UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Phoenicians, Carthage and Rome

The first invaders are believed to have been the Phoenicians, coming from the land known then as Caanan in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 12th Century BC. Phoenician traders, who had penetrated the western Mediterranean before the twelfth century B.C., set up depots for salt and ore along the coast and up the rivers of the territory that is now Morocco.

Gradually they established trading posts along the north coast of Africa and traces at their occupation have been found at Lixus (Liks), which was probably the earliest, Tangier (Tangis)Mellilia (Russadir) Chellah part of Rahat and Tamuda (near Tetouan). These traces are usually in the form of fish-salting factories and are often heavily overlaid by Roman remains. The Phoenicians were essentially a maritime people, not interested in conquering or colonizing, and paying scant attention to he primitive berber tribes and poor agricultural land of the interior; therefore, their colonies were little more than enclaves along the coast, separated by great open spaces of wasteland which they did not need.

The Phoenician's main center of influence was Carthage (Tunisia).Carthage developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes of the interior and paid them an annual tribute to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials. When Carthage became an independent state, the more civilized Carthaginians arrived and turned the north coast settlements into prosperous towns:they are known to have developed the fish salting and preserving into quite a major industry and their anchovy paste, called "garum" was widely exported. They also grew wheat and probably introduced the grape.

By the fifth century B.C., Carthage had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa. By the second century B.C., several large, although loosely administered, Berber kingdoms had emerged. The Berber kings ruled in the shadow of Carthage and Rome, often as satellites. The Carthaginians exercised a considerable cultural influence on the Berbers even long after the Sack of Carthage in 146 BC; indeed, it probably increased at that time as hundreds of Carthagians fled westwards and took refuge from the Romans in the friendly enclaves along the coast.

After they had taken Carthage, the Romans moved westwards into the Berber kingdoms of Mauritania and Numidia (Algeria now) which became part of the Roman Empire. The area was annexed to the Roman Empire in A.D. 40. Rome controlled the vast, ill-defined territory through alliances with the tribes rather than through military occupation, expanding its authority only to those areas that were economically useful or that could be defended without additional manpower. Hence, Roman administration never extended outside the restricted area of the coastal plain and valleys.

In 13 BC the Emperor Octavius granted the kingdom of Mauritania to the young Berber prince, Juba, son of Juba I of Numidia who had committed suicide 13 years earlier after the defeat by the Romans at the battle of Thapsus. In 25 they added the whole of Numidia to his realm. Educated in Rome and married to the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, known as Cleopatra-Stlene, his pedigree was unimpeccabte and he ruled wisely, probably living in Volubilis. This had already become a berher town of some standing betore the Romans arrived, due in part to the natural fertility of the region surrounding it and in part to the Carthaginians enabling the Berbers to get the best out of the land.

Christianity was introduced in the second century and gained converts in the towns and among slaves and Berber farmers. By the end of the fourth century, the Romanized areas had been Christianized, and inroads had been made as well among the Berber tribes, who sometimes converted en masse. But schismatic and heretical movements also developed, usually as forms of political protest. The area had a substantial Jewish population as well.

The next 400 years formed Morocco's Dark Age and very little is known about this period. The Vandals and Goths who were sweeping through Spain may have touched the northern tip of Morocco on their way eastwards to Carthage but there are no traces that they stayed. The Berbers in the mountains and the desert continued life much as before. The Romnanised, part-Christian, Berber Mauritanians of the cities of Volubilis, Sala Colonia,(Chella) Tingis and others held on to their mixed cultural heritage and maintained a degree of civilization, as evidenced by one or two Latin inscriptions, found in several places, which date from as late as the mid 7C. But the weak and divided nature of the country was to prove no match at all for the next wave of invaders.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list