how long can they** be an influence? ca. 200+ years. ca. 2000+ years?

there are three broad regions in libya: cyrenaica to the east, tripolitania to the west, and fezzan to the southwest.

these were provinces in the ottoman empire, and cyrenaica and tripolitania were parts of the umayyad caliphate before that. they were only joined up into a nation called libya in 1951.

by a guy who was from cyrenaica:

But [King] Idris himself was first and foremost a Cyrenaican, never at ease in Tripolitania. His political interests were essentially Cyrenaican, and he understood that whatever real power he had—and it was more considerable than what he derived from the constitution—lay in the loyalty he commanded as amir of Cyrenaica and head of the Sanussi order. Idris’ pro-Western sympathies and identification with the conservative Arab bloc were especially resented by an increasingly politicized urban elite that favored nonalignment.”

and then he was ousted by a guy from tripolitania.

and now he’s being ousted by — well, a LOT of people in libya — but the uprisings seem to have started (and it’s my impression have been strongest) in benghazi, which is back in cyrenaica.

so, while there’s all these gosh-derned tribes in libya, there also seems to be a broad east-west divide (plus fezzan which is mostly tuareg and other partially sub-saharan african folks).

cyrenaica was, very early on, settled by greeks:

tripolitania, on the other hand, by phoenicians:

now berbers and arabs are obviously very important if one tries to work out the “folkways” of libya. but my question is, could the greeks and phoenicians still be having an influence after all these years?

**of course, folkways are not just airy-fairy mores floating on the wind. they originate with folks and their various biologies.

update 02/27: according to this site

“Arabs, whether descending from Phoenicians or medieval tribes, constitute a minority in Libyan population. They mainly reside in Northeastern Libya, where Awlad Ali, the largest Arab tribe in Libya, lives.

“Some other major Arab tribes in Libya are Fawatir, Beni Selim, and Beni Hilal….”

so, there’s (possibly) an east|arab vs. west|berber divide in libya.

(note: comments do not require an email.)


  1. Doubtless there’s some impact. Events of history tend to leave long-lasting marks on the cultures they impact. One of my favorite examples is the Polish election map of 2007:
    I do think that one has to be careful, though, Libya’s divisions to a Greek-Phoenician dichotomy of the past. There’s been a long history since they heyday of the Greeks and Phoenicians. For instance, around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Vandals ruled over an area including much of modern day Algeria, Tunisia, and Tripolitania, whereas the Eastern Roman Empire maintained control of Cyrenaica:

    But then, the Byzantines under Justinian took the Vandal Kindom, only to lose all of their Libyan lands to the Arabs a bit more than a century latter. Most of the caliphates from the Umayads onwards controlled both sides of modern Libya, though there certainly were breakages (the Mamluks only controlled Cyrenaica).

    So, ultimately, there have been quite a few breakages in rule between the east and west and it may be difficult to pin down which ones had the greatest impact on forming what is now Libya’s tribal structure.


  2. Another aspect that may play a role is the division between colonists and natives. I suspect (not being an expert of North African history) that modern day Berbers are more descendants of North African natives than of Greek, Phoenician, Roman, or Arab colonists. If so, divisions may go back further (though perhaps later modified by the sequence of rulers).

    What arose my suspicions was remembering Philip Jenkins’ description of the downfall of the African churches:
    Where the African church failed was in not carrying Christianity beyond the Romanized inhabitants of the cities and great estates, and not sinking roots into the world of the native peoples.

    Anyway, the Berbers speak a non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic language, so their roots go further back than the (Semitic) Phoenicians or the (Indo-European) Greeks, so while like the German and Russian influences on the Poles, those two groups probably had an impact, I think that it’s possible that tribal divisions go back even further.


  3. @meng – yes to all u said.

    plus, it looks like simple geography prolly plays a big role. there’s a rather clear east|west geographical divide in the country. looks like the most habitable areas are just where the greeks & phoenicians set up their towns. not a coincidence i bet. (^_^)


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