The first people who lived in Morocco have no name that is known to us. Throughout history, it has usually been outsiders who have given names to this country and its people. “Morocco” in its various European forms is derived from the city of Marrakesh, which was built in the early eleventh century. The oldest surviving mention of it comes in an Italian document dated 1138. “Marrakesh” is still used occasionally today, in informal Arabic, for the country as a whole, and Fez (Fas), the other great city, is the name modern Turks give to the state.
In Arabic, the modern official language and that of most of its inhabitants, the country is called “Maghrib.” This is a confusing term since it is also used to describe the whole group of countries in north-western Africa (Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and sometimes Libya). It means “the land of the setting sun,” the furthest westward point of the great Islamic empire founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the middle of the seventh century AD.
“Moors,” a rather outdated word now, and one with a distinct pejorative tinge, was popular in European languages in the late medieval and early modern periods. To eighteenth-century writers, the Moors were the urban inhabitants of all north-western Africa, and sometimes all Muslims. These were the traditional enemies of Christian Europe and, like Shakespeare’s Othello, most Moors were believed to be black.
Finally, many inhabitants of Morocco are called “Berbers.” The term is largely a linguistic one, describing people who speak one of several dialects, spread over the whole of northern Africa, notably Morocco (forty percent of the modern population) and Algeria (twenty percent), with smaller groups in Tunisia, Libya, and western Egypt. The Tuareg nomads of the Sahara also speak a Berber dialect, the one that is least contaminated by Arabic. The name itself is not, of course, a Berber word. It is a Graeco- Roman expression, referring to all those who did not speak Greek or Latin: they were barbaric or “barbarians.” Applied to the people of northern Africa, it was popularised by the great fourteenth-century historian Ibn Khaldun. He used it as the title of his History of the Berbers and again in his great Introduction to History (the Muqadimma), which was one of the first attempts to explain the rise and fall of dynasties in theoretical terms. The Berbers call themselves “Imazighen,” or something similar, depending on the dialect. It means “noblemen” or “free men,” in the sense that they were free of external control, unlike the inhabitants of the towns, who belonged to no tribe. Those who could find no protection from kin were at the mercy of the powerful and were truly servile.
Not only do we not know what the first inhabitants called themselves, we have only piles of stones and a few fragments of bone to testify to their existence. Humankind almost certainly originated in eastern Africa, perhaps around three million years ago, but the earliest remains in Morocco are much more recent. The first inhabitants were not members of the Homo sapiens genus to which modern humans belong. Between about 125,000 and 75,000 BC, when warm temperate and semitropical woodland covered much of north-western Africa, Morocco was home to groups who are now known as the “pebble people” from the tools that they left behind at places like Sidi Abderrahman near Casablanca. They seem to have been quite similar to the Neanderthal people of Europe. Then came the last Ice Age, when the Neanderthals began to be replaced by fully modern humans, who apparently spread around the Mediterranean basin from southeast Asia. These people worked their flint tools more finely, and around 12,000 BC the Oranian culture emerged in what is now western Algeria. It spread westwards into what is now Morocco and also eastwards. These groups are sometimes known as the Millions.
By around 8000 BC, the ice was slowly melting and a new group, the Capsian, began to move in, side by side with the Oranians in the east, although they tended to occupy inland districts and did not reach into Morocco. Both these peoples were hunters and gatherers and largely nomadic, but this was about to change too, for the Sahara was beginning to dry up. The wetter climate began to end in about 5000 BC and by the third millennium BC the final stages set in. As the Sahara expanded, it split the Maghreb off from sub-Saharan Africa and anchored it more firmly in the Mediterranean basin.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF MOROCCO
The climatic conditions that developed in Morocco by the end of the first millennium BC were very roughly those that exist today, although the landscape has changed over the last two thousand years or so. In a few places, human activity has converted wastelands into gardens and forests; in rather more places, it has turned forests into wastelands. Those are the extremes: landscape changes have had many forms, from the forest into the pasture, from the pasture into cultivated estates. But certain features of the land are unchangeable, whatever their use.
