A Taste of Maghribi History


Dar Maghrib, Home of the Setting Sun, lies in Western North Africa and includes what are now Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Its western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean and its northern boundary is the Mediterranean Sea.

The Maghrib has been and is home to a number of different ethnic and cultural groups. Throughout much of history, the indegenous Berbers/Amazight have maintained a certain amount of independence from whoever is controlling the Maghrib, until the 20th century, when their culture has been weakened by both the government as well as the invasion of "Western" style "culture".

Ancient History
Late Antiquity
Roman Empire
The Muslim Age
Umayyad dynasty
Fatimid dynasty
Almoravid dynasty
Almohad dynasty
The Spanish Reconquista
Taifa Period
Merinid dynasty
Hafsid dynasty
The Kingdom of Granada
The Ottoman Empire
European Colonialism
Maghribi Independence

Ancient History

While the Maghrib has prehistoric rock art, little is known of its ancient history. The indigenous people are the Berbers/Amazight, an ancient ethnic group, who speak a language distantly related to Egyptian and Hebrew, and who, throughout history, have seen their country invaded by a succession of foreign powers.

In the 12th century BC the first of these foreign invaders were the Phoenicians from the Levant in Southwest Asia (what is now Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine). They established trade centers at several points along the North African and Spanish coasts, including cities beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar) on the eastern Atlantic coast of Morocco and Spain. They founded the city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia by 800 BCE. The Carthaginians later took over these Phoenician colonies and expanded them as part of the mighty independent Punic Empire.

The Greeks were in competition with the Phoenicians and Punics for control of the Mediterranean. Between 600 and 500 BCE the Maghrib, known to the Greeks and Romans as Numidea, was partitioned by the Greeks into two kingdoms, Massaesyle in the West and Massyle in the East. When Carthage began to expand into Numidia, hostilities began that were not fully resolved for hundreds of years.

By the 300s BCE Rome began to be interested in the Maghrib and by around 200 BCE different kings of the two Maghribi regions allied themselves either with the Carthaginians or with the Romans. In addition, the strong position of Carthage in trade with what are now called Britain, Spain and France, and throughout North Africa, disturbed Rome enough that the Romans waged war on Carthage three times, eventually razing its walls to the ground and sowing the soil with salt in 146 BCE.

Late Antiquity

After the city of Carthage fell to Rome in 146 BCE, parts of the African Mediterranean coast were under Roman dominance for almost six hundred years. Conflict continued between the Numidians and the Romans. By 46 BCE Numidia was a Roman province known as Africa Nova that encompassed Tunisia and parts of Algeria. The farther western area of the Maghrib was a Roman province known as Mauretania Caesaria.

But the Roman Empire eventually rebuilt Carthage due to its favorable location both as a port on the Mediterranean and as a trade center with inland North Africa. They exerted a powerful influence for about 5 centuries on Mauretania Tingitana, as they called the region and from which the word "Moor" derives. Many Jews, displaced by the Romans because of their failed revolt in the Levant, found a home in the Maghrib.

The Maghrib was extremely important to the Romans because it supplied 60 percent of the wheat consumed within the Empire! It was also an important source of fruits, olives and olive oil, and wine (and grapes and raisins). And it was the major source of animals for the infamous Roman Circuses, especially elephants and lions, among others.

During the 1st and the 2nd century CE, many Maghribi people, from the coast to the interior, became Christians. In the early 4th century Christianity was integrated into the Roman political ideology when the Emperor Constantine declared it the state religion. But most North Africans belonged to any one of several Christian heresies which were centered there, and this created intense conflict among them and between the Maghrib and Rome.

The Vandals, a Germanic tribe, had been positioned in the Roman province of Iberia (now Spain) during Roman rule. Never as powerful as the Goths who took over Italy with the fall of Rome in 470, the Vandals created a legacy of disorder and decline, giving rise to the term "vandalism". The Roman Empire was already having trouble at its borders and gave the Vandals permission to move into the Maghrib. In 429 CE very nearly the entire population of Vandals, around 30,000 in all, moved in one mass at one time to invade the Maghrib with the permission of Rome, and the Visigoths, the Western Goths, moved into the vacuum left in Iberia. The Vandals had come to North Africa for the wealth of the Maghrib. They were never good administrators and the urban centers and trade routes declined, draining away what wealth had been there. The Berber/Amazight people remained autonomous to a large extent, as competing Berber tribes controled outlying areas and warred with each other.

The Byzantine Empire claimed to be the center of the Roman Empire, and in 533, in an attempt to reunify the lands that had been controlled by Rome, drove the Vandals out of the Maghrib and took control. Again, because of differences among the types of Christianity practiced by the Byzantines and those practiced by the Maghribi, there was continuous friction between them. The Byzantine administrators were often very oppressive when dealing with the Maghribi who followed different theologies and were almost universally hated. But the Byzantines had troubles of their own back in the Eastern Mediterranean and, while they influenced the lives of city dwellers, their control in the Western Mediterranean was never really strong, consisting chiefly of a few military outposts. Thus the Maghribi people, especially the Berbers, retained a certain amount of autonomy.

