Libyco-Berber alphabet – Wikipedia

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Abjad writing system

The Libyco-Berber alphabet or the Libyc alphabet (modern Berber name: Agemmay Alibu-Maziɣ) is an abjad writing system that was used during the first millennium BC by various Berber peoples of North Africa and the Canary Islands, to write ancient varieties of the Berber language like the Numidian language in ancient North Africa.[2][3][4][5][6]

The Libyco-Berber script is found in thousands of stone inscriptions and engravings throughout Morocco, northern Algeria, Tunisia, northern Libya and the Canary Islands.

Apart from thousands of small inscriptions, some of the best known and significant Libyco-Berber inscriptions are in the Massinissa Temple (discovered in 1904) and the Prince Ateban Mausoleum in Dougga / Thugga (TBGG), northern Tunisia. Other significant Libyco-Berber inscription are the Azib N’Ikkis[7] and the Oukaimeden,[8] both found in the High-Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

The use of the Libyco-Berber alphabet died out in northern areas during or after the reign of the Roman and Byzantine empires, but it spread south into the Sahara desert and evolved there into the Tuareg Tifinagh alphabet used by the Tuareg Berbers to this day.


Before, during, and after the existence of the ancient Berber kingdoms of Numidia (northern Algeria, 202 BC–40 BC) and Mauretania (northern Morocco, 3rd century BC – 44 AD) many inscriptions were engraved using the Libyco-Berber script, although the overwhelming majority of the found ones were simple funerary scripts, with rock art, cave art, graffiti, and even a few official governmental and possibly religious inscriptions have been found.[9]

The Libyco-Berber script was a pure abjad; it had no distinct vowels. However, it had equivalents for “w” and “y”, and “h” was possibly used as an “a” too. Gemination was not marked. The writing was usually from the bottom to the top, although right-to-left, and even other orders, were also found. The letters took different forms when written vertically than when they were written horizontally.[10] The letters were highly geometrical.[11]


There are multiple variants of the Libyco-Berber script; some studies divide these varieties into eastern and western, while others have identified more than 25 “dialects” grouped in 5 different families.[12][13]

The eastern variant was used in what is now Constantine and the Aurès regions of Algeria and in Tunisia, and to an extent Kabylia. It is the best-deciphered variant, due to the discovery of several Numidian bilingual inscriptions in Libyco-Berber and Punic (notably so-called KAI 100 and 101 at Dougga in Tunisia).[12] Since 1843, 22 letters out of the 24 have been deciphered.[citation needed]

Signs used at Dougga (when writing direction is from right to left):[14]

The Western variant was used along the Mediterranean coast from Kabylia to the Canary Islands. It used 13 supplementary letters.[15] As of 2002, much of the Western variant has yet to be deciphered.[12] Western variant signs have also been observed to be used in combination with possible pictograms of animals.[16]

The origin of the Libyco-Berber script is still debated by academic researchers.[17][18] The leading theories regarding its origins posit it as being either a heavily modified version of the Phoenician alphabet, or a local invention influenced by the Phoenicians,[19] with the most likely theory being a local prototype conceptually inspired by Semitic, mainly Punic scripts.[20] Other, unlikely explanation include Greek derivation through the colonies in Cyrenaica, and South Semitic origins.[20]

The oldest known variations of the script dates to inscriptions in Dugga from 600 BC.[12][21]


  1. ^ L’ECRITURE LIBYCO-BERBERE: Etat des lieux et perspectives
  2. ^ “Libyco-Berber – 2nd (9th?) century BC-7th century AD”. Archived from the original on 2022-06-05. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  3. ^ “Libyco-Berber relations with ancient Egypt: the Tehenu in Egyptian records”. Archived from the original on 2022-06-05. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  4. ^ Recueil Des Inscriptions Libyques, J.-B. Chabot, 1941
  5. ^ L’alphabet libyque de Dougga, Lionel Galand, 1973
  6. ^ Inscriptions libyques, Lionel Galand, 1966
  9. ^ Nehmé, Laïla; Al-Jallad, Ahmad (2017-11-20). To the Madbar and Back Again: Studies in the languages, archaeology, and cultures of Arabia dedicated to Michael C.A. Macdonald. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-35761-7.
  10. ^ “Berber”. Ancient Scripts. Archived from the original on 2017-08-26. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  11. ^ Mukhtār, Muḥammad Jamāl al-Dīn (1990-06-27). UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. II, Abridged Edition: Ancient Africa. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06697-7.
  12. ^ a b c d Mitchell, Peter; Lane, Paul (2013-07-04). The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology. OUP Oxford. p. 766. ISBN 978-0-19-956988-5.
  13. ^ “Written In Stone”. Retrieved 2022-06-07.
  14. ^ Galand, Lionel (2002). Études de Linguistique Berbère. Leuven, Paris: Peeters. pp. 13, 15, 31. ISBN 90-429-1180-8.
  15. ^ Renfrew, Colin; Bahn, Paul (2014-06-09). The Cambridge World Prehistory. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-64775-6.
  16. ^ Le Quellec, Jean-Loïc (2012). “Rock Art, Scripts and Proto-Scripts in Africa: The Libyco-uberber Example”. Written culture in a colonial context : Africa and the Americas 1500-1900. Adrien Delmas, Nigel Penn. Leiden: BRILL. p. 24. ISBN 978-90-04-22524-4. OCLC 775301938.
  17. ^ On the origin of the Libyco-Berber alphabet: A few proposals (Sur l’origine de l’écriture libyque. Quelques propositions), Dominique Casajus
  18. ^ A PROPOS DE L’ORIGINE ET DE L’AGE DE L’ECRITURE LIBYCO-BERBERE, Salem Chaker, Slimane Hachi. Etudes berbères et chamito-sémitiques, Mélanges offerts à Karl-G. Prasse, (S. Chaker, éd.), Paris/Louvain, Editions Peeters, 2000, p. 95-111.
  19. ^ Landscapes, Sources and Intellectual Projects of the West African Past: Essays in Honour of Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias. BRILL. 2018-08-13. ISBN 978-90-04-38018-9.
  20. ^ a b Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio (2012-12-06). Prehistoric Iberia: Genetics, Anthropology, and Linguistics. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-1-4615-4231-5.
  21. ^ Campbell, George L. (2012). The Routledge handbook of scripts and alphabets. Christopher Moseley (2nd ed.). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-203-86548-4. OCLC 810078009.

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