Map of the Roman Empire - Africa

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Africa Roman province former Carthaginian territory in modern Tunisia, conquered and Romanized, with coastal extension. East: civilized and Latin-speaking.

Africa, Tunis. Originally subject to Carthage, a colony of Tyre. Made a Roman province by Scipio Ǽmilianus, B. C. 146. - Carthage. Utica. Zama. Thapsus. - Ancient Geography

(from the Punic Frigi, a district on the north coast). A name used by the ancients in two senses:

1. for the whole continent of Africa, and
2. for the portion of North Africa which the Romans erected into a province.

In the more general sense, the name was not used by the Greek writers; and its use by the Romans arose from the extension to the whole continent of the name of a part of it. The proper Greek name for the continent is Libya (Λιβύη).

Considerably before the historical period of Greece begins, the Phoenicians extended their commerce over the Mediterranean, and founded several colonies on the north coast of Africa, of which Carthage was the chief. The Greeks knew very little of the country until the foundation of the Dorian colony of Cyrené (B.C. 620), and the intercourse of Greek travelers with Egypt in the sixth and fifth centuries; and even then their knowledge of all but the part near Cyrené was derived from the Egyptians and Phoenicians. who sent out some remarkable expeditions to explore the country. A Phoenician fleet sent by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho (about B.C. 600) was said to have sailed from the Red Sea, around Africa, and so into the Mediterranean: the authenticity of which story is still a matter of dispute. We still possess an authentic account of another expedition, which the Carthaginians dispatched under Hanno (q.v.) (about B.C. 510), and which reached a point on the west coast nearly, if not quite, as far as latitude 10 degrees north. In the interior, the Great Desert (Sahara) interposed a formidable obstacle to discovery; but, even before the time of Herodotus, the people on the northern coast told of individuals who had crossed the desert, and had reached a great river flowing towards the east, with crocodiles in it, and black men living on its banks, which, if the story be true, was probably the Niger in its upper course, near Timbuctoo. There were great differences of opinion as to the boundaries of the continent. Some divided the whole world into only two parts, Europe and Asia, but were not agreed to which of these two Libya (i. e. Africa) belonged; and those who recognized three divisions differed again in placing the boundary between Libya and Asia either on the west of Egypt or along the Nile, or at the isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea: the last opinion gradually prevailed. Herodotus divides the inhabitants of Africa into four races: two native, namely, the Libyans and the Ethiopians; and two foreign, namely, the Phoenicians and the Greeks. The Libyans, however, were a Caucasian race; the Ethiopians of Herodotus correspond to our Negro races.

The whole of the north of Africa fell successively under the power of Rome, and was finally divided into provinces as follows:

1. Aegyptus;
2. Libya, including (a) Libyae Nomos or Libya Exterior, (b) Marmarica, (c) Cyrenaïca;
3. Africa Propria, the former empire of Carthage;
4. Numidia;
5. Mauretania, divided into (a) Sitifensis, (b) Caesariensis, (c) Tingitana: these, with
6. Aethiopia, make up the whole of Africa, according to the divisions recognized by the latest of the ancient geographers. The northern district was better known to the Romans than it is to us, and was extremely populous and flourishing. Africa Propria or Provincia, or simply Africa, was the name under which the Romans, after the Third Punic War, B.C. 146, erected into a province the whole of the former territory of Carthage. It extended from the river Musca, on the west, which divided it from Numidia, to the bottom of the Syrtis Minor, on the southeast.

It was divided into two districts (regiones), namely,
1. Zeugis or Zeugitana, the district round Carthage;
2. Byzacium or Byzacena, south of Zeugitana, as far as the bottom of the Syrtis Minor. It corresponds to the modern regency of Tunis. The province was full of flourishing towns, and was extremely fertile; it furnished Rome with its chief supplies of corn.

