Libya was the ancient Greek name for the land of the Libyans, the original people of the north coast of Africa. By the 400s B.C., the term Libya was used to refer not just to this coastal region but to the entire continent of Africa, an area that was then thought to be about as large as Europe. The Romans used the term Libya in much the same way as the Greeks. Today, Libya is the name of a country on the Mediterranean coast of Africa, lying between Egypt to the east and Tunisia to the west.

This part of the north coast of Africa was first explored by the Greeks and by the Phoenicians, who went on to explore the west coast of Africa as well. The Phoenicians were also the first to establish trade in the northern coastal region, where they eventually founded the city-state* * of Carthage. In the 200s B.C., the region became part of the kingdom of the Greek-influenced Ptolemaic dynasty*, which was centered in Egypt. Then, during the 100s B.C., the region was taken over by the Romans.

Historians learned about the Libyans from both ancient literary sources and archaeological evidence. In the 800s B.C., the Greek poet Homer described Libya as a fertile land populated by shepherds. About four centuries later, the Greek historian Herodotus gave a detailed account of the many different tribes in the region. Although these and other historical sources tended to stress the wandering, herding lifestyle of the people, archaeological evidence suggests that there were also large agricultural settlements. However, Carthaginian, Greek, and Roman influences may have contributed to the tendency of Libyans to settle and become farmers. Libyans also intermarried with the colonists, resulting in a blend of populations and cultures in the region.

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

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