Related Content

'Roman Africa' can also refer to...


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical studies


Show Summary Details


Roman Africa

Quick Reference

The Punic Wars made Rome heir to the Carthaginian empire. In 146 bc she left most territory in the hands of Masinissa's descendants, but formed a new province (Africa) in the most fertile part. It was governed by a praetor from Utica. Except for Utica and six other towns of Phoenician origin which had supported Rome in the Punic Wars, most of the land became ager publicus. Although the attempt by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus to found a colony (see colonization, roman) at Carthage failed, Roman and Italian traders and farmers settled in the province in large numbers, and many of Marius' veterans settled west of the boundary line. After the battle of Thapsus in 46 Caesar added to the existing province the Numidian territory of Juba I. Caesar's intention to colonize Carthage afresh was carried out by Augustus.

Under him, the united province, now called Africa Prōconsulāris, extended from the edge of Cyrenaica to western Algeria. At least eleven colonies were founded in Proconsularis, in addition to the thirteen colonies settled on the coast of Mauretania. Africa Proconsularis was governed from Carthage by a proconsul, who (unusually for the governor of a province not controlled by the emperor) also commanded legion III Augusta. Under Gaius (1) command of the legion was handed over to an imperial legate, who became responsible for the government of Numidia and the frontier districts. The provincialization of North Africa was completed by Claudius with the creation of two provinces in Mauretania. Resistance to Roman rule on the fringes of the Sahara and in the mountainous regions was only sporadic, and for over three centuries the whole area from Cyrenaica to the Atlantic was protected by a single legion and auxiliaries.

Urban life in North Africa was of pre‐Roman origin, both Punic and (under Punic influence) Numidian. In spite of the destruction of Carthage, a number of towns of Phoenician or Carthaginian origin survived on the coast, such as Hadrumetum and Lepcis Magna. Under Roman control, urbanization increased greatly, and refounded Carthage became the largest city in the western empire after Rome (see urbanism, Roman). Over 600 communities ranked as separate civitates (see civitas), of which many in due course obtained the rank of municipium or colony. The area of densest urbanization was around Carthage and the Bagrada valley. Some were established on the sites of early legionary fortresses; Lambaesis grew out of the settlement outside the final fortress chosen for legion III Augusta; others were settled as colonies for retired legionaries. Roman equestrians of African origin are known from the mid‐1st cent. ad, soon followed by senators. During the 2nd cent. African senators (including Cornelius Fronto) formed the largest western provincial group. The influence of Africans reached its height under Septimius Severus, who was born at Lepcis Magna.

The wealth of Africa, largely agricultural, was proverbial throughout the Roman period. Corn was the most important product, and with Egypt Africa replaced Sicily as Italy's major supplier during the empire (see food supply, Roman). Esp. from the 2nd cent. olive‐growing and the production of oil for export became an increasingly important part of the African economy. Large estates in the hands of a few men were commonplace, the largest landowner being the emperor, but there were plenty of medium‐sized estates as well, most of them owned not by Italians but by prosperous members of the Romano‐African urban élite, whose wealth was conspicuously displayed in the public monuments they paid for in their home towns. Other exports from Africa included fish‐pickle, esp. from Proconsularis (see fishing), and wild animals destined for amphitheatres in Italy and elsewhere, including lions, leopards, and elephants, the capture of which is featured on a number of African mosaics. The arts flourished, with several vigorous local schools of sculptors working in both limestone and marble, while mosaic workshops, in response to the demand for elaborate polychrome figured mosaics in both private houses and public buildings such as baths, adopted from the second quarter of the 2nd cent. onwards an original and creative approach to mosaic design, which by the 4th cent. had left its influence on mosaic floors in Italy and several other provinces as well.


Subjects: Classical studies

Reference entries

View all reference entries »