The Troglodytae (Greek: Τρωγλοδύται), or Troglodyti (literally "cave goers"), were a people mentioned in various locations by many ancient Greek and Roman geographers and historians, including Herodotus (5th century BCE), Agatharchides (2nd century BCE), Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE), Strabo (64/63 BCE – c.  24 CE), Pliny (1st century CE), Josephus (37 – c. 100 CE), and Tacitus (c. 56 – after 117 CE).

Greco-Roman periodEdit

The earlier references allude to Trogodytes (without the l), evidently derived from Greek trōglē, cave and dytes, divers.[1]

In HerodotusEdit

Herodotus referred to the Troglodytae in his Histories as being a people hunted by the Garamantes. He said that the Troglodytae were the swiftest runners of all humans known and that they ate snakes, lizards, and other reptiles. He also stated that their language was unlike any known to him, and sounded like the screeching of bats.[2] Alice Werner (1913) believed (in passing) that this was a clear allusion to the early Khoisan, indigenous inhabitants of Southern Africa, because their languages contain distinctive click sounds.[3]

In StraboEdit

In his work Geographica, Strabo mentions a tribe of Troglodytae living along with the Crobyzi in Scythia Minor, near the Ister (Danube) and the Greek colonies of Callatis and Tomis.[4][5]

In JosephusEdit

Flavius Josephus alludes to a place he calls Troglodytis while discussing the account in Genesis, that after the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and fathered six sons who in turn fathered many more. "Now, for all these sons and grandsons, Abraham contrived to settle them in colonies; and they took possession of Troglodytis, and the country of Arabia Felix..."[6]

The Troglodytis Josephus refers to here is generally taken to mean both coasts of the Red Sea.[7] However, Josephus goes on to state that the descendants of one of these grandsons, Epher, invaded Libya, and that the name of Africa was thus derived from that of Epher.[8] The dominant modern hypothesis is that Africa stems from the Berber word ifri (plural ifran), meaning "cave", in reference to cave dwellers.[9]

See alsoEdit

  • Afri, singular Afer – a Latin name for the inhabitants of the Africa Province
  • Blemmyes – a nomadic Beja tribal kingdom (at least 600 BCE – 3rd century CE)
  • Ichthyophagi – name given by ancient geographers to several coast-dwelling peoples in different parts of the world
  • Midian – area in the northwest Arabian Peninsula mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the Koran, and associated with Ptolemy's Modiana
  • Zimran – the first son of Abraham with Keturah; Abraham's descendants by her are said by Josephus to have settled "Troglodytis" and Arabia Felix
  • Hijaz – the mountains on the Arabian coast of the Red Sea identified by Josephus
  • Thamud – a once-powerful nation occupying the northern tip of the Hijaz known for their cave-dwelling
  • Horites – a people of the northern Hijaz with an etymology of digging a hole for a den
  • Wadi Feiran – another name associated with the Hijaz and northwestern Arabia, the root "F-ˀA-R" means "mouse" and "burrowing like a mouse"


  1. ^ Agatharchides of Cnidus, On the Erythraean Sea
  2. ^ Herodotus, Histories, 4.183
  3. ^ Werner, A. (January 1913). "The Languages of Africa". Journal of the Royal African Society. 12 (46): 120–135. JSTOR 715866.
  4. ^ Strabo & 20 AD, VII 5,12.
  5. ^ Boardman 1991, p. 598.
  6. ^ Josephus Flavius, Antiquities, 1.15.1
  7. ^ Saint Jerome's Hebrew Questions on Genesis
  8. ^ Josephus Flavius, Antiquities, 1.15.1
  9. ^ Desfayes, Michel (2011-01-25). "The Names of Countries". Retrieved 2019-04-09. Africa. From the name of an ancient tribe in Tunisia, the Afri (adjective: Afer). The name is still extant today as Ifira and Ifri-n-Dellal in Greater Kabylia (Algeria). A Berber tribe was called Beni-Ifren in the Middle Ages and Ifurace was the name of a Tripolitan people in the 6th century. The name is from the Berber language ifri 'cave'. Troglodytism was frequent in northern Africa and still occurs today in southern Tunisia. Herodote wrote that the Garamantes, a North African people, used to live in caves. The Ancient Greek called troglodytēs an African people who lived in caves. Africa was coined by the Romans and 'Ifriqiyeh' is the arabized Latin name. (Most details from Decret & Fantar, 1981).




  • Boardman, John, ed. (1991). The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 3, Part 1: The Prehistory of the Balkans; and the Middle East and the Aegean world, tenth to eighth centuries B.C. London: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22496-3.
  • Murray, G.W. and E.H. Warmington (March 1967), "Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 133, No. 1. pp. 24–33.