In the days of Strabo, the earlier knowledge possessed by the ancients of Africa was little, if at all, improved. The Mediterranean coast and the banks of the Nile were the only ports frequented by the Greeks. Their opinion respecting the continent itself was that it formed a trapezium, or else that the coast from the Columns of Hercules to Pelusium might be considered as the base of a rightangled triangle of which the Nile formed the perpendicular side, extending to Aethiopia and the ocean, while the hypothenuse was the coast comprehended between the extremity of this line and the straits. The apex of the triangle reached beyond the limits of the habitable world, and was consequently regarded as inaccessible. The knowledge of the day respecting the eastern and western coast of Africa appears to have extended no farther than 12 degrees north latitude, or perhaps 12¡ 30'. The two sides were supposed to approximate, and between the Hesperii Aethiopes to the west and the cinnamomifera regio to the east, the distance was supposed to be comparatively small. This intervening space was exposed to excessive heats, according to the common belief, which forbade the traveller's penetrating within its precincts; while, at a little distance beyond, the Atlantic and Indian oceans were brought to unite. The hypothesis which we have here stated made Africa terminate at about one half of its true length, and represented this continent as much smaller than Europe. On the other hand, the opinion of Hipparchus, which united eastern Africa to India, remained for a long period contemned, until Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy had adopted it. This adoption, however, did not prevent the previous hypothesis from keeping its ground in some measure in the west of Europe, where it contributed to the discovery of the route by the Cape of Good Hope. Africa, according to Pliny (vi. 33), was three thousand six hundred and forty-eight Roman miles from east to west. The length of the inhabited part of Africa was supposed nowhere to exceed two hundred and fifty Roman miles. Whatever may be the discussions to which the very corrupt state of the Roman numerals in the pages of Pliny are calculated to give rise, one thing is sufficiently evident, that the Romans knew only a third part of Africa. See the article Geographia, with the maps there given. - Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1898.

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Africa A´FRICA
A´FRICA (Aφρική: Adj. Afer, Africus, Africanus), the name by which the quarter of the world still called Africa was known to the Romans, who received it from the Carthaginians, and applied it first to that part of Africa with which they became first acquainted, namely, the part about Carthage, and afterwards to the whole continent. In the latter sense the Greeks used the name Libya (Ἀφρική only occurring as the Greek form of the Latin Africa); and the same name is continually used by Roman writers. In this work the continent is treated of under LIBYA; and the present article is confined to that portion of N. Africa which the Romans called specifically Africa, or Africa Propria (or Vera), or Africa Provincia (Ἀφρικὴ ἡ ἰδίως), and which may be roughly described as the old Carthaginian territory, constituted a Roman province after the Third Punic War (B.C. 146).

The N. coast of Africa, after trending W. and E. with a slight rise to the N., from the Straits of Gibraltar to near the centre of the Mediterranean, suddenly falls off to the S. at C. Bon (Mercurii Pr.) in 37° 4′ 20″ N. lat., and 10° 53′ 35″ E. long., and preserves this general direction for about 3° of latitude, to the bottom of the Gulf of Khabs, the ancient Lesser Syrtis; the three chief salient points of this E. part of the coast, namely, the promontories of Clypea (at the N., a little S. of C. Bon) and Caput Vada (Kapoudiah, about the middle), and the island of Meninx (Jerbah, at the S.), lying on the same meridian. The country within this angle, formed of the last low ridges by which the Atlas sinks down to the sea, bounded on the S. and SW. by the Great Desert, and on the W. extending about as far as 9° E. long., formed, roughly speaking, the Africa of the Romans; but the precise limits of the country included under the name at different periods can only be understood by a brief historical account.

That part of the continent of Africa, which forms the S. shore of the Mediterranean, W. of the Delta of the Nile, consists of a strip of habitable land, hemmed in between the sea on the N. and the Great Desert (Sāhăra) on the S., varying greatly in breadth in its E. and W. halves. The W. part of this sea-board has the great chain of ATLAS interposed as a barrier against the torrid sands of the Sāhăra; and the N. slope of this range, descending in a series of natural terraces to the sea, watered by many streams, and lying on the S. margin of the N. temperate zone, forms one of the finest regions on the surface of the earth. But, at the great bend in the coast above described (namely, about C. Bon), the chain of the Atlas ceases; and, from the shores of the Lesser Syrtis, the desert comes close to the sea, leaving only narrow slips of habitable land, till, at the bottom of another great bend to the S., forming the Greater Syrtis (Gulf of Sidra), the sand and water meet (about 19° E. long.), forming a natural division between the 2 parts of N. Africa. E. of this point lay CYRENAICA the history of which is totally distinct from that of the W. portion, with which we are now concerned.

For what follows, certain land-marks must be borne in mind. Following the coast E. of the Fretum Gaditanum (Straits of Gibraltar) to near 2° W. long., we reach the largest river of N. Africa, the MALVA Mulucha, or Molochath (Wady Mulwia or Mohalou), which now forms the boundary of Marocco [1.68] and Algier, and was an equally important frontier in ancient times. The next point of reference is a headland at about 4° E. long., the site of the ancient city of SALDAE E. of this, again, some-what beyond 6° E. long., is another frontier river, the AMPSAGA (Wady el Kebir): further on, near 8° E. long., another river, the RUBRICATUS ( Wady Seibous), at the mouth of which stood HIPPO REGIUS (Bonah); and, about 1° further E., the river TUSCA (Wady-ez-Zain). The last great river of this coast, W. of the great turning point (C. Bon), is the BAGRADAS (Majerdah), falling into the sea just below C. Farina, the W. headland (as C. Bon is the eastern) of the great Gulf of Tunis, near the centre of which a rocky promontory marks the site of Carthage. Lastly, let us note the bottom of the great gulf called the Lesser Syrtis, at the S. ex-tremity of the E. coast already noticed, with the neighbouring great salt-lake of Al-Sibkah, the ancient Palus Tritonis, between 33° and 34° N. lat.; N. and NW. of which the country is for the most part desert, as far as the SE. slopes of the Atlas chain. The country immediately around the lake itself forms the E.-most of a series of oases, which stretch from E. to W. along the S. foot of the Atlas chain, and along the N. margin of the Sāthăra, and thus mark out a natural S. frontier for this portion of N. Africa.