Morocco is really a central spine of mountains, flanked by deserts and plains. The Atlas chain, beginning south of Marrakesh, separates that city and the coastal plain from the desert country to the south and east. The southern part of this chain is the High Atlas, and even in summer, there can still be snow on some peaks. Jabal Toubkal (Jabal is Arabic for mountain) rises to 13,665 feet [4,165 meters]. From Marrakesh, the chain turns northeast and becomes the Middle Atlas that extends into Algeria. A narrow corridor, the Taza Gap, links the Atlantic plains with Algeria and the rest of northern Africa. Further north another smaller chain, the Rif, runs along the Mediterranean coast ending near the modern city of Tetuan in the Jibala massif.
These mountains enclose the Atlantic plains like a wall and catch the rainfall brought in by the prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic. We know little about historic patterns of rainfall because there are no records, but today there can be as much as 2000 mm a year in the western Rif, and the High Atlas around Marrakesh gets around 800 mm. The rainfall tends to fall less on the plains themselves than on the mountains, from which the rivers run back into the sea, filled with winter rain and melting snow in the spring. Nearly all the main rivers run westwards into the Atlantic; only one, the Moulouya, flows northwards into the Mediterranean. None is very big, and the amount of water in them varies during the year; the Sebou and the Oum er Rbia carry a fair amount of water for most of the year, but smaller rivers like Tensift, Bou Regreg, and Loukos are little more than sluggish ditches in the summer. The Drâa, in the far south, is often completely dry in places. So rivers are not much use for trans portation, which until the modern age has always been by land, following the gaps through the mountains and the easier routes across the plains. Until very recent times, Moroccan cities have commanded these passages through the mountains, in inland sites rather than on the sea. Until the fifteenth century, the Atlantic coast looked out onto an ocean that no ships crossed. The Mediterranean coastline has many small coves but no great river mouths and the high mountains that run along it cut the rest of Morocco off from the inland sea.
Yet the Mediterranean is one of the world’s greatest trading seas. At its eastern end, some time in the second millennium BC, Minoans, Greeks, and Phoenicians set forth. After the 8th century BC, Phoenicians from Tyre in what is now southern Lebanon moved into the western Mediterranean. They did not settle in North Africa; its unknown interior, poor landing points, and possibly hostile inhabitants held few attractions. The Iberian peninsula was another matter: it had silver and tin and better watering places. Since it was a long way from Tyre, they soon established a line of settlements on the shores and islands that lay between.
The greatest of these settlements was Carthage, in what is now Tunisia. It was founded around the end of the ninth century BC, according to tradition, in 814 BC. Other settlements followed, including Rusaddir (now Melilla) on the Mediterranean coast, and Lixus, near what is now Larache, and the modern town Essaouira, on the Atlantic. The Phoenicians had braved the Strait of Gibraltar and pushed southwards down the coast of Africa. The earliest traces of occupation at Lixus go back to the seventh century BC, but it is uncertain how much further the Phoenicians went. In the fifth century BC, Persian armies overran the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and cut off the western settlements from the old metropolis at Tyre. Carthage became the pre-eminent Phoenician city and began to expand its influence westwards. A literary account, now known as the Periplus of Hanno, describes a trip between 475 and 450 BC which, it is sometimes claimed, reached the Gulf of Guinea. It may only have reached Essaouira or perhaps Dakhla on the modern Mauritanian coast. In any event, Essaouira is the most distant Phoenician settlement that is known so far.
Hanno’s trip came about because Carthage was threatened by the Phoenicians’ great rivals, the Greeks. Defeat at their hands in 480 BC meant that the Phoenicians lost control of some of their sea routes. Carthage was restored by a more energetic and ruthless ruling group, who not only sent expeditions into the Atlantic but also spread the pattern of settlement into the Tunisian hinterland. It became one of the most fertile corners of North Africa where they built a great agricultural and trading economy.
Only around Carthage itself did the rulers of the city control any extensive territory. Elsewhere along the North Africa coast they set up little trading posts – in Morocco, at places like Tamuda, near Tetuan, and at Ksar es-Seghir (Al-Qasr al-Saghir) and Tingis (Tangier) on the Strait of Gibraltar. Because their sole concern was maritime commerce, they had little need to control the hinterland. Even so, the Carthaginians did change the lives and society of the people who lived there.
These Africans are shadowy figures to our modern eyes. They have left only the slightest historic trace. In the Eastern Maghreb, Carthage was threatened from the desert by people whom Herodotus knew as the Garamantes; to the Egyptians, whom they also fought, they were the “Libu.” These earliest groups seem to be the origins of the Berbers. They cultivated bread wheat and barley, they tended sheep, and they had horses with which they made war. As the Carthaginians spread their rule in the fifth century BC, they employed many “Libyans” as mercenary soldiers.
