Historical Overview Section

Ancient Libya was the region west of the Nile Valley generally corresponding to modern Northwest Africa. The Ancient Egyptians mentioned many Libyan tribes, and fought against them regularly - sort of an early North African Cup of Nations, but without the inconvenience to mainland European football clubs. The most well-known and important tribeson the basis of the Egyptian archaeological sources were the Tjehenu, the Tamahu, the Libu (or Ribu), and the Mighty Mighty Meshwesh .

Their occupation of ancient Libya is first attested in ancient Egyptian texts from the New Kingdom, especially from the Ramessene Period. The earliest occurrence is in a Ramses II inscription.. The name Libu is written as LBW or RBW in Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the Great Karnak Inscription Merneptah describes how hostilities between Egypt and Libya broke out and how the Libyans were defeated. Ramses III defeated the Libyans in the 5th year of his reign, but six years later the Libyans joined the Meshwesh and invaded the western Delta and were defeated again. Libu appears as an ethnic name on the Merneptah Stele, also known as the Israel Stele. Afterward, the name appeared repeatedly in other pharaonic records.

The Meshwesh (often abbreviated in ancient Egyptian as Ma) were an ancient Libyan tribe from Cyrenaica. During the 19th and 20th Dynasties, the Meshwesh were in almost constant conflict with the Egyptian state. In the late 21st Dynasty, increasing numbers of Meswesh Libyans began to settle in the Western Delta region of Egypt. They would ultimately take control of the country during the late 21st Dynasty first under king Osorkon the Elder.

The relations between the Libyans and the Egyptians during the Ramesene Period were typically one of constant conflict. Battle reliefs at Karnak from the reign of Seti I depict the king in combat with Libyan masses; however the text only describes the Libyans as being Tjehenu, one of the generic terms for "Libyan" in the Egyptian language, rather than a specific tribal designation. During the following reign, that of Ramesses II, the Egyptians constructed a series of coastal fortresses running west to the region of Marsa Matruh, including at al-Alamayn and Zawayat Umm al-Rakham.

During the reign of Merneptah it seems that the early warning system from his father's time had fallen into disrepair as there was an unexpected Libyan invasion into the Nile Delta and the Western Oases in Year 5 of his reign. Unlike his predecessors, Merenptah states in his battle reliefs at Karnak that it was primarily the Libu tribe who led the conflict, but that Meshwesh and Sea People allies were also involved. Indeed, Merenptah claims that "9,100 swords of the Meshwesh Men" were captured.

About twenty-five years later, during the reign of Ramesses III, the growing conflict between the Egyptians and Libyans came to a head. This time, it was the Meshwesh who instigated the conflict, though other Libyan tribes and their Sea People allies were involved in fighting two major campaigns against the Egyptian king, in Ramses III's Regnal Years 5 and 11. However, despite Ramesses III's attempts to deal with Libyan immigration into Egypt, he was unable to put a stop to it. Throughout the 20th Dynasty, various texts on ostraca and papyri mention attacks by Meshwesh tribesmen as far south as Thebes, where the workmen of Deir el-Medina were forced to seek protection inside the mortuary temple of Medinet Habu.

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