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Ancient Numidia

The ancient Berber kingdom of Numidia existed between 202 BC and 46 BC in what is now Algeria and part of modern-day Tunisia in North Africa. With the sparkling Mediterranean Sea to its north and the unforgiving Sahara Desert to the south, Numidia had the Roman-ruled province of Mauretania on its western border and the province of Africa, which was also under Roman rule, to the east. Although the ancient kingdom of Numidia is no longer in existence, evidence of its history can be found in the area.

The people of Numidia, referred to as Numidians, were made up of two tribal groups, with the Masaesyli located in the west and the Massylii in the east. During the Second Punic War, also known as The War Against Hannibal (218 BC-201 BC), the Numidians were split by tribe in their allegiance with the opposing groups. Under their king Gala, the Massylii formed an alliance with Carthage, with the Masaesyli supporting their king Syphax in an alliance with Rome. When Gala was replaced by Masinissa as king of the Massylii, he changed his allegiance with Rome, with Syphax of the Masaesyli falling in with the Carthaginians. The Romans proved to be victorious and awarded the conquered territory of Numidia to their ally, Masinissa of the Massylii. The territory remained in the family, when after the death of Masinissa, his son Micipsa took control. Upon his death in 118 BC, Micipsa’s two sons Hiempsal I and Adherbal, along with the illegitimate grandson of Masinissa, Jugurtha, began a battle for control. Jugurtha had Hiempsal assassinated, leading to open war between Jugurtha and Adherbal, with the latter looking to Rome for assistance when beaten in battle. Roman officials attempted to settle the dispute by dividing the territory in two, assigning the western section to Jugurtha and the remainder of Numidia to Adherbal.

Peace was temporary, however, and the conflict between the two adversaries soon resumed, this time with the Romans being dragged into it. Following a protracted battle, Jugurtha was eventually taken to Rome as a captive in chains. Following his death, the region changed hands numerous times until eventually being incorporated into Roman territory during the rule of the legendary Julius Caesar. The capital city at the time was Cirta, now modern-day Constantine, renamed after Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who reunited the split province on Numidia.

In addition to Constantine (formerly Cirta), cities in modern Algeria that date back to the time of Numidia include the port of Skikda (formerly Rusicada), Annaba (formerly Hippo Regius), and Tebessa (formerly Theveste). The territory is studded with evidence of Roman influence in the form of remains of buildings and settlements, as well as superbly constructed roads that gave the Romans the advantage in many a battle for power in the past.


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