The eight Christian Berber kingdoms are the states which emerged out of the Mauro-Roman kingdom. The Mauro-Roman kingdom was an independent Christian Berber kingdom located in present day Northern Algeria. It had its capital at the city of Altava and controlled the major portion of the ancient Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis. This kingdom was formed towards the end of the fifth century (477 AD) when Roman control over the North African region weakened. The Roman empire was under constant threat from Germanic tribes, and as a result had to pull back from the North African territories in order to secure their borders.
As the area was slowly left unsecured, the ethnic tribes in the area, namely the Berbers, banded together. These tribes and its people had been living in this area for a very long time, and as a result had been integrated fully into the Roman society. This helped them to continue the Roman style of rule and government, but with their own people at the helm. This led to the formation of the Mauro Roman Kingdom.
This kingdom successfully flourished for nearly a century until the rule of King Garmul. King Garmul was the most successful Mauro-Roman king, and under him the kingdom captured much of its neighbouring territories. However, in Garmul’s overzealous aggression, he continuously launched raids into the Byzantine territories and managed to kill 3 successive generals. This led to the Byzantine emperor at the time, Tiberius II Constantine, electing a new, highly capable general, Gennadius, to launch a campaign to end Garmul’s forces. The preparation for the campaign were extensive, to ensure the absolute end of the Mauro-Roman Kingdom. Finally, in the year 577-578 AD, Garmul’s forces were systematically defeated and his subjects terrorised into submission.
This led to the complete destruction of the Mauro-Roman kingdom, almost overnight. The various tribes that were a part of this kingdom splintered apart and formed their own kingdoms, with their own policies and territories. These kingdoms, or rump states, were known as the Eight Christian Berber Kingdoms.
Map: The Eight Christian Berber Kingdoms (source)
The fall of King Garmul was a huge blow to the Mauro-Roman kingdom. Upon his death the entire kingdom broke apart into 8 major territories after a lot of infighting to decide upon the exact borders. Meanwhile, even the Byzantine Empire was contemplating what to do with the old Mauro-Roman territories. However, a romanized Berber Kingdom managed to consolidate power over the Altavan region, with the city of Altava as its capital, though its sphere of influence was much smaller than its predecessor. This was the Kingdom of Altava.
This kingdom existed from the year 578 AD to 708 AD. It was located in Northern Africa, in present-day Northern Algeria. Its major population belonged to the Berber ethnicity, which is an ethnic group which comprises of people from the North Africa. This kingdom existed in the Maghreb until the Umayyad Caliphate, from Mecca, went on a conquest of this region in the seventh and eighth centuries. They successfully managed to overthrow the Kingdom of Altava and other sister Berber states, and erased most of the Berber culture along the way.
The Kingdom of Altava was home to one of the most legendary rulers of the African region. His name was Caecilius (the inspiration for the name of the Marvel villain in Doctor Strange). Caecilius was a warrior king who ruled the Kingdom of Altava from 680 AD to 690 AD. His reign marked the period of most prosperity for the Altavans, as he was an incredibly proficient tactician and orator. He managed to get support from the Byzantines and the local war chief for his campaigns against the Umayyad Caliphate.
Caecilius’s animosity with the Caliphate started when he was captured by Uqba ibn Nafi in the year 679AD. He was from a royal family and hence was paraded around all of North Africa before he managed to break free from his captors in the year 680 AD. He managed to impress the then king Sekerdid so much so that Sekerdid abdicated his throne to Caecilius and took on the role of his most trusted advisor. Caecilius, once crowned king, used his influence to gather support from his kingdom’s old foes, the Byzantines, and the warring Berber chiefs to raise a massive army. He then bided his time.
Eventually general Uqba ibn Nafi, after his campaign in North Africa ended, came back to the city of Kairouan and disbanded his army. This left only 300 exhausted and vulnerable men to defend the city. Seizing this chance Caecilius attacked Uqba with his 5000 strong Amazingh army and crushed Uqba’s forces in the Battle of Bikra, eventually killing Uqba ibn Nafi himself. He marched on Kairouan and annexed the city in the year 683 AD, and named it his capital.
This made Caecilius the master of all north Africa and made the Kingdom of Altava the most powerful North African kingdom. However, this victory was very short lived.
Soon after Uqba’s defeat, the Caliph sent out a force of nearly 40,000 men led by the capable general Zuhair ibn Kays to defeat Caecilius once and for all. The 2 armies met in battle at the valley of Mamma after a long siege of Kairouan. Caecilius was finally defeated in battle and with him ended the Kingdom of Altava. The warrior chief named Dihya, later dubbed the Queens of the Berbers, succeeded him to the throne but by then the damage to the kingdom was too extensive and within 10 year, in the year 708 AD, Altava was finally captured by the Umayyad Caliphate.
The Kingdom of Ouarsenis was the largest of the 8 Christian Berber kingdoms. This kingdom encompasses almost all of the Ouarsenis mountain range in present day Algeria. This area had been historically occupied by the mountain tribes of the Berber ethnicity. Upon the death of King Garmul these tribes decided to band together and from their own kingdom. This coalition secured their borders around the foothills of the Ouarsenis mountains. Owing to the large boundaries of these mountains, the Kingdom of Ouarsenis held sway over the largest territory of the erstwhile Mauro-Roman Kingdom.
However even despite the large territory held by the Ouarsenis, it wasn’t a very powerful or influential kingdom. Their forces were mainly only involved in the defence of their borders, which were fairly easy to secure owing to the natural features of the mountains and pre-existing fortifications in the region of the mountains. Their kingdom was a cohesive whole only in the name. Their people were still divided into small tribes, owning allegiance and taxes to their king but not much else.