The Age of Islam

In the 7th century in Arabia, Muhammad (570-632) received revelations from his god and founded a new religion called Islam, meaning "submission (to god)", probably influenced by local Jews and perhaps some Christians.

After his death, the Arabs rapidly spread Islam by the sword, first moving northeast through the Levant and Persia and west to Egypt. In 661 the Muslim Umayyad dynasty moved their capital from Arabia to Damascus in what is now Syria.

By 674 the Arabs were entering the Maghrib. In 682 Musa ibn Nusair had defeated the Byzantines at Kairouan in what is now Morocco, marking the end of Byzantine dominance. The first Arab rulers established the Idrisid dynasty which ruled for 150 years. The penetration of Islam through the Maghrib, however, was slow and gradual. While many Christian and pagan inhabitants of the land converted to Islam during this period, Islamicization progressed slowly at first. While most had professed the faith, few could read or speak Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, few knew the Qur'an, and few understood much about their new religion.

Gradually, Muslim scholars and teachers came to the Maghrib so that many Maghribi became learned in Islam. By the 8th century several Muslim heresies found staunch supporters, if not a home, in the Maghrib, just as had many Christian heresies before them. These became sources of conflict both among Maghribi groups and with various caliphates and dynasties beyond Maghrib borders. In addition, various Berber tribes fought with each other for political, economic, and religious control of a number of regions in the Maghrib.

As the 8th century opened, Ceuta, the African pillar of Hercules, surrendered to the Umayyad Caliph of Damascus, and the Rum, that is the Roman Empire of Byzantium, lost their last outpost in Africa. Julian, the Byzantine commander, managed to retain all his ranks and have some autonomy, as he was a good diplomat in both Berber and Visigothic politics. In fact, many refugees from Spain, both Jewish and Visigoth, lived in Ceuta.

In 710 Visigoth Roderick became king of Spain. Julian was eager to attack the Visigoths, in part because his daughter had been raped by Roderick, but Musa was hesitant to go on a Spanish campaign. Tarif ibn Malluk crossed the Straits and had a minor success in the southern Spanish area now called Tarifa after him. Because of this, Musa ordered a full reconnaissance by the Governer of Tangier, the Berber Tarik ibn Ziyad, accompanied by Julian.

In the Spring of 711, 7,000 men were sent on a strictly reconnaissance mission, while Roderick was busy subduing Visigothic rebellions in the northern town of Pamplona. Tarik arrived in Spain at the Europan Pillar of Hercules, which was named Jubal Tarik, the Mountain of Tarik, after the victorious leader, and is now Gibraltar. Roderick and the Visigoths were so hated that the invaders met little resistance. Often the inhabitants of the cities opened their gates to the Maghribi. In less than half a year, Tarik had subdued over half of Spain.

Thus, in 711, al-Andalus was established by Muslims from the Maghrib. Within another year and a half most of Spain was under Muslim control. The Christian Spanish were amazed when the Muslims took the palaces and treasuries, but didn't ravage and enslave the populace as the Christians usually did to each other. Al-Andalus became a strong and flourishing culture, rich in trade, arts and sciences, and religious tolerance, a home to Muslims from numerous cultures, Jews who had come to Iberia under Roman rule, and Mozarabic Christians. This important Muslim culture had a profound influence in shaping Spanish culture.

By 750 Muslims had control of or at least great influence from Spain to Central Asia, at which point the Umayyad dynasty with their white flag was replaced by the 'Abbasid dynasty with their black flag. The 20-year-old Umayyad prince 'Abd al-Rachman, with light hair in long curls - his grandfather Hishamhad been a Caliph, and his mother Rab was a Berber captive - fled after the massacre of many of his relatives, including his younger brother.

'Abd al-Rachman made his way to North Africa, where he wandered for four years (in part because his relatives hesitated to take him in because they feared the 'Abbasids), until in 755 he crossed into Spain, where Visigothic chaos had given way to Muslim chaos. He took control, founding the Umayyad dynasty in al-Andalus. Córdoba was the capital. As stability grew, Abd al-Rachman dropped the name of the Abbasids from the Friday prayer, but did not overtly declare independence from that dynasty. He ruled al-Andalus for 30 years as the "Immigrant Emir". He lavished money and attention on the arts, including architecture. This was the Silver Age of Andalusian culture and his line lasted nearly 300 years. But later in his rule he was confronted by many plots and revolts and became something of a tyrant to protect his throne.

