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Roman power In Africa was supported by a series of client-states and tribal allies who functioned as trade partners, military allies and enforcers of buffer zones for Rome. Amongst them, the most famous of these was a Moorish tribe known to us today as the Numidians, who formed a bulwark for Roman ambitions in north-western Africa and whose descendents live on as the Berber tribes of North Africa.

Early Africa and the BerbersEdit

The Sahara was not always a desert. Earlier from the 11th to 6th millenia BCE, it was a vast and fertile prairie. Animal husbandry appears to have been taken up by human inhabitants before agriculture, and was widespread in North Africa as early as 6000BCE. Rice and sorghum would be cultivated a thousand years, but soon disappeared as the Sahara began drying up, resulting in migrations westward and eastward, and nomadic pastoralism, particularly cattle ranching, became the mainstay of of the new African societies in response to climate change.

One of the groups of these new nomads who settled in North Africa would be called by archaeologists the Proto-Berbers, who migrated eastwards towards the Egyptian Desert, and westwards towards the Atlantic. Rock art from the northern Sahara dating from the 4th millenium BCE reveals that the local inhabitants were fairly sophisticated — they domesticated horses and used chariots, and appeared to be familiar with both metalworking and writing alike. Greek historians would later call those east of Carthage "Libyans" (in following the Egyptians who called one of the groups who settled nearby the Lbouw or Rbouw), and those to the west, "Numidians". It is thought that the Berbers may also have migrated northwards into Spain, where they intermingled with other tribes to form the distinct Celto-Iberian culture.

The Two TribesEdit

By the onset of the post-Alexandrine era in Western history, however, the Numidians were now divided into two tribes: the Masaesyli who settled mostly in the Atlas Mountains of present-day Algeria, and the Massyli whose close proximity to Carthage eventually aligned them with the Carthaginians.

When the Second Carthagninian War broke out, the Numidian tribes began to take sides. The Massyli under their king Gala reasserted his allegiance to Carthage, while his rival Syphax chose to ally with the Romans. In the way of a Carthaginian defeat and a succession crisis in the Massylian kingdom, Syphax was able to conquer vast swathes of territory from the Massyli, then unwisely tried to switch sides to Carthage. The plot backfired, and Syphax was subsequently deposed and his daughter was forced to commit suicide, and the Massyli king Massinissa managed to take over, merging the lands of both tribes into a single Numidian kingdom by 238 BCE.

As a ruler, however, Massinissa was a very ambitious ruler, and attempted to use the weakness of his former Carthaginian ally to expand his territory further. 

Annexation into RomeEdit

The conversion of Numidian lands into new territories for the Roman Empire did not occur overnight, and took place through a mixture of war, cultural assimilation as well as astute diplomacy on Rome's part.

By 112, Jugurtha resumed his war with Adherbal. He incurred the wrath of Rome in the process by killing some Roman businessmen who were aiding Adherbal. After a brief war with Rome, Jugurtha surrendered and received a highly favourable peace treaty, which raised suspicions of bribery once more. The local Roman commander was summoned to Rome to face corruption charges brought by his political rival Gaius Memmius. Jugurtha was also forced to come to Rome to testify against the Roman commander, where he was completely discredited once his violent and ruthless past became widely known, and after he had been suspected of murdering a Numidian rival. War broke out between Numidia and the Roman Republic and several legions were dispatched to North Africa under the command of the Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus. The war dragged out into a long and seemingly endless campaign as the Romans tried to defeat Jugurtha decisively. Frustrated at the apparent lack of action, Metellus’ lieutenant Gaius Marius returned to Rome to seek election as Consul. Marius was elected, and then returned to Numidia to take control of the war. He sent his Quaestor Lucius Cornelius Sulla to neighbouring Mauretania in order to eliminate their support for Jugurtha. With the help of Bocchus I of Mauretania, Sulla captured Jugurtha and brought the war to a conclusive end.

