previous next


Eth. NASAMO´NES (Νασαμῶνες, Hdt. 2.32, 4.172; Ptol. 4.5. §§ 21. 30; Plin. Nat. 37.10. s. 64; Dionys. Periegetes, 5.209; Scylax, p. 47; Steph. B. sub voce were, according to Herodotus, the most powerful of the Nomadic tribes on the northern coast of Libya. There is some discrepancy in his account of their situation, as well as in those of other ancient writers. (Comp. 2.32, 4.172.) They appear, however, to have occupied at one time part of Cyrenaica and the Syrtes. Strabo (xvii. p.857) places them at the Greater Syrtis, and beyond them the Psylli, whose territory, according to both Herodotus and Strabo, they appropriated to themselves. Pliny (5.5. s. 5) says that the Nasamones were originally named Mesamones by the Greeks, because they dwelt between two quicksands--the Syrtes. Ptolemy (4.5.21) and Diodorus (3.3) again remove them to the inland region of Augila: and all these descriptions may, at the time they were written, have been near the truth; since not only were the Nasamones, as Nomades, a wandering race, but they were also pressed upon by the Greeks of Cyrene, on the one side, and by the Carthaginians, on the other. For when, at a later period, the boundaries of Carthage and the Regio Cyrenaica touched at the Philenian Altars, which were situated in the inmost recesses of the Syrtes, it is evident that the Nasamones must have been displaced from a tract which at one time belonged to them. When at its greatest extent, their territory, including the lands of the Psylli and the oasis of Augila, must have reached inland and along the shore of the Mediterranean about 400 geographical miles from E. to W.

So long as they had access to the sea the Nasamones had the evil reputation of wreckers, making up for the general barrenness of their lands by the plunder of vessels stranded on the Syrtes. (Lucan. Pharsal. 10.443; Quint. Curt. [p. 2.401]4.7.) Their modern representatives are equally inhospitable, as the traveller Bruce, who was shipwrecked on their coast, experienced. (Bruce, Travels, Introduction, vol. i. p. 131.) The Napamones, however, were breeders of cattle, since Herodotus informs us (4.172) that in the summer season, “they leave their herds on the coast and go up to Augila to gather the date harvest” --the palms of that oasis being numerous, large, and fruitful. And here, again, in existing races we find correspondences with the habits of the Nasamones. For according to modern travellers, the people who dwell on the coast of Derna, gather the dates in the plain of Gegabib, five days' journey from Augila. (Proceedings of Afric. Association, 1790, ch. x.)

Herodotus describes the Nasamones as practising a kind of hero-worship, sacrificing at the graves of their ancestors, and swearing by their manes. They were polygamists on the widest scale, or rather held their women in common ; and their principal diet, besides dates, was dried locusts reduced to powder and kneaded with milk into a kind of cake--polenta. Their land produced also a precious stone called by Pliny (37.10. s. 64) and Solinus (100.27) Nasamonitis; it was of a blood red hue with black veins.

Herodotus introduces his description of this tribe, with a remarkable story relating to the knowledge possessed by the ancients of the sources of the Nile. He says (2.32) that certain Nasamones came from the neighbourhood of Cyrene, and made an expedition into the interior of Libya; and that they explored the continent as far as the kingdom of Timbuctoo, is rendered probable by his account of their adventures. For, after passing through the inhabited region, they came to that which was infested by wild beasts; next their course was westward through the desert (Sahāra), and finally they were taken prisoners by black men of diminutive stature, and carried to a city washed by a great river flowing from W. to E. and abounding in crocodiles. This river, which the historian believed to be the upper part of the Nile, was more probably the Niger. The origin of the story perhaps lies in the fact that the Nasamones, a wandering race, acted as guides to the caravans which annually crossed the Libyan continent from the territories of Carthage to Aethiopia, Meroe, and the ports of the Red Sea.


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.32
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.172
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.5
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 3.3
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.5
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: