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NIGEIR or NIGIR (Νίγειρ, Ptol. 4.6.14; Νίγιρ, Agathem. 2.10; Niger, gen. Nigris, Plin. Nat. 5.4, 8, 8.32), a great river of interior Libya, flowing from W. to E. It has long been a moot point among geographers whether the Nigeir of the ancients should be identified with the river now known as the Djolibá or Quorra, which, after taking its course through the vast plains or lowlands of Central Africa, turns southwards towards the Bight of Benin, where it enters the sea. For instance, Gosselin (Géographie des Anciens, vol. i. pp. 125--135) came to the conclusion that the ancients possessed no knowledge of NW. Africa to the S. of the river Nun. Walckenaer (Récherches Géographiques sur l'Interieur de l'Afrique Septentrionale, Paris, 1821) also, who has carefully discussed this point, sums up the result of his inquiries by asserting that none of Ptolemy's rivers can be the same as the Djolibá or any other stream of the Biledu-l-Súdan, as that region was quite unknown to antiquity, and was, in reality, discovered by the Arabs. Following in the same track, Mr. Cooley (Claudius Ptolemy and the Nile, London, 1854) regards the Nigeir as a hypothetical river, representing collectively the waters of the Biledu-l-Jerid. On the other hand, Colonel Leake (Journ. Geog. Soc. vol. ii. pp. 1--28), whose views are adopted in the present article, considers that Ptolemy's information on the Djolibá or Quorra, although extremely imperfect, was real. There seems, indeed, to be reason for believing that its discovery may be placed at a much earlier period, and that its banks were reached by the young Nasamones. [NASAMONES] Ptolemy's statements (l.c.) are annexed, from which it will be seen that the arguments in favour of the identity of his Nigeir with the Quorra are very strong. He believed that the earth was spherical; he divided the great circle into 360°; of these degrees he placed the same number in the breadth of N. Africa, that modern observations confirm; in the length of the same country he erred only one-tenth in excess. While in the interior, proceeding from a point of the W. coast, where his positions approximate to modern geography, he placed a great river, flowing from W. to E., exactly in the latitude where the Quorra flows in that direction.1

