Sicatia


PLATE NO. 6

Treblesia, Saconia, Phasania, and Marmoria with surrounding countries.

Home to the Libu people of antiquity, the namesake for the region of Libya, it is ironic that so little effort has been made to spotlight Sicatia's histories and geography. Perhaps being at the centre of northern Libya makes this area's boundaries inconvenient to draw. The lands of Sicatia are often described in what they are not, that is, they are said to be neither part of the Nile nor Lake Chad basins, and moreover, are distinguished as being apart from the Mediterranean coasts that border the Atlas Mountains. Perhaps the easiest way to characterize this part of the world is to anchor its geography to the Sicatian Gap, the zone formed by the treacherous waters of the Bay of Sicatia and the desolate coastline between the fishing ports of Epuranta and Burega. For millennia, this has been a logistical gap for armies and administrators to overcome, from the time of the Caesars to the great tank battles that immortalized names such as Montgomery and Rommel. Owing to the geopolitical inconveniences caused by the Sicatian Gap, and combined with the lack of arable land and sheltering ports, the lands here have been some of the least integrated territories in former empires spanning across northern Libya despite having long been at the crossroads of east and west, north and south. In fact, for most of recorded history, the peoples of Sicatia have been recorded only as footnotes even though they consistently found themselves as constituents of great empires with long traditions of writing. It is no surprise then, that in this part of the world, the Sicatian cultures that carried over into contemporary times are renown to be some of the most laconic and resilient ones in the world.


I. Land


Punctuated by some of the warmest waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Sicatia is unique in hosting one of the driest coastal strips of land on the Libyan coast. In antiquity, this northern strip of coast on the continent of Africa was known as Libya Sicca, or "Dry Libya," the namesake for Sicatia. Spanning from one side of the Bay of Sicatia to the other, both its waters and coastline were feared by all. The bay has long been feared by mariners for its shoreward drag. The waters feature an unusually tidal effect in the form of strong circular currents that switch direction as the tide ebbs and flows. This combined with the amount of treacherous shoals and sandbanks hidden among its warm waterswhich are said to rival the amount in the adjacent Syrtis Major—and it is not hard to imagine why this bay has for millennia been known as the graveyard of Mediterranean mariners. On land, there are no natural water sources for caravanners to rely upon, and the land meets the sea as a wall of steep cliffs with no natural harbours or even a nook to spare for shipwrecked souls to gain a purchase. On either side of the bay are the more blessed lands of the Tripoli Strip and the Cyrenaican Peninsula, otherwise known as the Pentapoli Coast. Together they form Libya Opima, "Fertile Libya." The two lands roughly correspond to the modern-day countries of Treblesia and Saconia. Owing to the fact that the rains occasionally find their way to these lands, both territories have been continuously inhabited since antiquity, with the latter having the most desirable climate. Situated on the western side of the bay, the Tripoli Strip is a semi-arid plain that benefits from the inland Nafusa Plateau, which captures moisture blowing off the body of water known as Syrtis Major. East of the bay, the Cyrenaican Peninsula boasts the wettest winters, with mountain areas, though craggy, being as lush as parts of northern Iberia, while the northern coast experiences much of the same climate type as that of Sicily or northern Punice.

Beyond the coasts and to the south lies the arid and mostly barren Sahara Desert, which is divided between Phasania in the west and south and Marmoria in the northeast. The barren territory of Mamoria is sparsely settled. The desert offers few oases in this corner, apart from the lush and expansive oasis of Siwa, running right up to the banks of the mirage-like Zeitoun Sea. The crystal waters of this remote inland sea are associated with both the oracles of ancient lore and modern understandings of healing. Interestingly, the narrowest section of the great continent-spanning Sahara is in Phasania, between the Bay of Sicatia and Lake Chad. Just before the great lake to the south, however, lie the formidable Tibetsi Mountains, which, though acting as a remote refuge for humans and wildlife alike, have also served to obscure the lands and peoples further beyond.

