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NUMI´DIA the central tract of country on the N. coast of Africa, which forms the largest portion of the country now occupied by the French, and called Algeria or Algérie.

I. Name, Limits, and Inhiabitants.

The continuous system of highlands, which extends along the coast of the Mediterranean, was in the earliest period occupied by a race of people consisting of many tribes, of whom, the Berbers of the Algerine territories, or the Kabyles or Quabaîly, as they are called by the inhabitants of the cities, are the representatives. These peoples, speaking a language which was once spoken from the Fortunate Islands in the W. to the Cataracts of the Nile, and which still explains many names in ancient African topography, and embracing tribes of quite different characters, whites as well as blacks (though not negroes), were called by the Romans Eth. Numidae, not a proper name, but a common denomination from the Greek form νομάδες. (Strab. ii. p.131, xvii. pp. 833, 837.) Afterwards Numida and Numidia (Νονμιδία and Νομαδία or Νομαδική, Ptol. 4.3; Pomp. Mela, 1.6; Plin. Nat. 5.2, 6.39) became the name of the nation and the country. Sometimes they were called MAURUSII NUMIDAE (Μαυρούσιοι Νομάδες, Appian, App. BC 2.44), while the later writers always speak of them under the general name of MAUSI (Amm. Marc. 29.5; Procop. B. V. 2.4.) The most powerful among these tribes were the MASSYLI (Μαδδύλιοι, Plb. 3.44; Strab. ii. p.131, xvii. p. 829; Dionys. A. R. 187; Μασσυλεῖς, Plb. 7.19; Massyli, Sil. Ital. 16.170; Massyla gens, Liv. 24.48), whose territories extended from the river Ampsaga to Tretum Prom. (Seba Rûs); and the MASSAESYLI (Μασσαισύλιοι, [p. 2.454]Plb. 3.33; Strab. ii. p.131, xvii. pp. 827, 829, 833; Dionys. A. R. 187; Sal. Jug. 92; Plin. Nat. 5.1; Masaesyli, Liv. 28.17), occupying the country to the W. as far as the river Mulucha. Nomad life, under all the differences of time and space, presents: one uniform type, the “armentarius Afer” of Virgil (Georg. 3.344), and Sallust (Sal. Jug. 18), who, as governor of Numidia, had opportunity for observation, may be recognised in the modern Kabyle. These live in huts made of the branches of trees :and covered with clay, which resemble the “magalia” of the old Numidians, spread in little groups over the side of the mountains, and store away their grain in holes in the ground. Numidia, a nation of horsemen, supplied the Carthaginians with the wild cavalry, who, without saddle and bridle, scoured the country, as if horse and rider were one creature. Masinissa, who, till the age of ninety, could spring upon his horse's back (Appian, App. Pun. 107), represents the true Numidian; faithless, merciless, unscrupulous, he is a man of barbaric race, acquiring the tastes and the polish of civilisation without any deeper reformation. Agriculture and the arts of life were introduced under Masinissa, and still more by Micipsa. After the fall of Cartilage, the Romans presented the Numidian kings with its library; but Punic influence must have been very slight. Procopius (B. V. 2.10), indeed says, of the inhabitants of both Mauretania and Numidia, that they used the Phoenician language in his time; but it is extremely improbable that they ever used Punic, nor can it be supposed that Procopius possessed the information requisite for ascertaining the fact. They used a language among themselves, unintelligible to the Greeks and Romans, who imagined it to be Punic, while there can be little doubt that it was the idiom which they spoke before the arrival of :the Phoenician colonists, and which continued to be their vernacular dialect long after the Carthaginians and Romans had ceased to be known among them, even by name. Latin would be the language of the cities, and must have been very generally intelligible, as the Christian teachers never appear to have used or to have thought it necessary to learn any other language.

II. Physical Geography.

Recent investigation has shown that the distinction between what was called the “Greater and the Lesser Atlas” must :be abandoned. There is only one Atlas, formerly called in the native language “Dyris ;” and this name is to be applied to the foldings, or succession of crests, which form the division between the waters flowing to the Mediterranean and those which flow towards the Sahara lowland. The E. prolongation of the snow-covered W. summits of the Atlas, has a direction or strike from E. to .W. Numerous projections from this chain run :out into the sea, and form abrupt promontories: the first of these in a direction from E. to W., was HIPPI PROM (Ἵππου ἄχρα, Ptol. 4.3.5: C. de Garde, or Râs-el-Hamrah); then STOBORRUM (Στόβορρον, Ptol. l.c.: C. de Fer, Râs Hádîd); RUSICADA; COLLOPS MAGNUS; at TRES PROM., or the cove at Seba Rûs, the SINUS NUMIDICUS (Νουμιδίκος κόλπος, Ptol. 4.3.3), into which the rivers Ampsaga, Audus, and Sisar discharged themselves, with the headland IGILGILI (Dschidscheli) and SALDAE (C. Carbon, Bougie, Bedschâjah); after passing RUSUCURUM and C. Matifi or Râs Temendfûz, the bold shores of the Bay of Algiers, to which the ancients gave no name, succeed. The chief rivers were the TUSCA the boundary between Numidia and the Roman province, the RUBRICATUS or UBUS, and the AMPSAGA The S. boundaries, towards the widely extended low region of the Sahara, are still but little known. From the researches of MM. Fournel, Renou, and Carette, it appears that the Sahara is composed of several detached basins, and that the number and the population of the fertile oases is much greater than had been imagined. Of larger wild animals, only gazelles, wild asses, and ostriches are to be met with. The lion of the Numidian desert exists only in imagination, as that animal naturally seeks spots where food and water can be found The camel, the “ship of the desert,” was unknown to the ancient horsemen of Numidia; its diffusion must be attributed to the period of the Ptolemies, who employed it for commercial operations in the valley of the Nile, whence it spread through Cyrene to the whole of the NW. of Africa, where it was first brought into military use in the train of armies in the times of the Caesars. The later introduction of this carrier of the desert, so important to the nomadic life of nations, and the patriarchal stage of development, belongs to the Mohammedan epoch of the conquering Arabs. The maritime tract of this country displays nearly the same vegetable forms as the coasts of Andalusia and Valencia. The olive, the orange-tree, the arborescent ricinus, the Chamaerops hunilis, and the date-tree flourish on both sides of the Mediterranean; and when the warmer sun of N. Africa produces different species, they are generally belonging to the same families as the European tribes. The marble of Numidia, “giallo antico,” golden yellow, with reddish veins, was the most highly prized at Rome for its colour. (Plin. Nat. 35.1, 36.8.) The pavement of the Comitium at Rome consisted of slabs of this beautiful material. (Niebuhr, Lect. on Anc. Geog. vol. ii. p. 80.)

