The lion pipeline—for when you need lots of lions


The Romans needed a lot of lions. As many as 600 would be released at a single event. The Roman bloodlust wasn’t satisfied by lions alone; they also imported tigers, hippos, giraffes and rhinos. To get a reliable supply these exotic species, the Romans needed a trade route to central Africa—and that meant they had to find a way to get these animals across the Sahara Desert.

Enter the Garamantes, a people who lived in the Sahara as early as 1,000 BC in a nation they called Fessan (sometimes “Fezzan”). The most notable remnant of their civilization is a massive network of more than a thousand miles of water-delivery tunnels. Averaging ten feet deep and ten feet wide, the tunnels tapped into a nearby aquifer and delivered billions of gallons of water to the Garamantes’ massive oasis kingdom.

In the middle of the Sahara, a Garamantes lived in planned cities supplied by well-irrigated farms and robust trade. A typical citizen could spend the afternoon snacking on home-grown figs and grapes while sipping excellent imported wines.

The Roman army conquered the Garamantes people in 19 BC—sort of. Realizing they couldn’t control the far-flung empire, the Romans settled for a trade agreement. The Roman army would leave the Garamantes alone, as long as the trade route from Rome to central Africa was kept open and flowing.

Rome got its lions, and the Garamantes people retained their autonomy.

After a millennia or so, the aquifer ran dry and the kingdom collapsed.  By the early middle ages, Garamantes was completely gone and forgotten. While it was sad to lose such a vibrant and enterprising nation, it was good news for lions... and Christians.

Even the most casual student of history knows that the Romans amused themselves by watching lions eat Christians. But did you ever wonder, “where did they get the lions?” They certainly can’t be found in the Italian countryside..   Continues below...

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