What really spread Carthaginian influence into the African interior was war with the Greek city-states, particularly in Sicily. The war lasted, almost continuously, for over a century and the booty and the Greek prisoners who were taken to Carthage as slaves made the city extremely wealthy. This took Carthage into the mainstream of Mediterranean civilization, which was largely Greek. The Greek prisoners brought Hellenic art and Greek architecture and even Greek gods. But it was still a Carthaginian civilization, which had one enormous strength: the Punic language could be written in an alphabetical script. Very little material written in Punic has survived, but it is clear why it recommended itself to the people of the African interior. As the mercenaries returned home after the war, they took the Punic language with them, at least to some places, as well as Carthaginian agricultural methods. Then they began to construct their own political kingdoms.
On the basis of archaeological evidence, it seems that Carthaginian traders called at various places along the Mediterranean coast, such as Ksar es-Seghir on the Strait of Gibraltar and Essaouira and Tangier (and perhaps Asia) on the Atlantic coast. The end of their road was Essaouira, the source of one of the most valuable commodities in the ancient world: purple dye. But there were important towns on the way, at Sala (Salé) and Lixus (Larache). At Salé there are extensive pre-Roman remains and a mixture of statuary. Some of it, male figures in marble, is of Carthaginian origin, but some are of a different tradition, perhaps African. The walls of the Punic city of Lixus are evidence of the importance of the port there.
Inland, there was a city at Volubilis, where Punic inscriptions and archaeological remains show that it was a big town in the third century BC. Little remains of this early town at Volubilis, because the site was built over many times: it is such a good spot for a city that it would not easily be abandoned. It is well supplied with water, and well situated: on a plateau, overlooking a pass between the mountains. Although there is clear evidence of Carthaginian influence on the architecture, it was not ruled by the Carthaginians.
THE FIRST INDIGENOUS KINGDOMS
Paradoxically, it was a people quite far away from Carthage who were the first to emerge into history with an indigenous kingdom. These were the Mauri who formed a tribal federation sometime in the fourth century BC. Their eastern limit was somewhere near the Moulouya river, in what is now eastern Morocco. Perhaps because they were pastoral people or perhaps simply because they were further away, little is known about their society.
By the third century BC another, more settled, kingdom (or perhaps just one that is better known) had emerged in what is now Algeria. The territory of the Masaeslyi stretched from the river Moulouya to the country around the modern city of Constantine. Nearer still to Carthage were the Massyli. Together these kingdoms made up what the Romans would call Numidia; they would play their part in the eventual destruction of Carthage.
The main agent of this destruction was Rome, the leading city of Italy since the middle of the fifth century BC. Until the early third century BC there had been no conflict with Carthage, but in the 260s, rivalry over Sicily led to the First Punic War (264–243 BC). Rome was not a naval power, but during those twenty years, the Romans built four huge fleets. Three times they were defeated, either by the Carthaginians or the weather. The fourth fleet was triumphant, and in 243 BC Carthage was forced to abandon Sicily and pay a huge indemnity to Rome.
The Carthaginians’ response to defeat was to find new sources of money and men. In 237 BC Hamilcar Barca began carving out a new empire in the Iberian peninsula to exploit its mines: iron, silver, and copper. He was helped by his young son, Hannibal, who nearly two decades later led his elephants across the Alps and struck the Romans from behind. Despite the terror, this caused, Hannibal, lost the war. While his army was over-extended in the Italian peninsula, Scipio attacked Carthage, in alliance with Syphax, king of the Masaeslyi in western Numidia. When the Carthaginians inveigled Syphax onto their side, supposedly through the charms of the young daughter of their military leader Hasdrubal, the Romans turned to the leader of the Massyli, whose name was Masinissa. During this second Punic War, the complicated alliances led to the defeat of Carthage, and the North African kingdoms became powerful actors in their own right.
