1902 Encyclopedia > Africa > African Geography

(Part 2)


(a) General. Origin and name of Africa.

The origin and meaning of the name of this great continent has been a fertile subject for conjecture among philologists and antiquaries. By the Greeks it was called Libya, and by the Romans Africa. Varro believed he had found the etymology of the former in Libs, the Greek name of the south wind; and Servius, the scholiast on Virgil, proposed to derive the other from the Latin word aprica (sunny), or the Greek word a-phrike (without cold). It is more probable that the name Libya was derived by the Greeks from the name of the people whom they found in possession of the country to the westward of Egypt, and who are believed to have been those that are called in the Hebrew Scriptures Lehabim or Lubim. With respect to the word Africa, Suidals tell us that it was the proper name of that great city which the Romans called Carthago, and the Greeks, Karchedon. It is certain, at least, that it was applied originally to the country in the immediate neighborhood of Carthage, that part of the continent first known to the Romans, and that it was subsequently extended with their increasing knowledge, till it came at last to include the whole continent. Of the meaning of the name, the language of Carthage itself supplies a simple and natural explanation; the word Afrygah, signifying a separate establishment, or in other words a colony, as Carthage was of Tyre. So that the Phoenicians of old, at home, may have spoken of their Afrygah, just as we speak of our colonies. Be that as it may, the Arabs of the present day still give the name of Afrygah or Afrikiyah to the territory of Tunis. It may also be remarked, that the name seems not to have been used by the Romans till after the time of the first Punic war, when they became first acquainted with what they afterwards called Africa Propria.

Position and Extent of Africa

Africa lies between the latitudes of 38
° N. and 35° S., and is of all the continents the most truly tropical. It is, strictly speaking, an enormous peninsula attached to Asia by the isthmus of Suez. The most northern point is the Cape, situated a little to the west of Cabo Blanco, and opposite Sicily, which lies in lat. 37° 20' 40" N., long 9° 41' E. its southernmost point is Cabo d'Agulhas, in 34° 49' 15" S.; the distance between these two points being 4330 geographical, or about 5000 English miles. The westernmost point is Cabo Verde, in long. 17° 33' W., its easternmost Cape Jerdaffun, in long 51° 21' E., lat. 10° 25' N., the distance between the two points being about the same as its length. The western coasts are washed by the Atlantic, the northern by the Mediterranean, and the eastern by the Indian Ocean.

Form (or Shape) of Africa

The form has been likened to a triangle, or to an oval but such a comparison is scarcely warranted, it being of an irregular shape, the northern half rounding off, the southern one contracting and terminating in a point.

Superficial Extent of Africa

The superficial extent of Africa has never been accurately determined, but may be taken at 9,858,000 geographical square miles, exclusive of the islands. It is larger than either Europe or Australia, but smaller than Asia and the New World.

African Coastline and its Indentations

The coast line of Africa is very regular and unbroken, presenting few bays and peninsula. The chief indentation is formed by the Gulf of Guinea, with its two secondary divisions, the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra. On the northern coast, the Gulf of Sidra and the Gulf of Kabes must be mentioned, and on the eastern coast the Gulf of Arabia.

Physical Configuration of the African Continent

The physical configuration may be considered under two heads, the great lower-lands and plains of Northern Africa, and the great table-lands, with their mountain ranges and groups, of Central and Southern Africa. The great northern lower-land comprise the Sahara, the Lake Chad region, and the valley of the Lower Nile. The Sahara is by no means a plain throughout, but for the greater part it rises into table-lands, interspersed with mountain groups of 6000 feet elevation, and probably more, and the term lower-lands can only be applied to it in a general way, to distinguish it from the more elevated region to the south.

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Africa - Table of Contents

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