In the earliest times recorded, the whole N. coast of the continent W. of Egypt was peopled by various tribes of the great Libyan race, who must be care-fully distinguished from the Ethiopian or negro races of the interior. S. of the Libyan tribes, and on the N. limits of the Sāhăra, dwelt the GAETULI and GARAMANTES and S. of these, beyond the desert, the proper Ethiopians or negroes. The Libyans were of the Caucasian family of mankind, and for the most part of nomade habits. At periods so early as to be still mythical to the Greeks, colonists from the W. coasts of Asia settled on the shores of Africa, and especially on the part now treated of. Sallust has preserved a curious tradition respecting the earliest Asiatic colonists, to which a bare reference is enough (Jugurth. 18). The chief colonies were those of the Phoenicians, such as HIPPO ZARYTUS, UTICA, TUNES, HADRUMETUM, LEPTIS, and above all, though one of the latest, CARTHAGO In these settlements, the Phoenicians established themselves as traders rather than conquerors; and they do not seem to have troubled themselves about bringing the native peoples into subjection, except so far as was needful for their own security. Carthage, which was built on the most commanding position on the whole coast, gradually surpassed all the other Phoenician colonies, and brought them, as allies, if not as subjects, to acknowledge her supremacy. She also founded colonies of her own along the whole coast, from the Straits to the bottom of the Great Syrtis. The question of the extent and character of the Carthaginian dominion belongs to another article [CARTHAGO] ; but it is necessary here to advert briefly to its condition when the Romans first became acquainted with the country. At that time the proper territory of Carthage was confined within very narrow limits around the city itself. The sea-coast W. and S. of C. Bon, as far as the river Rubricatus and Hippo Regius on the W. and a point N. of Hadrumetum (about 36° N. lat.) on the S., and the parts inland along the river Bagradas, and between it and the sea, appear to have formed the original territory of Carthage, corresponding nearly to the region afterwards known as ZEUGITANA, but reaching further along the W. coast, and not so far inland on the SW. This, or even less, was the extent of country at first included by the Romans under the name of Africa, and to this very day it bears the same name, Frikiah or Afrikeah. It is remarkable that, neither in the wars of Agathocles nor of the Romans with Carthage in Africa, does any mention occur of military operations out of this limited district. But still, before the wars with Rome, the territory of Carthage had received some accession. On the E. coast, S. of 36° N. lat., flourishing maritime cities had been established, some--as Leptis and Hadrumetum---even before Carthage, and some by the Carthaginians. These cities were backed by a fertile but narrow plain, bounded on the W. by a range of mountains, which formed the original BYZACIUM a district, according to Pliny, 250 Roman miles in circuit, and extending S.-wards as far as Thenae, opposite the island of Cercina (in about 34° 30′ N. lat.), where the Lesser Syrtis was considered to begin. This district had been added to the possessions of the Carthaginians, and Polybius (3.23) speaks of their anxiety to conceal it from the knowledge of the Romans, as well as their commercial settlements further along the coast, called EMPORIA This word, Emporia, though afterwards used as the name of a district, denoted at first, according to its proper meaning, settlements established for the sake of commerce; and it appears to have included all the Phoenician and Carthaginian colonies along the whole coast from the N. extremity of the Lesser Syrtis to the bottom of the Greater Syrtis. Any possession of the E. part of this region, in a strictly territorial sense, would have been worthless from the nature of the country, but the towns were maintained as centres of commerce with the inland tribes, and as an additional security, besides the desert, against any danger from the Greek states of Cyrenaica.

