Greek Name: Νασαμῶνες

Latin Name:


Cultural Notes

Libyans. A populous tribe, larger tribe than the others. They left their cattle on the coast in the summer and went inland for the date harvest at Augila. The Nassamonians reported contact with black-haired pygmies on an west-east river far to the south.

Geographical Notes

Africa (outside Egypt), west of the Auschisae, neighbors of the Macae

Citations in Herodotos

4.172 west of the Auschisae, agricultural and hunting practises, marriage customes, religous practises; 4.173 bordering the country of the Psylli; 4.175 neighbors of the Macae; 4.182 gather palm fruit from Augila; 4.190 burial practises

Key Passages in English Translation

[4.172] Next west of these Auschisae is the populous country of the Nasamones, who in summer leave their flocks by the sea and go up to the land called Augila to gather dates from the palm-trees that grow there in great abundance and all bear fruit. They hunt locusts, which they dry in the sun, and after grinding sprinkle them into milk and drink it. [2] It is their custom for every man to have many wives; their intercourse with women is promiscuous, as among the Massagetae; a staff is placed before the dwelling, and then they have intercourse. When a man of the Nasamones weds, on the first night the bride must by custom lie with each of the whole company in turn; and each man after intercourse gives her whatever gift he has brought from his house. [3] As for their manner of swearing and divination, they lay their hands on the graves of the men reputed to have been the most just and good among them, and by these men they swear; their practice of divination is to go to the tombs of their ancestors, where after making prayers they lie down to sleep, and take for oracles whatever dreams come to them. [4] They give and receive pledges by each drinking from the hand of the other party; and if they have nothing liquid, they take the dust of the earth and lick it up.

English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920. Retreived from <>

Key Passages in Greek

[4.172] Αὐσχισέων δὲ τούτων τὸ πρὸς ἑσπέρης ἔχονται Νασαμῶνες, ἔθνος ἐὸν πολλόν, οἳ τὸ θέρος καταλείποντες ἐπὶ τῇ θαλάσσῃ τὰ πρόβατα ἀναβαίνουσι ἐς Αὔγιλα χῶρον ὀπωριεῦντες τοὺς φοίνικας. οἳ δὲ πολλοὶ καὶ ἀμφιλαφέες πεφύκασι, πάντες ἐόντες καρποφόροι. τοὺς δὲ ἀττελέβους ἐπεὰν θηρεύσωσι, αὐήναντες πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον καταλέουσι καὶ ἔπειτα ἐπὶ γάλα ἐπιπάσσοντες πίνουσι. [2] γυναῖκας δὲ νομίζοντες πολλὰς ἔχειν ἕκαστος ἐπίκοινον αὐτέων τὴν μῖξιν ποιεῦνται τρόπῳ παραπλησίῳ τῷ καὶ Μασσαγέται: ἐπεὰν σκίπωνα προστήσωνται, μίσγονται. πρῶτον δὲ γαμέοντος Νασαμῶνος ἀνδρὸς νόμος ἐστὶ τὴν νύμφην νυκτὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διὰ πάντων διεξελθεῖν τῶν δαιτυμόνων μισγομένην: τῶν δὲ ὡς ἕκαστος οἱ μιχθῇ, διδοῖ δῶρον τὸ ἂν ἔχῃ φερόμενος ἐξ οἴκου. [3] ὁρκίοισι δὲ καὶ μαντικῇ χρέωνται τοιῇδε: ὀμνύουσι μὲν τοὺς παρὰ σφίσι ἄνδρας δικαιοτάτους καὶ ἀρίστους λεγομένους γενέσθαι, τούτους, τῶν τύμβων ἁπτόμενοι: μαντεύονται δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν προγόνων φοιτέοντες τὰ σήματα, καὶ κατευξάμενοι ἐπικατακοιμῶνται: τὸ δ᾽ ἂν ἴδη ἐν τῇ, ὄψι ἐνύπνιον, τούτῳ χρᾶται. [4] πίστισι δὲ τοιῇσιδε χρέωνται: ἐκ τῆς χειρὸς διδοῖ πιεῖν καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκ τῆς τοῦ ἑτέρου πίνει. ἢν δὲ μὴ ἔχωσι ὑγρὸν μηδέν, οἳ δὲ τῆς χαμᾶθεν σποδοῦ λαβόντες λείχουσι.

