Libyan perspectives: Juba of Numidia on ethnographic matters (late first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Libyan perspectives: Juba of Numidia on ethnographic matters (late first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 26, 2024,

Ancient authors: King Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania in Libya (active ca. 30 BCE-23 CE), FGrHist 275 F5-6, 9, 15-16, 28-37 (in another post – link), 81, 83-84, 98, 101 (link to FGrHist).

Comments: Due to the scarcity of non-dominant perspectives and of Libyan or African ones in particular, the writings of Juba II, king of Numidia and Mauretania in Libya, are noteworthy. As Plutarch puts it, although “a barbarian and Numidian, he came to be counted among the most learned writers of Greece” (Plutarch, Caesar 55.2). So Juba was a native of the area whose father rose to power, in part, through alliance with Roman authorities, and those connections continued with Juba II first being client king of Numidia and later adding Mauretania. He was also married to the Ptolemaic Kleopatra Selene II of Egypt (on all this see FGrHist T1-16). So this is no average Libyan or Berber or Moor.

Although none of Juba’s writings have survived in full, there are just over one hundred citations of his work by various Greek and Roman authors, and we know that he proudly wrote a book on Libyan Matters specifically. A good number of the citations of Juba, which are gathered below, indicate Juba’s considerable interest in peoples and in ethnographic matters, such as the question of what foreign peoples were responsible for certain inventions (on which compare Ephoros at this link and Pliny at this link). One of the citations also has Juba referring to the notion that a particular king in Libya had (according to legend) engaged in sacrificing foreigners. Juba’s more extensive account of peoples and geographical features around the Persian gulf and Red Sea (as cited by Pliny = F28-F37) appears in another long post (link).


[King Lykos and human sacrifice in Libya]

(F5 = Pseudo-Plutarch, Parallel Lives 23) After the sack of Troy, Diomedes was cast ashore on the Libyan coast where Lykos was king, whose custom it was to sacrifice foreigners (xenoi) to his father Ares. But Kallirhoe, the king’s daughter, fell in love with Diomedes and betrayed her father: releasing Diomedes from his bonds, she saved him. But he, without regard for his benefactor, sailed away, and she ended her life with a noose. This is according to Juba in the third book of his Libyan Matters (Libykai).

[Libyan, Egyptian, and Persian stories about the origin of the apple and citrus-fruit]

(F6 = Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 3.83a-c) Citrus-fruit: Many questions arose about this among the wise diners at the table as to whether or not there is any mention of it by the ancients. . . [omitted sentences]. Aemilianus said that Juba, king of Mauretania and a very educated man, mentions the citron in his writing On Libya. Juba asserts that, among the Libyans, it is called the apple of Hesperia. Herakles brought the apples that are called “golden” (due to their colour) to Greece [from Libya]. As for the so-called apples of the Hesperides, Asklepiades, in the sixtieth book of his Egyptian Matters, says that Earth brought them forth in honour of the “nuptials,” as it was called, of Zeus and Hera. At that point, Demokritos, with a shrewd glance at them, said: “If Juba records anything of the sort, then renounce him and all his works, his Libyan books and his Wanderings of Hanno as well. I maintain that the word ‘citron’ is not found in ancient writers, but the thing itself is described by Theophrastos of Eresos in his Inquiry Concerning Plants in such a way that I am forced to understand his description as referring to the citron. For the philosopher, in the fourth book of his Inquiry Concerning Plants, has this to say: “Among many other products of the land of Media and Persia there is in particular the so-called Persian or Median apple. . . [omitted extensive quotation on how this apple is grown and used].’”

[“Aborigines” as an Italian people]

(F9 = Stephanos of Byzantion, Ethnika, at ᾽Αβοριγῖνες) Aborigines: An Italian people, as Juba records in book one of his Roman History: ‘The ancient name Aborigines survived up to the time of the Trojan war. They were called this when Latinus was king.’ Charax [FGrHist 103 F 40] says the same thing.

[On debates about Syrian, Egyptian, and Phrygian inventors of musical instruments and dances]

(F15a-16, 81 = Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 175e-177a) “Regarding the instrument called the ‘triangle,’ Juba, in the fourth book of his Theatrical History, says that it is a Syrian invention, as is also the so-called ‘lyre-Phoenician; . . . and the ‘sambouka.’ But this last instrument Neanthes of Kyzikos, in book one of his Chronicles, says was the invention of Ibykos, the well-known poet of Rhegion, as the ‘barbiton’ was an invention of Anakreon. Since put us Alexandrians down as being unmusical, and continually name the ‘single-pipe’ as widely used in our country, listen now to what I can tell you offhand about it: In the previously mentioned history, Juba says that the Egyptians call the ‘single-pipe’ an invention of Osiris, just as they do the cross-flute which is called the photinx. On mentioning the phontix, I will also cite a distinguished authority. It is true, to be sure, that the photinx is a pipe which is peculiar to our country. . . . [omitted several sentences]. The elymoi-flutes are also mentioned by Kallias in Shackled. Juba says that they are an invention of Phrygians, and that they are also called staff-flutes, being like the staff in thickness. Cyprians used them as well, says the younger Cratinus in Theramenes.

(F83-84 = Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 182e-183d) Juba says that the flute made from fawn’s legs is an invention of Thebans. Tryphon says that the pipes called ‘ivory’ were bored by Phoenicians. . . [omitted many sentences]. Juba says that Alexander of Kythera perfected the ‘psaltery’ with a larger number of strings, and since in his old age he lived in the city of Ephesos, he dedicated this invention, as the most ingenious product of his skill, in the temple of Artemis. Juba also mentions the ‘lyre-Phoenician’ and the ‘epigoneum’ which today, although it has been re-fashioned into an upright psaltery, still preserves the name of the man who brought it into use.

(F18 = Scholiast on Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria 1175) ‘And you, Teredon, accompany her on the flute in the Persian style’ [citation of Aristophanes]. The barbarian and Persian dance is called the “oklasma,” concerning which Juba says a lot in his On the History of the Theatre, refuting the suggestion of Seleukos, who proposed in his book Against Zenon that it is a Persian dance.

[Peoples around the Persian gulf and Red Sea]

(F28-F37 = Pliny, Natural History 6.96-101, 108-111, 149-170, 175-179) Go to the post at this link.

[Lydian etymologies]

(F98 = Hesychios’ lexicon, at Βρίγες) Briges: Either Phrygians, or barbarians, or a those who speak incorrectly. Juba says that among the Lydians ‘briga’ is the word for freedom.

[Indians’ clothing]

(F101 = Solinus, Collection of Curiosities 52.19) Moreover, as has been stated in the books of king Juba and Archelaos [FGrHist 123 F1], the customs of the population [of India] are inconsistent and their clothing varies considerably.


Source of translations: Translations by Harland (in consultation with D.W. Roller, “Juba II of Mauretania [275]” In Jacoby Online. Brill’s New Jacoby – Second Edition, Part III, edited by Ian Worthington. Brill: Leiden, 2018), except: C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-41), public domain (passed away in 1962 and copyright expired), adapted by Harland.

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