North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present



“Livy contemplated Polybius’s generous assessment as he described Hannibal’s exceptional transcultural consciousness, which the Carthaginian exploited: Hannibals’s army was composed of so many men who had nothing in common in terms of language, culture, law, weaponry, dress, physical appearance, and their reasons for fighting and he varied his exhortations accordingly….The Gauls could be aroused by their own particular and instinctive hatred for the Romans.”

“The Ligurians, who had been brought down from their rugged mountain homes, were inspired hopes of victory by the prospect of the rich plains of Italy. The Moors and Numidians Hannibal frightened by telling them how brutal Masinissa’s rule would be. He worked on their various races by inspiring different hopes and different fears. (Livy 2006, 602)”

“Although Polybius and Livy admired Hannibal’s transcultralism, Carthaginians characteristically evinced these sensitivities for centuries given their commercialism and their need to enlist mercenaries. They realized that Carthage’s survival depended on positive and patient interaction with diverse societies. Carthaginian transculturalism was not casual but crucial and compulsory.”

“Carthage remained independent, but hardly a threat to Rome. Instead, Numidia loomed as Carthage’s greatest menace, whose dynamic King Masinissa aspired to unite the Maghrib. The growth of Numidian power, coupled with the pathological fear of a potentially resurgent Carthage, led to another Roman expedition against its archival.”

“Aided by their Numidian allies, the belligerent Romans, commanded by the adopted grandson of Scipio, Scipio Aemilianus, finally breached Carthage’s walls after a determined and desperate defense. The Romans enslaved the survivors and destroyed the city, reputedly plowing its debris underground and then symbolically salting the land to prevent its regeneration. Establishing a new province, Africa Proconsularis, Romans settled permanently in North Africa.”

“Significant Berber kingdoms exercised considerable power and influence by the time the Romans defeated Carthage, notably Numidia. In addition, Mauretania (the country of the Mauri) bordered Numidia on the west and included Morocco. Although the Romans had allied with Berbers, specifically the Massyli, against Carthage, relations between them declined and ultimately led to the Jugurthine War. In the first century BCE, rivalries among Roman commanders contesting for power embroiled North Africa, ending the Berber Kingdoms and also Hellenistic Egypt. For the first time, an imperial state, the Roman Empire, ruled North Africa’s Mediterranean littoral and, in varying degrees, its hinterland from Egypt to the Atlantic.”

“Ibn Odhari refers to al-Kahina as a Malika or a queen. The resistance of Kusayla and al-Kahina remains important regarding contemporary Berber-Arab cultural controversy, such as the use of the Berber language, Tamazight. See also El-Aroui 1990.”

“Phillip Hitti credited the Arabs’ Semitic (refers to language, not ethnicity) kinship with the Phoenicians in expediting their relations with the Berbers who still spoke Punic in some regions: “This explains the seemingly inexplicable miracle of Islam in Arabicizing the language and Islamizing the religion of these [Berbers] and using them as fresh relays in the race toward further conquest” (Hitti 1970, 214). On the other hand, a significant number of bishoprics remained in North Africa three hundred years after the conquest (ibid.,361). Regarding Arabization, see also the section on the Bantu Hilal in this chapter. Musa’s trust in Tariq illustrated an exceptional sensibility between Arab and Berber, which obviously expedited the campaigns in the far Maghrib and Iberia.”

“The extraordinary expansion of the Umayyads also led to problems in North Africa. Animosity intensified between Berbers and Arabs. Berber, especially those who contributed to Arab success in al-Andalus and elsewhere, demanded the application of Muslim equality. Despite legal prohibitions, Arab administrators imposed taxes and even enslaved Berbers, fellow Muslims, and sent them to the East. The renowned Abbasid historian al-Tabari recounted how Berbers questioned the caliph and Umayyad authority: “They make us give them the most beatiful of our daugthers, and we say, ‘We have not found this in the Book or in the Sunna [the customs of the Prophet Muhamad (see below)]. We are Muslims and we wish to know: is this with the approval of the Commander of the Faithful or not?” (Lewis 1974,2:57-58). The Berbers subsequently revolted and in 741, led by a self-proclaimed “caliph” named Maysara, defeated an Arab force sent from Qayrawan. Although Maysar was eventually killed, the Berber revolt spread into Algeria and al-Andalus.”

Source: North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present By Phillip C. Naylor

Carthage and Tunis: Past and Present: in Two Parts

“Historians speak only very vaguely of North Africa during the period previous to the arrival of the Phonecians. Herodotus gives the names of numerous peoples or nations situated between Egypt and lake Triton; but he says nothing of the inhabitants along the Atlas, and he sums up his information upon Africa thus: “There are only two great native peoples, the Libyans, and the Ethiopians.”

