- History of North Africa
North Africais a relatively thin strip of land between the Saharadesert and the Mediterranean, stretching from Moroccan Atlanticcoast to Egypt. The region comprises the modern countries, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Libyaand Egypt.] The history of the region is a mix of influences from many distinct cultures. The development of sea travel firmly brought the region into the Mediterraneanworld, especially during the classical period. In the first millennium ADthe Sahara became an equally important area for trade as the camelcaravans brought goods and people from the south. The region also has a small but crucial land link to the Middle East, and that area has also played a central role in the history of North Africa.
The earliest known
hominids in North Africaarrived around 200,000 BC. Through most of the Stone Agethe climatein the region was very different than today, the Sahara being far more moist and savannalike. Home to herds of large mammals, this area could support a large hunter-gathererpopulation and the Aterianculture that developed was one of the most advanced paleolithicsocieties.
Mesolithic, the Capsian culturedominated the region with Neolithicfarmers becoming predominant by 6000 BC. Over this period, the Sahara region was steadily drying, creating a barrier between North Africa and the rest of the African continent. Eventually North Africa became culturally and ethnically quite distinct from the rest of the continent.
The Nile Valley on the Eastern edge of North Africa is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. The desiccation of the Sahara is believed to have increased the population density in the Nile Valley and large cities developed. Eventually
Ancient Egyptunified in one of the world's first civilizations.
North Africa during the Classical Period, Ptolemaic Egypt, Roman Egypt"
The expanse of the
Libyan Desertcut Egypt off from the rest of North Africa. Egyptian boats, while well suited to the Nile, were not usable in the open Mediterranean. Moreover the small Egyptian merchant had far more prosperous destinations on Crete, Cyprusand the Levant.
Europeand the Phoenicians from Asiaalso settled along the coast of Northern Africa. Both societies drew their prosperity from the sea and from ocean-born trade. They found only limited trading opportunities with the native inhabitants, and instead turned to colonization. The Greek trade was based mainly in the Aegean, Adriatic, Black, and Red Seas and they only established major cities in Cyrenaica, directly to the south of Greece. In 332 BC, Alexander the Greatconquered Egyptand for the next three centuries it was ruled by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty.
Phoenicians developed an even larger presence in North Africa with colonies from Tripoli to the Atlantic. One of the most important Phoenician cities was Carthage, which grew into one of the greatest powers in the region. At the height of its power, Carthagecontrolled the Western Mediterranean and most of North Africa outside of Egypt. However, Rome, Carthage's major rival to the north, defeated it in a series of wars known as the Punic Wars, resulting in Carthage's destruction in 146 BCand the annexation of its empire by the Romans. In 30 BC, Roman EmperorOctavian conquered Egypt, officially annexing it to the Empire and, for the first time, unifying the North African coast under a single ruler.
The Carthaginian power had penetrated deep into the Sahara ensuring the quiescence of the
nomadic tribes in the region. The Roman Empirewas more confined to the coast, yet routinely expropriated Berber land for Roman farmers. They thus faced a constant threat from the south. A network of forts and walls were established on the southern frontier, eventually securing the region well enough for local garrisons to control it without broader Imperial support.
When the Roman Empire began to collapse, North Africa was spared much of the disruption until the
Vandalinvasion of 429AD. The Vandals ruled in North Africa until the territories were regained by Justinianof the Eastern Empire in the 6th century. Egypt was never invaded by the Vandals because there was a thousand mile buffer of desert.
Arrival of Islam
History of Arab Egypt, Rise of Islam in Algeria, Berbers and Islam, Muslim History, Islam in Africa"
The Arab Conquest
Umayyad conquest of North Africa, Byzantine-Arab Wars, and the Battle of Carthage (698)"
The Arab conquest of the Maghrib began in 642 AD when Amr ibn al-As, the governor of Egypt, invaded
Cyrenaica, advancing as far as the city of Tripoliby 645 AD. Further expansion into North Africa waited another twenty years, due to the First Islamic civil war. In 670 AD, Uqba ibn Nafi al-Fihiri invaded what is now Tunisiain an attempt to take the region from the Byzantine Empirebut was only partially successful. He founded the town of Kairouanbut was replaced by Abul-Muhajir Dinar in 674 AD. Abul-Muhajir successfully advanced into what is now eastern Algeriaincorporating the Berber confederation ruled by Kusailainto the Islamic sphere of influence. "A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, Cambridge University Press, 1987.]
