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Kingdom of Numidia

202 BC–40 BC
MASSINISSA - MAA 23 - 87000716.jpg
Numidian coins under Massinissa
Map of kingdom of numidia ancient algeria.png
Map of Numidia at its greatest extent
Capital Cirta (today Constantine, Algeria)
Common languages Numidian, Latin, berber, Punic [1]
Government Monarchy
 202–148 BC
 60–46 BC
Juba I of Numidia
Historical era Antiquity
202 BC
 Annexed by the Roman Republic
40 BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Ancient Carthage
Blank.png Massylii
Blank.png Masaesyli
Numidia (Roman province) Blank.png
Mauretania Blank.png
Today part of Algeria, the western part of Tunisia
Part of a series on the
History of Algeria
Emblem of Algeria.svg

Numidia (Berber: Inumiden; 202–40 BC) was the ancient kingdom of the Numidians located in what is now Algeria and a smaller part of Tunisia and small part of Libya in the Maghreb. The polity was originally divided between Massylii in the east and Masaesyli in the west. During the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), Masinissa, king of the Massylii, defeated Syphax of the Masaesyli to unify Numidia into one kingdom. The kingdom began as a sovereign state and later alternated between being a Roman province and a Roman client state.


Numidia, at its largest extent, was bordered by the Kingdom of Mauretania to the west, at the Moulouya River, [2] Africa Proconsularis (now part of Tunisia) to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahara to the south. It is considered to be one of the first major states in the history of Algeria and the Berber world.



The Numidian mauseoleum of El-Khroub photographed in 2000 Tomb of Massinissa 01.jpg
The Numidian mauseoleum of El-Khroub photographed in 2000

The Greek historians referred to these peoples as "Νομάδες" (i.e. Nomads), which by Latin interpretation became "Numidae" (but cf. also the correct use of Nomades). [3] Historian Gabriel Camps, however, disputes this claim, favoring instead an African origin for the term. [4]

The name appears first in Polybius (second century BC) to indicate the peoples and territory west of Carthage including the entire north of Algeria as far as the river Mulucha (Muluya), about 160 kilometres (100 mi) west of Oran. [5]

The Numidians were composed of two great tribal groups: the Massylii in eastern Numidia, and the Masaesyli in the west. During the first part of the Second Punic War, the eastern Massylii, under their king Gala, were allied with Carthage (a 'Punic', i.e. Phoenician, Semitic, mercantile sea empire called after its capital in present-day Tunisia), while the western Masaesyli, under king Syphax, were allied with Rome. However, in 206 BC, the new king of the eastern Massylii, Masinissa, allied himself with Rome, and Syphax of the Masaesyli switched his allegiance to the Carthaginian side. At the end of the war, the victorious Romans gave all of Numidia to Masinissa of the Massylii. [5] At the time of his death in 148 BC, Masinissa's territory extended from Mauretania to the boundary of the Carthaginian territory, and also southeast as far as Cyrenaica, so that Numidia entirely surrounded Carthage (Appian, Punica, 106) except towards the sea.

After the death of the long-lived Masinissa around 148 BC, he was succeeded by his son Micipsa. When Micipsa died in 118 BC, he was succeeded jointly by his two sons Hiempsal I and Adherbal and Masinissa's illegitimate grandson, Jugurtha, of Ancient Libyan origin, who was very popular among the Numidians. Hiempsal and Jugurtha quarrelled immediately after the death of Micipsa. Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed, which led to open war with Adherbal.[ citation needed ]

War with Rome

By 112 BC, Jugurtha resumed his war with Adherbal. He incurred the wrath of Rome in the process by killing some Roman businessmen who were aiding Adherbal. After a brief war with Rome, Jugurtha surrendered and received a highly favourable peace treaty, which raised suspicions of bribery once more. The local Roman commander was summoned to Rome to face corruption charges brought by his political rival Gaius Memmius. Jugurtha was also forced to come to Rome to testify against the Roman commander, where Jugurtha was completely discredited once his violent and ruthless past became widely known, and after he had been suspected of murdering a Numidian rival.