“Leaving aside the Ethiopians, (whether they were really blacks or simply a people of very swarthy complexion,) since authors place them altogether towards the interior, there remain for the general primitive people of North Africa only the Libyans. Sallust, who attempted to trace back the origin of this people in the Numidian books of Hiempsal, written out according to ancient traditions, says that after the death of Hercules in Spain, the Persians, the Medes and the Armenians who had followed him came again into Africa and mixed up with the ancient inhabitants of the country, the Libyans and the Getulians.”

“From the union of the Persians and the Getulians sprang the Numidians, and from the union of the Medes and Armenians with the Libyans sprang the Moors. The Byzantine historian, Procopius, speaks of the Moors as Canaanites expelled from Palestine at the epoch of the invasion by Joshua. Admitting this, let us observe that the Getulians, Numidians, and Moors enter into the unity of the Libyan race vaguely indicated by Herodotus. In fact, Sallust speaks of the Getulians as having the same manners and the same traits of character as the Libyans; and Strabo considers them a branch of that people.”

“Herodotus regards the Numidians as a simple variety of the Libyans, and Strabo regards the Moors in the same light. According to Sallust, Moors and Numidians are, it is true, mixed races, but are attached to a more numerous and predominant primitive population, with which they were necessarily confounded. From that which precedes, we can I think, infer, first, the existence of a single primitive population who origin the Latin and Greek authors scarcely specify, and which they regarded, according to their habits, as purely aboriginal and indigenous; second, successive foreign immigration, which became amalgamated with this native population.”

“And, first, this population itself, like that of the whole world, is of oriental origin; for humanity, like civilization, has followed the light of the rising sun from east to west. The identity or the similiary of civilization, has followed the light of the risin sun from east to west. The identity or the similiarity of the language and of the general characteristics of this population and of the primitive inhabitants of western Arabia, Palenstine and Egypt indicates their common origin.”

“The Libyans, like the ancient Egyptians and the Phonecians, are of a stock slightly mixed, in which predominates the blood of Ham. According to the Bible, Mizraim, Canaan, Cush and Phut were brothers, and modern philolgy has found a striking analogy between the very name of the Lehabim descendants of Mizraim, and the Libyans of antiquity.”

“The Arab historians who speak of Africa agree with ethnographers and modern travellers in affirming the identity of the Libyans or primitive Africans, and of the actual Berber. These Berbers, who are scatted over the whole north of Africa, from the valleys of the Atlas to the desert of Sahara, and from Egypt to the Atlantic ocean, and who are called Amasighs in Morocco; Cabyls in in Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli; Tibboos in Fezzan and in Egypt, and Touaregs in the north of the Sahara;–these Berbers, are regarded today as one of the types of that primitive family which science calls Egypto-Berber, and of which they are the most numerous and the most persistent branch.” 

Carthage and Tunis: Past and Present: in Two Parts


Islam is as African as it is Middle Eastern

“Islam penetrated several parts of Africa at different times, and its presence in the continent predates Christianity. For instance, the initial spread of Islam in West Africa dates back to 800 CE when the Almoravid warriors (Berber Muslims) pushed the religion southward into the Ghana empire from Morocco. On the east coast of Africa, Arab traders in Mombasa, some of whom had taken part in the trans-Saharan long-distance trade, were able to spread Islam to that part of the continent with ease because of the similarities of the local inhabitants’ culture and those of Arab traders.”“The growth of Arab power did not mean the total collapse of Berber resistance. To the contrary; the processes of Arabization and Islamization were accompanied for several decades by violence and coercion. In fact, so unstable and rebellious were the Berbers that they “apostatized twelve times before Islam gained a firm foothold over them”.


2.5 times bigger than the United States.

“These traders brought Islam with them to places like Zanzibar, Mogadishu, and Mombasa. Evidence suggest that these traders had traveled from as far away as the Middle East and the Orient, and many of them had knowledge of the geography and topography of the continent because of the advanced trans-Saharan trade roots that linked the Arabian Peninsula to several parts of Africa and the middle east. Because of the booming business in spices and ivory with Africans, Arab traders decided to gradually settle down along the east coast of Africa. They married local women and soon began to spread the religion of Islam. The mingling of Arab culture with local African cultures, languages, and dialects eventually gave rise to what is now known as the Kiswahili culture. Thus, one can surmise that the acceptance of Islam in black Africa, especially wester Africa, can be traced to the internaction with Arabs in countries such as Tunisia, Lobya, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. In Central Africa, Islam was spread by the Shirazi merchants and Arabs traders, may of whom had also traveled far from their native land. But unlike East and West Africa, it took a while before the new arrivals began to settle down and internmingle with the Africans. However, with political turmoil back in thier homeland, especially in Arabia and Iran, many of these merchants found it convenient to settle in towns along the East Africa coast and eventually Central Africa.”

“The Berbers seemed to have been chosen by history to carry the banner of Islam into West Africa because of their geographical location and their historical role as middlemen between Arabs and black Africans.”