III. History and Political Geography.

The Romans became acquainted with these tribes in the First Punic War, when they served as the Carthaginian cavalry. After the great victory of Regulus, the Numidians threw off the yoke of Carthage. (Plb. 1.31; Diod. Fragm. Vat. 23.4.) The wild array of their horsemen was the most formidable arm of Hannibal, and with the half-caste Mutines at their head, carried destruction throughout Sicily. In the great struggle of the Second Punic War the Romans made use of these faithless barbarians with great success. The services of Masinissa prince of the E. Numidians, were not unrewarded, and, at the end of the war, he obtained the dominions of Syphax, his rival, and prince of the W. tribes, the Massaesyli, and a great part of the Carthaginian territory; so that his kingdom extended from the Mulucha on the W., to the Cyrenaica on the E., completely surrounding the small strip allowed to Carthage on the coast. (Appian, App. Pun. 106). When Masinissa died he left his kingdom to his three sons, Gulussa, Micipsa, and Mastanabal. Gulussa and Mastanabal died; the latter left no legitimate children, but only Jugurtha and Gauda, sons by a concubine; and thus the vast dominions of Numidia fell into the hands of Micipsa, the Philhellene. He had two sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, with whom he associated Jugurtha in the throne. The latter, spurning a divided empire, murdered Hiempsal, and compelled Adherbal to fly to Rome, where he appealed to the senate against the usurpation of his cousin. The [p. 2.455]senators, many of whom were bribed by Jugurtha, sent commissioners, who divided the kingdom in such a manner that Jugurtha obtained the most warlike and most productive portion of it; New quarrels broke out between the rival princes, when Jugurtha besieged Adherbal in Cirta, and, after compelling him to surrender, put him to a cruel death. War was declared against Jugurtha by Rome, which, after being carried on with varying success, was finished by his capture and death in B.C. 106. The kingdom was given to Hiempsal II., who was. succeeded by his son Juba I., who in the civil wars allied himself to the Pompeians. On the death of Juba I., B.C. 46, Numidia was made a Roman province by Julius Caesar, who put it in the hands of Sallust, the historian. A.D. 39, Caligula changed the government of the province, giving apparently, co-ordinate powers to the proconsul and the legatus. [See the article AFRICA Vol. I. p. 70, where the arrangements are fully described.] The “legatus Aug. Numidiae” (Orelli, Inscr. 3672) resided at Cirta, the capital of the old Numidian kings, which, since the time of Augustus, had acquired the “jus colonial.” Besides Cirta, there were many other “coloniae,” of which the following names are known :--SICCA; THAMUCADIS; APHRODISIUM; CALCUA; TABRACA; TIBIGA; TYRIDROMUM; TUBURNICA; THEVESTB ; MEDAUTJA; AMMEDERA; SIMITTU; RUSICADE; HIPPO REGIUS; MILEUM; LAMBAESA; THELEPTE LARES. BULLA REGIA was a “liberum oppidum.” The number of towns must have been considerable, as,, according to the “Notitia,” Numidia had in the fifth century 123 episcopal sees. (Marquardt, in Bekker's Handbuch der Röm. Alt. pt. iii. p. 229.) During the Roman occupation of the country, that people, according to their usual plan, drove several roads through it. Numerous remains of Roman posts and stations, which were of two kinds, those which secured the roads, and others which guarded the estates at some distance from them, are still remaining (London Geog. Journ. vol. viii. p. 53); and such was their excellent arrangement that, at first, one legion, “IIIa Aug.,” to which afterwards a second was added, “Macriana liberatrix” (Tac. Hist. 1.11), served to keep the African provinces secure from the incursions of the Moorish tribes. The long peace which Africa enjoyed, and the flourishing corn trade it carried on, had converted the wild Numidian tribes into peaceful peasants, and had opened a great field for Christian exertion. In the fourth century, Numidia was the chosen seat of the Donatist schism. The ravages of the Circumcellions contributed to that destruction, which was finally consummated by the Vandal invasion. Justinian sent forth his troops, with a view of putting down the Arians, more than of winning new provinces to the empire The work was a complete one; the Vandals were exterminated. Along with-the temporary rule of Constantinople, the native population of Africa reappeared. The most signal victory of the cross, as it appeared to that generation, prepared the way for the victory of the crescent a century afterwards.


hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Appian, Punic Wars, 16.106
    • Appian, Punic Wars, 16.107
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.7.44
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.31
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.44
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.33
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.11
    • Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum, 18
    • Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum, 92
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 48
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 29.5
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.3
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