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Reconstruction of the Oikumene (inhabited world) as described by Herodotus in the 5th century BC.

The Macrobians (Μακροβίοι), meaning long-lived, were a legendary tribe of Aethiopia and kingdom positioned in the land towards the western sunset at the ends of the earth in ancient Libya (Africa).[1] According to Herodotus they dwelt geographically along the sea south of Libya on the Atlantic opposite of the Erythraean sea to the east of them.[2] This Libya was south of the Pillars of Hercules and Atlas Mountains along the Atlantic coast, while the northern Libyan coast was the Mediterranean Sea.[3] Herodotus also stated that the Macrobian Ethiopians were indigenous to southern Libya while the Libyans along the Mediterranean Sea were indigenous to northern Libya.[4] Later authors such as Scylax in his periplus also place them south of the pillars of Hercules, and Scylax also reported a trade taking place between Phoenicians (Carthaginians) and tall Ethiopians (Macrobians).[5] Herodotus also mentions a silent trade of gold that took place between Carthaginians and natives south of Libya (Ethiopians) beyond the Pillars of Hercules; it was also this gold trade that motivated Cambyses, the King of Persia, to plan a land and sea expedition against both the Carthaginians and Macrobian Ethiopians. Pliny in his natural histories places them west of Meroe.[6] The Macrobians are one of the legendary peoples postulated to exist at the extremity of the known world (from the perspective of the Greeks), in this case in the extreme west towards the sunset beyond the Pillars of Hercules in Libya (Africa), contrasting with India towards the sunrise in the extreme east of Asia, and southern Arabia & the east African coast towards the extreme south of the Erythraean Sea.[7]

Their name is due to their legendary longevity, an average person supposedly living to the age of 120.[8] They were said to be the "tallest and handsomest of all men".[9] At the same time, they were reported as being physically distinct from the rest of mankind.[10]


According to Herodotus' account, the Persian Emperor Cambyses II upon his conquest of Egypt (525 BC) sent ambassadors to Macrobia, bringing luxury gifts for the Macrobian king to entice his submission. The Macrobian ruler, who was elected based on his stature and beauty, replied instead with a challenge for his Persian counterpart in the form of an unstrung bow: if the Persians could manage to draw it, they would have the right to invade his country; but until then, they should thank the gods that the Macrobians never decided to invade their empire.[9][11]

According to later historians such as Sallust and Strabo concerning the history of the ancient Libyans, ancient Persians along with Medes who were of the army of Hercules migrated and settled along the Atlantic coast of Africa (Libya), while the Medes settled north of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Persians settled south of the Atlantic coast, but these couldn't have been the same as the Achaemenid Persians and Medes who dwelt east of Asia, because the seafaring Hercules nor Perseus never traveled east of Asia, but names such as Persians (Perizzites), Medes and Armenians (Amorites) are more likely a corruption of Canaanite Phoenician tribes who left their homeland of Canaan and sailed west of the Mediterranean Sea to settled along the Atlantic coast of Africa after they were driven out of their homeland by invading Hebrew Israelite tribes under Moses, Joshua and David, the Hercules mentioned was indeed a Phoenician leader who the Greeks styled as Hercules, and these were the ancestors of the Moors (Amorites). Later on after this settlement, the power of these Persians grew and they sent out colonies to conquer the rest of Libya towards the east, these colonist were later known as the powerful and robust long-lived (Μακροβίοι) Numidians.[12] The land of these Persians in the west mentioned by Sallust, and the Macrobian land mentioned by Herodotus was one and the same land, both being towards the sunset and south of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Both Xenophon[13] and Herodotus[14] makes it known that during their time, Asia was ruled by the Persians in the east, Europe ruled by the Scythians in the north, northern Libya ruled by the Carthaginians and southern Libya ruled by the Macrobian Ethiopians in the west.[15]

According to Herodotus, the Macrobians practiced an elaborate form of embalming. The Macrobians preserved the bodies of the dead by first extracting moisture from the corpses, then overlaying the bodies with a type of plaster, and finally decorating the exterior in vivid colors in order to imitate the deceased as realistically as possible. They then placed the body in a hollow crystal pillar, which they kept in their homes for a period of about a year.[16] Macrobia was also noted for its gold, which was so plentiful that the Macrobians shackled their prisoners in golden chains.[11]

