The ethnonym Berber dates to the 19th century, derived from Barbary
the term for the
Maghreb coast used during the early modern period,
itself from Greek barbaria "land of barbarians". The contemporary
self-designation current mostly in Morocco is Imazighen (singular
Amazigh). This term is common in Morocco, especially among Central
Atlas, Rifian and Shilah speakers in 1980, but elsewhere within the
Berber homeland sometimes a local, more particular term, such as
Kabyle (Kabyle comes from Arabic: tribal confederation) or Chaoui, is
more often used instead in Algeria.
The Berber tribal populations of antiquity are known as
later as Mauri in classical antiquity. These are umbrella terms that
would include populations whose self-designation was a variety of
tribal names, although
Strabo asserts that Mauri was also used
Libu of ancient Egyptian sources, eponymous of the
name Libya may also have been an early Berber or Proto-Berber
3 See also
The term Berber is a variation of the Greek original word barbaros
("barbarian"), earlier in history applied by Romans specifically to
their northern hostile neighbors from Germania (modern Germany) and
Celts, Iberians, Gauls, Goths and Thracians. The variation is a French
one when spelled Berbère 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
and the Berber Donatists of the
Donatism faith who were allies of the
Barbarian Vandals. The
Vandals migrated from Iberia (modern
Portugal) 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).
Derived terms include the toponym
Barbary and the animals Barb horse
The Greek term "βάρβαρος / βάρβαροι" was originally a
term for all non-Greek speakers, not necessarily used derogatively.
The nonsense syllables "bar-bar" have no meaning in Greek; the term
implied that all languages other than Greek were a collection of
nonsense syllables (cf. the Dutch onomatopoetic term Hottentot). The
term has been variously translated as "stutterers," "stammerers," or
"babblers." The term did in origin refer to any people of
"incomprehensible speech" (cf. names for Germans), including Persia
and Egypt; its connotation of uncivilized rudeness (cf.
Vandal), now the primary meaning of the term "barbarian", appears to
have emerged in the Roman era or with the Migration period.
Because the Berbers were called Al-Barbar by the Arabs, the early
Barbary seems to be a re-adoption of the name from
Arabic. Muslim historiography has an eponymous Barbar
as the ancestor of the Berbers, "the Berbers were the descendants of
Barbar, the son of Tamalla, the son of Mazigh, the son of Canaan, the
son of Ham, the son of Noah" (Ibn Khaldun, The History of Ibn Khaldun,
Another people called Berbers by medieval Arab, ancient Greek and
ancient Egyptian geographers, respectively, were the ancestors of the
Somalils. Barbara, an ancient region on the northern coast of Somalia
was referred to as Bilad al-Barbar (Land of the Berbers).
The modern self-designation Imazighen (singular Amazigh) apparently
derives from the name of the Mazikes mentioned in Byzantine
sources. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and
Byzantines mentioned various tribes with similar names living in
Greater Libya (North Africa) in the areas where Berbers were later
found. Later tribal names differ from the classical sources, but are
probably still related to the modern Amazigh. The
Meshwesh tribe among
them represents the first thus identified from the field. Scholars
believe it would be the same tribe called a few centuries after in
Greek Mazyes by Hektaios and Maxyes by Herodotus, while it was called
after that the "Mazaces" and "Mazax" in Latin sources, and related to
Massylii and Masaesyli. All those names are similar and
perhaps foreign renditions to the name used by the Berbers in general
for themselves, Imazighen.
Laredo (1954) proposed that the name Amazigh could be derived from
the name of the ancestor Mezeg which is the translation of biblical
ancestor Dedan son of Sheba in the Targum. According to Leo Africanus,
Amazigh meant "free man". Etymologically, the name
may be related to the well attested "aze" strong, "Tizzit" bravery, or
"jeghegh" to be brave/courageous. Further it also has a cognate in
the Tuareg word "Amajegh", meaning "noble".
^ "INALCO report on Central Morocco Tamazight: maps, extension,
dialectology, name" (in French). Archived from the original on July
27, 2010. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
^ Mohand Akli Haddadou (2000). Le guide de la culture berbère. Paris
Méditerranée. pp. 13–14.
^ Raunig, Walter (2005). Afrikas Horn: Akten der Ersten
Internationalen Littmann-Konferenz 2. bis 5. Mai 2002 in München.
Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 130. ISBN 3-447-05175-2.
ancient Arabic geography had quite a fixed pattern in listing the
countries from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean: These are al-Misr
(Egypt) -- al-Muqurra (or other designations for Nubian kingdoms) --
al-Habasha (Abyssinia) -- Barbara (Berber, i.e. the Somali coast) --
Zanj (Azania, i.e. the country of the "blacks"). Correspondingly
almost all these terms (or as I believe: all of them!) also appear in
ancient and medieval Chinese geography
^ F.R.C. Bagley et al., The Last Great Muslim Empires, (Brill: 1997),
^ James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 12: V. 12,
(Kessinger Publishing, LLC: 2003), p.490
^ Abraham Isaac Laredo, Bereberos y Hebreos en Marruecos. Madrid:
Instituto de Estudios Africanos. 1954.
^ Alojali (1980). : 83. Missing or empty title= (help)
^ Brett, M.; Fentress, E.W.B. (1996), The Berbers, Blackwell
Publishing, pp. 5–6
^ Maddy-weitzman, B. (2006), "Ethno-politics and globalisation in
North Africa: The berber culture movement*" (PDF), The Journal of
North African Studies, 11 (1): 71–84, doi:10.1080/13629380500409917,
retrieved 17 Jul