In 202 BC Scipio, with Masinissa’s help, defeated Carthage, but another fifty years would pass before Cato’s famous injunction, “Carthage must be destroyed,” was put into effect. Meanwhile, the Romans imposed vassal status on their once great rival and allowed the tribal kings of the interior to build up their own states. Masinissa constructed a new Numidian state for himself. He expanded at the expense of what was left of Carthage, whose leaders sought an alliance with Mauritania to protect themselves. In 150 BC there was a brief war, which Masinissa won, and the Romans seized the opportunity, between 149 and 146, to fight Carthage a third and final time. Now Carthage was not just defeated but annihilated.
The Romans left most of the Carthaginian Empire to govern itself. The towns in the hinterland of Carthage ran their affairs themselves very much as they had done before, and the native kingdoms were allowed to go their own way. Numidia eventually fell into the hands of Jugurtha, the grandson of Masinissa, who was so determined to carve out a great kingdom that he eventually threatened Roman control. It took six years (112–106 BC) for the Romans to crush him, helped by his father-in-law, Bocchus, the ruler of the far west, which the Romans called Mauritania. Bocchus was rewarded with the western part of Numidia.
Bocchus was more reliably pro-Roman than the descendants of Gauda, Jugurtha’s half-brother, who divided the rest of Numidia between them. In the end, their independence did not last because they chose the wrong side in the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar defeated Juba I, Gauda’s grandson, and took his young son to Rome. Then he abolished all the native kingdoms except that of Bocchus, who had supported Caesar.
Caesar was murdered in 44 BC and Bocchus died in 33 BC. Briefly, the Romans attempted to rule Mauritania directly, but in 25 BC Augustus handed authority in Mauritania to Juba II, the boy whom Caesar had taken to Rome. From Iol Caesarea (now Cherchel in central Algeria), Juba II presided over the Romanisation of the northwest of Africa, and Volubilis, the second city of his kingdom, developed into a great metropolis. Juba was a faithful ally of Rome throughout the half-century of his reign, but when he died in AD 23 his young son, Ptolemy, could not hold the tribes in check. The rebel Tacfarinas won over the Mauri to his cause and it was Roman legions, not a client ruler that crushed him. In AD 40 the emperor Caligula had Ptolemy assassinated and Mauritania was formally annexed to the empire.
The Romans had to conquer Mauritania before they could put the annexation into effect. It took four years to crush the rebels in the mountains, but the towns of the far west remained resolutely pro-Roman. Volubilis in particular distinguished itself by its loyalty. When the war was over it became the principal garrison city of a new Roman province. Mauritania, Juba’s old kingdom, was divided at the Moulouya river, and the western province was named Mauritania Tingitana, after Tingis (Tangier).
MAURITANIA TINGITANA: THE LAND WITHIN THE LIMES
Mauritania Tingitana was one of a string of Roman provinces along the northern shore of Africa, but the occupation did not extend very far into the continent. In the far west, the southern limit of imperial rule was Volubilis, which was ringed with military camps such as Tocolosida slightly to the southeast and Ain Chkour to the northwest, and a fossatum or defensive ditch. On the Atlantic coast, Salé was protected by another ditch and a rampart and a line of watchtowers.
This was not a continuous line of fortifications: there is no evidence of a defensive wall like the one that protected the turbulent frontier in Britannia at the other extremity of the empire. Rather, it was a network of forts and ditches that seems to have functioned as a filter. The limes – the word from which the English word “limit” is derived – protected the areas that were under direct Roman control by funneling contacts with the interior through the major settlements, regulating the links between the nomads and transhumant with the towns and farms of the occupied areas.
The same people lived on both sides of these limes, although the population was really quite small. Volubilis had perhaps twenty thousand inhabitants at most. On the evidence of inscriptions, only around ten percent of them were of European origin, mainly Spanish; the rest were local. This probably overestimates the number of Europeans, since inscriptions only mentioned important people. Yet this small, mainly indigenous, the population was part of the great Roman empire, because it produced far more than it could consume.
Mauritania Tingitana was never as rich a province as Africa (modern Tunisia) or Numidia, which supplied huge quantities of olives and grain for Rome, but there was still extensive agriculture: around a hundred olive presses have been found at Volubilis, and oil was produced in other places too. There was wine and fishing on the Atlantic coast – remains of fish-salting installations have been found at Lixus. Much of this was exported, like the products of lead, silver, iron, and copper mines.