The Tibetsi Mountains, interestingly, serve as an extensive island of rich biome types and microclimates in the archipelago of oases and semi-arid refuges scattered across the vast Sahara. With the benefit of slightly higher amounts of humidity and moisture-capture due to the altitudinal difference from the surrounding desert, these mountains host xeric and montane xeric woodlands, where there can be found figs, palms, acacias, tamarisks, and a whole range of species found in the adjacent Cistalas Mediterranean, Sahara, Upper Niger and Upper Nile, as well as Semien flora scenes. In the highest parts of the mountains, rare montane lichens and tree heaths, as well as mosses and grasses, take form. And apart from hosting a plethora of species of birds and bats, the mountains are also home to populations of animals more often found in the Sahel further to the south. It is believed that the habitat found here is a relic from the African Humid Period, when humans and megafauna alike roamed vast grasslands that once spanned in the now bare Sahara.

Sand dunes of the Sahara in southern Phasania.

Derived from the photo by Luca Galuzzi, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

In contrast, the environment of the coastal lands adjacent to the Mediterranean have seen some of the most radical changes in human history. Part of this is due to the gradual shifts in rainfall patterns associated with the final stages of the drying up of the Sahara, undergone for millennia before humans first started farming in the area. But mostly the reason lies with human activity, particularly deforestation and exhaustive farming practices that could not be sustained in the already fragile xeric woodlands and scrublands of this part of the Mediterranean coast. Much of the natural habitat here has therefore been irreversibly altered. Even the most inaccessible valleys and outcrops in the mountainous interior of the Cyrenaican Peninsula have been taken up by human settlement.

Sicatia's landscape therefore offers numerous apologues for environmentalism. It is in Sicatia that the endemic Sicatian silfer, known as silphium in antiquity, whose iconic heart-shaped seed pods were both a culinary aromatic and medicine—and possibly contraceptive or abortifacient—went extinct due to overharvesting, only to later be rediscovered by Europeans in the late Middle Ages when trading for the incense gum ammoniac in Muslim territories in Sicatia. It is also here that climate change was first understood and experienced firsthand by various civilizations of antiquity. In Roman times, the advance of the desert northwards, as well as the salinization of once fertile lands by the coast, led to depopulation of many parts of the Sicatian coast until better irrigation and farming advances were adapted from nearby native peoples, who first learned to build foggaras or underground aqueducts to tap into the vast fossil aquifers that have collected for tens of thousands of years underneath the desert.

By learning to exploit Sicatia's humid past, humans here had a chance against desertification, though it has remained a constant balancing act and existential struggle for locals from antiquity to the present. Much of Sicatia therefore relies upon natural springs and the exploitation of subterranean aquifers. There are few noteworthy rivers in Sicatia, for even in the lusher lands of Saconia, there are only minor creeks, washes, and stony streams. In more ancient times, the Wādī Bay al-Kabīr flowed more consistently between seasons, and one could have the convenience of following it from the coast up to the inland town of Sharif before making the trek across the desert. Today, the wadi seldom flows, though manmade canals and an extensive foggara network do radiate all along and around its dry bed, a testament to the wealth of water hidden beneath the sands, there seemingly for human ingenuity and industry to take advantage.

II. Folk


The main and official languages spoken in the countries in Sicatia.

The people of Sicatia are an interesting collection of natives and migrantsboth recent and more ancient ones. Oddly enough, as the lands here are not as enticing as temperate Atlasia or well-watered Coptia, Sicatia as a whole was not subject to similar sweeping processes of cultural and population change throughout history. It was instead for much of history relegated to being a highway between more valuable territories, a place of outposts and watering stations. Most Romans and Arabs alike passed through the area to settle elsewhere, and those that chose to stay stuck close to the urban centres around the coastal plains of Treblesia and Saconia. As a result, each Sicatian nation seems to have its own unique sculpting history, so that the four modern countries that make up Sicatia are distinct both in terms of linguistics and in ancestry. The people of Marmoria, for instance, are often remarked as having dark complexion, similar to the people of the Upper Nile in Egypt, a reflection of their ancient ties to desert trade routes stretching all the way to the Red Sea. The peoples of Treblesia share a similar language with the Marmorians, but in contrast, bear Atlasian countenances, though along the coast, the people there also appear to resemble the people of Southern Asea due to the cities here featuring the greatest concentration of migration from the eastern Mediterranean. The Saconians, interestingly, look more similar to peoples of Ausonia and Rumelia in Southern Europea, while the peoples of Phasania more resemble those of Orlia and the rest of the Sahel in southern Libya.

