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

Friday, September 20, 2013

Byzantine North Africa under Justinian

The 6th century Byzantine fortress of Kelibia in Tunisia. 

Byzantine North Africa

Editor  -  The Eastern Roman re-conquest of Vandal North Africa for the Empire was one of the great military campaigns of all time.  But military conquest was only the beginning.  The Emperor Justinian had to put down endless rebellions by his own troops and constant wars with the Moors.

In addition to the wars, Justinian spent a huge amount of money on buildings and fortifications from the Libyan border all the way to Morocco.

The great historian Procopius traveled with General Belisarius on his campaign in Africa.  That gave him a unique first hand knowledge of the area when he later wrote his book The Buildings of Justinian.  Below is the portion of his book that deals with Roman western Africa.

By Procopius   
The Buildings of Justinian
Written in the 550s AD

After Tripolis and the Syrtes, let us go on to the rest of Libya.  We must begin from Carthage, which chances to be the largest and the most noteworthy of the cities in this region, prefacing our account with the remark that when Gizericb and the Vandals acquired Libya, a device occurred to them which was both pernicious and worthy of barbarians.

They reasoned that they would be better off if all the towns of the region should be without walls, so that the Romans might not capture any of them and thus be able to harm the Vandals.  So they immediately tore down all the walls to the ground.

Emperor Justinian
All the barbarians, as a general thing, are very keen in planning damage to the Romans, and they are very swift in executing whatever they decide upon.  Only Carthage and a few other places were left by them just as they were, for they declined to concern themselves with these, and left them for time to destroy.

But the Emperor Justinian (although no man approved of his purpose and all actually shuddered at the undertaking, and only God furthered the project and promised help and support) sent Belisarius and an army against Libya; and he broke the power of Gelimer and the Vandals, killing many and making the rest captives, as I have recounted in the Books of the Wars.  He restored all the dismantled strongholds in Libya, every one of them, and he also added a great many new ones himself.

First, then, he cared for Carthage, which now, very properly, is called Justinianê, rebuilding the whole circuit-wall, which had fallen down, and digging around it a moat which it had not had before.  He also dedicated shrines, one to the Mother of God in the palace, and one outside this to a certain local saint, Saint Prima.

Furthermore, he built stoas on either side of what is called the Maritime Forum, and a public bath, a fine sight, which they have named Theodorianae, after the Empress.  He also built a monastery on the shore inside the circuit-wall, close to the harbour which they call Mandracium, and by surrounding it with very strong defences he made it an impregnable fortress.

Ruins of the Roman aqueduct in Carthage, Tunisia

These things, then, were done by Justinian at modern Carthage. In the surrounding region, which is called Proconsularis, there was an unwalled city, Vaga by name, which could be captured not only by a planned attack of the barbarians, but even if they merely chanced to be passing that way.  This place the Emperor Justinian surrounded with very strong defenses and made it worthy to be called a city, and capable of affording safe protection to its inhabitants.  And they, having received this favour, now call the city Theodorias in honour of the Empress.  He also built in this district a fortress which they call Tucca.

In Byzacium there is a city on the coast, Adramytus by name, which has been large and flourishing from ancient times, and for this reason it won the name and rank of metropolis of the region, since it chances to be first in point of size and, in general, of prosperity.

The Vandals had torn the circuit-wall of this city down to the ground, so that the Romans might not be able to use it against them. And it lay conveniently exposed to the Moors when they overran that region.  Nevertheless, the Libyans who lived there tried to make provision, so far as they could, for their own safety, and so they made a barricade out of the ruins of the walls and joined their houses together;  and from these they would fight against their assailants and try to defend themselves, though their hope was slight and their position precarious.  So their safety always hung by a hair and they were kept standing on one leg, being exposed to the attacks of the Moors and to the neglect of the Vandals.