Such was the general position of the Carthaginian dominion in Africa at the time of the Punic Wars; extending over their own immediate territory to about 80 miles S. of the capital, and along the E. coast of Tunis and isolated points on the W. part of the coast of Tripoli. The whole inner district in the central and SW. parts of the later province of Africa was in the possession of the Libyan tribes, whose services as mercenaries Carthage could obtain in war, but whom she never even attempted to subdue. These tribes are spoken of by Greek and Latin writers under a general name which describes their mode of life as wandering herdmen, Νομάδες, or, in the Latin form, NUMIDAE. They possessed the country along the N. coast as far W. as the Straits; but those of them that were settled to the W. of the river Mulucha were called by another name, Μαῦροι, perhaps from a greater darkness of complexion, and, after them, the Romans called the country W. of the Mulucha MAURETANIA; while that E. of the Mulucha, to the W. frontier of Carthage, and also SW. and S. of the Carthaginian possessions as far as the region of the Syrtes, was included under the general designation of NUMIDIA

In this region, at the time of the Second Punic War, two tribes were far more powerful than all the rest, namely, in the W. and larger portion, between the rivers Mulucha and Ampsaga, the MASSAESYLII, occupying the greater part of the modern Algier; and E. of them, from the river Ampsaga and round the whole inland frontier of Carthage, the MASSYLII, the residence of whose chieftain, called by the Romans [1.69] king, was at the strong natural fort of CIRTA (Costantineh): regular cities were, in their earlier history, almost, if not altogether, unknown to the Numidians. The relations of these tribes to Carthage are most important, as affecting the boundaries of Roman Africa.

The first chief of the Massylii mentioned in history, Gala, is supposed to have already deprived the Carthaginians of the important town of Hippo (Bonah), inasmuch as it is mentioned with the epithet of Regius in Livy's narrative of the Second Punic War (Liv. 29.3); but, for an obvious reason, we cannot lay much stress on this point of evidence. Much more important is it to bear in mind that, in these parts, the epithet Regius applied to a city does prove that it belonged, at some time, to the Numidian princes. In the Second Punic War we find Gala in league with the Carthaginians ; but their cause was abandoned in B.C. 206: by his son Masinissa, whose varied fortunes this is not the place to follow out in detail. Defeated again and again by the united forces of the Carthaginians and of Syphax, chief of the Massaesylii, he retired into their deserts of Inner Numidia, that is, the SE. part, about the Lesser Syrtis, and there maintained himself till the landing of Scipio in Africa, B.C. 204, when he joined the Romans and greatly contributed to their success. At the conclusion of the war, his services were amply rewarded. He was restored to his hereditary dominions, to which was added the greater part of the country of the Massaesylii; Syphax having been taken prisoner in B.C. 203, and sent to Rome, where he soon died. The conduct of the Romans on this occasion displayed quite as much policy as gratitude, and Masinissa's conduct soon showed that lie knew he had been set as a thorn in the side of Carthage. Under cover of the terms of the treaty and with the connivance of Rome, he made a series of aggressions on the Carthaginian territory, both on the NW. and on the SE., seizing the rich Emporia on the latter side, and, on the former, the country W. of the river Tusca, and the district called the Great Plain, SE. of the Bagradas around 36° N. lat., where the name of Zama Regia is a witness of Numidian rule. Thus, when his constant persecution at length provoked the Carthaginians to the act of resistance which formed the occasion of the Third Punic War, Masinissa's kingdom extended from the river Malva to the frontier of Cyrenaica, while the Carthaginians were hemmed up in the narrow NE. corner of Zeugitana which. they had at first possessed, and in the small district of Byzacium ; these, their only remaining possessions, extending along the coast from the Tusca to the N. extremity of the Lesser Syrtis, opposite Cercina.

Now, here we have the original limits of the Roman province of Africa. The treaty of peace, at the close of the Second Punic War, had assigned to Masinissa all the territory which his ancestors had ever possessed ; he had succeeded in carrying out this provision to its full extent, if not beyond it ; and at the close of the Third Punic War, the Romans left his sons their inheritance undiminished, Masinissa himself having died in the 2nd year of the war, B.C. 148. (Appian. Pun. 106.) Thus, the Roman province of Africa, which was constituted in B.C. 146, included only the possessions which Carthage had at last. Sallust (Sal. Jug. 19) accurately describes the state of the case under the successors of Masinissa:--“Igitur bello Jugurthino pleraque ex Punicis oppida et finis Carthaginiensium, quos novissume habuerant, populus Romanus per magistratus administrabat : Gaetulorum magna pars et Numidae usque ad flumen Mulucham sub Jugurtha erant.” And, as to the SE. frontier of the Roman province, we learn from Pliny (5.4. s. 3) that it remained as under Masinissa, and that Scipio Africanus marked out the boundary line between the Roman province and the princes (reges) of Numidia, by a fossa which reached the sea at Thenae, thus leaving the Emporia and the region of the Syrtes to the latter. Thus the province of Africa embraced the districts of Zeugitana and Byzacium, or the N. and, E. parts of the Regency of Tunis, from the river Tusca to Thenae at the N. end of the Lesser Syrtis. It was constituted by Scipio, with the aid of ten legati, or commissioners, appointed by the senate from its own body, as was usual when a conquered country was reduced to a province, and on the following terms. (Appian. Pun. 135; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.1. 9) Such ruins of Carthage as remained were to be utterly destroyed, and men were forbidden, under a curse, to dwell upon its site; the cities which had taken part with Carthage were devoted to destruction, and their land was partly made ager publicus (comp. Cic. l.c. 22), and partly assigned to those cities which had sided with Rome, namely, Utica, Thapsus, Leptis Minor, Acholla, Usalis, Teudalis, and probably Hadrumetum (Lex Thoria, lin. 79; Marquardt, Becker's Handbuch d. Röm. Alterth. vol. iii. pt. l. p. 226). Utica received all the land from Hippo Zarytus to Carthage, and was made the seat of government. The inhabitants, except of the favoured cities, were burthened with heavy taxes, assessed on persons as well as on the land. The province was placed under praetorian government, and was divided into conventus, we are not told how many, but from the mention of those of Zeugis (Oros. 1.2) and Hadrumetum (Hirt. Bell. Afr. 97), we may perhaps infer that the former included the whole N. district, Zeugis or Zeugitana, and the latter the S. district, Byzacium.

