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Wikipedia has a tiny stub on Biledulgerid that—on the basis of its 19th century source—treats it as an actual kingdom in early modern northwest Africa. This early 18th-century source, meanwhile, treats it as a vast empire comprising 12 regions from Mauritania to the edge of Egypt.

My assumption is that it's just early modern European geographers playing a game of telephone from an account by one explorer one time who stopped by the area for some dates. (The name for this Empire of the Central Sahara is apparently a mangling of the Arabic for "Land of Dates", apparently coined by the same marketing geniuses who came up with "Greenland".)

Any of you guys have a clue on what was actually going on in the area at the time that got so distorted into these maps and gazetteers of "Biledulgerid"? Wiki's articles on Algerian history focus on the coast and the articles on Mauritanian history literally skip from the Romans to French colonization.

Biledulgerid Wikicommons .tif of Biledulgerid that Refuses to Load Directly

(Sorry for the ugly formatting: I'm unsure how to create a thumbnail here that links through to the full images. If any of you do know, please do edit these.)

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  • 1
    Don't have the resources I need here at work to fully answer this, but its been fascinating to look into so far.
    – T.E.D.
    May 16, 2023 at 16:05
  • @kimchilover - That's a second reference I'm seeing for it meaning "Land of Dates". Does anyone have any idea what language it means that in?
    – T.E.D.
    May 16, 2023 at 21:58
  • @kimchilover - All I'm capable of gleaning from that is that it looks like those 4 pages are written in Spanish?
    – T.E.D.
    May 16, 2023 at 22:58
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    @T.E.D. Marmol wrote: "Beled el Gerid es la tierra de los datiles que los antiguos llamaró Gethulia ..." = "Beled el Gerid is the land of the dates, called by the ancients Gethulia..." May 16, 2023 at 23:30
  • @kimchilover - So bascially, he doesn't know what language it was either, but knows it was spoken by "the ancients"?
    – T.E.D.
    May 17, 2023 at 0:18

1 Answer 1

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The name "Biledulgerid" is a version of "Beled el Gerid", the name of a place (Bled el Djerid) in modern Tunisia. In previous centuries it seems to have been used as the name of a region, roughly the area south of the Atlas Mountains, north of the Equator, west of Libya, east of the Atlantic coast. It seems to have become widely known in Europe after the publication in the mid 1500's of two descriptions of Africa: that of Leo Africanus in his 1550-ish Descrizione dell' Africa and that of Luis del Mármol Carvajal, the 1573 descripcion general de Affrica. Samuel Purchas used these sources in his 1614 English-language work Purchas His Pilgrimage.

In 1550 the term "Africa" meant either the Roman province of Africa ("old Africa"), or the whole continent of Africa. According to Mármol, in his discussion of the part of Africa that was, in effect known to the Romans, was divided into 6 regions: Berberia (the Barbary Coast or northern Maghreb), Beled el Gerid ("called by the ancients Gethulia or Numidia" or the southern Maghreb), Zahara (the Western Sahara), Lower Ethiopia (Nubia), Upper Ethiopia (Ethiopia proper), and Egypt. Numidia was the Latin name of what is now Tunisia, and "Gethulia" probably refers to the Gaetuli, a Berber tribe living near the Atlas Mountais.

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  • and you're sure that Leo Africanus and Luis del Marmol Carvajal were repeating the name of the Tunisian location? Any evidence to that effect? The area around the Dara River and Sijilmasa (the other end of this "region") was also well known for its dates, apparently.
    – lly
    May 17, 2023 at 0:46
  • If there's no direct connection you can trace between the Tunisian area and L.A. and L.d.M.C.'s accounts, is there evidence that the area now known as the Bled el Djerid in Tunisia was the only place ever known as this to the Arabic and Ottoman geographers? or at least that the modern Tunisian area had this name for many centuries and was well known internationally?
    – lly
    May 17, 2023 at 0:47
  • Somewhat off topic but if L.d.M.C. thought Ethiopia was a set of regions in northern Africa, what was his name for southern Africa? It was more common at this time to use Ethiopia extremely broadly, sometimes all the way to the Cape of Good Hope.
    – lly
    May 17, 2023 at 0:50
  • Upvoted, as this is what my research was leading me to as well. What I'm still not quite sure about is if the creator of these maps understood that. He may well have thought they were indeed kingdoms, which is why OP can so easily get confused looking at his maps.
    – T.E.D.
    May 17, 2023 at 13:03
  • @T.E.D. Obviously this answer is great for explaining the probable original location and the probable authorities who spread this name across Europe. It's not incumbent on you or anyone to spend more time on the topic. There are a number of unanswered questions above, though. You're certainly welcome to try if it's an interesting topic to you and you have access to good sources. Then again, they might be impossible to answer without fairly deep knowledge of early modern Arabic and Ottoman Turkish geographers, since it's possible much of this was never translated (?).
    – lly
    May 18, 2023 at 4:25

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