In ancient times, this area was the homeland of Tamazic peoples, whose languages represented the eastern-most extent of the Tamazic branch of the Afro-Aseatic language family. In contrast to the Western Tamazic branch, most Eastern Tamazic languages have gone extinct or are now in severe decline, but at least two are represented at the national level in Treblesia and Marmoria. In both cases, it was the rugged or largely inaccessible terrain that allowed the languages to retain their cultural inertia throughout history despite various empires gaining control of the coasts. In Treblesia, the mountainous but relatively fertile Nafusa Plateau allowed for a large degree of native autonomy, so that the Nafusi language remained the common tongue for rural folk while subsequent generations living in the more urban areas on the Tripoli Plain switched from Ancient Punic to Vulgar Latin to Arabic Darija to even Turcian. For Marmoria, it was the densely populated but remote Siwa Oasis that afforded cultural insulation from outside influence so that, from the time of the Egyptian perohs to the Arabian caliphs and then the Ottoman khagans, the language spoken there has remained the same. The language of Marmoria is thus as old as the Oracle of Amun, and likely closely related to the language of the ancient Libu peoples, whose toponym for Siwa, for instance, is preserved in the Arabian exonym for the whole country of Marmoria, Santariyyah, from ancient Egyptian, T'j n drw, with T'j being the undeciphered Libu endonym of Siwa itself, while n drw means "on the margins."

Many villages in the Nafusa Plateau were abandoned due to migration to the coast after the Corsair Wars.

Derived from the photo by Sludge, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Though few outsiders made their imprints on this area, the ancient Grecians and the more recent Tebu people are notable exceptions. Relatively early in antiquity, the Cyrenaican Peninsula was settled by Grecian colonists, purportedly from the Isle of Thira, modern-day Santorini. Used to colonizing battered coasts and stony islands, the mountainous country was not so different from the colonists' homeland on the other side of the Mediterranean. In fact, later geographers of the ancient world would perceive the peninsula as just another Hellenic island beyond Crete. The history here is not as rich with drama and exploits compared to other ancient Grecian colonies in Ausonia or Iberia, but it was here that a Hellenic language survived outside of Greece, and for that matter, a Doric variety, ultimately connecting the Saconians to the ancient Spartans—Saconia, in fact, may be derived from Exo Laconía, "outer Laconia," with Laconia being the southeastern portion of the Peloponnesian Peninsula historically tied to Sparta. In contrast, modern Grecian, Cyprian, and the Hellenic language spoken in Haltia in Anatolia are all descendants of the Ionian-Attic dialects of antiquity. There is thus some credence to the national myth of how the modern-day Saconian people are descendants of the ancient Spartans of Laconia, for it was indeed Laconian colonists who founded the major settlement on the Isle of Thira, who in turn came to found the "five cities" or Pentapolis on this part of Libya known as the Pentapoli Coast. The native Tamazic peoples, for their part, intermarried with these colonists, and, like the subsequent Arabic peoples who came with the expansion of Islam, left both genetic, cultural, and linguistic contributions inherited by the modern population. tj

The modern-day state of Phasania was founded by the Saharan people known as the Tebu, "the rock people," who hail from the Tibetsi Mountains at the southern reaches of Sicatia. They were are also just as adept as the early Grecian mariners in settling scattered marginal lands. In the case of the Tebu, their skills were for navigating the towering dunes and and remote gorges of the Sahara, even prior to the adoption of camels, which were introduced by Arabian Bedouins. In a way, the Tebu have always been one of the native inhabitants of Phasania, coinciding with desert eastern Tamazic tribes, for since the first Roman garrisons were implanted in the northern string of oases of Socna, Hun, and Waddan, there have been references to Saharan peoples trading and settling in this part of the Sahara. Only in the tumultuous final decades of the Ottoman Empire, however, did the Tebu-majority in the south of Phasania come to expand into the north and all the way to the Mediterranean coast, taking control of all of what was once known as Libya Sicca.