The war with Jugurtha caused no alteration of territories; but the Romans gained possession of some cities in the SE. part of Numidia, the chief of which was Leptis Magna, between the Syrtes. (Sal. Jug. 77.)

Africa played an important part in the Civil War of Pompey and Caesar. Early in the war, it was seized for the senate by Attius Varus, who, aided by Juba, king of Numidia, defeated and slew Caesar's lieutenant Curio: of the remains of Caesar's army, some escaped to Sicily, and some surrendered to Juba; and the province remained in the hands of the Pomipeian party, B.C. 49. (Caes. B.C. 2.23--44.) After Pompey's dea h, and while Caesar played the lover at Alexandria, and “came, saw, conquered” in Pontus (B.C. 47), the Pompeians gathered their forces for a final stand in Africa, under Q. Metellus Scipio, Afranius, and Petreius. These leaders were joined by Cato, who, having collected an army at Cyrene, performed a most difficult march round the shores of the Syrtes, and undertook the defence of Utica, the chief city of the province: how he performed the task, his surname and the story of his death have long borne witness. The Pompeians were supported by Juba, king of Numidia, but he was kept in check by the army of Bocchus and Bogud, kings of Mauretania, under P. Sittius, an adventurer, who had taken advantage of the discords [1.70] between the kings of Mauretania and Numidia to make a party of his own, composed of adventurers like himself, and who now espoused the cause of Caesar. (Appian. B.C. 4.54; D. C. 44.3.) Just before the close of B.C. 47, Caesar landed in Africa; and, after a brief but critical campaign, overthrew the united forces of the other party in the battle of Thapsus, in April, 46. The kingdom of Numidia was now taken possession of by Caesar, who erected it into a province, and committed its government to Sallustius, the historian, as proconsul, “in name,” says Dio Cassius, “to govern, but in deed to plunder.” (Hirt. B. Afr. 97; D. C. 43.9; Appian. B.C. 2.100.) Henceforth Numidia became known by the name of New Africa, and the former Roman province as Old Africa. (Appian. B.C. 4.53; Plin. Nat. 5.4. s. 3.) But further, within the province of New Africa itself, Caesar is said to have made a partition, to reward the services of Sittius and of the kings of Mauretania; giving to the latter the W. part of Numidia, as far E. (probably) as Saldae (possibly to the Ampsaga), and to the former the territory about Cirta. (Appian. B.C. 4.54.) Very probably this partition amounted to nothing more than leaving his allies, for the present, in possession of what they had already seized, especially as, in his anxiety to return to Rome, Caesar settled the affairs of Africa in great haste. (Dion, 43.14, τά τε ἄλλα ἐν τῇ Ἀφρικῇ διὰ βραχέος, ὡς ἐνῆν μάλιστα, καταστήσας.) Among the exiles from Africa of the defeated party, who had taken refuge with the sons of Pompey in Spain, was a certain Arabion, whom Appian (4.54) calls a son of a certain Masinissa, the ally of Juba. This man, after Caesar's murder, returned to Numidia, expelled Bocchus, and slew Sittius by stratagem. This story of Appian's is confused and doubtful, even with the help of a few obscure words in a letter of Cicero which have some appearance of confirming it. (Ad Att. 15.17, Arabioni de Sitio nihil iracscor; comp. D. C. 48.22.)

