North Africa

We know little of the astronomy of North Africa. Native populations of the Berber group, Moors, Mycenaean Greeks, Phoenicians who settled Carthage, and Romans all had a role in developing the ideas of the area. Libya had intimate relationships with Egypt, sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile. In the Roman period, the culture was typically Mediterranean in many ways, but the trade routes down to the Niger brought a constant influx of people, products, and ideas from the Niger and Lake Tchad regions.

Throughout much of the area, the principal deity, under many different local names, was identified with the planet Saturn. There are also references to the seven gods who are represented on a Roman-period monument from Vaga (Beja) with their names in Latin letters.

These included two goddesses, both depicted in capes that have been variously interpreted as feathers or serpent scales. The goddess Vihinam is shown holding forceps with a child at her feet corresponding with the widespread concept of the Moon goddess as patroness of childbirth. The other goddess, called Varsissima, should correspond with Venus. The figure of Macurgum holds a book and a staff with two serpents coiled about it. He is clearly an equivalent of Mercury. There are two horsemen, Macurtum and Junam, one of which is expected to be the Sun, and the other, Mars. The lantern held by Macurtum suggests that he is to be equated with the Sun. At the center, holding a club, is the figure of Bonchor, presumably the local designation of Saturn, as head of the pantheon. Finally, Matilam, presiding at the sacrifice of a ram, must represent Jupiter.

A Libyan monument, reused in the Roman period, from Annaba, Algeria, shows a set of eight symbols, of which the top two are the Sun and Moon. The others may be symbols of planetary deities (plus, perhaps, the Pleiades), but that is not presently demonstrable.

Figure 8.7. Representations of a set of seven figures, which may be the planetary gods: These are from the Tuareg-related peoples to the south in the Sahara. The figure with a crescent-shaped head suggests a lunar deity; a smaller figure has a cross-in-circle head which resembles the Sun-symbol from Annaba. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 8.7. Representations of a set of seven figures, which may be the planetary gods: These are from the Tuareg-related peoples to the south in the Sahara. The figure with a crescent-shaped head suggests a lunar deity; a smaller figure has a cross-in-circle head which resembles the Sun-symbol from Annaba. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Among Tuareg-related peoples to the south in the Sahara, inscriptions and "rock art" from the late centuries b.c. include representations of a set of seven figures, which may be the planetary gods. In the representations shown in Figure 8.7, one of the figures has a crescent-shaped head suggesting a lunar deity and a smaller figure has a cross-in-circle head, resembling the Sun-symbol from Annaba. Accompanying short inscriptions give no help in interpretation at present.

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