A promenade in Esperidis, one of the five cities that give Saconia its archaic name, the Pentapoli Coast.

Derived from the photo by Siculo73, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Having the least amount of arable lands out of all the Mediterranean Basin, it is no surprise then that this part of Libya is not very populated, with even the more hospitable Cyrenaican Peninsula boasting fewer people relative to the countries of similar size due to the stony nature of the land. That said, Sicatia is one of the most urbanized places on the planet. The majority of the population of this area was living in urban centres long before much of the rest of the world urbanized from industrialization in the last two centuries. The northwestern tip of the Cyrenaican Peninsula is the most populated part of Sicatia, staying true to the "five cities" idea behind its archaic name, Pentapolis. The city of Cyrene is still the largest city on the peninsula, and three other cities tied to this name—Tolmeita (Ptolemais), Esperedis (Eusperides, briefly known as Benghazi), and Belagra (Balagrae)—are all still major settlements. The famed city of Barca, however, was abandoned shortly after the Muslim Conquest, and survives now only as the source of the Arabian exonym for Saconia. The "three cities" of Treblesia's Tripoli Strip used to rival Saconia until the Corsair Wars. The semi-independent Ottoman eyalet of Treblesia came to be at the centre of the conflict, resulting in an embargo-caused mass emigration from Labdah, the near-razing of Sabrata, and the looting of the Red Castle or Assaraya al-Hamra in Oea by the Seven-Nation Army, which was spearheaded by the Americans—an edifying lesson on how not to execute coalitions of international intervention for subsequent generations of Americans championing the cause of the Society of Nations. Beyond the coast, the rural Nafusa Plateau is not as densely populated as the Tripoli Strip but has always fielded the same amount of persons for wars, and thus came to be a major source of repopulating the coast. As for Phasania and Marmoria, the main population centres correspond to where water can be found in the desert. The relatively recent cities of Epuranta and Burega, however, are dictated by the logic of fish stocks, and have expanded despite a lack of nearby water sources due to the Bay of Sicatia's warm waters boasting one of the last thriving populations of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.

III. Yore


Surprisingly, much more is known about the history of Siwa, as well as the ancient desert peoples of the interior of Phasania, than the Tamazic peoples that inhabited the Mediterranean coastline. This may have been due to the earlier adaptation of sedentarism by these water-strapped peoples, as theorized for the founding of urban settlements in the arid river basins of the Nile and Tigres and Euphrates. Siwa was in constant contact with Egypt and may have experienced an early golden age around the time of the Late Period of ancient Egypt. By then, the Oracle of Amun or Amun Ra was widely known in the eastern Mediterranean, and already Siwa's history quite colourful. While the last native dynasty of Egypt would later fall to the Achaemenid Empire invading from Asea, Siwa gained mythic fame for escaping a similar fate when, as if through diviene intervention, a sandstorm swallowed up an army of fifty thousand Persians, thus ensuring the oasis's autonomy. Around the same time, another desert settlement was gaining mythic fame. Further west into the Sahara, near the now nearly obscure settlement of Ubari, was the densely populated city known in ancient times as Garama, home to the ancient Garamantes, and the namesake of the more southern country of Garmantia—whose people are, ironically, unrelated. Its extensive subterranean network of foggaras supplied enough water to support thriving urban centres that earned the envy of ancient Grecian geographers and Roman expeditionary commanders alike. It was the technique of using these underground canals pioneered by the Garamantes that eventually allowed for not only remote corners of Phasania to sustain thriving sedentary human populations, but also the rest of the Sahara. Not till the time of the Muslim Conquest of Libya would such planned and extensive forms of water management be implemented on the coasts in Treblesia and Saconia.