In the arrangements of the second triumvirate, B.C. 43, the whole of Africa was assigned to Octavian. (D. C. 46.55; Appian. B.C. 4.53.) T. Sextius, a former legate of Julius Caesar, was governor of the New Province; while Q. Cornificius and D. Laelius held Old Africa for the so-called republican party, and to them many betook themselves who had escaped from the cruelties of the triumvirs at Rome. A war ensued, the events of which are related differently by the historians; but it ended in the defeat and death of Cornificius and Laelius, B.C. 42. (Appian. B.C. 3.85, 4.36, 52--56; D. C. 48.21.) After another and successful struggle with C. Fango, which there is not space to relate (see D. C. 48.22-24; Appian. B.C. 5.12, 26, 75), Sextius found himself obliged to give up both the African provinces to Lepidus, to whom they had been assigned in the new arrangements made by the triumvirs after the battle of Philippi, and confirmed after the war of Perusia, B.C. 41. By the surrender and retirement of Lepidus, both the African provinces came into the power of Octavian, B.C. 36. In the general settlement of the empire after the overthrow of Antony, B.C. 30, Augustus restored to the young Juba, son of Juba I., his paternal kingdom of Numidia (D. C. 51.15); but shortly afterwards, B.C. 25, he resumed the possession of Numidia, giving Juba in exchange the two Mauretanias, the E. boundary of his kingdom being fixed at Saldae. (Strab. pp. 828, 831.) [MAURETANIA] Thus the two provinces of Africa were finally united to the Roman empire, consisting of Old Africa, or the ancient Carthaginian territory, namely, Zeugitana and Byzacium, and New Africa, or, as it was also called, Numidia Provincia; the boundaries being, on the W., at Saldae, where Africa joined Mauretania Caesariensis, and on the E., the monument of the Philaeni, at the bottom of the Great Syrtis, where Africa touched Cyrenaïca. The boundaries between Old and New Africa remained as before, namely, on the N. coast, the New Province was divided from the Old by the river Tusca, and on the E. coast by the dyke of Scipio, which terminated at Thenae, at the N. entrance of the Syrtis Minor. (Plin. Nat. 5.4. s. 3.) This province of Africa was assigned to the senate, and made a proconsular province, B.C. 27 (Strab. p. 840; D. C. 53.12).

A further change was made by Caligula, in two particulars. First, as to the western boundary: when, having put to death Ptolemy, the son of Juba II., he made his kingdom of Mauretania a Roman province, he also extended its boundary eastwards from Saldae to the river Ampsaga, which became thenceforth the W. boundary of Numidia, or New Africa. (Tac. Hist. 1.11.) But he also changed the government of the province. Under Augustus and Tiberius, the one legion (IIIa), which was deemed sufficient to protect the province against the barbarians on the S. frontier, had been under the orders of the proconsul; but Caligula, moved by fear of the power and popularity of the proconsul M. Silanus, deprived him of the military command, and placed the legion under a legatus of his own. (Tac. Hist. 4.48.) From the account of Dio Cassius, which is, however, obviously inexact in some points, it would seem that Numidia was altogether separated from Africa, and made an imperial province under the legatus Caesaris. (D. C. 59.20: καὶ δίχα τὸ ἔθνος νείμας, ἑτέρῳ τό τε στρατιωτικὸν καὶ τοὺς νομάδας τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸ προσέταξε.) Tacitus does not mention this separation, but rather points out the evil results of the divided authority of the proconsul and legatus in a way which seems to imply that they had coordinate powers in the same province. A recent writer suggests that Numidia was always regarded, from the time of the settlement by Augustus, as a province distinct from Old Africa; that it may have been governed by a legatus under the proconsul; and that the only change made by Caligula was the making the legatus immediately dependent on the emperor (Marquardt, Becker's Rom. Alt. vol. iii. p. 229); and certainly, in the list given by Dio Cassius (53.12) of the provinces as constituted by Augustus, Numidia is mentioned as well as Africa. On the whole, however, it seems that the exact relation of the New sProvince of Africa to the Old, from the time of Caligula to that of Diocletian, must be considered as somewhat doubtful.

The above historical review may aid in removing the difficulty often found in understanding the statements of the ancient writers respecting the limits of Africa. Mela (1.7; comp. 100.6), writing in the reign of Claudius, gives Africa its widest extent, from the river Ampsaga and the promontory Metagonites on the W. (the same, doubtless, as the Tretum of Strabo, Ras Seba Rous, i. e. 7 Capes) to the Arae Philaenorum on the E.; while Pliny (5.4. s. 3), making Numidia extend from the Ampsaga to the Tusca, and Africa from the Tusca to the frontier of [1.71] Cyrenaïca, yet speaks of the 2 provinces in the closest connection (Numidiae et Africae ab Ampsaga longitude DLXXX. M. P.), and seems even to include them both under the name of Africa (Africa a fluvio Ampsaga populos xxvi. habet). Ptolemy (4.3) gives Africa the same extent as Mela, from the Ampsaga to the bottom of the Great Syrtis; while he applies the name New Numidia. (Νουμιδία νέα) to a part of the country, evidently corresponding with the later Numidia of other writers ( § 29), the epithet New being used in contradistinction to the ancient Numidia, the W. and greater part of which had been added to Mauretania. In Ptolemy's list of the provinces (8.29), Africa and Numidia are mentioned together.