Other Testimonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece Book 1, chapter 33

Strabo, Geography Book 2, chapter 5; Book 17, chapter 3

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History Book 5, chapter 4; Book 5, chapter 5; Book 7, chapter 2; Book 13, chapter 32; Book 37, chapter 30

Other Commentary

Perseus Encyclopedia:

Nasamones, a Libyan people near Cyrene

W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotos:

γυναῖκα. Strabo (513) simply repeats H.; for a similar custom among the Agathyrsi cf. iv. 104; among the Nasamones, iv. 172. 2 n.; M. Polo (ii. 47; ii. 54, 56) found it in Caindu (i.e. Yunnan), where ‘a hat’ was hung up as a sign that a stranger was in possession. For its bearing on the theory of communal marriage cf. Westermarck, p. 72 seq. There is clear evidence for a system of marriage among the Massagetae, but they were polyandrous, ib. 454 seq. Myres (A. and C. p. 155) says: ‘It can hardly be accident that every one of the strange marriage customs which H. mentions happens to be typical of a widespread type.

The story of the Nasamones (cf. Bunbury, i. 306) is a good instance how valuable at times is a traveller's tale; it reaches H. third-hand, and hence is naturally untrustworthy in detail; but in its main point it seems to be true. There is nothing impossible in a ‘well-equipped’ native expedition crossing the Sahara and reaching the Niger, which at its nearest point comes within about 1000 miles of the oasis of Fezzan. That Negro land was really reached seems probable from the following points: the natives were entirely strange in speech (§ 6), black (§ 7), very small (§§ 6, 7), ‘all wizards’ (33. 1). The story is accepted by R. Neumann (pp. 78 seq.) and by St. Martin (pp. 17-18), who, however, brings the explorers north-west to the oasis of Wargla in the Algerian Sahara.

For the Nasamones cf. iv. 172, 182. They had most of the trade with the interior in their hands, and were also well known as freebooters; hence they were a likely people to turn explorers.

 All the geographers agree in placing the Nasamones on the shores of the Greater Syrtis. Augila (c. 182; hod. ‘Audschila’) is an important oasis in the latitude of Cyrene, on the caravan route to Fezzan; it is still a great centre of date production. Pacho (p. 280) says H.'s descriptions are ‘tellement fidèles qu'elles pourraient encore servir à décrire l'Augile moderne’, and works out in detail the correspondences. Rohlfs (Tripolis nach Alex. ii. 49) estimated the palms as over 200,000 in 1869, but in 1879 found them much less numerous (K. p. 220).

προσόμουροι. Strabo (838) places the Psylli east of the Nasamones; H. obviously places them on the west, on the south coast (ἐντός) of the Syrtis.

ἐπὶ τὸν νότον. For similar wars with the elements cf. the Getae, 94. 4 n., and Arist. Eth. Nic. iii. 7. 7 (the Celts are said not to fear the waves). Strabo (293) rightly criticizes this latter story.

Pliny (vii. 14) more probably puts down the partial destruction of the Psylli to the Nasamones; H. himself implies (εἰσί) the destruction was not complete, and the Psylli are often mentioned later; they were famous as snake-charmers.

Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898):

. A powerful, but savage, Libyan people, originally inhabiting the shores of the Great Syrtis, but driven inland by the Greek settlers of Cyrenaïca, and afterwards by the Romans (Herod.iv. 172; cf. ii. 32). Like the Chinese, they worshipped their ancestors.

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, William Smith, Ed.

, a son of Amphithemis and Tritonis, the ancestral hero of the Nasamones in the north of Africa, who are said to have derived their name from him. (Apollon. 4.1496.)