The first major settlements recorded on both sides of the Bay of Sicatia were Phoenician trading posts, the easternmost extensions of Carthage's hegemony over much of the Libyan coast. The city of Oea was first founded in this time as Oyat, the Phoenician adaptation from a more ancient Libu endonym, suggesting a layer of native Tamazic history now buried for archaeologists to decipher. Grecian colonists later came to establish themselves in the Cyrenaican Peninsula, which had been neglected by Phoenician merchants. Though the soil on the peninsula was highly fertile from ancient deposits of volcanic ash blown over from Mount Etna in Sicily, the mountainous terrain was hard to work due to it being littered with boulders and outcrops, proving to be too craggy for extensive cultivation compared to the Tripoli Strip, which, at the time, was less arid and had yet to suffer from the encroachment of desertification. Much of early economic activity on the peninsula instead centred around the gathering of the seeds and stalks of an endemic Ferula plant, Sicatian silfer, known as silphium in antiquity, and a close relative to the more pungent Chorsanian silfer, Ferula foetida, known in Asea as asa chitt by Jews or anqowzeh by Zarathustrans and in Indea as hing. Such was the reliance upon this cash crop that it is believed to be at the centre of one of the first recorded incidents of Flemish Disease, as exports of Sicatian silfer suddenly plummeted, coinciding with a sharp decline in the local economy and population of the Pentapoli Coast. While the Cyrenaican Peninsula was largely unaffected by the Punic Wars, it is believed that wartime measures and general shifts towards austerity, even in the palette, led to a temporary but substantial decline in overseas demand for Sicatian silfer, which had effectively been the sole export of the Pentapoli Coast. The economic recession may have been one of the main factors for the "five cities" of the Cyrenaican Peninsula to later voluntarily relinquish their autonomy to Roman rule.

Belagra and other parts of the mountainous Cyrenaican Peninsula receive light snowfall in the winter.

Derived from the photo by Lybysh, licensed under CC0.

In the aftermath of the Punic Wars, Sicatia was reorganized under the Roman Empire. Carthage's grain basket in the Tripoli Strip came to be a new centre of Roman culture, while the impoverished Grecians in the Cyrenaican Peninsula were grateful to be incorporated with Crete as an imperial province. Newfound local prosperity coincided with a renewed and zealous appetite for Sicatian silfer. The wealthiest citizens in Roman Europea were known to pay a premium for the freshest shipped stalks of silfer to grate over their foods like cheese. Just as Chorsanian silfer is today an integral cooking ingredient on both sides of the Kushan Mountains, the seed and stalk of Sicatian silfer briefly came to be quintessential ingredients found in pantries on all shores of the Mediterranean, and moreover, the plant's tears were collected to form a resin, known as laser, which was used in Greco-Roman perfumery and medicine up until the Early Middle Ages. In the south, the Romans were pressed with defending the frontier of this lucrative territory from the Garamantes. They noted the Garamantes' use of slaves gained from raids further south. Administrators recorded some of the first Tebu words in their surveys of the interior Phasania, even though oases such as Socna still seemed to be almost exclusively populated by Garamantes-speaking people at the time. Expeditions and momentary conquests of the Sahara were launched from the Tripoli Strip, starting off from Oea to Marzug in the centre of Phasania, before going further south into the Greco-Roman world's terra incognito, leading to the first European descriptions of the formidable Tiblesi Mountains and exotic creatures such as hippos and flamingos in Lake Chad.

This period of growth was not to last, however, for the local climate in Sicatia shifted rapidly and became drier within the first two centuries of Roman rule, leading to a steady decline in arable lands in Treblesia. This also coincided with the drying up of water sources in PhasaniaLibya Sicca, as it was known thenleading to many Garamantes settlements becoming abandoned or taken over by the Tebu people to the southeast, and which also resulted in even more pronounced conflicts along the frontier. On the Cyrenaican Peninsula, the drier weather, along with new Roman policieswhich simultaneously encourage the overharvesting of silfer and shepherds to take their flocks to the same rocky interior landscapes in which it grew wildled to another sharp decline in the export of the commodity. The first Grecian colonists and Libyan natives of Sicatia knew to harvest the plant sustainably by cutting off only the top half of the plant's stalk, allowing the stem to regrow in its niche habitat of rocky and disturbed soil, but such wisdom could not withstand greed and imperial mismanagement. This time, the decline was irreversible. All attempts to cultivate the plant had failed, and silfer as the Europeans knew it came to be locally extinct.