In the 3rd century, probably under Diocletian, the whole country, from the Ampsaga to Cyrenaiïca, was divided into the four provinces of Numidia, Africa Propria or Zeugitana, Byzacium or Byzacena, and Tripolis or Tripolituna. (Sext. Ruf. Brev. 8.) Numidia no longer extended S. of Zeugitana and Byzacium, but that part of it was added to Byzacium; while its E. part, on and between the Syrtes, formed the province of Tripolitana. We are enabled to draw the boundary-lines with tolerable exactness by means of the records of the numerous ecclesiastical councils of Africa, in which the several bishoprics have the names of their provinces appended to them. (For the fullest information, see Morcelli, Africa Christiana, Brixiae, 1817, 3 vols. 4to.) Zeugitana, to which, in the revolution of time, the name of Africa had thus come to be again appropriated, remained a senatorial province under the Proconsul Africae, and was often called simply Proviacia Proconsularis ; the rest were imperial provinces, Byzacium and Numidia being governed by Consulares, and Tripolis by a Praeses. The Proconsul Africae (who was the only one in the W. empire, and hence was often called simply Proconsul) had under him two legati and a quaestor, besides legati for special branches of administration. His residence was at the restored city of Carthage. The other three provinces, as well as the two Mauretanias, were subject to the praetorian praefect of Italy, who governed them by his representative, the Vicanris Africae. (Böcking, Notitia Dognitatum, vol. ii. e. 17, 19, &c.) Referring for the remaining details to the articles on the separate provinces, we proceed to a brief account of the later ancient history of Africa.

At the time referred to, the name of Africa, besides its narrowest sense, as properly belonging to the proconsular province, and its widest meaning, as applied to the whole continent, was constantly used to include all the provinces of N. Africa, W. of the Great Syrtis, and the following events refer, for the most part, to that extent of country. At the settlement of the empire under Constantine, the African provinces were among the most prosperous in the Roman world. The valleys of Mauretania and Numidia, and the plains of Zeugitana and Byzacium, had always been proverbial for their fertility; and the great cities along the coast had a flourishing commerce. The internal tranquillity of Africa was seldom disturbed, the only formidable insurrection being that under the two Gordians, which was speedily repressed, A.D. 238. The emperors Septimius Severus and Macrinus were natives of N. Africa. Amidst the prosperous population of these peaceful provinces, Christianity had early taken firm root; the records of ecclesiastical history attest the great number of the African churches and bishoprics, and the frequency of their synods; and the fervid spirit of the Africans displayed itself alike in the steadfastness of their martyrs, the energy of their benevolence, the vehemence of their controversies, and the genius of their leading writers, as, for example, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.

But here, as on the other frontiers of the empire, the diminished vitality of the extremities bore witness to the declining energy of the heart. That perfect subjection of the native tribes, which forms such, a singular contrast with the modern history of Algeria, had already been disturbed; and we read of increased military forces, insurrections of native princes, and incursions of the Numidians, or, as they now came to be generally called, the Moors, even before the end of the 3rd century. There is not space to recount the wars and troubles in Africa during the struggles of Constantine and his competitors for the empire; nor those under his successors, including the revolt of Firmus, and the exploits of the count Theodosius, under the 1st and 2nd Valentinian (A.D. 373--376), the usurpation of Maximus, after the death of Valentinian II.; and the revolt of the count Gildon, after the death of Theodosius the Great, suppressed by Stilicho, A. D. 398. At the final partition of the empire, on the death of Theodosius (A.D. 395), the African provinces were assigned to the W. empire, under Honorius, whose dominions met those of his brother, Arcadius, at the Great Syrtis.