Geography of Cambyses journey to Ethiopia

According to Herodotus, Cambyses, after conquering Egypt and while still in Memphis had planned three expeditions, a fleet expedition against the Carthaginians west of the Mediterranean sea and a land expedition against the Ammonians of Siwa west of Egypt in Libya and against the Macrobians farther west of Libya towards the ends of the earth. According to Herodotus the Pillars of Hercules and the Atlas pillar of the sky marked the western boundary for the continent of Libya (Africa).[17] While the Erythraean sea (Indian Ocean) of Arabia (east of the Nile) marked the southern boundary for Africa.[18] So Cambyses, instead of crossing the western desert directly from Memphis to attack the Ammonians and Macrobians of Libya, he decided first to go south to Thebes were he fought no battle and plundered the old abandoned city of Amun, while in Thebes Cambyses sends an army of 50,000 troops west to the desert Oasis with orders to conquer and enslave the Ammonians of Siwa and burn the oracle of their God Ammon (the new city of Amun). While sending his troops west, Cambyses himself decided to go further south of Thebes to the city of Elephantine, according to records known as the Elephantine Papyri, Cambyses and his army of Persians had "knocked down all the temples of the Gods of Egypt".[19] After Cambyses had plundered the city of Elephantine he went further south to conquer the Ethiopians that bordered Egypt near the 1st Cataract of the Nile and the Ethiopians of Nysa in Napata who dwelt beyond Egypt further south near the 4th Cataract.[20] According to latter Greek historians such as Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, Cambyses had reached Meroe and gave it is's name.[21] So Cambyses, after conquering all Ethiopia south of Egypt as far as Meroe with no food provision and no baggage beast, he entered upon the vast desert sands west of Meroe in order to try and reach the Macrobians dwelling at the ends of the earth beyond the sands, but after getting deeper into the desert and only accomplishing a fifth of the distance, the army of Cambyses resulted to cannibalism on their own fellow troops.[22] When Cambyses heard of his army eating each other, he immediately stopped his expedition against the Macrobians and marched the remnant of his army back to the Nile river at Meroe and from Meroe the Persians marched north along the Nile and reached Thebes and from Thebes they finally got back safe to Memphis, were he ordered his Greek mercenaries to return to their homes. Cambyses from Meroe took the same western route as his army did from Thebes attempting to reach the Siwa Oasis, and according to the ancient geographer Strabo, Cambyses from Ethiopia had crossed the same western desert that his army had crossed from Thebes when "they where overwhelmed when a wind-storm struck them".[23] According to Herodotus in a latter chapter when he is describing the eastern, southern and western (Asia, Arabia, Libya) ends of the inhabited earth, he makes it known that the Macrobians dwelt the farthest towards the sunset (west) of the southern Nile river beyond the western Sahara.[1] Herodotus also makes it known that only two tribes accomplished this long journey from the Nile river to the western ends of the earth beyond the vast desert Sahara, these two tribes were known as the Libyan Nasamones who spoke an alien language to the inhabitants and the Ichthyophagi of Elephantine who spoke the same language as the inhabitants, but Cambyses with his huge army failed to accomplish what the Nasamones and Ichthyophagi had already completed. In conclusion, Cambyses after being insulted by the tallest and handsomest Long-Lived (Macrobian) Ethiopian King of the west, he eagerly wanted to conquer and subdue all people of Amun and destroy all temples of the God, but failed in his mad and desperate attempt. And although Cambyses had reached the deep southern realms of Meroe, he was still far away from the land of the Macrobians, who dwelt beyond the vast Sahara desert at the ends of the earth as far as the Ocean towards the western sunset.

See also


  1. ^ a b Herodotus, the Histories book 3.114
  2. ^ Herodotus the histories, book 3.17.
  3. ^ Herodotus the Histories, 4.196.
  4. ^ Herodotus, book 4.197
  5. ^ Periplus of Scylax
  6. ^ Pliny, Natural History, book 6.35.
  7. ^ Herodotus, book 3.114-115
  8. ^ The Geography of Herodotus: Illustrated from Modern Researches and Discoveries by James Talboys Wheeler pg 528. The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, And Ecclesiastical Record Volume 11 pg 434
  9. ^ a b Wheeler pg 526
  10. ^ Herodotus, the Histories, book 3.20
  11. ^ a b John Kitto, James Taylor, The popular cyclopædia of Biblical literature: condensed from the larger work, (Gould and Lincoln: 1856), p.302.
  12. ^ Sallust, the Jugurthine War, chap 18
  13. ^ Xenophanes, Memorabilia, book 2
  14. ^ The Histories, book 3.17
  15. ^ Herodotus, the Histories 4.197
  16. ^ Society of Arts (Great Britain), Journal of the Society of Arts, Volume 26, (The Society: 1878), pp.912-913.
  17. ^ Herodotus the Histories, book 4.181
  18. ^ Herodotus the Histories book 4.108
  19. ^ Elephantine Papyri 401 B.C.E, petition to restore temple at Elephantine
  20. ^ Herodotus, the Histories book 3.97
  21. ^ Strabo Geography 17.1.5
  22. ^ Herodotus the Histories, book 3.25
  23. ^ Strabo Geography, book 17.1.54