By the time Islam took root across Libya, Sicatia's religious and ethnolinguistic geographies had cemented. Rome and Christianity's brief hold in Libya faded from memory. It was also around this time of great change that the last king of the Garamantes came to be a mere footnote in Arabian records. In their place, came the even hardier Tebu peoples. Within generations, they gained control of all the oases up until Sabha, though Tamazic minorities continue to exist to this day in northern Phasania. By then, interior Phasania came to be obscured from the peoples of the coast, and the Tebu people underwent a different route to conversion similar to their southern counterparts in Orlia, which is why they use the Chadic script to this day instead of adapting the Arabic script for their language, as even the Hellenic peoples of the Cyrenaican Peninsula did. It is worth mentioning that by then, the idea of a Saconian Nation was beginning to form and both Arabian administrators and Byzantine geographers alike distinguished the Saconians from their Aegean counterparts. Settlers from Arabia, Feletia, and Syria also made ethnographic observations about the Saconians—often unsympathetically—as they used the now backwards ports of Tolmeita, Tochra, and Arsino as waystations to get to the Tripoli Strip and beyond to Atlasia. In Treblesia, Grecian, Latin, and local Tamazic languages came to be replaced along the entire coastline of Treblesia by Arabian within a few generations, with the only exception being Sabrata. In contrast, the native Tamazic peoples of the Nafusa Plateau and Siwa Oasis seemed to have enjoyed self-rule for a few centuries longer, perhaps even up until the Ottoman Period, with Venetian merchants reporting that the desert peoples of Marmoria may have only completely converted to Islam by the time the Reconquista came to completion in Iberia.

For the first few centuries of Muslim rule, most of coastal Sicatia was on the margins of global historic trends, being ruled from either Egypt, Punice, or even Tamazic dynasties further to the west. Records show that local politics were insular, centred around water-use and expanding irrigation networks and foggaras. By the Late Middle Ages, however, the Bay of Sicatia came to have strategic value when the drama of the tripartite Crusades between the Christians, Zarathustrans, and Muslims in western Aseawhere religious boundaries formed tense triple junctions that consistently erupted, bogging down the region in conflict for centuries—shifted west to central Libya. Along with Malta, Pantallera, and Lampedusa, the Knights of St. John took control of the Tripoli Strip and the northern coast of the Cyrenaican Peninsula, pouring investments into developing ramparts and building castles such as the Red Castle in Oea. Interestingly, despite constant territorial changes during the Crusades, the general tendency was for local populations to resist conversion, which is why the coastal cities captured by the Christian order did not revert back to Christianity, nor did they convert to Zarathustranism when the Ottomans eventually caught up with their foe after conquering Egypt.

The iconic Assaraya al-Hamra or Red Castle in Oea was originally built by the Knights of St. John.

Derived from the photo by Abdulfatah Amr, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

By the time of the Ottomans, Sicatia's territorial boundaries came to closely resemble contemporary state borders. Ottoman administration at first led to a renewal of infrastructure projects in Sicatia, but in the Early Modern Period, the empire's policies began to focus on strengthening rule in new territories gained in Atlasia, as those parts yielded more taxes than Sicatia. This allowed for the local janissary corps of Treblesia and Saconia to effectively take control and rule the two eyalets as juntas with the sole focus of renewing conflict with the Christians across the sea. Though corsair activity on both sides of the Mediterranean had slowly come to an end, so addicted to the proceeds of piracy were the ports of Sicatia that corsairing became the sole economic policy in Treblesia and Saconia. Eventually, the preying on foreign merchant vessels would lead to the Corsair Wars, the first of which was primarily fought with the nascent United States, and which ended largely in stalemate. But by the time war was once again declared, the United States had formed a coalition with the most powerful European states at the time to settle the issue once and for all, leading to the invasion of Sicatia by the Seven-Nation Army.

