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Foreign relations: Libya

Libya is today the name of the nation-state west of Egypt; in ancient Greek times, the word is used for the whole area west of the Nile Valley and Delta, so including the western desert areas that are within the borders of the modern nation-state of Egypt. In the broader sense of the word, Libya appears in Egyptian sources as tA-TmHw 'land of Tjemehu'. The inhabitants (or another people in the area?) were called Tehenu (THnw). Libya has its place in the ancient Egyptian worldview as the representation of the West (South - Nubia; North - Asia). Libyans are included among the 'nine bows', the totality of enemies of Pharaoh, which he had to overpower in ritual and in reality (the nine start with Upper and Lower Egypt, presumably for all possible rebels, and seven foreign lands or peoples follow).

In the Old Kingdom the male Libyans were shown red brown with a chin-beard; women were shown with yellow skin. After the Old Kingdom men and women are shown with bright skin and prominent tatoos. There is not much evidence for trade between Egypt and Libya. Products including the name THnw (HAtt nt THnw - Libyan oil/ THnt - glass paste) might have been produced in Libya originally, but such names might have had different origins. In the booty from Libyan wars, cattle and slaves are often mentioned; this indicates a pastoral rather than entirely hunter-gathering way of life.

a short history of the relations between Egypt and Libya till the Late Period

Examples of Libyans in Egyptian art. They are with few exceptions shown as captivities.

sculpture: head of a foreigner, a Libyan ? a cosmetic spoon: figure of a Libyan
UC 14884
UC 45371

further reading:

  • Bates 1914 (a useful summary, but in many parts out of date)
  • Leahy 1990 (several articles on the relations between Libya and Egypt)
  • Leahy 2000(the most recent summary, including further literature)
  • Osing 1980 (a summary on the Libyans according to written Egyptian sources)



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