North Africa in Antiquity

North Africa

The Amazigh origins and the early formations of cities and kingdoms demonstrate a problem common in newly formed states, the need for a clear principle of succession. Major problems arise because of the lack of a method of succession and it proves to be their downfall. The attempts to Romanize North Africa though very influential on the culture, eventually fail and after being governed by Carthaginian, Roman, Vandal and then Byzantine governments, a reversion to the indigenous tribal structures takes place.
The Origins of the Amazigh lies in the Capsian stone industries of the eastern Maghreb or modern southern Tunisia. The Wet period after 7000 BCE allowed for this area to be inhabited by a population composed of various racial elements. The increase in productivity of the land allowed for population growth and a subsequent western expansion. Amazigh languages are all strikingly similar, suggesting a uniform movement of peoples in a relatively short period of time.

Around 3000 BCE contacts with the Mediterranean islands begin and by 1000 BCE North Africa is not very different from the rest of the Western Mediterranean. Most communities were farmers with a strong pastoral element in their economy and fairly elaborate cemeteries. By this time Amazigh languages were established throughout North Africa but there’s no evidence of how this took place. The population at this time is a range of Mediterranean types.

The Sahara and the Garamantes were a Neolithic civilization combining fishing and stock raising. They were Negroid peoples with a pastoral economy. Domestication of the horse gave Mediterranean groups in North Africa greater mobility. New technology and a stratified society allowed them to subjugate the existing black population, who had been put under stress by the drying out of the Sahara. A Warrior aristocracy subsequently gained ascendancy over the black groups of the Sahara.

The foundation of Carthage by the Phoenicians made a lasting cultural impact on the northern Maghreb. By 310 BCE Carthage controlled much of Northern Tunisia employing rich estates and slaves. By the third century a full-fledged empire was established, controlling much of Tunisia and eastern Algeria. The empire’s effect on the population was a process of emulation and competition, which slowly transformed Amazigh society.

The reaction to the growing territorial consolidation of Carthage was the formation of larger territorial entities by the Amazigh. The Carthaginians named them Numidians. The Numidians divided themselves into three kingdoms without significant influence from elsewhere: the kingdoms of Massyli, Masaesyli and Mauri. The Mauri’s in modern Morocco were ruled by king Baga, but the largest of the kingdoms was Masaesyli, covering the northern half of modern Algeria, ruled by Syphax. His ruling cities were Siga (W. Algeria) and Cirta ( E. Algeria)

Massyli was ruled by Gaia in a territory south of Constantine and all the way to the Tunisian coast at Gabes down to the lesser Syrtis. At this time there are contacts with the Greek world. Syphax ( Masaesyli) and Masinissa ( son of Gaia, king of Massyli) played important roles in the second Punic War. The Romans and Carthaginians realized their importance as well. Syphax and Masinissa both fought for the Romans, yet against each other, Masinissa generally losing.

Syphax eventually marries Sophonisba (daughter of a Punic general) and establishes an alliance with the Carthaginians, putting the two kingdoms formally at odds. Masinissa is eventually victorious alongside the Romans. He annexes eastern half of Masaelyi, and his territory becomes known as Numidia.

The Numidian landscape is composed of villages, mixed farming, and paying tribute, which is the only real connection between villages and the monarchy. The bulk of their cities were coastal and their main market language was Punic. Tribal social structures remained strong.

The royal cult of Baal Hammon was mainly for royal court, while a vast number of local gods were for the tribes of the Hellenistic Kings. The cult of the dead is a distinguishing characteristic of the Amazigh in antiquity. They connected their dead with notions of fertility of the soil and control of the future. Tombs had special rooms in them for sleeping because they believed that dreams of those who slept in their tombs were responses from the dead. These tombs were major monuments to Amazigh kings.

A Large number of inscriptions with the Libyan alphabet emerge at this time. Libyan language and script soon comes into its own as a form of expression.

The whole of North Africa was absorbed by the Roman Empire through struggle. The Jugurthian War demonstrates essential characteristics of Amazigh military resistance. They utilized Roman techniques alongside Numidian cavalry and guerilla tactics. By 146 BCE Rome annexed Carthage’s territories, creating the province of Africa.

Masinissa’s son Micipsa left his kingdom to two sons and a nephew. The nephew, Jugurtha, kills one cousin and in the course of attacking the other, upsets the Romans. Rome declares war on Jugurtha, who flees to the Gaetuli. There, his father in law Bocchus hands him over to the Romans.

In the course of the war, Romans terrorized the countryside. Massacres and the sale of entire female populations of the cities into slavery needless to say, did not leave a good impression of the Romans on the Numidian population.

Following Jugurtha was his brother Gauda, Gauda’s son Hiempsal II, and Hiempsall’s son Juba II. The kingdom in the meantime remained relatively prosperous. By 46 BCE Juba II was defeated by Caesar. His territory is divided and when Bocchus II willed Mesopotamia to Octavian in 33 BCE, most of North Africa was in Roman control.

Mauritania is eventually given to Juba II. Cleopatra Selene (daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony) becomes his wife and they rule over a Hellenistic kingdom consisting of royal tombs, a cult of Isis, capital- roman town planning, widespread use of slaves (with Greek names). Although slavery did not survive because it was ill adapted to the tribal economic structures of Caesaria’s territory. His kingdom lacked any reference to its indigenous culture and in response there were revolts to his rule.

The Gaetulian’s rebelled against Juba II’s submission to Rome. They consistently resisted them through armed rebellion and refusal to pay taxes. In 17 CE Tacfarinas, a Musulamian chief, led uprisings against Rome. Joined by the Gaetulians, Mauris and Cinithians, the entire southern border of North Africa was in revolt. Working in the favor of the rebels was the incompetency of King Ptolemy. When Caligula murders Ptolemy, the last of the Amazigh kingdoms ends.

Roman policy was to co-opt tribal leaders and through them control the tribe. Chiefs co-operated because it offered them a chance at Roman citizenship and it privatized tribal land. Landlords had more coercive power under Roman rule while, of course, peasants had little change in lifestyle.

Auxiliary units of Numidian cavalry allowed for status and possibility of Roman citizenship. This kept the indigenous cultural aspect of fighting intact.

Within the structure of Roman Africa, all segments of society (excluding any slaves) had positive inducement to cooperate with the new order. Tribal structures persisted through the empire and Rome had become a source of legitimization even on its periphery where it didn’t effectively control. Tribal leaders used Roman adornments and iconography to acquire and maintain power.

Soon, Mauritania, Southern Numidia, and Tripolitania were shaken by raiding parties and revolts. Aggression continued into the late empire and created insecurity throughout the countryside. By 300 CE, wealth becomes more concentrated. Art and design become more materially brilliant. And in 429-440 CE, the Vandals come to power. Mountain and pre-desert areas escaped control after the conquest with the periphery mostly in the hands of tribal chiefs.

With the Byzantine reconquest in 530 CE, a huge step backward is taken. The Greek language is implemented. There is no more urban aristocracy, no local hierarchy, no administrative structure, no network of services and kinship and tribal structures re emerge as the basis of the elite.

What is clearly visible is that the indigenous methods of village administration were the Amazigh own creation. Sub-groupings and other tribal structures persisted even after the years of onslaught of foreign rule


Views: 3993 - 1413 visitors

1 Comment

  1. Qamar says:

    nice and informative

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2005 - 2012 | Portal dedicated to the Amazigh culture · Designed & Hosted by Cap Connect - Google+ - Spirituality & Consciousness