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BLE´MYES

BLE´MYES (Βλέμυες, Steph. B. sub voce Strab. xvii. p.819; Blemyae, Plin. Nat. 5.8.8, § 44, 46; Solin. 3.4; Mela, 1.4.4, 8.10; Isidor. Orig. 11.3.17; Blemyes, Avien. Descript. Orb. 5.239 Blemyi, Prisc. Perieg. 209; Claud. Nil. 5.19), were an Aethiopian tribe, whose position varied considerably at different epochs of history. Under the Macedonian kings of Egypt, and in the age of the Antonines, when Ptolemy the geographer was compiling his description of Africa, the Blemyes appear S. and E. of Egypt, in the wide and scarcely explored tract which lay between the rivers Astapus and Astaboras. But as a nomade race they were widely dispersed, and the more ancient geographers (Eratosth. ap. Strabon. xvii. p. 786; Dionys. Perieg. 5.220) bring them as far westward as the region beyond the Libyan desert and into the neighbourhood of the oases. In the middle of the 2nd century A. D., the Blemyes had spread northward, and infested the Roman province of Egypt below Syene with such formidable inroads as to require for their suppression the presence of regular armies. They were doubtless one of the pastoral races of Nubia, which, like their descendants, the modern Barabra and Bisharee Arabs, shifted periodically with the rainy and the dry seasons from the upland pastures of the Arabian hills to the level grounds and banks of the feeders of the Nile. Their predatory habits, and strange and savage life, filled the guides and merchants of the caravan-traffic with dread of [p. 1.409]the name of Blemyes; and travellers brought back with them to Egypt and Syria the most exaggerated reports of their appearance and ferocity. Hence the Blemyes are often represented in ancient cosmography as one of those fabulous races, like the still less known Atlantic and Garamantid tribes, whose eyes and mouths were planted in their breasts, and who, like the Pygmaei, were midway between the negroes and the apes. (See Augustin, Civ. D. 16.8.) According to Ptolemy, however (4.7),they were an Aethiopian people of a somewhat debased type. The Blemyes first came into collision with the Romans in the reign of the emperor Decius, A. D 250. They were then ravaging the neighbourhood of Philae and Elephantine. (Chron. Pasch. p. 505, ed. Bonn.) They are mentioned by Vopiscus (Aurelian, 33) as walking in the triumphal procession of Aurelian in A.D. 274, and bearing gifts to the conqueror. In the reign of Probus (A.D. 280) captive Blemyes excited the wonder of the Roman populace. The emperor Diocletian attempted to repress the inroads of the Blemyes by paying an annual tribute to their chiefs, and by ceding to them the Roman possessions in Nubia. But even these concessions do not appear to have entirely satisfied these barbarians, and almost down to the period of the Saracen invasion of the Nile valley, in the 7th century A. D., the Blemyes wasted the harvests and carried off captives from the Thebaid. (Procop. B. Pers. 1.19.)

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    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.8
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