The Numidian headbutt


Slight change of pace from our philosophical discussions in recent posts: I just checked my impressively detailed stats in WordPress, and made an intriguing discovery: My all-time top post by far is the one about Numidians looking like…. Zidane.

I won’t even link to it, for fear of perpetuating the cycle, but I find this funny. That rather silly post came about when I was researching my book and trying to visualize what Numidians probably looked like.

Numidians were the ancient inhabitants of northern African, to the west of Carthage. (Click on map above to enlarge.) They supplied Hannibal with his cavalry, which was the best in the ancient world. The Numidians rode without stirrups and bridles, came out of nowhere and disappeared again just as fast. They were deadly.

In any case, it turned out that they were the ancestors of today’s Kabyle Berbers, so I looked around for pictures and chanced upon one particularly good specimen. Ever since, according to my stats, I have been getting a steady stream of visits, though Google perhaps, from Algeria and France in particular and the soccer world in general. (Sorry: football world.) I hazard the guess that you guys are surprised when you arrive here.

And now to business: Using the same Numidian specimen, we shall examine the tactic they used against the Romans when they dismounted:

Zidane rode for Hannibal

Well, this is really cool. I learned something that has long puzzled me, and I did it through blogging.

You recall that I recommended a blog post by Mathilda, in which she explains the ethnic categories of “Africans” in antiquity. (In a nutshell: “Libyan” = white; “Ethiopian” = black). All of which fascinates me because I want to form the most accurate picture possible of what Hannibal, a Carthaginian, and his Numidian and Iberian allies may have looked like.

And now somebody named Ureus left this comment (thank you, Ureus!) in which he/she explains that:

I am also a descendant of the Numidians, but nowadays we are called Kabyle Berbers.
Contrary to the Afrocentrist view; we are a white Mediterranean race. For the Afro-centrists out there: even the word Africa is of Berber origin; it comes from the word Ifriqiya, which designated the tribal territory of the Berber tribes of Northern Tunisia.

Fine, so how should we picture these Numidians, who were the fiercest horsemen of antiquity (they rode without stirrups or saddles and wrought havoc on the Romans in Hannibal’s battles)? Well, here is one Kabyle Berber you may have seen before:

Zidane, a Kabyle Berber

Zidane, a Kabyle Berber

The Beeb (BBC, for the Americans) has a Q&A on Berbers here.

Now, if somebody could please help me with the “Iberians”, please?
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Carthaginians and “Libyans”

Great research by Mathilda about ancient Libyans here. In a nutshell, the ancients apparently considered “whites” living in Africa to be “Libyans”, in contrast to “black” Africans, who were called “Ethiopians.”

This fits my previous description of Hannibal and the Carthaginians, according to which Denzel would not be the most historically correct choice of actor.

Hannibal’s mercenary army, incidentally, contained lots of “Libyans”, alongside lots of “Numidians”, who were the most feared horsemen of their day, and “Iberians”, “Celto-Iberians” and Gauls. Then there were assorted other types, such as the renowned slingers from the Balearic islands (Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza), who apparently trained by shooting birds out of the sky with their slingshots. I’m trying to find out more about all these ancient tribal and ethnic categories. More to come.

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