History of Algeria, Part II

As promised, I am going to continue the historical background of Algeria, focusing this post on the spread of Islam, Arabization and Ottoman and Spanish conquests. This time period spans from the late Seventh century until the mid-Nineteeth century. Again, I am relying on the information from the Library of Congress website. Let’s go!

Islamic entree into Algeria (Migration Period, aka Islamic Golden Age): Various Arab groups begun making their way into Algeria and North Africa beginning the Seventh Century as part of their military expeditions to control the Mediterranean. It is important to note that many of these Arab and Isalmic groups had great control in Egypt, and the conflicts there affected migration towards the untouched Algerian land. In addition, there were also missionaries that followed, helping the Berbers whose homelands were destroyed and were more vulnerable to Islamic conversion. These small dynasties continually “handed over power” of Algerian land as they continually moved west towards Morocco but maintained their interest in the breadbasket. The first of these groups, the Fatimids, established control in the area until they left for Egypt. The next Berber dynasty, the Zirids, ruled during the Tenth century until they turned the power over to the Hammadids who strengthened the ports. However, there was a conflict between all of these groups vying for control again. Two other stronghole Berber groups, the Sanhaji and Zeneta, supported the Zirids. However, beduins from Egypt immigrated due to conflict in Egypt and took over western Tunisia. The farmers there migrated towards Algeria for safety. The Almoravid and Almohad movements from Spain and Morocco, however, restored Algeria’s financial sector and trade routes through the Sahara which was lost in the previous conflicts. Though it was initially an Islamic movement, a military formed to keep things in check.

European and wordly influences (Age of Discovery, aka inklings of colonialism): The next sets of dynasties to control Algeria did so in a broader sense; in other words, these groups held control in greater Maghreb. The Zayanids, a hybrid Berber (Zeneta) and Almohad sect, held onto the control over Maghreb despite revolts and calls for autonomy. The main source of their income was through the ports which helped increase trading with Spain. However, when the Inquisition began expelling Jews and Muslums out of the Spain, there was an influx of asylum-seekers in Maghreb including Algeria. Spain extended its power by conquering ports in Algeria but did not pursue a complete colonialization unlike Latin America. Overall, interest in the Mediterranean trade boosted Algeria’s ports and port cities, building them up.

Ottoman Rule (aka Constantinople, not Istanbul): Brothers Aruj and Khair ad Din from the Ottoman Empire began moving into Maghreb in the early Sixteeth century. The sultan gave the Khair ad Din (after the death of Aruj) governance powers and a military to occupy the area, weakening any Spanish control. Anatolian peasants were also recuited to be civil servants as Arabs and Berbers could not officially work for the government. However, there were revolts, and a new government formed with control from the local intitutions (and Ottoman control from the sultan was null). The new control of the region spread, creating a “centralized” (and autocratic) government under the “dey” along the coastline as the Spanish was evenutally kicked out. The dey was elected for life, but most were assassinated. Margainlized groups had small guilds to keep the government in check, but everything was mostly divded by tribes. This mish-mash of local governments was soon to be unified by the French.

Stay tuned for Part III, French invasion and Algerian War of Independence!


History of Algeria, Part I

In an effort to summarize a very rich and lengthy history, I will try to outline the chronology of Algeria through all its many transitions. For my outline, I am going to heavily use the Library of Congress Country Studies.

To start, I’m going to talk about pre-Arabization of Algeria.

Very long time ago (prehistoric, aka cavemen): Algeria, like most of North Africa, was inhabited by hominids (200,000 BCE) and Neanderthals (43,000 BCE) who forged sophisticated tools and crafts (Aterian). The blades were the first of their kind, and the areas in which these peoples thrives were Ibero-Maurusian and Oranian. There were cave paintings depicting hunters and gathers found to be dated at at least 4,000 BCE. The hunters from the Caspian area overtook the region, and peoples and cultures merged with the creation of what we consider the Berbers (3,000 BCE). Agriculture, animal domestication and sedentary living began.

Empires and wars (classical period, aka establishment): Berber networks became more advanced with trade, agriculture and muncipalities. Phonecians arrived in 900 BCE and set up trading posts along the Maghreb coastline, the most lucrative being Carthage in modern Tunisia. The Berbers and Phonecians had mutual trade agreements at first, but with each of their advancements, territory became an issue. Peoples, lands and crops were inevitably fought over, enslaved and extracted. There was a series of Punic Wars, Berbers winning the first and Catharage destroyed by the Romans (146 BCE). Berbers united and formed a single leadership under Masinissa (2 BCE). After his death (148 BCE), Berber groups divided and united several more times.

Urbanization (Roman empire, aka hail caesar): In 24 AD, Berber regions were annexed to the Roman Empire, and like everywhere else the Romans ventured, destruction of civilizations followed. Berber groups were margainalized (the first series of this pattern for Berbers) and stripped of their land ownership. There were forced to migrate and settle elsewhere, further into the Sahara desert. Roman troops circled the state, from the coast until the sourthern-most area of Algeria today, forming a barrier. The major Roman players established cities and effective grain and olive production, making Algeria known as the “breadbasket of the empire.” With increase exports, towns were created. The fall of the Roman Empire began in Algeria around 250 AD with successive revolts by Berber tribes. Also around this time, Jewish settlers emerged and Christianity was introduced, resulting in a spread of both religions in the Berber communities. Christian leaders, namely Augustine, had a lot of power.

Game of Thrones (Middle Ages, aka boo caesar): Vandals from Germanic lands conquered Algeria after the death of Augustine in 429 AD. While initially making a pact with the Romans, Gaiseric, leader of the Vandals, pillaged most of the coastal cities in North Africa. The Romans lost their economic stronghold in the region, and Berbers returned with valor. In 533 AD, the Byzantines (under Justinian) kicked out the Vandals and claimed rule over the area, building still. However, since the homebase was in modern Turkey, the leaders were not effective in controlling the area and mainly concerned themselves in indulgences and corruption. Berber superiority once again grew out of the untouched areas of Algeria.

Stay tuned for Part II, Arabization, spead of Islam, Spanish and Ottoman conquer!!