Numerous Arab and Berber dynasties succeeded the Idrisids. The 9th and 10th centuries saw the rise of the Ummayad dynasty in al-Andalus, peaking with Abd ar-Rachman III - with his red hair and blue eyes, typical of many Andalusian rulers - who reunited al-Andalus in a Golden Age and declared himself Caliph, a daring move, no longer under the rule, however nominal, of Baghdad in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, where the Abbasids had moved the capital in 762 CE.

In the 10th century the Fatimid dynasty was founded in the Maghrib. Gradually the Fatimids expanded their territory and in 972 the dynasty succeeded in conquering Egypt. At that point the leaders moved their capital to Egypt, founding Cairo. While the Maghrib was nominally under Fatamid rule, by the 11th century it was essentially independant of it.

Over the course of the next thousand years there were many schisms in North Africa and al-Andalus, as they broke away from the main Muslim empire, and different dynasties and tribes took control of different cities and regions. Some of these dynasties were very orthodox while others appreciated wine and poetry and allowed women, especially those of the ruling classes, to go unveiled.

The Almoravids, from Arabic: Al-Murâbitûn, (1062-1147) began in southern Morocco, drawing on members of the Berber tribes of Sanhaja and Lamtuna, and moved into al-Andalus. In 1085, the Spanish retook Toledo, in the north of al-Andalus, although for another 125 years the Christian Spanish made no great inroads into al-Andalus. The Almohads, from Arabic al-Mûwahhidûn, meaning "the monotheists" or "the Unitarians", (1147-1258) displaced them. Both these dynasties were headed by strict, even puritanical, orthodox Muslim Berbers. By 1159 the Almohads united the Maghrib from al-Andalus in Iberia to Ifriqya (Libya) and for a brief time, North Africa and most of Spain were united. But eventually this alliance came apart and from time to time various groups and rulers in both regions shifted alliances or warred with each other, as there were numerous competing small kingdoms.

Through all this, many Maghribi cities remained important production centers for silk textiles and trade centers for the transport of textiles and spices from all over the Near East and Asia to Europe, and had a particularly strong relationship with the Norman kingdom in Sicily in the 12th century.

The Reconquista

But the Almohad Empire declined after the defeat of the Maghribi army by the Spanish at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. By 1250 its power had completely collapsed and the Maghrib and al-Andalus were plunged into bitter civil wars between various Arab and Berber factions, each of whom struggled for brief periods of supremacy.

A small state, principality, or political party such as these was known as ta'if and therefore this time is known as the Taifa Period and these conflicting regions are sometimes called Party States, not because they were partying, but because of their shifting allegiances with particular political parties. Gradually the disparate Andalusian dynasties of the ta'ifs weakened. In the mid-13th century, much Andalusian territory was lost to the Spanish, and there was a large influx of Muslims into the Maghrib.

Among the longer lasting Maghribi dynasties were the The Merinids, with their capital in Fez, and the Hafsids. Both co-existed in the Maghrib, warring with each other from the 13th through the 15th centuries, until the Hafsid dynasty finally fell in 1494.

The last great Andalusian state was Granada on the Southeastern Mediterranean of Spain. A thriving state, rich with trade, particularly silk, and the arts it was ruled by the Nasrid dynasty beginning in 1232, The magnificent fortress and palace called al-Hamra, The Red, was begun in 1248 and completed about one hundred years later. Now known as the Alhambra, it is the oldest Islamic palace in the world to survive in a good state of preservation. Granada survived because the Christian Spanish states of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon, who had defeated the Muslims at Córdoba, spent a couple hundred years fighting each other.

None the less, in the 13th century Spanish Christians made some inroads into the fragmented Muslim territory in Iberia. In 1287, a large number of Jews, expelled from Beléaric Islands by the Alphonso of Aragon, arrived in the Maghrib. And in 1391 another large group of Jews arrived, expelled from the Majorcas by the Spanish Christians.

In 1469 two of the major kingdoms of Spain were united when Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon. Isabella was infuriated when Granda refused to pay her tribute and she focused on driving the last of the Muslims from Spain. Her war against Granada began in 1481. She brought in German and Italian artillery to destroy the protective outposts on the hills surrounding Granada and its fortifying walls.

And in 1492 the Reconquista was at last successful, finally able to conquer the last of the lands held by the Muslims in Spain. With the reconquista, came forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, whose task was to seek out heretics and non-Christians, beginning again a reign of terror for the Jews who had generally been well integrated into the Muslim world for several hundred years. In 1492 a massive number of Andalusian Jews arrived in the Maghrib, followed by a smaller wave of Muslims fleeing from the fall of Granada. Then in 1502 thousands of Andalusian Muslims arrived in the Maghrib after the decrees of expulsion. The Jews and Muslims lived in relative harmony and a certain amount of autonomy in the Maghrib until some time into the Ottoman Empire, when the Ottoman rulers began to actively oppress Jews.