War broke out between Numidia and the Roman Republic and several legions were dispatched to North Africa under the command of the Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus. The war dragged out into a long and seemingly endless campaign as the Romans tried to defeat Jugurtha decisively. Frustrated at the apparent lack of action, Metellus' lieutenant Gaius Marius returned to Rome to seek election as Consul. Marius was elected, and then returned to Numidia to take control of the war. He sent his Quaestor Lucius Cornelius Sulla to neighbouring Mauretania in order to eliminate their support for Jugurtha. With the help of Bocchus I of Mauretania, Sulla captured Jugurtha and brought the war to a conclusive end. Jugurtha was brought to Rome in chains and was placed in the Tullianum.[ citation needed ]

Jugurtha was executed by the Romans in 104 BC, after being paraded through the streets in Gaius Marius' Triumph.[ citation needed ]

Divided kingdom

After the death of Jugurtha, the far west of Numidia was added to the lands of Bocchus I, king of Mauretania. [5] A rump kingdom continued to be governed by native princes. [5] It appears that on the death of King Gauda in 88 BC, the kingdom was divided into a larger eastern kingdom and a smaller western kingdom (roughly the Petite Kabylie). The kings of the east minted coins, while no known coins of the western kings survive. The western kings may have been vassals of the eastern. [6] [7]

The civil war between Caesar and Pompey brought an end to independent Numidia in 46 BC. [5] The western kingdom between the Sava (Oued Soummam) and Ampsaga (Oued-el-Kebir) rivers passed to Bocchus II, while the eastern kingdom became a Roman province. The remainder of the western kingdom plus the city of Cirta, which may have belonged to either kingdom, became briefly an autonomous principality under Publius Sittius. Between 44 and 40 BC, the old western kingdom was once again under a Numidian king, Arabio, who killed Sittius and took his place. He involved himself in Rome's civil wars and was himself killed. [7]

Roman provinces

Northern Africa under Roman rule Roman Africa.JPG
Northern Africa under Roman rule

After the death of Arabio, Numidia became the Roman province of Africa Nova except for a brief period when Augustus restored Juba II (son of Juba I) as a client king (29–27 BC).

Eastern Numidia was annexed in 46 BC to create a new Roman province, Africa Nova. Western Numidia was also annexed after the death of its last king, Arabio, in 40 BC, and the two provinces were united with Tripolitana by Emperor Augustus, to create Africa Proconsularis. In AD 40, the western portion of Africa Proconsularis, including its legionary garrison, was placed under an imperial legatus, and in effect became a separate province of Numidia, though the legatus of Numidia remained nominally subordinate to the proconsul of Africa until AD 203. [8] Under Septimius Severus (193 AD), Numidia was separated from Africa Proconsularis, and governed by an imperial procurator. [5] Under the new organization of the empire by Diocletian, Numidia was divided in two provinces: the north became Numidia Cirtensis, with capital at Cirta, while the south, which included the Aurès Mountains and was threatened by raids, became Numidia Militiana, "Military Numidia", with capital at the legionary base of Lambaesis. Subsequently, however, Emperor Constantine the Great reunited the two provinces in a single one, administered from Cirta, which was now renamed Constantina (modern Constantine) in his honour. Its governor was raised to the rank of consularis in 320, and the province remained one of the six provinces of the Diocese of Africa until the invasion of the Vandals in 428, which began its slow decay, [5] accompanied by desertification. It was restored to Roman rule after the Vandalic War, when it became part of the new Praetorian prefecture of Africa.[ citation needed ]

Major cities

Numidia became highly romanized and was studded with numerous towns. [5] The chief towns of Roman Numidia were: in the north, Cirta or modern Constantine, the capital, with its port Russicada (Modern Skikda); and Hippo Regius (near Bône), well known as the see of St. Augustine. To the south in the interior military roads led to Theveste (Tebessa) and Lambaesis (Lambessa) with extensive Roman remains, connected by military roads with Cirta and Hippo, respectively. [5] [9]

Lambaesis was the seat of the Legio III Augusta, and the most important strategic centre. [5] It commanded the passes of the Aurès Mountains (Mons Aurasius), a mountain block that separated Numidia from the Gaetuli Berber tribes of the desert, and which was gradually occupied in its whole extent by the Romans under the Empire. Including these towns, there were altogether twenty that are known to have received at one time or another the title and status of Roman colonies; and in the 5th century, the Notitia Dignitatum enumerates no fewer than 123 sees whose bishops assembled at Carthage in 479. [5]

Episcopal sees

See Numidia (Roman province)#Episcopal sees.

