The Garamantes

During a several year hiatus from D&D, I got seriously interested in ancient and medieval wargaming, and read everything I could get my hands on, about pretty much every ancient civilization.  Honestly, I read so much, so fast, that I have forgotten more than I know now…  It turns out that just reading, without taking any notes or making any outlines, leads to much less long term memorization than it did when I was 20 years younger. 😦  But I still know Medians from Midianites and Lycians from Lybians, so I guess I can recall the bare outlines of things.  I kind of recall a few major battles, but couldn’t begin to place, say, the various successors of Alexander and the borders of their kingdoms.  (And I guess good riddance to a lot of it… what use is it, really, to know the order of succession of Hittite kings or the names of twenty plus ancient German tribes?  That’s what a library is for.) 

 But I still read the “Ancmed” yahoo group — the email list for the Society of Ancients, a large and amazingly knowledgable club for wargamers which spans several continents.  Among the frequent posters there are several professional historians and legions of amateurs who can debate, at length:

  •  the use of pila in the imperial Roman army (this is still an on-going debate that I can’t begin to follow; these guys are looking at Greek and Latin sources, archeaology, numismatics, later historians, etc.)
  • the origins and use of chariots, and the evolution of cavalry (an ever-popular debate, right up there with “who was thegreatest general in history”, etc.)
  • the dispositions of various troops at particular battles

and on and on.  A few guys are clearly cranks and contrarians.  But I started reading the list digest (ok, maybe skimming it) again because every once in a while someone posts amazing resources or news items.  The latest is a link to a news item about how Gaddafi’s downfall* has begun to open up Garamante ruins to scholars.  The Garamantes are one of the civilizations that completely flew under my radar, altohugh I have read a bit on African civilizations.**  Apparently*** they lived on the north coast of Africa, where modern Lybia is, and dug extensive mines to extract “fossil water”.  They were clearly quite advanced despite the inhospitable terrain, with cities and such, no doubt enabled by their vast (but nonrenewable) stores of water. 

A few minutes of Googling “Garamantes” turns up some interesting flat-topped pyramids, and mentions of “black mummies,” as well as extensive networks of mines.  I smell a lot of D&D inspiration there.  But if wargaming is more your thing, here’s some Garamantes painted up for battle.  Evidently they also utilized camelry and chariots, which would certainly look cool on the table.

For the record Africa is terribly under utilized in gaming, and way too much of what there is reduces everything to jungles and pyramids.  The ancient Lybians, Songhai, Nok, Axum, Nubia, the Marinids, not to mention the Zulu and their many neighbors … someone needs to do a decent sourcebook that has more than just the Yoruba…




*Stupid library science fact: there are at least 60 ways to spell his name, in the Roman alphabet, and another dozen or so in Arabic.

**My top picks would be: Great civilizations of Ancient Africa by Lester Brooks for the ancient/medieval period and The dark kingdoms by Alan Scholefield for 18th/19th century stuff.

***I.e., Wikipedia tells me…

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For an Africa-ish fantasy setting, I was pretty happy with the Nyambe sourcebook that Atlas Games put out in the early days of 3.0. It had a few different flavors to it, not just the jungles-&-pyramids stuff. And once it was discontinued, the book got pretty cheap for a hardback.

    • Idiot that I am, I did not tihnk of this, despite the fact I just a copy of it in trade a few months back. I’d have to look at it again, but it seemed kind of generic when I flipped through it before — almost entirely West African IIRC. In all honesty I’m not sure what my ideal “African adventures” source book would look like, but I was hoping for more medieval Ethiopia and less Ashantis vs Lions….

  2. Kind of surprising that there aren’t more African adventure materials for RPG use, considering:

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