“The first Berber tribe in the Sahara to play a major role in the Islamization process as implemented by the Sanhaja. This ethnic group became Muslims as a result of their interaction with Muslim traders who had settled in thier midst.”

“The historical evidences seems to point out that such politically astute decisions were taken only under circumstances of grave danger; the most interesting example that is directly related to our discussion of early Islam in the Sahara and the west of the Sudan occured in about 1020 CE. This act of unity by the different Berber tribes was motivated by their collective desire to bring down the Ghanaian kingdom. In fact, this much needed unity thatt the Lemtuma, Godala, and Masufa Berbers hoped for was based on the ideas acquired by one of their leaders, Tarsina the Lemtune, whose pilgramage to Makkah inspired him to rationalize his campaigns against black Africans in the name of the Islamic Jihad.”

“The end of the Almoravid dynasty and the collapse of Ghana did not necessarily mean that Islamization ceased with the death of the Almoravid movement. The process of propogation continued and Islam began to penetrate more and more into the West Sudan. This phase in the propogation of Islam in Africa was made possible by the activie involvement of three different groups of Arab-Berber and Sudanese-Muslim cultivators of Islam in West Sudan. These three groups, according to J.R. Willis and his fellow contributors in the volume entitled Studies in West African Islamic History (1979), are the Zawaya clerisy, the Mande-Islamic clerisy, and the Torodbe clerisy. The first group has been traced to a community of Berbers who suffered oppression at the hands of fellow Berbers and Arabs. According to Willis in his comprehensive introduction to the volume cited above, the Zawaya formation began to take shape in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They decided to be pacifist and so laid down their arms and took up the life of Muslim scholars dedicated to the propogation of Islam in the area. The Mande-Islamic clerisy emerged from the numerous trading centers created by Mande Muslims throughout the West Sudan.”

Source: Islam in Africa South of the Sahara: Essays in Gender Relations and …edited by Pade Badru, Brigid M. Sackey



Iberian Moors migrated into West Africa 1492

Moor, 1) Muslim of North Africa. Although often assumed to be a black race, in fact, the Moors were of Berber and Arab descent, mixed with considerable Negroid and Iberian blood. The word probably derives from Mauri, L. by way of Gr. for ‘dark men.’ Their native lands constituted parts of Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania. One theory is that the name originally derives from Berber Amazigh, ‘freemen,’ referring to their nomadic existence, and in Greek times came to mean anyone with dark skin. By the Middle Ages the term came to be applied to any Muslims (similarly, all Europeans were called Franks in the Mohammadean world). Since Moors were thought of as being dark skinned, the word was also used generally to apply to blacks, although light-skinned Moors were well known. The word ‘blackamoor’ was also common, which implies a distinction from lighter-skinned Moors.

In any case, attitudes to race were much different then because there had been so little direct contact between the population of England and the ‘exotic races. There was also no long history of the disgusting racist theories which still burden the modern world. There were celebrity Moors in London, but the overall awareness would be of a faraway people, who to a greater or lesser degree were allied with the enemies of Christendom. After their early history (see Mauritania), the Moors were overrun by the Arabs in the 7th c., who replaced their religion and language and formed a dynamic culture. In the 8th c. the Moors defeated the Visigoths and conquered Spain.

Their attempt to move north into France was turned back by Charles Martel in 732, though they conquered Sicily in 827. Gradually the Christian reconquest drove them back until the only Moorish stronghold in Spain, Granada, fell in 1492.“The Iberian Moors, who had considerably intermarried, returned to Africa where they were known as Andalusians, and scattered over the enormous range of the Moors, from the Mediterranean to the Senegal river, and from the Atlantic to Timbuktu.” 

Source:  The Shakespeare Name Dictionary By J. Madison Davis, Daniel A. Frankforter

“Ever since the Andalusians had turned on alMutawakkil, however, al-Mansur had held them in suspicious respect, even going so far as to have a spy monitor them at the Battle of Wadi al-Makazin. After having their leader, al-Dughali, disposed of he retained substantial Andalusian troops, but drew his senior commanders from the ranks of the renegados, who commanded what was essentially a standing professional army of twenty-six thousand troops, with another twenty-five thousand scattered throughout the country.  Smith, Ahmad al-Mansur, 52. This of course changed over time. By 1602, according to Weston F. Cook, something resembling a standing national army consisted of some fifty thousand men under al-Mansur’s direct command stationed around Marrakech. Discrete units made up of Turks, Algerians, and Andalusians remained, with commanders drawn from their ranks and well as from those of renegados. Most of the cavalry were Moroccans organized by region or as jaysh tribes. By the end of his reign al-Mansur had also introduced black Sudanese slaves to the army. Cook, The Hundred Years War, 261.”

Source: MOROCCO IN THE EARLY ATLANTIC WORLD, 1415-1603 A Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History By Earnest W. Porta, Jr., J.D