Their society was a simple hierarchy of chiefs of different tribes. However, they were very bad at record keeping since this hierarchy, like any fragmented tribal ruling system, kept changing every few years.
So, information about this kingdom is very scarce, including information about its decline. Historians postulate that its decline could have been directly linked to the fall of King Caecilius. Once he fell, the Umayyad Caliphate went on a brutal conquest of the region to squash all possibility of another Berber threat. It seems that the Kingdom of Ouarsenis fell to this conquest as well.
The Ouarsenis mountain range
The kingdom of Hodna was a small kingdom bordering the Kingdom of Ouarsenis. Like the other Berber kingdoms, it too was founded out of the local Berber tribes banding together under a warrior hierarchy after the fall of King Garmul. They attempted to fill the power vacuum at Altava, however the existence of the Ouarsenis mountain range in between them and Altava put a halt to this plan. Subsequently this kingdom did not take part in any major battles, except perhaps providing some troops to Caecilius in his war against the Umayyad Caliphate. This kingdom collapsed during the Umayyad conquest of the region as well.
The kingdom of Hodna was a very short lived and fairly insignificant one, without any lasting evidence of record keeping. As such information about it is very scarce.
The Kingdom of the Aurès was an independent Christian Berber kingdom primarily located in the Aurès Mountains of present-day north-eastern Algeria. It was always historically an independent kingdom, although very closely allied with the Mauro-Roman kingdom. This makes it the oldest of the 8 kingdoms on this list.
The Aures people were very aggressive when it came to defending their territory, and as a result were allowed their autonomy from the Mauro-Romans. During the battle which King Garmul lost, the Kingdom of Aures also lost a significant chunk of their armies. This led to their territory shrinking by a lot, until their king managed to secure support from the Byzantines themselves. The Byzantine believed that the Kingdom of Aures would provide resistance to the Arab conquest of the region, and they were correct. The Aures people used guerilla warfare techniques and constant raids from the mountains to put a halt to the Arab war machine from entering the area. On the other side, Caecilius was holding the Arabs back with his massive Amazingh army.
Indeed, upon the death of Caecilius, the torch of resistance fell to Dihya, or Kahina. Kahina led the final charge of the Berbers against the Arabs, and managed to hold them off for nearly 10 years before the Caliphate troops broke her defences and overwhelmed her kingdom.
Dihya, AKA Kahina, Queen of Aures (source)
The Kingdom of Nemencha was a kingdom in the present-day North Africa, near present day North Algeria. This kingdom was bordered by the Kingdom of Aures on the west and the Kingdom of Capsa on the east. This was a very small kingdom with the local Berber tribes coalescing together to form a small monarchy-led government.
This kingdom had minimal impact on the area of North Africa. Their distance from the Kingdom of Altava and the border of the Aures mountains stopped them from being impactful in any of the major Berber wars. They also eventually fell to the Umayyad Caliphate.
The Kingdom of Capsus was a small kingdom in the present-day Northeast Algeria, with the Kingdom of Nemencha to its west and the Kingdom of Dorsale to its east. It was a very small kingdom which did not impact the area of the Mahgreb in any significant way. The only historical records mentioning this kingdom mention it in a small trading capacity with the other Berber kingdoms.
Like the other kingdoms, it probably was destroyed under the Umayyad Caliphate’s conquest.
The Kingdom of Capsus was a small kingdom in the present day Northeastern Algeria, with the Kingdom of Capsus to its west and the Kingdom of Tripolis to its east. This kingdom, like many other Berber kingdoms, was mainly just a coalition of the local Berber tribes and had no ambition or attempts to be anything else. Owing to its territory being more North than any other, it was under constant threat from both the Vandals and the Arabs, and as a consequence did not participate in any battle in order to prevent antagonising them.
Map: Migrations of the Vandals from Scandinavia through Dacia, Gaul, Iberia, and into North Africa. Grey: Roman Empire. (Source)
Like the other Christian Berber kingdoms, it was annexed under the Caliphate’s conquest.
The Kingdom of Capsus was a small kingdom in the present day Northeastern Algeria, with the Kingdom of Dosale to its west. This kingdom was more expansive and impactful under the reign of King Garmul of Altava. According to some sources, in the year 484 AD, King Huneric was the king of the (North African) Vandals, and ruler of this region. The Vandals had, for ages, kept the Berbers under a strict rule, often persecuting them and driving them from their birth land.
Under King Huneric, the Berbers revolted and started to consolidate their powers in the City of Altava, later to be the capital of the Berber Kingdom of Mauro-Romans, and in the Aures Mountains. This led to the foundation of the Kingdom of Aures and the Kingdom of Tripolis. After King Huneric’s death, the Berbers pursued an all-out war with the Vandals, against Huneric’s successors, Gunthamund and Thrasamund, who were ruling the Vandals. During Thrasamund’s reign, the Vandals suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of a Berber king ruling the city Tripolis, named Cabaon.
This led to the Kingdom of Tripolis sometimes being called the Kingdom of Cabaon. However, he was the last great king of this kingdom. After Cabaon’s death, this kingdom fell into obscurity and was swept up in the Umayyad Caliphate’s conquest.
A lot of people of think of North Africans as Muslims or Arabs. The identity of North Africans has changed over time. At times they were united, at times they were Romans, then Byzantines, at times they were fragmented such as during the era of the 8 Christian Berber kingdoms, and at times they were empire builders such as during the era of the Carthaginian Empire, or Almohad Empire. Also, the religious beliefs adopted by North Africa has changed over time, switching from indigenous ideas to Christianity then Islam. Most people who don’t dig deep into African history are unlikely to discover the changing nature of North African identity.
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