Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Byzantine Morocco

Ceuta, North Africa
The remnants of the city walls are arguably Ceuta’s most interesting historical monument. The fortifications were originally built by the Byzantines and later improved on by the Portuguese and Spanish in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Roman and Byzantine Morocco

The Romans controlled all or part of the Morocco area from about 42 AD until the last Byzantine outpost fell about 710 AD.

Roman rule was interrupted for about 100 years by the invasion of the Vandals from Europe.  When Eastern Roman rule was restored it was mostly along the coastal zone.

The Walls of Ceuta, North Africa
The ancient Royal Walls originally date back to the 5th century.  Ceuta's location has made it an important commercial trade and military way-point for many cultures, beginning with the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, who called the city Abyla. It was not until the Romans took control of the region in AD 42 that the port city, then named Septa, assumed an almost exclusive military purpose. It changed hands again approximately 400 years later, when Vandal tribes ousted the Romans. It then fell into the hands of the Visigoths, and finally become an outpost of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Around 710, as Muslim armies approached the city, its Byzantine Governor, Julian changed his allegiance, and exhorted the Muslims to invade the Iberian Peninsula.

The Roman Province of Mauretania Tingitana

Mauretania Tingitana was a Roman province located in northwestern Africa, coinciding roughly with the northern part of present-day Morocco and Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The province extended from the northern peninsula, opposite Gibraltar, to Chellah (or Sala) and Volubilis to the south, and as far east as the Oued Laou river. Its capital city was the city of Tingis (Berber name: Tingi) which is the modern city of Tangier. Other major cities of the province were Iulia Valentia Banasa and Lixus.

After the death of Ptolemy of Mauretania, the last king of Mauretania in AD 40, Roman emperor Claudius changed the kingdom Mauretania into two Roman provinces: Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana.

The Roman Province of Mauretania Tingitana.

The Roman occupation did not extend very far into the continent. In the far west, the southern limit of imperial rule was Volubilis, which was ringed with military camps such as Tocolosida slightly to the south east and Ain Chkour to the north west, and a fossatum or defensive ditch. On the Atlantic coast Sala Colonia was protected by another ditch and a rampart and a line of watchtowers.

This was not a continuous line of fortifications: there is no evidence of a defensive wall like the one that protected the turbulent frontier in Britannia at the other extremity of the Roman Empire. Rather, it was a network of forts and ditches that seems to have functioned as a filter. The limes– the word from which the English word “limit” is derived – protected the areas that were under direct Roman control by funnelling contacts with the interior through the major settlements, regulating the links between the nomads and transhumants with the towns and farms of the occupied areas.

The same people lived on both sides of these limes, although the population was quite small.

Volubilis had perhaps twenty thousand inhabitants at most in the second century. On the evidence of inscriptions, only around ten to twenty per cent of them were of European origin, mainly Spanish; the rest were local.

End of the Roman Road, Volubilis; Morocco
Morocco's most impressive and atmospheric ancient site is the roman city of Volubilis.  Originally a Carthaginian trading post in the 3rd century BC, Volubilis gradually became distant Roman base in the 1st century AD and marked the farthest extent of the Imperial road.

During the reign of Juba II, Emperor Augustus had already founded three colonias (with Roman citizens) in Mauretania close to the Atlantic coast: Iulia Constantia Zilil, Iulia Valentia Banasa and Iulia Campestris Babba.

This western part of Mauretania was to become the province called Mauretania Tingitana shortly afterwards. The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until 429, when the Vandals overran the area and Roman administrative presence came to an end.

The most important city of Mauretania Tingitana was Volubilis. This city was the administrative and economic center of the province in western Roman Africa. The fertile lands of the province produced many commodities such as grain and olive oil, which were exported to Rome, contributing to the province's wealth and prosperity. Archaeology has documented the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman period.

Roman Triumphal Arch in Volubilis

The principal exports from Mauretania Tingitana were purple dyes and valuable woods; Tingitana also supplied Rome with agricultural goods and animals, such as lions and leopards. The native Mauri were highly regarded and recruited by the Romans as soldiers, especially as light cavalry. Clementius Valerius Marcellinus is recorded as governor between 24 October 277 and 13 April 280.

The Notitia Dignitatum shows also, in its military organisation, a Comes Tingitaniae with a field army composed of two legions, three vexillations, and two auxilia palatina. Flavius Memorius held this office (comes) at some point during the middle of the fourth century. However, it is implicit in the source material that there was a single military command for both of the Mauretanian provinces, with a Dux Mauretaniae (a lower rank) controlling seven cohorts and one ala.

The Germanic Vandals established themselves in the province of Baetica in 422 under their king, Gunderic, and, from there, they carried out raids on Mauretania Tingitana. In 427, the Comes Africae, Bonifacius, rejected an order of recall from the Emperor Valentinian III, and he defeated an army sent against him. He was less fortunate when a second force was sent in 428. In that year, Gunderic was succeeded by Gaiseric, and Bonifacius invited Gaiseric into Africa, providing a fleet to enable the passage of the Vandals to Tingis. Bonifacius intended to confine the Vandals to Mauretania, but, once they had crossed the straits, they rejected any control and marched on Carthage, inflicting grievous suffering.