The European and American sacking of Sabrata and Oea, as well as embargoes on Labdah and the ports of Saconia, led to an economic paralysis along the Sicatian coast. In Saconia, this led to religious conflict between the Muslim majority and Christian minorities that had inhabited the area since the time of the Romans, foreshadowing a similar tragedy to come in less than a century between Zarathustrans and Christians on Crete, as well as on the Rumelian mainland. In Treblesia, the devestation along the Tripoli Strip and displacement of the coastal Tamazic inhabitants of Sabrata led to a reshuffling of the demographics in the lowlands, resulting in the language of Nafusa gaining footholds in the coastal cities as part of the subsequent rebuilding effort undertaken by the Ottomans, who briefly reasserted control in the whole area, though making no effort in Marmoria beyond setting up a garrison in Amoniya. Taking advantage of the tumultuous times, the Tebu expanded from Marzug and gained all the oases up to the coastal portion of the Sicatian Gap, at which point the Mayate based in Marzug was recognized by the Ottomans as the autonomous territory of Phasania. And though the nascent Kingdom of Italy would score the territories of Treblesia and Saconia in the aftermath of the First World War, the process towards complete self-autonomy would begin in the territorial handover. Guerilla resistance in the Nafusa Plateau and Cyrenaican hillsides plagued the colonial Italian regime up until it dissolved. An even greater international embarrassment for the new fascist government, however, was when, in the prelude to the Second World War, the Italian army failed in its invasion of the sparsely populated territories of Phasania and Marmoria, allowing for the Allies to later gain key tactical advantages in the Battle of the Western Desert.

IV. Scape


Culturally, Sicatia is very much divided between the coastal states of Treblesia and Saconia in the north and Phasania and Marmoria in the south, with the latter two being outliers, sharing similarities with the bordering areas of Coptia and Orlia to the east and south, respectively. Nevertheless, these four territories have often been locked together in the same historical threads and, moreover, stand out as geographical oddities that do not quite fit with adjacent cultural landscapes. Though the Phasanians are notably the most distinct peoples in the area, much of their territory is now beyond their traditional heartland in the Tibetsi Mountains, but rather, in the ancient homeland of the now extinct Garamantes people. The impressive foggara networks, as well as the fortifications and built environment in much of Phasania remains largely that of the Garamantes, forever preserved by the dry air of the Sahara. Similarly, the desert dwellings of Marmorians remain largely unchanged. Multi-level homes are built with bricks made out of mud and straw, and wind-catching towers are a common feature in mosques and wealthier homes, similar to the styles found in the Upper Nile, where construction materials and techniques have proved slow to change since the time of the pharaohs. Such is the everlasting mythic fame of Siwa that whenever one mentions its name, an immediate imagery comes to mind, that of cascading rooftop terraces looking over lush oases fields and palm forests; the iconic looming imperial fortress of Shali Ghadi built into the inselberg standing guard over the settlement; and the glimmering mirage-like waters of the Zeitoun Sea, expanding right as far as the eye can see into the desert.

Oddly enough, the opposite is true for the coastal cities when it comes to legacies from the past. In cities like Oea, Cyrene, and even Amoriya, there is almost no trace of previous inhabitants in the form of the built environment, though the people living there, at least in the Nafusa Plateau and Cyrenaican Peninsula, have largely remained unchanged. Because the limited habitable land in this part of the world has been continuously inhabited, much of this part of Sicatia has undergone spurts of rebuilding everytime a war or radical shift occured, with the upcycling of building materials or the burying of old infrastructure beneath new roads and foundations being the norm. Only a few Roman arches stand today, as well as some old lighthouses and church towers that were later appropriated to serve as minarets. That said, in more rural areas, one architectural feature that has survived to the modern day is the practice of making homes out of limestone and related rocks. Ever since the ancient native Tamazic peoples of the peninsula invited the early Grecian colonists to live in the mountainous interior of the Cyrenaican Peninsula, the peoples here have built their homes out of slabs of stone, sharing the same origins as the whitewashed and conical trullo homes found in Puglia in southeastern Italy, and rivalling the fame of the pueblo blancos of Andalusia in Spain. Such homes are known as drulus in Saconia, and may have remained the norm due to frugality, as the Saconians were reknown as experts at avoiding taxes. Just as theorized for the people of Puglia, it is believed that they used this dry stone wall construction because the homes can easily be dismantled when property tax inspectors threatened to come up the road. This style of construction eventually spread to the Tripoli Strip in Treblesia, and also became the norm in the Nafusa Plateau, though in the mountains, whitewashed walls are a less common feature. Tamazic letters—still in use by Muslims of the Western and Southern Tamazic languages but relegated to iconography for the peoples of Sicatia—are often painted on the conical roofs as whitewashed symbols, a carryover from their pre-Islamic culture.

