publ. in the new ser. of their transactions. pp. 18–.
  19. ^ H. Basset, Les influences puniques chez les Berbères, pp 367-368
  20. ^ Mohammed Chafik, Revue Tifinagh...
  21. ^ Cited by Lewis Spence in Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends; p. 64
  22. ^ K. Freeman Greek city state- N.Y. 1983, p. 210.
  23. ^ Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans.
  24. ^ Mohammed Chafik, revue Tifinagh...
  25. ^ Herodotus Book 2: Euterpe 50
  26. ^ O. Brogan and D. Smith, 1984, Ghirza: a Libyan Settlement in the Roman Period. Tripoli.