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Cydamus was located southwest of Sabratha, in western Tripolitania

Cydamus -also Cidamus(Berber: Tidamensi)- was a Roman colony in Berber Africa, with a fort (castrum), on the Limes Tripolitanus. It was founded in 19 BC and lasted for nearly seven centuries until the Arab conquest. Today, the site of the settlement is located in the oasis town of Ghadames in modern Libya, which derives its name from the settlement.


In the 2nd century the city was mentioned by the geographer Ptolemy with the name Τιδαμήνσιοι (Tidamensi),[1] which was probably connected to the name of the ancient Berber tribe of "Tidamensi", a tribe from actual Fezzan. Tidamensi was corrupted by the invading Romans to form the name Cydamus, which in turn gave way to the modern name for the settlement, Ghadames.[2]


Cydamus was a Berber village on an oasis located in the caravan route between Sabratha and the Ahaggar mountains of southern Algeria.[3] The settlement was a stronghold of the Garamantes, a Berber people and a regional power at the time.[4]

Like in Roman times, houses in Ghadames (actual Cydamus) are made of mud, lime, and palm tree trunks with covered alleyways between them to offer good shelter against summer heat.

The first historical records about Cydamus date from the Roman period, when the Roman settlement was created around 19 BC when the Roman proconsul Lucius Cornelius Balbus invaded Cydamus during the reign of emperor Augustus and defeated the Garamantes.[2] Some Roman colonists and merchants moved to live in the Cydamus oasis, when the legionaries created the castrum.

Before the Christian era.....It is not unlikely that Roman settlers may have been attracted to the spot by the presence of the warm springs which still rise in the heart of the town, and spread fertility in the surrounding gardens. Encyc. Britannica Vol. 11 ([5])

A permanent Roman garrison ("Vexillatio") of the Legio III Augusta was established during the reign of Septimius Severus, and the emperor may have visited the settlement around 202 AD.[6] However, the Romans withdrew from the area a few decades later during the Crisis of the Third Century.

Furthermore the late antique historian Prokopius of Caesarea reported on the 6th century AD, that the inhabitants of the city have been old allies of Rome and with a Roman garrison, and that during the reign of the Emperor Justinian I (527–565) was recreated there a small military outpost[7] During the 6th century, a Bishop lived in the oasis, after the population had been converted to Christianity by Byzantine missionaries. Byzantine rule remained in Cydamus until the end of the seventh century, when was conquered by the Arabs.

During the 8th century, Ghadames was ruled by the Muslim Arabs. The population quickly converted to Islam and Ghadames played an important role as base for the Trans-Saharan trade until the 19th century. [8]

Roman Cydamus soon disappeared and was substituted by the Moslem Ghadames of our days.[9] For example, a Byzantine church has been destroyed in the late seventh century and rebuilt as the mosque -considered the oldest in Libya- called "Atik"[10] and outside the city walls there are the remains of a Roman castrum called actually "Qasr el Ghoul" [11] near the border with Tunisia and Algeria.

The only local antiquities are the already described Roman reservoir, a basrelief said to betray Egyptian influences, a few columns and hewn blocks, besides a ruined tower with an inscription in Greek and unknown characters, "perhaps in the Garamantine language," but in any case a precious monument of the commercial relations established at least two thousand years ago between Cydamus and the Hellenic world. Outside the walls Duveyrier discovered a Roman inscription dating from the time of Alexander Severus, a monument of great historic importance, showing that Cydamus, at that time attached to the administration of Lambessa, remained at least two hundred and fifty years under Roman rule after its conquest by Cornelius Balbus in the reign of Augustus.On the plateau forming the camping-ground of the Azjar Tuarcgs stand some shapeless columns, by the natives called El-Esnamen, or "The Idols." According to Duveyrier, these pre-Roman ruins are the remains of Garamantian monuments, perhaps tombs. In the neighbourhood a space of some square miles is covered by the cemetery of Ghadames, in which the older monuments are always respected, and amongst these Roman sepulchral inscriptions may yet be discovered. Elisee Reclus

The main information about the Roman military station of Cidamus is closely linked to the excavations done by Italian military in the first half of the 20th century. From 1913 to 1915, the Italian captain Alessandro Pavoni researched in Ghadames and he was succeeded in the interwar period by the Major Ilo Perugini, who in 1935 did a re-discovery of the so-called "Asnams" (crystal structures) of Ghadames.[12]

Actually some remains of Roman Cydamus are in the Ghadames Museum, a museum located in modern Ghadames, Libya, that was originally built by the Italians in the 1930s.[13] With its multiple wings, the museum specialises in local Berber history and area wildlife.[13]

See also



  1. Ptolemy.Geographia, IV, 3, 6
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Ghadames (Ghudamis), Cydamus: the Pearl of The Libyan Sahara". Temehu.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Cydamus/Ghadames (in French)
  4. Hugh Chisholm (1910). The Encyclopedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Encyclopedia Britannica Company. p. 916.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Cydamus
  6. Birley, Anthony R. Septimius Severus: The African Emperor. London: Routledge. (2000) [1971]. pg 147.
  7. David J. Mattingly: Farmers and frontiers. Exploiting and defending the countryside of Roman Tripolitania. In: David J. Mattingly, John A. Lloyd (Hgrs.): Libyan Studies. Vol. 20 (1989). Annual Report of the Society for Libyan Studies. S. 139.
  8. Cydamus (in French) p.128-132
  9. Cydamus
  10. Atik mosque photo
  11. Qasr el Ghoul photo
  12. Joyce Maire Reynolds, John Bryan Ward-Perkins: Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania. British School at Rome. London, 1952. S. 226.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Ghadames Museum". Temehu Tourism Services. Retrieved 8 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Azzouz, Intisar Places of Public Gathering in Islam: proceedings of seminar five in the series Architectural transformations in the Islamic world, held in Amman, Jordan, May 4–7 "Ghadames, Libya" Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Philadelphia, OCLC 7208199; photographs of Ghadames. Safran, Linda (ed) (1980)
  • Mattingly, David. Tripolitania Section: Ghadames. Ed. Batsford, London, 1995, ISBN 0-7134-5742-2
  • Pavoni, Alessandro. Notizie archeologiche sui monumenti antichi di Ghadames. In: Rivista coloniale. 8, 15, 1913. S. 309–318.
  • Perugini, Ilo. Gadames – Monografia del territorio. (edita a cura del Comando R.C.T.C. della Tripolitania), Tripoli 1929.
  • Reclus, Elisee. The earth and its inhabitants.Volume 11 of "The Earth and Its Inhabitants". Publisher D. Appleton and Company. New York, 1887 (Princeton University, 2010: section Ghadames p. 82)

de:Kastell Cidamus