See also

Related Research Articles

Jugurtha King of Numidia

Jugurtha or Jugurthen was a king of Numidia. When the Numidian king Micipsa, who had adopted Jugurtha, died in 118 BC, Jugurtha and his two adoptive brothers, Hiempsal and Adherbal, succeeded him. Jugurtha arranged to have Hiempsal killed and, after a civil war, defeated and killed Adherbal in 112 BC. The death of Adherbal, which was against the wishes of Rome, along with the growing popular anger in Rome at Jugurtha's success in bribing Roman senators, led to the Jugurthine War between Rome and Numidia which, after a number of battles in Numidia between Roman and Numidian forces, eventually led to Jugurtha's capture in 106 BC and his being paraded through Rome as part of Gaius Marius' Roman triumph. He was then thrown into the Tullianum prison where he died of strangulation or starvation in 104 BC. He was survived by his son, Oxyntas.

Masinissa King of Numidia

Masinissa, or Masensen, —also spelled Massinissa and Massena—was the first King of Numidia.

Syphax King of the Masaesyli

Syphax was a king of the ancient Numidian tribe Masaesyli of western Numidia during the last quarter of the 3rd century BC. His story is told in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita.

Adherbal, son of Micipsa and grandson of Masinissa, was a king of Numidia between 118 and 112 BC. He inherited the throne after the death of his father, and ruled jointly with his younger brother Hiempsal, and Jugurtha, the nephew of Masinissa. After the murder of his brother by Jugurtha, Adherbal fled to Rome and was restored to his share of the kingdom by the Romans in 117, with Jugurtha ruling his brother's former share. But Adherbal was again stripped of his dominions by Jugurtha and besieged in Cirta, where he was killed by Jugurtha in 112, although he had placed himself under the protection of the Romans.

Jugurthine War 2nd-century BC war between Kingdom of Numidia and the Roman Republic

The Jugurthine War was an armed conflict between the Roman Republic and king Jugurtha of Numidia, a kingdom on the north African coast approximating to modern Algeria. Jugurtha was the nephew and adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia, whom he succeeded on the throne, overcoming his rivals through assassination, war, and bribery.


Siga was a Berber and Roman port located near what is now Aïn Témouchent, Algeria. Under the Roman Empire, it was part of western Mauretania Caesariensis, bordering Mauretania Tingitana.

Cirta major ancient city of Numidia, now Constantine, Algeria

Cirta, also known by various other names in antiquity, was the ancient Berber and Roman settlement which later became Constantine, Algeria. Cirta was the capital city of the Berber kingdom of Numidia; its strategically important port city was Russicada. Although Numidia was a key ally of the ancient Roman Republic during the Punic Wars, Cirta was subject to Roman invasions during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Eventually it fell under Roman dominion during the time of Julius Caesar. Cirta was then repopulated with Roman colonists by Caesar and Augustus and was surrounded by a "confederation of free Roman cities" such as Tiddis, Cuicul, and Milevum. The city was destroyed in the beginning of the 4th century and was rebuilt by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who gave his name to the newly constructed city, Constantine. The Vandals damaged Cirta, but emperor Justinian I reconquered and improved the Roman city. It declined in importance after the Muslim invasions, but a small community continued at the site for several centuries. Its ruins are now an archaeological site.

Numidians Berber people in ancient Northern Africa

The Numidians were the Berber population of Numidia. The Numidians were one of the earliest Berber tribes to trade with the settlers of Carthage. As Carthage grew, the relationship with the Numidians blossomed. Carthage's military used the Numidian cavalry as mercenaries. Numidia provided some of the highest quality cavalry of the Second Punic War, and the Numidian cavalry played a key role in a number of battles, both early on in support of Hannibal and later in the war after switching allegiance to the Roman Republic.

Micipsa was the eldest legitimate son of Masinissa, the King of Numidia, a Berber kingdom in North Africa. Micipsa became the King of Numidia in 148 BC.

The Siege of Thala, part of the Jugurthine War, was an investment of the Numidian town of Thala by a Roman army. The Romans were commanded by the proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, the Thalans by an unknown Numidian commander. The Romans main objective was to capture the Numidian king Jugurtha who was reported to be in Thala, but he escaped before the legions reached the fortress town. Metellus then besieged the town to get hold of one of Jugurtha's treasuries which was stored in Thala. The fortress town was besieged for forty days after which most of its inhabitants committed suicide by setting fire to the town.

The Masaesyli were a Berber tribe of western Numidia and the main antagonists of the Massylii in eastern Numidia.