At the end of the 15th century the Spanish begin attacking the coast of Morocco. In 1510 Pedro Navarro conquered the Moroccan North and Algerian West. This period saw the rise of the brothers Barbarossa, Arrouj and Kheireddin, who fought against the Spanish while consolidating their power in the Maghrib.

During the 16th century more people of Jewish or Moorish background were expelled from Spain or fled persecution there, and settled in Morocco. Many of them had converted from Islam and Judaism to Catholicism, but were suspected of continuing to practice their previous religions secretly. And as late as 1609 to 1614 thousands more "Moros" fled Spain, arriving in the Maghrib.

While the Reconquista signaled the end of al-Andalus, none the less, Andalusian culture continued to survive in small pockets for well over one century, and it has exerted an undeniable influence on Spanish culture to this day.

The Rise of the Influence of the Ottoman Empire

Osman founded the Osmanli Empire, more commonly called Ottoman, in what is now eastern Turkey circa 1300. The Ottoman Turks eventually conquered Constantinople and what was left of the failing Byzantine Empire around 1453. They began a major expansion in the early 16th century during the rule of Selim I, known as Selim the Grim, under whom the Ottomans took Egypt in 1517.

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Sultan Suleiman the Lawgiver, known in the West as the Magnificent, succeeded Selim in 1520 and reigned during the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire until his death in 1566

After the death of Arrouj Barbarossa, his brother Kheireddin asked for aid against the Spanish from the Ottoman Empire and received 2,000 Janissaries. In 1529 they finally succeeded in destroying Pe“on, the Spanish island fortress in the Maghrib. In 1534 Kheireddin Barbarossa received the caftan of honor from the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Lawgiver, known in the West as the Magnificent, and acceeded to the title of beylerbey. In 1536 he was called to Istanbul to head the Ottoman fleet.

1544, his son Hassan Barbarossa becomes beylerbey. Kheireddin died in Istanbul in 1546. Accused of rebelling against the Ottomans, Hassan was imprisoned in Istanbul.

By 1554 Tlemcen in ?Algeria?Tunisia? became part of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1556, Hassan Corso, an islamized Corsican, became Regent in Algers. He was supported by powerful local factions, and was assassinated by a Turkish envoy, who was in turn assassinated by the locals who took control.

By 1557 Hassan Barbarossa managed to convince the Ottomans he was no threat and he returned to Algers. Several times he came into conflict with the Ottoman Janissaries as he tried to make his militia more Algerian, and several more times he was sent to Istanbul.

In 1568 Eulj Ali, aka Ali el-Eulj, an islamized Calabrian, became king of Algers while Hassan Barbarossa was in Istanbul.

Finally in 1570 Hassan Barbarossa was named head of the Ottoman Navy.

1573 Ramdhan Pacha, an islamized Sardinian, became governor of Algers. In 1574 Tunisia became part of the Ottoman Empire. And in 1577 Hassan Veneziano, an islamized Venetian, governed Algers.

In Morocco, the reign of Ahmed I al-Man-sur in the first Sharifian dynasty stabilised and unified that country between 1579 and 1603.

In 1587 the authorities in Kostantiniyye (formerly Constantinople, now Istanbul) chafed by the autonomy of the provinces of the Maghreb designated a pasha for Algers, Tunis and Tripoli in place of the beylerbey.

During the 16th century more Moros and Jews expelled from Spain settled in Morocco and the country flourished and prospered. It became a centre for the arts and this period was known as Morocco's Golden Age. Morocco remained largely independent of the Ottoman Turks, although Algeria and Tunisia came into the Ottoman sphere. But there was constant friction and rebellion in the Maghrib against the Ottoman Turks during the 16th century. Algers became independent again while the Tunisians and Libyans revolted against the Turks.

The Ottoman Turkish influence was slight for quite some time in the Maghrib, as there were only outposts of Jannissaries, but no Turkish settlements. It wasn't until well into the 17th century that this powerful empire exerted more influence on the costume and other cultural aspects of Maghribi city folks.

From 1609 to 1614 thousands more Moors arrive from Spain.

The Beginning of European Colonialism

During the 17th century there was a great deal of political instability in the region. In addition, the coast of the Maghrib came under attack from the English, the French, and the Danish.

Fewer than 200 years after Ottoman conquest, European colonialism replaced Turkish domination as European countries "liberated" North Africa from the Ottoman Empire, with the French and British primarily vying for control, and the Spanish dominating in some regions.

Maghribi Independence

Morocco and Tunisia did not achieve independence until after World War II. Algeria remained under French control until a bitter war in the 1960's. Today Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which share languages and cultures, are quite politically and economically different from each other because of their very differing histories in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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