In 681 AD Uqba was given command of the Arab forces again and advanced westward again in 682 AD, holding Kusaya as a hostage. He advanced as far as the Atlantic Ocean in the west and penetrated the
Draa RiverValley and the Sus region in what is now Morocco. However, Kusailaescaped during the campaign and attacked Uqba up his return and killed him near Biskrain what is now Algeria. After Uqba’s death, the Arab armies retreated from Kairouan, which Kusailatook as his capital. He ruled there until he was defeated by an Arab army under Zuhair ibn Kays. Zuhair himself was killed in 688 AD while fighting against the Byzantine Empirewho had reoccupied Cyrenaicawhile he was busy in Tunisia. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, Cambridge University Press, 1987.]
In 693 AD,
Caliph Abd al-Maliksent an army of 40,000 men, commanded by Hasan ibn al-Nu'man, into Cyrenaicaand Tripolitaniain order to remove the Byzantine threat to the Umayyadsin North Africa. They met no resistance until they reached Tunisiawhere they captured Carthageand defeated the Byzantine Empires and Berbersaround BizerteA History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, Cambridge University Press, 1987. ] .
Soon afterwards, al-Nu'man’s forces came into conflict with
Berbersof the Jrāwa tribe under the leadership of their queen, Al-Kahina. The Berbers defeated al-Nu'man in two engagements, the first on the river Niniand the second near Gabis, upon which al-Nu'man’s forces retreated to Cyrenaicato wait for reinforcements. Reinforcements arrived in 697 AD and al-Nu'man advanced into what is now modern day Tunisia, again meeting Al-Kahinanear Gabis. This time he was successful and Al-Kahinaretreated to Tubna where her forces were defeated and she was killed. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, Cambridge University Press, 1987. ] .
al-Nu'man next recaptured
Carthagefrom the Byzantine Empire, who had retaken it when he retreated from Tunisia. He founded the city of Tunisnearby and used it as the base for the Ummayadnavy in the Mediterranean Sea. The Byzantines were forced to abandon the Maghreband retreat to their islands of the Mediterranean Sea. However, in 705 AD he was replaced by Musa bin Nusair, a protégé of then governor of Egypt, Abdul-Aziz ibn Marwan. Nusair advanced into what is now Morocco, captured Tangier, and advanced as far as the Susriver and the Tafilaltoasis in a three-year campaign. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, Cambridge University Press, 1987. ]
Kharijite Berber Rebellion
The Berber Dynasties
In the 11th century, Berbers of the Sahara began a
jihadto reform Islam in North Africa. This movement created an empire encompassing parts of Spain and North Africa. At its greatest extent, it appears to have included southern and eastern Iberia and roughly all of present-day Morocco and Western Sahara. This movement seems to have assisted the southern penetration of Africa, one that was continued by later groups.
Almohads, or Almohadis, were similar to the Almoravids in that they were similarly attacking what they saw as corruption of Islam. They managed to conquer southern Spain, and their North African empire extended further than that of the Almoravids, reaching to Egypt.
Marinid Dynasty" Hafsids
History of Ottoman Egypt"After the Middle Ages, Northern Africa was loosely under the control of the Ottoman Empire, except for the region of Morocco. Ottoman rule was centered on the cities of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli.
French rule in Algeria"During the 18th and 19th century, North Africa was colonized by France, the United Kingdom, Spainand Italy. During the 1950s and '60s, and into the 1970s, all of the North African states gained independence from their colonial European rulers, except for a few small Spanish colonies on the far northern tip of Morocco, and the Western Sahara, which went from Spanish to Moroccan rule.
In modern times the
Suez canalin Egypthas caused a great deal of controversy. The Convention of Constantinoplein 1888 declared the canal a neutral zone under the protection of the British, after British troops had moved in to protect it in 1882. Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the United Kingdom insisted on retaining control over the canal. In 1951 Egypt repudiated the treaty, and by 1954 Great Britain had agreed to pull out.
United Kingdomand the United Stateswithdrew their pledge to support the construction of the Aswan Dam, president Gamal Abdel Nassernationalized the canal, which caused Britain, Franceand Israelto invade in the week-long Suez War. As a result of damage and sunken ships, the canal was closed until April, 1957, after it had been cleaned up with UN assistance. A United Nations force (UNEF) was established to maintain the neutrality of the canal and the Sinai Peninsula.
History of Algeria
History of Egypt
History of Libya
History of Mauritania
History of Morocco
History of Tunisia
History of Western Sahara
* Stearns, Peter N., et al. World Civilizations: The Global Experience. AP Edition DBQ Update. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 174.
* [http://home.earthlink.net/~lilinah/Library/HistoryMaroc.html "A Taste of Maghribi History"]
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