However, when the Emperor Justinian became master of Libya by conquest, he put an exceedingly massive wall about the city and stationed there an adequate garrison of troops, thus giving the inhabitants assurance of safety and enabling them to disdain all enemies.  For this reason they now call the place Justinianê, thus repaying the Emperor for their deliverance and displaying their gratitude simply by the adoption of the name, since they had no other means by which they could requite the Emperor's beneficence, nor did he himself wish other requital.

There was also a certain other town on the coast of Byzacium which the inhabitants used to call Caputvada. At that point the Emperor's fleet landed and there the troops first set foot on the land of Libya, when they made the expedition against Gelimer and the Vandals.  In that place also God revealed that marvellous and indescribable gift to the Emperor which I have described in the Books on the Wars. For although the locality was exceedingly arid, so that the Roman army was very hard pressed by lack of water, the ground, which previously had been completely dry, sent up a spring at the place where the soldiers were building their stockade,  for as they dug, the water began to gush forth.

Ruins of the Byzantine walls of Theveste
This city in Algeria is one of the many sites restored and fortified under Solomon, a general of Emperor Justinian.  Solomon fought in the Vandalic War and the Moorish Wars.

So the earth threw off the drought which prevailed there, and transforming its own character became saturated with drinking-water.  Because of this circumstance they built a satisfactory camp in that place and spent that night there; and on the next day they prepared for battle and, to omit what intervened, took possession of Libya.  So the Emperor Justinian, by way of bearing witness to the gift of God by means of a permanent testimony — for the most difficult task easily yields to his wish — conceived the desire to transform this place forthwith into a city which should be made strong by a wall and distinguished by its other appointments as worthy to be counted an impressive and prosperous city; and the purpose of the Emperor has been realized.

For a wall has been brought to completion and with it a city, and the condition of a farm land is being suddenly changed.  And the rustics have thrown aside the plough and lead the existence of a community, no longer going the round of country tasks but living a city life.  They pass their days in the market-place and hold assemblies to deliberate on questions which concern them; and they traffic with one another, and conduct all the other affairs which pertain to the dignity of a city.

This then was done in Byzacium on the sea. In the interior of this land and to its farther parts, where barbarian Moors live hard by, he built very powerful outposts against them, because of which they are no longer able to overrun the Roman dominion.  He surrounded each one of the cities with very strong walls, since they stand on the rim of the territory; these bear the names Mammes, Teleptê and Cululis. He also constructed a fort which the natives call Aumetra, and in these places he stationed trustworthy garrisons of troops.

In the same way he assured the safety of the land of Numidia by means of fortifications and garrisons of soldiers, each one of which I shall now mention.  There is a mountain in Numidia which is called Aurasius, such as chances to be found nowhere else at all in the civilized world.  For this mountain rises steeply to a towering height and its perimeter extends to a distance of about three days' journey. It offers no path as one approaches it, having no ascent except over cliffs.

Fortress of Ksar Lemsa in Tunisia.
This fine fortress with its strikingly well-preserved walls (except for the SE side) can be seen from afar dominating the valley in the middle of a field of ruins. A gushing stream flows down the mountainside next to it. The citadel probably was built by the patrician Salomon in the reign of Justinian, who established his country-wide system of fortifications in the first half of the 6th c. Built with materials from the monuments of the ancient city.
(fr.wikipedia - Ksar Lemsa)

But after one gets to the top there is deep soil and level plains and easy roads, meadows good for pasture, parks full of trees and plough-land everywhere.  Springs bubble out from the cliffs there, their waters are placid, there are rippling rivers which flow chattering along, and strangest of all, the grain-fields and the trees on this mountain produce crops which are double in size compared with those which are wont to grow in the rest of Libya. Such is the condition of Mt. Aurasius. 

The Vandals held it originally along with the rest of Libya, but the Moors wrested it from them and settled there.  The Emperor Justinian, however, expelled from there the Moors, and Iaudas who ruled over them, and added this mountain to the rest of the Roman Empire.  As a precaution in order that the barbarians might not again make trouble by getting a foothold there, he fortified cities about the mountain which he found deserted and altogether unwalled. I refer to Pentebagae and Florentianae and Badê and Meleum and Tamugadê, as well as two forts, Dabusis and Gaeana; also he established there sufficient garrisons of soldiers, thus leaving to the barbarians there no hope of attacking Aurasius.

