Berbers In North Africa The modern-day region of Maghrib – the Arab West consisting of present-day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia – is inhabited predominantly by Muslim Arabs, but it has a large Berber minority. North Africa served as a transit region for peoples moving toward Europe or the Middle East. Thus, the region’s inhabitants have been influenced by populations from other areas. Out of this mix developed the Berber people, whose language and culture, although pushed from coastal areas by conquering and colonizing Carthaginians, Romans, and Byzantines, dominated most of the land until the spread of Islam and the coming of the Arabs. The purpose of this research is to examine the influence of the Berbers on North Africa. The cave paintings found at Tassili-n-Ajjer, north of Tamanrasset, and at other locations depict vibrant and vivid scenes of everyday life in the central Maghrib between about 8000 B.C.
and 4000 B.C. They were executed by a hunting people in the Capsian period of the Neolithic age who lived in a savanna region teeming with giant buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, animals that no longer exist in the now-desert area. The pictures provide the most complete record of a prehistoric African culture. Earlier inhabitants of the central Maghrib have left behind equally significant remains. Early remnants of hominid occupation in North Africa, for example, were found in Ain el Hanech, near Saida (200,000 B.C.). Later, Neanderthal tool makers produced hand axes in the Levalloisian and Mousterian styles (43,000 B.C.) similar to those in the Levant.
According to some sources, North Africa was the site of the highest state of development of Middle Paleolithic flake-tool techniques. Tools of this era, starting about 30,000 B.C. are called Aterian ( after the site Bir el Ater, south of Annaba) and are marked by a high standard of workmanship, great variety, and specialization. The earliest blade industries in North Africa are called Ibero-Maurusian or Oranian (after a site near Oran). The industry appears to have spread throughout the coastal regions of the Maghrib between 15,000 and 10,000 B.C.
Between about 9,000 and 5,000 B.C., the Capsian culture began influencing the Ibero- Maurusian, and after about 3,000 B.C. the remains of just one human type can be found throughout the region. Neolithic civilization (marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghrib between 6,000 and 2,000 B.C. This type of economy, so richly depicted in the Tassil-n-Ajjer cave paintings, predominated in the Maghrib until the classical period. The amalgam of peoples of North Africa coalesced eventually into a distinct native population that came to be called Berbers. Distinguished primarily by cultural and linguistic attributes, the Berbers lacked a written language and hence tended to be overlooked or marginalized in the historical accounts.
Roman, Greeks, Byzantine, and Arab Muslim chroniclers typically depicted the Berbers as barbaric enemies, troublesome nomands, or ignorant peasants. They were, however, to play a major role in the area’s history. Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 B.C. and established Carthage ( in present-day Tunisia) around 800 B.C. By the sixth century B.C., a Phoenician presence existed at Tipasa (east of Cherchell in Algeria). From their principal center of power at Carthage, the Carthaginians expanded and established small settlements (called emporia in Greek) along the North African coast; these settlements eventually served as market towns as well as anchorages. Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) and Rusicade (modern Skikda) are among the towns of Carthaginian origin on the coast of present-day Algeria. As Carthaginian power grew, its impact on the indigenous population increased dramatically. Berber civilization was already at a stage in which agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and political organization supported several states. Trade links between Carthage and the Berbers in the interior grew, but territorial expansion also resulted in the enslavement or military recruitment of some Berbers and in the extraction of tribute from others.
By the early fourth century B.C., Berbers formed the single largest element of the Carthaginian army. In the Revolt of the Mercenaries, Berbers soldiers rebelled from 241 to 238 B.C. after being unpaid following the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War. They succeeded in obtaining control of much of Carthage’s North African territory, and they minted coins bearing the name Libyan, used in Greek to describe natives of North Africa. The Carthaginian state declined because of successive defeats by the Romans in the Punic Wars; in 146 B.C.
the city of Carthage was destroyed. As carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew. By the second century B.C., several large but loosely administered Berber kingdoms had emerged. Two of them were established in Numidia, behind the coastal areas controlled by Carthage. West of Numidia lay Mauretania, which extended across the Moulouya River in Morocco to the Atlantic Ocean. The high point of Berber civilization, unequaled until the coming of the Almohads and Almoravids more than a millennium later, was reached during the reign of Masinissa in the second century B.C. After Masinissa’s death in 148 B.C., the Berber kingdoms were divided and reunited several times. Masinissa’s line survived until A.D.
24, when the remaining Berber territory was annexed to the Roman Empire. Increases in urbanization and in the area under cultivation during Roman rule caused wholesale dislocations of Berber society. Nomadic tribes were forced to settle or move from tradional rangelands. Sedentary tribes lost their autonomy and the connection with the land. Berber opposition to the Roman presence was nearly constant.