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), William Smith, LLD, Ed.

Eth. NASAMO´NES (Νασαμῶνες, Hdt. 2.32, 4.172; Ptol. 4.5. §§ 21. 30; Plin. Nat. 37.10. s. 64; Dionys. Periegetes, 5.209; Scylax, p. 47; Steph. B. sub voce were, according to Herodotos, the most powerful of the Nomadic tribes on the northern coast of Libya. There is some discrepancy in his account of their situation, as well as in those of other ancient writers. (Comp. 2.32, 4.172.) They appear, however, to have occupied at one time part of Cyrenaica and the Syrtes. Strabo (xvii. p.857) places them at the Greater Syrtis, and beyond them the Psylli, whose territory, according to both Herodotos and Strabo, they appropriated to themselves. Pliny (5.5. s. 5) says that the Nasamones were originally named Mesamones by the Greeks, because they dwelt between two quicksands--the Syrtes. Ptolemy (4.5.21) and Diodorus (3.3) again remove them to the inland region of Augila: and all these descriptions may, at the time they were written, have been near the truth; since not only were the Nasamones, as Nomades, a wandering race, but they were also pressed upon by the Greeks of Cyrene, on the one side, and by the Carthaginians, on the other. For when, at a later period, the boundaries of Carthage and the Regio Cyrenaica touched at the Philenian Altars, which were situated in the inmost recesses of the Syrtes, it is evident that the Nasamones must have been displaced from a tract which at one time belonged to them. When at its greatest extent, their territory, including the lands of the Psylli and the oasis of Augila, must have reached inland and along the shore of the Mediterranean about 400 geographical miles from E. to W.

So long as they had access to the sea the Nasamones had the evil reputation of wreckers, making up for the general barrenness of their lands by the plunder of vessels stranded on the Syrtes. (Lucan. Pharsal. 10.443; Quint. Curt. [p. 2.401]4.7.) Their modern representatives are equally inhospitable, as the traveller Bruce, who was shipwrecked on their coast, experienced. (Bruce, Travels, Introduction, vol. i. p. 131.) The Napamones, however, were breeders of cattle, since Herodotos informs us (4.172) that in the summer season, “they leave their herds on the coast and go up to Augila to gather the date harvest” --the palms of that oasis being numerous, large, and fruitful. And here, again, in existing races we find correspondences with the habits of the Nasamones. For according to modern travellers, the people who dwell on the coast of Derna, gather the dates in the plain of Gegabib, five days' journey from Augila. (Proceedings of Afric. Association, 1790, ch. x.)

Herodotos describes the Nasamones as practising a kind of hero-worship, sacrificing at the graves of their ancestors, and swearing by their manes. They were polygamists on the widest scale, or rather held their women in common ; and their principal diet, besides dates, was dried locusts reduced to powder and kneaded with milk into a kind of cake--polenta. Their land produced also a precious stone called by Pliny (37.10. s. 64) and Solinus (100.27) Nasamonitis; it was of a blood red hue with black veins.

Herodotos introduces his description of this tribe, with a remarkable story relating to the knowledge possessed by the ancients of the sources of the Nile. He says (2.32) that certain Nasamones came from the neighbourhood of Cyrene, and made an expedition into the interior of Libya; and that they explored the continent as far as the kingdom of Timbuctoo, is rendered probable by his account of their adventures. For, after passing through the inhabited region, they came to that which was infested by wild beasts; next their course was westward through the desert (Sahāra), and finally they were taken prisoners by black men of diminutive stature, and carried to a city washed by a great river flowing from W. to E. and abounding in crocodiles. This river, which the historian believed to be the upper part of the Nile, was more probably the Niger. The origin of the story perhaps lies in the fact that the Nasamones, a wandering race, acted as guides to the caravans which annually crossed the Libyan continent from the territories of Carthage to Aethiopia, Meroe, and the ports of the Red Sea.



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