The Massylii or Maesulians were a Berber federation of tribes in eastern Numidia, which was formed by an amalgamation of smaller tribes during the 4th century BC. They were ruled by a king. On their loosely defined western frontier were the powerful Masaesyli. To their east, lay the territory of the rich and powerful Carthaginian Republic. Their relationship to Carthage resembled that of a protectorate. Carthage maintained its dominance over the Massylii by skillful diplomatic manoeuvering, playing off local tribal and kingdom rivalries. The principal towns of the Massylii were Cirta, Tébessa and Thugga in Algeria and Tunisia.

For nearly 250 years, Berber kings of the 'House of Masinissa' ruled in Numidia, which included much of Tunisia, and later in adjacent regions, first as sovereigns allied with Rome and then eventually as Roman clients. This period commenced with the defeat of Carthage by the Roman Army, assisted by Berber cavalry led by Masinissa at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, and it lasted until the year 40 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Gaius, also known as Caligula.

Vaga, Vecca and lately Theodorias is an ancient city in Tunisia built by the Berbers and ruled sequentially by the Carthaginians, the Numidians, the Romans, the Vandals and the Byzantines until it was captured by the Arabs who changed its name to the present day Béja. The town was the capital of the Numidian Kingdom during the rule of Jugurtha.

Masinissa II was the petty king of western Numidia with his capital at Cirta (81–46 BC). He was named after, or took his name after, his famous ancestor Masinissa I, the unifier and founder of the kingdom of Numidia.

Arabio was the last independent Numidian king, ruling the western region between 44 and 40 BC. According to Appian, he was a son of Masinissa II and probable grandson of Gauda, who had divided Numidia between his sons in 88 BC. He was of Massylian origin.

The Siege of Cirta was fought between the rival Numidian kings Adherbal and Jugurtha in 113 BC. They were contesting the throne of Numidia after the death of King Micipsa. Jugurtha invaded Adherbal's territory, defeated him and besieged him in his capital Cirta. Two Roman deputations attempted to negotiate a settlement, but Jugurtha ignored them. When the city surrendered he tortured Arherbal to death and executed all who had bourne arms against him, including numerous Romans. This last action was to spark the outbreak of the Jugurthine War between Rome and Numidia.

The Siege of the fortress at Muluccha, part of the Jugurthine War, was an investment of a Jugurthine fortress by a Roman army in 106 BC. The Romans were commanded by Gaius Marius, the Numidians by an unknown commander. The Romans main objective was to capture one of king Jugurtha's treasuries which was reported to be inside the fortress. Marius besieged the fortress town and finally took it by trickery.

Siege of Zama

The Siege of Zama, part of the Jugurthine War, was an investment of the Numidian town of Zama by a Roman army. The Romans were commanded by Quintus Caecilius Metellus, one of the consuls of 109 BC, while the Numidians were under the overall command of Jugurtha, the king of Numidia. The Romans' main objective was to lure Jugurtha into a set-piece battle; the Numidians had been wearing down the Roman legions by guerilla warfare and the Roman commander hoped the siege would pressure the Numidian king into giving battle. Jugurtha did not let himself be goaded into a pitched battle and kept up his opportune attacks while the defenders of Zama kept the Romans at bay. Failing to take the city and failing to provoke the Numidian king into entering a set-piece battle, the Romans gave up on the siege and marched back to the Roman province of Africa.


  1. Jongeling. Karel & Kerr, Robert M. (2005). Late Punic epigraphy: an introduction to the study of Neo-Punic and Latino-Punic inscriptions. Mohr Siebeck. p. 4. ISBN   3-16-148728-1.
  2. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography . Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  3. Numida and Nomas
  4. Camps, Gabriel. "Les Numides et la civilisation punique". Antiquités africaines (in French). 14 (1): 43–53. doi:10.3406/antaf.1979.1016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Numidia"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 868–869.
  6. Duane W. Roller (2003), The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome's African Frontier, New York: Routledge, p. 25CS1 maint: ref=harv (link).
  7. 1 2 Gabriel Camps (1989) [published online 2012], "Arabion", Encyclopédie berbère, 6: Antilopes–Arzuges, Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, pp. 831–34, retrieved 13 February 2017CS1 maint: ref=harv (link).
  8. J. D. Fage; Roland Anthony Oliver (1975). The Cambridge History of Africa . Cambridge University Press. p.  199. ISBN   978-0-521-21592-3.
  9. Detailed map of Roman Numidia

Further reading