In considering the exact meaning of this passage, it should be remembered that the word ἐκτροπή, translated “divergent,” simply indicates the point of junction of two streams, without any reference to the course of their waters. At present, our acquaintance with the Quorra is too limited to identify any of its divergents; and even were there data, by which to institute a comparison, the imperfection of Ptolemy's information will probably leave these particulars in obscurity. After having stated that the Geir and Nigeir are the two principal rivers of the interior, he describes the one, as yoking together (ἐπιζευγνύων the Garamantic Pharanx with Mt. Usargala; and the latter, as uniting in the same way Mt. Mandrus with Mt. Thala. It is plain that he considers them to be rivers beginning and ending in the interior, without any connection with the sea. If two opposite branches of a river, rising in two very distant mountains, flow to a common receptacle, the whole may be described as joining the two mountains. Of the general direction of the current of the Nigeir there can be no doubt, as the latitudes and longitudes of the towns on its banks (§§ 24--28) prove a general bearing of E. and W.; and from its not being named among the rivers of the W. coast (§ 7), it must have been supposed to flow from W. to E. The lake Libye, to which there was an E. divergent, though its position falls 300 geog. miles to the NW. of Lake Tschad, may be presumed to represent this, the principal lake of the interior; it was natural that Ptolemy, like many of the moderns, should have been misinformed as to its position, and communication of the river with the lake. It is now, indeed, known that the river does not communicate with Lake Tschad, and that it is not a river of the interior in Ptolemy's sense; that its sources are in a very different latitude from that which he has given; and its course varies considerably from the enormous extent of direction to the E., which results from his position of the towns on its banks. But recent investigations have shown that the difference of longitude between his source of the river and the W. coast is the same as that given by modern observations,--that THAMONDACANA (Θαμονδάκανα, § 28), one of his towns on the Nigeir, coincides with Timbuktú, as laid down by M. Jomard from Caillié,--that the length of the course of the river is nearly equal to that of the Querra, as far as the mountain of Kong, with the addition of the Shadda or Shary of Funda,--while Mt. Thala is very near that in which it may be supposed that the Shadda has its origin. In the imperfect state of our information upon the countries between Bornú and Darfúr, it would be hazardous to identify the lakes Chelonides and Nuba. In comparing Ptolemy's description of the central country between the Nile and Nigeir, there are reasons for concluding that he had acquired an obscure knowledge of it, similar to that which had reached Europe before the discoveries of Denham, Clapperton, and Lander. The other great river, the GEIR or GIR (Τείρ, § 13), is the same as the river called Misselád by Browne, and Om Teymaín, in Arabic, by Burckhardt; while the indigenous name Djyr recalls that of Ptolemy, and which takes a general course from SE. to NW. Burckhardt adds, that this country produces ebony, which agrees with what is stated by Claudian (Idyll. in Nilum, 19), who, as an African, ought to be an authority, though, like an African, he confounds all the rivers of his country with the Nile; but, in another passage (I. Consul. Stilich. 1.252), he represents the Gir as a separate river, rivalling [p. 2.429]the Nile in size. Claudian could not have intended by this river, the GER of Pliny (5.1), at the foot of Mt. Atlas, and a desert of black sand and burnt rocks (Nun?), at which Paullinus arrived in a few days' journey from the maritime part of Mauretania; though it is probable that he may have intended, not the Geir of Ptolemy, but the Nigeir. The termination Ger was probably a generic word, applied to all rivers and waters in N. Africa, as well as the prefix Ni; both were probably derived from the Semitic, and came through the Phoenicians to the Greeks. By a not unnatural error, the word became connected with the epithet “Niger,” and thus the name Nigritae or Nigretes was synonymous with Súdán (the Blacks); the real etymology of the name tends to explain the common belief of the Africans, that all the waters of their country flow to the Nile. It is from this notion of the identity of all the waters of N. Africa that Pliny received the absurd account of the Nile and Niger, from the second Juba of Numidia. He reported that the Nile had its origin in a mountain of Lower Mauretania, not far from the Ocean, in a stagnant lake called Nilis; that it flowed from thence through sandy deserts, in which it was concealed for several days; that it reappeared in a great lake in Mauretania Caesariensis; that it was again hidden for twenty days in deserts; and that it rose again in the sources of the Nigris, which river, after having separated Africa from Aethiopia, and then flowed through the middle of Aethiopia, at length became the branch of the Nile called Astapus. The same fable, though without the Nigeir being mentioned, is alluded to by Strabo (xvii. p.826; comp. Vitr. 8.2.16); while Mela (3.9.8) adds that the river at its source was also called Dara, so that the river which now bears the name El-Dhara would seem to be the stream which was the reputed commencement of the Nile. The Niger of Pliny was obviously a different river, both in its nature and position, from the Ger of the same author. It was situated to the S. of the great desert on the line separating Africa from Aethiopia; and its magnitude and productions, such as the hippopotamus and crocodile, cannot be made to correspond to any of the small rivers of the Atlas. Neither do these swell at the same season as the Nile, being fed, not by tropical rain, falling in greatest quantity near the summer solstice, but by the waters of the maritime ridges, which are most abundant in winter. The Niger is not mentioned by the Geographer of Ravenna, nor the Arabs, until the work of Joannes Leo Africanus--a Spanish Moor--which was written at Rome, and published in Latin, A.D. 1556. Though his work is most valuable, in being the only account extant of the foundation of the Negro empires of Súdán, yet he is in error upon this point, as though he had sailed on the river near Timbuktú; he declares that the stream does not flow to the E., as it is known to do, but to the W. to Genia or Jenné. This mistake led Europeans to look for its estuary in the Senegal, Gambia, and Rio Grande. The true course of the river, which has now been traced to its mouth, confirms the statements of the ancients as to the great river which they uniformly describe as flowing from W. to E.


1 In the interior of Libya, says Ptolemy, the two greatest rivers are the Geir and the Nigeir.

  E. long. N. lat.
The Geir unites Mount Usargala with the Garamantic Pharanx. A river diverges from it at 42° 0′ 16° 0′
And makes the lake Chelonides, of which the middle is in 49° 0′ 20° 0′
This river is said to be lost under-ground, and to reappear, forming another river, of which the W. end is at 46° 0′ 16° 0′
The E. part of the river forms the lake Nuba, of which the position is 50° 0′ 15° 0′
The Nigeir joins the mountains Mandrus and Thala, and forms the lake Nigrites, of which the position is 15° 0′ 18° 0′
This river has two northerly divergents to the mountains Sagapola and Usargala; to the E. one divergent to the lake Libye, the position of which lake is 35° 0′ 16° 30′
And to the S. one divergent to the river Daras, at two positions 26° 0′ 17° 0′
and 24° 0′ 17° 0′
In the Latin 21° 0′ 17° 0′
and 21° 0′ 13° 30′

hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.32
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.6
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