The Roman emperor Trajan (ruled from 98-117 A.D.) established a frontier in the south by encircling the Aures and Nemencha mountains and building a line of forts from Vescera (modern Biskra) to Ad Majores (Hennchir Besseriani, southeast of Biskra). The defensive line extended at least as far as Castellum Dimmidi (modern Messaad, southwest of Biskra), Roman Algeria’s southernmost fort. Romans settled and developed the area around Sitifis (modern Setif) in the second century, but farther west the influence of Rome did not extend beyond the coast and principal military roads until much later. The Roman military presence in North Africa was relatively small, consisting of about 28,000 troops and auxiliaries in Numidia and the two Mauretanian provinces. Starting in the second century A.D.,these garrisons were manned mostly by local inhabitants.
Aside from Carthage, urbanization in North Africa came in part with the establishment of settlements of veterans under the Roman emperors Claudius (ruled 41-54 A.D.), Nerva (ruled 96-98 A.D.), and Trajan. In Algeria such settlements included Tipasa, Cuicul (modern Djemila, northeast of Setif), Thamugadi (modern Timgad, southeast of Setif), and Sitifis. The prosperity of most towns depended on agriculture. Called the granary of the empire, North Africa, according to one estimate, produced one million tons of cereals each year, one-quarter of which was exported. Other crops included fruit, figs, grapes, and beans. By the second century A.D., olive oil rivaled cereals as an export item.
The beginnings of the decline of the Roman Empire were less serious in North Africa than elsewhere. There were uprisings, however. In A.D. 238, landowners rebelled unsuccessfully against the emperor’s fiscal policies. Sporadic tribal revolts in the Mauretanian mountains followed from 253 to 288. The towns also suffered economic difficulties, and building activity almost ceased.
The towns of Roman North Africa had a substantial Jewish population. Some Jews were deported from Palestine in the first and second centuries A.D. for rebelling against Roman rule; others had come earlier with Punic settlers. In addition, a number of Berber tribes had converted to Judaism. Christianity arrived in the second century and soon gained converts in the towns and among slaves. More than eighty bishops, some from distant frontier regions of Numidia, attended the COuncil of Carthage in 256.
By the end of the fourth century, the settled areas had become Christianized, and some Berber tribes had converted en masse. A division in the church that came to be known as the Donatist controversy began in 313 among Christians in North Africa. The Donatists stressed the holiness of the church and refused to accept the authority to administer the sacraments of those who had surrendered the scriptures when they were forbidden under the Emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305). The Donatists also opposed the involvement of Emperor Constantine (ruled 306-337) in church affairs in contrast to the majority of Christians who welcomed official imperial recognition. The occasionally violent controversy has been characterized as a struggle between opponents and supporters of the Roman system.
The most articulate North African critic of the Donatist position, which came to be called a heresy, was Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius. Augustine (354-430) maintained that the unworthiness of a minister did not affect the validity of the sacraments because their true minister was Christ. In his sermons and books, Augustine, who is considered a leading exponent of Christian truths, evolved a theory of the right of orthodox Christian rulers to use force against schismatics and heretics. Although the dispute was resolved by a decision of an imperial commission in Carthage in 411, Donatist communities continued to exist through the sixth century. Led by their king, Gaiseric, some 80,000 Vandals, a Germanic tribe, crossed into Africa from Spain in 429. In the following year, the invaders advanced without much opposition to Hippo Regius, which they took after a siege in which Augustine died.
After further advances, the Vandals in 435 made an agreement with Rome to limit their control to Numidia and Mauretania. But in 439 Gaiseric conquered and pillaged Carthage and the rest of the province of Africa. The resulting decline in trade weakened Roman control. Independent kingdoms emerged in mountainous and desert areas, towns were overrun, and Berbers, who had previously been pushed to the edges of the Roman Empire, returned. Belisarious, general of the Byzantine emperor Justinian based in Constantinople, landed in North Africa in 533 with 16,000 men and within a year destroyed the Vandal kingdom.
Local opposition delayed full Byzantine control of the region for twelve years, however, and imperial control, when it came, was but a shadow of the control exercised by Rome. Although an impressive series of fortifications were built, Byzantine rule was compromised by official corruption, incompetence, military weakness, and lack of concern in Constantinople for African affairs. As a result, many rural areas reverted to Berber rule. Unlike the invasions of previous religions and cultures, the coming of Islam, which was spread by Arabs, was to have pervasive and long-lasting effects on the Maghrib. The new faith, in its various forms, would penetrate nearly all segments of society, bringing with it armies, learned men, and fervent mystics, and in large part replacing tribal practices and loyalties with new social norms and political idioms. Nonetheless, the Islamization and arabization of the region were complicated and lengthy processes. Whereas nomadic Berbers were quick to convert and assist the Arab invaders, not until the twelfth century under the Almohad Dynasty did the Christian and Jewish communities become totally marginalized.
The first Arab military expeditions into the Maghrib, between 642 and 669, resulted in the spread of Islam. These early forays from a base in Egypt occured under local initiative rather than under orders from the central caliphate. When the seat of the caliphate moved from Medina to Damascus, however, the Umayyads (a Muslim dynasty ruling from 661 to 750) recognized that the strategic necessity of dominating the Mediterranean dictated a concerted military effort on the North African front. In 670, therefo …