Berber (Etymology)


Berber (Etymology)

The term "Berber" is but a variation of the Latin original word "Barbarian," earlier in history applied by Romans specifically to their northern hostile neighbors from Germania (modern Germany). The variation is a French one when spelled "Berbere" and English when spelled "Berber". The term appeared first in the 4th century in the religious conflicts between Saint Augustine, a Numidian Berber-Roman bishop of the Catholic faith, and the Donatist allies of the Barbarians, also known as "Vandals". The Vandals migrated from Iberia (modern Spain) where they were assailed by the Gauls allied to the Romans, and settled west of the Roman city of Carthage (in modern Tunisia) in the highlands (in modern Algeria).

Amazigh and Berber

Historically, it is not clear how the name "Berber" evolved supposedly from the word βάρβαρος. Contrary to some sources, the Berbers/Imazighen (the Amazighs) were not called "barbarians" by the Greeks or Romans. The Berbers were known as Libyans (Λίβυες or Λίβυοι) or Mazyes (Μάζυες or Μάξυες; Mazaces in Latin) to the ancient Greeks. They were known under many other names to the Romans as Numidians, Mauri and Moors. The Egyptians called their western neighbors the Mashewsh.

Because the Berbers were called Al-Barbar by the Arabs, it is probable that the modern European languages and other ones adopted it from the Arabic language. The Arabs probably did not use the name "Al-Barbar" mainly as a negative name. The ancient Arab historians were not aware of the origin of that name, they created some myths or stories about the name. The most notorious myth considers an eponymous "Barbar" as the ancestor of the Berbers. According to that myth, "the Berbers were the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, the son of Barbar, the son of Tamalla, the son of Mazigh, the son of Canon" (Ibn Khaldun, "The History of Ibn Khaldun", Chapter 3).

The fact that the name "Berber" is a strange name to the Berbers led to confusion. Some sources claim that the Berbers are several ethnic groups who are not related to each other. That is not accurate, because the Berbers refer to themselves as "Imazighen" throughout all of North Africa from Morocco to Libya including the Egyptian oasis of Siwa and about half of the Sahara Desert.

Not only is the origin of the name "Berber" unclear, but also the name "Amazigh". The most common explanation is that the name goes back to the Egyptian period when the ancient Egyptians mentioned an ancient Libyan tribe called "Meshwesh". Those Meshwesh are supposed by some scholars to be the same ancient Libyan tribe that was mentioned as "Maxyans" by the Greek historian Herodotus.

Libyans and Numidians

In the Greek period the Berbers were mainly known as "Libyans" and their land of "Libya" extended from modern Morocco to the western borders of ancient Egypt. (Modern Egypt contains the Siwa Oasis, historically part of Libya, where the Berber Siwi language is still spoken.)

ee also

* Berber people
* Berber language


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