Civilisations Historic Accomplishments History Military People Politics Written History

Kingdom of Numidia (202BC – 46BC)

Written by Oadeye

What kingdoms existed in Africa before the Scramble for Africa of the late 19th century and its well known recent period of colonisation by Europe? We look at the Kingdom of Numidia (202 BC – 46BC). Numidia were crucial in the crushing defeat of Rome during the Battle of Cannae that wiped out the ruling class of Rome and their betrayal of Carthage to back Rome contributed to the downfall of the Carthaginian republic during the 3rd Punic War.

Introduction

The Kingdom of Numidia was formed in 202 BC and lasted around 156 years to 46 BC. It was an Ancient Berber kingdom, and existed in the geographic area of present day Algeria, along with a small part of Tunisia. It spanned an area of around 5000 square miles.

Eastern and Western Numidia, along with Carthage

Formation

The Kingdom of Numidia was formed from the original Kingdom of Carthage. The Numidians were divided into two great tribal groups. These were the Massylii in the East and Masaesyli in the West.  During the second Punic War, Massylii originally sided with Carthage, while Masaesyli, under the leadership of King Syphax allied themselves with the Roman Empire.  However, in 206 BC, the new King of Massylii sided with Rome, leading Syphax to ally himself with Carthage. This would prove a mistake as the Romans would claim victory over Carthage, and hand over Numidia to the Massylii. Thus, King Masnissa would become the first King of the Kingdom of Numidia

History

After he had united both parts of the Kingdom of Numidia, King Masnissa set about expanding the Kingdom. He was a long-lived ruler, ruling Numidia for around 54 years until dying at about the age of 90. He was vigorous to the end, and led his troops until his death. He would remain a staunch ally of the Roman Empire. Polybius, a Greek Historian bestowed the greatest of praise upon him, calling him, “the best man of all the kings of our time.”

King Masnissa wanted a self-sufficient, strong and stable state, so he introduced Carthaginian agricultural techniques and forced many Numidians to work as peasant farmers. This was particularly important as Numidia had been seen as an undeveloped region. However, by the end of his reign, Polybius would state that, “his greatest and most divine achievement was this: Numidia had been before his time universally unproductive, and was looked upon as incapable of producing any cultivated fruits. He was the first and only man who showed that it could produce cultivated fruits just as well as any other country”

On the military front, King Masnissa knew the value of keeping good relations with the Romans, and also realized that he needed to create a strong army to ensure his Kingdom was safe from Carthage. He would continue expanding his territories, with Roman help. He would provoke the Third Punic war by raiding Carthage’s settlements, but would die in 148 BC.

He was succeeded by his son Micipsa, who was given charge of the Kingdom’s Capital and Treasure, while his brothers owned the office of Justice and War. His brothers however, soon passed away, leaving him as the sole ruler. He would continue the alliance with Rome, but had his own reservations, believing that the Romans were not completely in favour of the Kingdom of Numidia. It was under his reign that the threat of Carthage would finally be destroyed.

Despite his suspicion of the Romans, he would continue to aid them, during their war efforts, and would modernize the army.

It was the war between his son’s on his death that would lead to the eventual breakup of the Kingdom of Numidia.

Achievements

One of the greatest achievements of the Kingdom of Numidia was the introduction of Agriculture to the reason. Once seen as a wasteland with no real agricultural prospects, Numidia would become the breadbasket of Rome, all thanks to modern agricultural techniques, which were learned from Carthage. This innovation would lead to the stability of the Kingdom of Numidia.

The most renowned innovation of Numidia was the Numidian Cavalry. A Roman Historian, Livy, would describe them as, “by far the best horsemen in Africa”.

The Numidian cavalry’s horses were the ancestors of the Berber horse. These horses were smaller than the other horses of the era, however, they would move much faster, especially over longer distances.

Numidian Cavalry

The Numidian horsemen would ride without saddles or bridles. They would, instead control their mounts with a simple rope around their horse’s neck. Unlike other cavalry of the time,they had no armour except for a round leather shield. Their main weapon was the Javelin, along with a small sword, which they would carry. It was their agility, and their expert control of their horses that would compensate for the lack of armour and heavy weapons. For this reason, they were experts at harassing tactics, and could frustrate less mobile armies. This was discovered by the Great Roman Emperor Julius Caesar himself, when his soldiers were frustrated in Africa.

However, their weakness was that without support, they could not stand their ground against heavier cavalry.  Caesar, after being frustrated by the Numidians, would send heavily armed horsemen who would rout large bodies of the Numidians. However, in smaller wars, this cavalry was without comparison and provided with proper support, were the best horsemen in the World. In the second Punic war, Hannibal would deploy Numidian Cavalry to lure the Romans into traps, such as in the Battle of Trebia. The Romans too would soon learn to use Numidian Cavalry for their own benefit.

Under the Kingdom of Numidia, this cavalry would become more modernized, with better armour, as supplied by the Romans, but just as mobile.

Even after the Numidian Empire was at an end, the Roman army would employ Numidian light cavalry in separate units for centuries, as their value was such that it could not be replaced.

Currency

The Numidians had their own currency and coins, which had the galloping horse inscribed on it. This would represent the Cavalry of the Numidians.

Main Kings of Numidia

Massinissa I (202 BC–148 BC)

Micipsa (148 BC –118 BC)

Adherbal (118 BC –112 BC)

Jugurtha (118 BC –105 BC)

Gauda (105 BC –88 BC)

Hiempsal II (88 BC to 60 BC)

Juda I (60 BC to 46 BC)

Decline

Numidia would be dominated by many nationalities over the centuries after being conquered by Rome, until it won its independence in 1962 as Algeria. The story of the Masaesyli is a large part of its history, and the Kingdom of Numedia would play a huge role in many other Empires such as the Kingdom of Mauretania.

About the author

Oadeye

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