Volubilis Capitol

Volubilis Basilica

The Byzantine Fortress of Monte Hacho
The main entrance to Monte Hacho Fortress, a Byzantine fort which is now an off-limits military base in Ceuta.
Monte Hacho is a low mountain that overlooks the Spanish city of Ceuta, on the north coast of Africa. Monte Hacho is positioned on the Mediterranean coast at the Strait of Gibraltar opposite Gibraltar, and along with the Rock of Gibraltar is claimed by some to be one of the Pillars of Hercules.  According to the legend Hercules pushed apart the two mountains and created a link between the Mediterranean and the atlantic.
In classical civilization it was known as Mons Abila.  Monte Hacho is located on the Península de Almina and topped by a fort, the Fortaleza de Hacho, which was first built by the Byzantines, before being added to by the Arabs, Portuguese and Spanish.

Byzantine Morocco

The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD, but unlike some other Roman cities, the Volubilis area was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD.

It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids.

In 533, the Byzantine general Belisarius reconquered the former Diocese of Africa from the Vandals on behalf of the Emperor Justinian I.

All the territory west of Caesarea had already been lost by the Vandals to the Mauri, but a re-established Dux Mauretaniae kept a military unit at Septem (modern Ceuta). This was the last Byzantine outpost in Mauretania Tingitana; the rest of what had been the Roman province was united with the Byzantine part of Andalusia, under the name, Prefecture of Africa.

Most of the North African coast was later organised as the civilian Exarchate of Carthage, a special status in view of the outpost defense needs.  Mauretania Tingitana was effectively reduced to the city of Septum (Ceuta), was combined with the citadels of the Spanish coast (Spania) and the Balearic islands to form "Mauretania Secunda".

When the Umayyads conquered all of Northern Africa, replacing Christianity and Paganism with Islam, both Mauretanias were reunited as the province of al-Maghrib (Arabic for 'the West', and still the official name of the Sherifian kingdom of Morocco). This province also included over half of modern Algeria.

The local Latin language survived for centuries, and was not replaced before the Arabs conquered North Africa in the late 7th century.
(Wikipedia - Ceuta)      (Byzantine Spania)      (Mauretania Tingitana)

The Eastern Roman Provinces of Spania and North Africa.
Aside from the southern parts of the provinces of Baetica and Carthaginiensis (the southern Levante), the Byzantines also held Ceuta in North Africa across from the Gibraltar and the Balearic Islands, which had fallen to them along with the rest of the Vandal kingdom.
Ceuta, though it had been Visigothic and was destined to be associated with the Iberian peninsula for its subsequent history, was attached to the province of Mauretania Secunda. The Balearics with Baetica and Carthaginiensis formed the new province of Spania. By the year 600 Spania had dwindled to little more than Málaga and Cartagena.

Morocco Volubilis Roman ruins

The walls close to the top of Monte Hacho belong to Byzantine Monte Hacho Fortress, now an off-limits military base - Ceuta

'House of Orpheus’ marble mosaic floor detail, Volubilis

House of Orpheus, Volubilis

A mosaic on the floor of the ‘Knight’s house’ in Volubilis, near Meknes, Morocco. Bacchus finds Ariadne asleep, Theseus having wandered off.

 ‘Labours of Hercules house’ in Volubilis, near Meknes, Morocco.



Anonymous said...

Very beautifull those ancient roman north africa remains .
Understand the charming and apeal of those lands .Lazy afternoons, and plenty farm lands , as beeing lost , nothing will be the same in the whole empire .
Remember how roman and byzantium emperors give land in africa to former legionnaires to live and work in that centennaria system that without care ,those wells , and orchards collapsed a few years after islamic conquest .
That africa lands became a desert , only regain in the last century as italians colonial farmers stage a comeback, or the french colonials in the XIX century that made the findings of underground waters , and made those lands good for all kind of croops , as till then , they only good to slave trade , and piracy activities .
Even if colonial powers must be denounced as nor worthy of stay there as foreign rulers , as they not allow the native powers to rule their own land , we understand that only after the massive oil money increased the native workless budget , native dictators could do something on they own land , to increased production and water findings .

FlavivsAetivs said...

Great article. However I should note that Roman rule wasn't interrupted by the Vandals. After the Vandals crossed in 429, Mauretania Tingitania and Caesariensis remained in Roman hands. Sitifensis and Numidia were given to the Vandals in 435, and then they received Africa and Byzacena in 442.

Tingitania and Caesariensis would remain marginally Roman until 476, and around that time sort of became a Romano-Moor rump state called usually the Romano-Mauri kingdom. 50 years later they defected to the Romans after the conquest of the Vandals.

FlavivsAetivs said...

Also Bonifacius did not invite the Vandals across, that's rejected by most modern historians and the primary source on that (Prosper) never explicitly states it was Boniface. Bonifacius and Aspar fought the Vandals in 2 battles and Carthage was sacked in 439, 10 years after they crossed.