Ceuta, Spanish Morocco
Called Septum by the Romans, this fort stood near the Pillars of Hercules.  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.

The district beyond Aurasius, which had not been under the Vandals at all, he wrested from the Moors. There he walled two cities, Fricê and Sitifis. At the cities situated in the rest of Numidia, the names of which follow, he set up impregnable defences: Laribuzuduôn, Paraturôn, Cilana, Siccaveneria, Tigisis, Lamfouaomba, Calamaa, Medara, Medela;  besides these, two forts, Scilê and Foscala. So much, then, for this.

There is a city on the island Sardô, which is now named Sardinia, called by the Romans Traiani Forum.  This Justinian has supplied with a wall which it did not have before, but instead it lay exposed to the island Moors, who are called Barbaricini, whenever they wished to plunder it.

And at Gadira, at one side of the Pillars of Heracles, on the right side of the strait, there had been at one time a fortress on the Libyan shore named Septum; this was built by the Romans in early times, but being neglected by the Vandals, it had been destroyed by time.  Our Emperor Justinian made it strong by means of a wall and strengthened its safety by means of a garrison.  There too he consecrated to the Mother of God a noteworthy church, thus dedicating to her the threshold of the Empire, and making this fortress impregnable for the whole race of mankind.
So much for these things. There can be no dispute, but it is abundantly clear to all mankind, that the Emperor Justinian has strengthened the Empire, not with fortresses alone, but also by means of garrisons of soldiers, from the bounds of the East to the very setting of the sun, these being the limits of the Roman dominion.

As many, then, of the buildings of the Emperor Justinian as I have succeeded in discovering, either by seeing them myself, or by hearing about them from those who have seen them, I have described in my account to the best of my ability.  I am fully aware, however, that there are many others which I have omitted to mention, which either went unnoticed because of their multitude, or remained altogether unknown to me.  So if anyone will take the pains to search them all out and add them to my treatise, he will have the credit of having done a needed work and of having won the renown of a lover of fair achievements.

Roman Carthage
After the conquest, a new Roman city of Carthage was built on the same land, and by the 1st century AD it had grown to the second largest city in the western half of the Roman Empire, with a peak population of 500,000.  It was the center of the Roman Province of Africa, which was a major "breadbasket" of the Empire.
See more at Roman Carthage.

Ancient Carthage
Two views of what Carthage harbor could have looked like.
(mahdi-jwini.blogspot - carthage-harbors)

Praetorian Prefecture of Africa
With the capital based at Carthage, the Praetorian Prefecture of Africa (Latin: praefectura praetorio Africae) was a major administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire.  It was established after the re-conquest of northwestern Africa from the Vandals in 533-534 by Emperor Justinian I. It continued to exist until the late 580s, when it was replaced by the Exarchate of Africa.
Political subdivisions include:
Zeugitana, Byzacena, Numidia, Mauretania Sitifensis, Mauretania Caesariensis, and Mauretania Tingitana.
Also see The Praetorian Prefecture of Africa.

(Forts in Tunisia)            (Procopius - Buildings in Africa)          (Solomon - Byzantine General)


Anonymous said...

Procopius fine writer he was .

Anonymous said...

It`s odd as we as even only by Procopius , know so much , on a 70 years Byzantine ocupation of the area knowned before 100 years as the land of the Vandals , as much further before from the romans , or cartaginians till around 700 years ... as after 711 and over 1200 years after that , in the XIX century as French colonials enter Algeria , or the few clashes between Portuguese, and Spanish against the moorish native rulers in the 1500`s AD ... we know very few ...
in the years since 711 to 1830 AD as French Foreign Legion enter Algeria what happens there ?