Villages all constructed in the drulus style are a common feature in the Saconian countryside.

Derived from the photo by Marcok, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

One cultural attribute common to all of Sicatia is the famed jard, a long sheet of clothing worn by men, and which may very well be a holdover from the Roman toga, or perhaps even directly from the Grecians who came before. The fabric is made of wool, and on the coast, is often grey, white, and sometimes darker colours. In Marmoria, the fabric is almost always white. In Phasania, the Tebu adopted the clothing from the Garamantes, but wove in their own more colour-oriented aesthetics so that their jards are often striped and multi-cloured, a reminder of their other roots further to the south, which overlap with the boundaries of Orlia. One element that stuck from the Ottoman period is the wearing of the tarbush or chechia caps as everyday headwear, though in contrast to Atlasia, the colour of the caps is almost always black. In terms of women's fashion, the clothing styles here strongly resemble the Tamazic sensibilities that came out of the Ottoman Period in Atlasia. Today, women continue to wear colourful shawls with unique patterns, kaftans and asherahs that are form-fitting and which may go up to even the knees, while bejeweled headdresses, breastplates, and ornamental earrings are more often reserved for formal occasions and weddings.

In terms of everyday habits, the people here are similar to their Muslims counterparts to the east, preferring to smoke tobacco with water pipes and chew qat. The former is most often done as a social activity while the latter can be both consumed leisurely with others or used as a stimulant for arduous labour, similar to the way coca, kola, kuding, betel, and even tobacco are chewped in other parts of the world. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a persistant vice that has a long history in Sicatia. Sicatians, like their Atlasian counterparts, are in general heavy drinkers, despite most of them still identifying as being religious. Prior to the arrival of Islam, wine was commonly consumed, especially in Saconia, which had strong ties to the Hellenic world even throughout the Islamic period. In part due to this strong cultural legacy, and in part due to the Hanafi school's more lenient interpretations of scripture in the Middle Ages, wine production in Sicatia switched to grene and nabiss, known as aqsima and subya in the Muslim world. Apart from Saconia, however, the rest of Sicatia's climate more favours the growing of date palms, which is why nabiss is the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage in the area, though fine grene is produced in Treblesia as well. In terms of liquor introduced during the Ottoman Period, both the rum-like quihal and irrack are consumed, thanks in part to the area's historic connections to southern Libya and further into Africa.

Overlooking an older section of Siwa from the Shali Ghadi fortress.

Derived from the photo by Ibrahim El-Mezayen, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Interestingly, silfer continues to define Sicatia, for since its rediscovery in the Late Middle Ages, it has become once again an important commodity in the area. Instead of being at the centre of cash crop economies, however, its peculiar requirements means that it now plays a key role in land management techniques, from the coast even as far south as Socna. No longer used in the same ways as silphium was said to have been abused in ancient times, the plant has been redefined many times in an ethnobotanical sense throughout the area's history. What the European and Cyrenaican Grecians failed to realize is that, like the many nations that took shape in its native range, the plant is a naturally occurring hybrid. Its seeds are sterile and thus cannot be sowed. It is now believed that this silphium of the ancients was produced from two Ferula species, Ferula tingitana and Ferula gummosa, the former being common throughout rocky hillsides in Libya while the latter is endemic to the mountains of Asea—perhaps transplanted over to the Cyrenaican Peninsula by the Phoenicians. These two parent species are both more like Chorsanian silf