Libyans, a group of peoples of N. Africa, linguistically related to the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and like them forming a family of the Hamitic division of the Semitic race in the wider sense. To them belong the Imo-sharh or Amazirgh, who are commonly known as Tuariks and Berbers. They are a mixed people, who divide themselves into Jhaggars, or the free, and Imrhads, the subjected, or vassals, the latter being evidently conquered tribes who adopted the language and customs of the Berbers. The Imosharh are an extensive nomad people, who inhabit the whole of northern Africa, and especially the oases between the Arab states of the north and the negro territories of the interior. They form numerous independent tribes bearing distinct names. Those occupying the mountainous district between Algiers and Tunis are known as Kabyles, and the inhabitants of the mountains of southern Morocco as Shelloohs or Shulluhs. The Imosharh speak the Ta-Mashek (Ta-Maseq) language, of which the characteristic peculiarities will be given under Semitic Race and Languages. Several eminent students of the African languages consider it akin to the Hous-sa language, and accordingly include the IIous-sa race in the Libyan group.
Others, however, deny that this language possesses any of the elements characteristic of the Hamitic or Dyssemitic tongues. The Houssa language is widely spoken in N. W. Africa, principally in the Houssa states Katsena, Saria, Kano, and others, as far N. as Damerghu and Air, and as a commercial language as far S. and W. as Yoruba and Borgoo on the right shore of the Niger. - Recent researches have identified the names of places, rivers, and mountains spoken of by the ancients and inscribed on Egyptian monuments as those of the Libyans, with the names applied to them in the Ta-Mashek language, which renders it to a high degree probable that the modern Berbers are the direct descendants of the ancient Libyans. They were a highly civilized people, and powerful both by sea and by land, occupying in remote times the entire coast of N. Africa, with the exception of the delta of the Nile. Lepsius and other Egyptologists suppose that the Libyans were the original inhabitants of the territory of the Egyptians, and that these drove them out of N. E. Africa on their immigration from Asia. The Libyans were probably one of the earliest maritime nations of the Mediterranean, and were formidable enemies of Egypt. It seems that the fleet of Thothmes III., about 1600 B. 0., succeeded in breaking their power on the sea; but they continued their incursions into Egypt by land, and the monuments of Seti I., about 1450 B. C., and of Rameses II., about 1400, tell of the terrible devastations which they caused.
About this time the Pelasgic nations on the northern coasts of the Mediterranean had developed also into great seafaring peoples. The Libyans entered into a confederation with them and regained their naval power, and in the reign of Mer-neptah, during the 14th century B. C, being joined by the Tyrrhenians and Achaeans, they invaded and nearly conquered Lower Egypt, under their king Maurmuiu, son of Batta. Their progress was stopped near Paari in central Egypt, where they were completely defeated, and they retreated after having covered a great part of Egypt with ruins. The tradition recorded by Sallust, that at some early period Medes, Persians, and Armenians, commanded by Hercules, arrived on the N. coast of Africa, has led to the supposition that there was originally a distinction between Japhetic and Hamitic Libyans. Canaanitish colonies were established in Africa proper (the regions S. of Cape Bon), and in time was formed the Libyo-Phcenician nation. After the foundation of Carthage by the Phcenicians, and of Cyrene and other states by the Greeks, the Libyans, unable to resist their gradual expansion, were compelled to move inland.
They had grown feeble, and when they called on Egypt to assist them against the Cyrenaeans, about 570 B. C, they were defeated, and their subjection was only confirmed. The rapid rise of the Carthaginian, Greek, and Roman empires soon deprived the Libyans of all historical importance.