After the death of Jugurtha, western Numidia was added to the lands of Bocchus, king of Mauretania, while the remainder (excluding Cyrene and its locality) continued to be governed by native princes until the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. After Cato the Younger was defeated by Caesar, he committed suicide (46 BC) in Utica, and Numidia became briefly the province of Africa Nova until Augustus restored Juba II (son of Juba I) after the Battle of Actium. Soon afterwards, in 25 BC, Juba was transferred to the throne of Mauretania, and Numidia was divided between Mauretania and the province of Africa Nova. Under Septimius Severus (193 AD), Numidia was separated from Africa Vetus, and governed by an imperial procurator. Under the new organization of the empire by Diocletian, Numidia was divided in two provinces: the north became Numidia Cirtensis, with capital at Cirta, while the south, which included the Aurès Mountains and was threatened by raids, became Numidia Militiana, “Military Numidia”, with capital at the legionary base of Lambaesis. Subsequently however, Emperor Constantine the Great reunited the two provinces in a single one, administered from Cirta, which was now renamed Constantina (modern Constantine, Algeria) in his honour. Its governor was raised to the rank of consularis in 320, and the province remained one of the seven provinces of the diocese of Africa until the invasion of the Vandals in 428 AD, which began its slow decay, accompanied by desertification. It was restored to Roman rule after the Vandalic War, when it became part of the new praetorian prefecture of Africa.

Numidia became highly Romanized and was studded with numerous towns. The chief towns of Roman Numidia were: in the north, Cirta or modern Constantine, the capital, with its port Russicada (Modern Skikda); and Hippo Regius (near Bône), well known as the see of St. Augustine. To the south in the interior military roads led to Theveste (Tebessa) and Lambaesis (Lambessa) with extensive Roman remains, connected by military roads with Cirta and Hippo, respectively. Lambaesis was the seat of the Legio III Augusta, and the most important strategic centre. It commanded the passes of the Aurès Mountains (Mons Aurasius), a mountain block that separated Numidia from the Gaetuli Berber tribes of the desert, and which was gradually occupied in its whole extent by the Romans under the Empire. Including these towns, there were altogether twenty that are known to have received at one time or another the title and status of Roman colonies; and in the 5th century, the Notitia Dignitatum enumerates no fewer than 123 sees whose bishops assembled at Carthage in 479.

The African province was amongst the wealthiest regions in the Empire (rivaled only by Egypt, Syria and Italy itself) and as a consequence people from all over the Empire migrated into the Roman Africa Province, most importantly veterans in early retirement who settled in Africa on farming plots promised for their military service. Historian Theodore Mommsen estimated that under Hadrian nearly 1/3 of the eastern Numidia population (roughly modern Tunisia) was descended from Roman veterans. Even so, the Roman military presence of North Africa was relatively small, consisting of about 28,000 troops and auxiliaries in Numidia and the two Mauretanian provinces. Starting in the 2nd century AD, these garrisons were manned mostly by local inhabitants. A sizable Latin speaking population developed that was multinational in background, sharing the north African region with those speaking Punic and Berber languages.[1][2] Imperial security forces began to be drawn from the local population, including the Berbers. Abun-Nasr, in his A History of the Maghrib, said that “What made the Berbers accept the Roman way of life all the more readily was that the Romans, though a colonizing people who captured their lands by the might of their arms, did not display any racial exclusiveness and were remarkably tolerant of Berber religious cults, be they indigenous or borrowed from the Carthaginians. However, the Roman territory in Africa was unevenly penetrated by Roman culture. Pockets of non-Romanized Berbers continued to exist throughout the Roman period, even in such areas as eastern Tunisia and Numidia.” By the end of the Western Roman Empire nearly all of the Maghreb was fully romanized, according to Mommsen in his The Provinces of the Roman Empire and the Roman Africans enjoyed a high level of prosperity. This prosperity (and romanization) touched partially even the populations living outside the Roman limes (mainly the Garamantes and the Getuli), who were reached with Roman expeditions to Sub-Saharan Africa.

ReferencesEdit

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