Under Valentinian III., the successor of Honorius, the African provinces were lost to the W. empire. Boniface, count of Africa, who had successfully defended the frontiers against the Moors, was recalled from his government by the intrigues of Aëtius, and on his resistance an army was sent against him (A.D. 427). In his despair, Boniface sought aid from the Vandals, who were already established in Spain; and, in May, 429, Geiserich (or Genserich) the Vandal king, led an army of about 50,000 Vandals, Goths, and Alans, across the Straits of Gades into Mauretania. He was joined by many of the Moors, and apparently favoured by the Donatists, a sect of heretics, or rather schismatics, who had lately suffered severe persecution. But, upon urgent solicitations front the court of Ravenna, accompanied by the discovery of the intrigues of Aëtius, Boniface repented of his invitation, and tried, too late, to repair his error. He was defeated and shut up in Hippo Regius; the only other cities left to the Romans being Carthage and Cirta. The Vandals overran the whole country from the Straits to the Syrtes ; and those fertile provinces were utterly laid waste amidst scenes of fearful cruelty to the inhabitants. The siege of Hippo lasted fourteen months. At length, encouraged by reinforcements from the eastern empire, Boniface hazarded another battle, in which he was totally defeated, A.D. 431. But the final loss of Africa was delayed by negotiation for some years, during which various partitions of the country were made between the Romans and the Vandals; but the exact terms of these truces are as obscure as their duration was uncertain. The end of one of them was signalized by the surprise and sack of Carthage, Oct. 9, 439; and before the death of Valentinian III. the Vandals were in undisputed possession of the African provinces. Leo, the emperor of the East, sent an unsuccessful expedition against them, under Heraclius, A.D. 468; and, in 476. Zeno made a treaty with Geiseric, [1.72] which lasted till the time of Justinian, under whom the country was recovered for the Eastern Empire, and the Vandals almost exterminated, by Belisarius, A.D. 533--534. (For an account of the Vandal kings of Africa, see VANDALI: for the history of this period, the chief authority is Procopius, Bell. Vand.)

Of the state and constitution of Africa under Justinian, we have most interesting memorials in two rescripts, addressed by the emperor, the one to Archelaus, the praetorian praefect of Africa, and the other to Belisarius himself. (Böking, Notit. Dign. vol. ii. pp. 154, foll.) From the former we learn that the seven African provinces, of which the island of Sardinia now made one, were erected into a separate praefecture, under a Praefectus Praetorio Magnificus; and the two rescripts settle their civil and military constitution respectively. It should be observed that Mauretania Tingitana (from the river Mulucha to the Ocean), which had formerly belonged to Spain, was now included in the African province of Mauretania Caesariensis. [Comp. MAURETANIA] The seven African provinces were (from E. to W.), (1) Tripolis or Tripolitana, (2) Byzacium or Byzacena, (3) Africa or Zeugis or Carthago, (4) Numidia, (5) Mauretania Sitifensis or Zaba, (6) Mauretania Caesariensis, and (7) Sardinia: the first three were governed by Consulares, the last four by Praesides.

The history of Africa under the E. empire consists of a series of intestine troubles arising from court intrigues, and of Moorish insurrections which became more and more difficult to repel. The splendid edifices and fortifications, of which Justinian was peculiarly lavish in this part of his dominions, were a poor substitute for the vital energy which was almost extinct. ( Aedif. Justin.) At length the deluge of Arabian invasion swept over the choicest parts of the Eastern Empire, and the conquest of Egypt was no sooner completed, than the Caliph Othman sent an army under Abdallah against Africa, A.D. 647. The praefect Gregory was defeated and slain in the great battle of Sufetula in the centre of Byzacena; but the Arab force was inadequate to complete the conquest. In 665 the enterprize was renewed by Akbah, who overran the whole country to the shores of the Atlantic; and founded the great Arab city of Al-Kairwan (i. e. the caravan), in the heart of Byzacium, about 20 miles S. W. of the ancient Hadrumetum. Its inland position protected it from the fleets of the Greeks, who were still masters of the coast. But the Moorish tribes made common cause with the Africans, and the forces of Akbah were cut to pieces. His successor, Zuheir, gained several battles, but was defeated by an army sent from Constantinople. The contest was prolonged by the internal dissensions of the successors of the prophet; but, in A.D. 692, a new force entered Africa under Hassan, the governor of Egypt, and Carthage was taken and destroyed in 698. Again were the Arabs driven out by a general insurrection of the Moors, or, as we now find them called, by the name ever since applied to the natives of N. Africa, the Berbers (from βάρβαροι); but the Greeks and Romans of Africa found their domination more intolerable than that of the Arabs, and welcomed the return of their conquerors under Musa, who subdued the country finally, and enlisted most of the Moors under the faith and standard of the prophet, A.D. 705--709. With the Arab conquest ends the ancient history of Africa. - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.


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Emerita Augusta




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Fair Havens


Forum Appius





Garonne River





Greater Syrtis

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Guadiana River


Halys River



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Hippo Regius









Jordan River


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Leptis Magna

Lesser Syritis


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Mauritania Caesariensis

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Mount Sinai


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Oceanus Atlanticus



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Sahara Desert







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Sinus Arabicus






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