The Kingdom of Mauretania came into existence around 225 BC, in the third century. Its inhabitants come from Berber ancestry, based on modern day ethnic taxonomies, and currently it belongs to the Western part of present day Algeria.
Mauretania was a kingdom of the Berber Mauri people, who would become renowned in history. It was the Phoenicians who named the area as Mauharim, which means “Western Land.” This would later become known as Mauretania. The Mauretanian kingdom is generally considered to have developed more slowly than the kingdom of Numidia.
The mountain massif of the Atlas protected Mauretania from the Phoenician thalassocracy, then later Carthage as well as initial Roman attempts at conquest. The people of Mauretania had cities as well as rural life in fertile regions such as the Moulouya Valley and also along the Atlantic coast. However, it was in the mountainous regions that tribes kept their identity into Roman times and even beyond.
The Mauri were referred to as early as an expedition to Sicily of 406 BC.
Before the Kingdom of Mauretania
Before the Kingdom of Mauretania came into existence, the area was occupied by the Berber people. By looking at some of the architecture, historians have discovered something about the Tichitt tradition. This tradition is based on the remains of 400 or so settlements that were found near Tichitt, and have been dated back to between 2,000 BCE and 200 BCE. The area was based on the cultivation of millet, however, with the environment becoming increasingly arid, this was later abandoned.
The Tichitt tradition is defined by dry stonewall remains which are found even as far as Guilemsi. The remains recently found at Guilemsi contain many monuments that seemed to be for funeral purposes, and are very similar to those found near Tichitt. There are also many paintings of different animals painted on the rocks, showing that the area had animal husbandry even before the Kingdom of Mauretania came into existence.
Formation of Mauretania
During the second Punic war, the war between Eastern and Western Numidia was decided by the decision of King Masinissa to ally himself with Rome. Upon his return to Africa after forming this alliance, it was King Baga of Mauretania that provided a bodyguard for King Masinissa. Thus, the war was decided, and King Baga’s decision to aid Rome was a vital moment in history. He was the first known King of Mauretania.
Kings of Mauretania
The next known King of Mauretania was King Bocchus I. He became came King in 110 BC. The kings in between are not recorded in history. He was the father-in-law of Jugurtha, whom he aided in a war against the Romans. They were victorious in their battles, but Bocchus saw that Jugurtha could not win a prolonged war against the Romans and conspired with the Romans in delivering Jugurtha to them. Thus, he made overtures to the Romans in the hopes of an alliance. Jugurtha fell into this trap, and was delivered to the Romans. He would rule until 80 BC.
The next King was King Mastanesosus, who was followed by his son Bocchus II.
Coins in King Bocchus II’s name
King Bocchus II’s reign began in 49 BC. At the start of his reign, Mauretania was jointly ruled between Bocchus and his younger brother Bogud. Bocchus II ruled the east of the Mulucha River and his brother ruled the west part of the Mulucha River.
Their title was recognized by King Julius Caesar himself. They would invade Numidia and conquer Cirta, which was the capital of Juba. At the end of the war, Caesar would give Bocchus part of the territory of Masinissa II. Boccus and Bogud would fight further wars on the side of Caesar.
It was after Caesar’s death that trouble would brew between the brothers. Bogud supported Mark Antony, while Bocchus would stand by by Octavian. Around 38 BC, King Bocchus seized Bogud’s territory while he was campaigning in Spain. Bocchus thus became the sole ruler of Mauretania, and was recognized by Octavian. Bogud would die in Anthony’s campaigns, thus ending all opposition to his rule. It was on Bocchus’s death in 33 BC that he would will Mauretania to the Romans, thus making Mauretania a client state of Rome.
Bocchus’s death left an entire Kingdom without a ruler. Despite the will, the emperor Augustus was unwilling to take direct control, perhaps fearing that the mountain tribes would pose formidable problems for the Romans, and decided instead to opt for a local ruler. Augustus instead installed as king Juba who was the son of the last Numidian king. Juba has spend his childhood in the Roman Empire and he would go on to rule for 40 years as a completely loyal client king.
What Juba did to some degree in Mauretania has many parallels to what Masinissa had done in Numidia. Juba was a peaceful man who was fully Hellenized and was a prolific Greek Author. His capital was renamed Caesarea, in honour of the great Roman King, and he started urbanizing the region. He was succeeded by his son Ptolemaus.
Royal Mausoleum of King Juba II, Algeria (formerly Kingdom of Mauretania). Painting by Jean Claude Golvin
Ptolemaus ruled till 40 AD, when he was summoned to Rome by the emperor Gaius and executed. The reason for this execution is unknown. This action, which occurred before the provincialization of the area, sparked off a revolt which was suppressed after several years, but with heavy losses. At this point self-rule and the Mauretanian kingdom came to an end.
Atlas, King of Mauretania
King Atlas was a legendary king of Mauretania before 500 BCE. He was credited with the invention of the celestial globe.
Trade and achievements
The Mediterranean coast of Mauretania had harbours that were used commercially for trade with Carthage from before around 400 BC. The interior was controlled by Berber tribes who carried out large amounts of trade with Carthage, and in the future with the Romans.
The Mauretanian kings as a whole carried out large scale urbanization in the region, which was inspired by the development of the Roman Empire. King Juba in particular is credited for urbanizing a lot of the region and modernizing the agricultural techniques of the region, possibly due to the period of peace that followed the end of the First, Second and Third Punic Wars allowing Mauretania to focus on pursuing trade and prosperity. The Mauretanians also had the advantage of receiving some tax exemptions from Rome during periods when Mauretania backed Rome over Carthage, and Rome over Numidia.
Under the Romans, port facilities were developed and extensive trade was carried out, taking the influence of the area to a level not seen since the Punic era. Most of these were exports to Italy, as a client state of the Roman Empire, however, this gave the Mauretanian kingdom a degree of economic independence that not many client states enjoyed.
The Mauretanian kingdom also had well trained and well-disciplined armies and a people that were more than willing to fight for their Empire, to the extent that despite having the Empire willed to him, Augustus, the leader of the Roman Empire, did not dare assumed direct rulership of the Kingdom. Mauretanian soldiers may be among the Roman soldiers that were in later times found on the Antonine Wall.
The Mauretanian kingdom shaped history and was responsible for a lot of success of Rome in Africa. It was an example of a region in Africa gaining independence and showing strength that even the Roman Empire knew was not to be trifled with.