Who are the Berbers?

Who are the Berbers

Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema are the most famous Berbers.

   The Berbers or, in their own language, Imazighen (singular Amazigh), which would originally mean “free men,” is, properly speaking, the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. For a variety of historical and ideological reasons, today this name is used to designate only those in North Africa who are native speakers of Berber (Tamazight). There are several theories about the etymology of the word “Berber.” It is said cage derives from the French word berbère, itself derived from the Arabic word Barbar, which probably merely reproduces the Greco-Roman word barbarian that designated those who did not speak Latin or Greek. According to others, it derives from the Arabic “berbere” – “foreigners”) of that “barbarians” has the sole meaning of remarking a sense of total foreignness.

   “The Numids in modern-day Algeria, the Maures in modern-day Morocco, and the Libyans in the westernmost territories are noteworthy, while the Garamantes and Getuli predominated in the interior. Beginning in the first millennium B.C., North Africa experienced colonization by various peoples. At first Phoenicians and Greeks (Carthage is founded around 814 B.C.) Later it was the turn of the Romans, who contested the Carthaginians for supremacy over the region.”

Who are the Berbers

   Around the third century B.C.E. we begin to have definite records of real Berber states, with their own kings and their own organization: the kingdoms of Numidia and Mauretania. After various events, which saw them less and less autonomous, the Berber kingdoms finally lost their independence in 40 CE, under Caligula. During Roman rule many Berbers emerged in the arts, politics, and religion, expressing themselves in the written language of the time: Latin.

The Berber flag:

   It consists of three colors: blue, green, and yellow in horizontal bands of the same height, and the neo-Tifinagh letter ⵣ (Yaz or AZA). Each color refers to an element of Tamazgha, the territory inhabited since ancient times by Berbers:

  •    Blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean;
  •    green represents the Bled, the wide strip of arable land and green mountains;
  •    yellow represents the sand of the Sahara Desert.

   The letter Z of the Typhinagh alphabet in red color represents all those who have fallen fighting for the recognition of the Berber language and culture and is also the symbol of resistance and life.

Who are the Berbers

There were thus:

  • writers (from Terence to Martian Capella, with the likes of Fronton, Apuleius, or Tertullian);
  • Christian saints (from the Scillitan martyrs to St. Cyprian, St. Victor, St. Augustine, and St. Monica);
  • popes (Victor I, Melchiades, Gelasius I);
  • And even a number of emperors (from the Libyan-Punic Septimius Severus, founder of a dynasty, to the Mauri Macrinus and Aemilianus).
Who are the Berbers

   After remaining under Roman rule for a long time, North Africa suffered in the 5th century from the invasions of the Vandals, who established North African kingdoms, until in 534, an expedition led by Belisarius and sent by Justinian won it back to Byzantium sovereignty. This conquest, however, lasted little more than a century, since in the 7th century the new conquerors, the Arabs, appeared. North Africa was known by Europeans as Barbary for a very long time (practically until the start of the 19th century when European colonization started), which led to the states of North Africa being called Barbary states and the Barbary lingua franca being the language of exchange in use in those regions. In the Arab-Islamic world, on the other hand, the expression Maghreb (i.e., “West”) was mostly in use. Actually as far back as we go, the Berbers seem to have populated North Africa since Neolithic times. These people entered history as early as 5,000 years ago: Berber populations are in fact mentioned in Egyptian texts as far back as 3,000 BC. Berber populations in their long history have never waged wars of conquest but only suffered.

Famous Berbers:

  • Terence, (Publius Terentius Afer), 195-159 B.C. (Latin writer)
  • Pope Victor I (saint of the Catholic and Orthodox churches)
  • Marcus Cornelius Fronton, ca. 100-ca. 166 (Latin orator)
  • Tertullian, ca. 155-245 (philosopher and theologian)
  • Macrinus, ca. 164-218 (Roman emperor)
  • Aemilianus, ca. 207-253 (Roman emperor)
  • Aurelius Victor, d. ca. 390 (Latin historian)
  • Lactantius, ca. 250- ca. 320 (Latin ecclesiastical writer)
  • St. Monica, 331-387 (mother of St. Augustine)
  • Tinariwen (Tuareg music ensemble)
  • Baha Lahcen (Atlas singer – Morocco)
  • Isabelle Adjani (French actress)
  • Zinedine Zidane (b. 1972), a soccer player of Algerian Berber descent
  • Karim Benzema

Come learn about Berber culture and traditions with us: Tours to the Desert.

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