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History, Ancient Times

About 800 bc, the Phoenicians, a seafaring people from the eastern Mediterranean, founded a North African state at Carthage in what is now Tunisia. During the Punic Wars (3rd-2nd centuries bc) between Carthage and Rome, Masinissa (reigned 202-148 bc), a Berber chief allied with Ancient Rome, established the first Algerian kingdom, Numidia. His grandson, Jugurtha, was subjugated by Rome in 106 bc.

Numidia prospered under Roman rule. Large estates produced so much grain and olive oil that the region became known as the granary of Rome. A system of military roads and garrisoned towns protected the inhabitants from nomadic tribes. In time, these towns, such as Timgad and Tipasa, grew into miniature Roman cities.

The decline of Rome brought many changes. Roman legions were withdrawn to defend other frontiers, and in the 3rd century ad regional independence was briefly expressed in the heretical Donatist movement, a North African Christian sect persecuted by the Roman authorities. Saint Augustine, a native Algerian of the 4th and 5th centuries, particularly denounced Donatism in his prolific writings. The Vandals, a Germanic tribe, invaded the region in the 5th century and stayed on to establish their own kingdom. Barely a century later these warriors were themselves overthrown by an army of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, whose dream was to restore the glory of the Roman Empire.

 

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