Out at the farthest edge of the empire, with a small and almost entirely indigenous population and no great cities, Mauritania Tingitana had a very reduced cultural life. It produced no Latin writers or poets and only one amphitheater has ever been discovered, at Lixus, and public architecture was far from grand compared with the great cities of Africa such as El Djem in what is now Tunisia or Leptis Magna (in modern Libya). Even so, the richer inhabitants were comfortable: their villas were often decorated, with furniture, lamps, and statuary of high quality, sometimes with clear Greek influences, and the floors were fine mosaics, some of which show a clear resemblance to Berber designs.
“Berber” is no more than a shorthand for describing the local inhabitants who were not fully integrated, if at all, into the structure of the Roman empire. We know very little about the political history of Mauritania Tingitana, but it is certain that relations between Romans and Berbers were not always peaceful. The most important group were the Baqates whose territory stretched from the west of Volubilis towards the Mediterranean and touched on the territory of Mauritania Caesariensis. In 122 AD they attacked the colony of Cartennae in what is now Algeria. In the mid-140s the Romans gave their “prince” citizenship, just when they had to reinforce Sala because of a rebellion there, but the alliance does not seem to have been very stable. In the late 160s, the inhabitants of Volubilis built more fortifications, and in the early 170s, they had to make another treaty of good neighborliness with the Baqates and another tribe, the Macenites, who appear to have united against the Romans. Yet by 180, the Romans were dealing with Canates, the prince of the Baqates, alone, and he and his son took on Roman names and became long-term allies of Rome. The Baqates had shifted from hostility, through armed truce to an acceptance of Roman hegemony, although they remained independent. For the Romans, this protected communications between the two parts of Mauritania; for the Baqates’ princes, it brought them into an alliance with the superpower of Rome.
Roman occupation of Mauritania Tingitana was never a matter of all-out conquest. The Romans confined themselves to cities that were themselves largely autonomous, each with its forum, triumphal arch, and capitol. In the capitol, the Roman inhabitants might worship the panoply of Roman gods (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and others) and in other temples, Roman gods incorporated and subsumed the dii Mauri, the gods of the Moors. Saturn was particularly popular and his temple at Volubilis seems original to have been devoted to an older, local god. During the Empire, these deities were tolerated provided their adherents were also prepared to sacrifice to the Emperor. Christians, of course, refused to do this, so the Romans persecuted them.
It is not certain just how either Christianity or Judaism reached North Africa. Judaism seems to have come from the east. Jews settled first in Cyrenaica, to where they moved from Egypt, but there is no mention of Jews in any sources before the second century AD. Two hundred and fifty years after the Romans razed it, Carthage was again a flourishing city, and a Jewish community thrived there, perhaps when the Cyrenaican community declined. There are scattered Jewish inscriptions in what is now Algeria, and one probably dating from the third century AD in Volubilis. But inscriptions are very partial evidence, because, by the time of Islam, Judaism had spread among Berber tribes, who were illiterate.
Christianity may also have arrived from the east, introduced by sailors and traders, but it may have come from Rome itself. It certainly took root very quickly and by the third century AD what is now Tunisia was the most Christianised part of the western Roman empire. The Romans tried to persecute it out of existence, especially under Septimius Severus (emperor 193–211), Valerian (253–60), and Diocletian (284–305). This did not silence the Christians. Rather, it radicalized them. Some Christians did compromise with Rome, but others refused to do so, and when the persecution was over, split the church. In the early fourth century, radicals led by Donatus, the Bishop of Carthage, rejected both the state and their less determined brethren and proposed themselves as the champions of the poor and oppressed. By now the state and the rest of the Church were converging: Constantine succeeded Diocletian in 306 and in 313 converted to Christianity himself. The schism in the Church, and rebellions against the Catholic Emperors, lasted nearly a hundred years until St Augustine of Hippo (in modern Algeria) and Emperor Honorius combined to crush the Donatists in 411.
Yet these cataclysmic events in the Church and Empire seem hardly to have touched Mauritania Tingitana because Roman rule there was already quite remote. In 238, a brief civil war began with a revolt against taxation in El Djem, which spread to Rome. The eventual winner, Gordian III (238–44), promptly dissolved the Third Augustan Legion that had garrisoned North Africa. Other troops did replace them on the frontier, but Romans now relied more on treaties with the local tribes, especially the Baqates. By 277 Romans were calling the Baqates’ leader Iulius Matif “Rex,” king. In 280, they made another treaty with his son Nuffusi, whom they dignified in the same way. A local dynasty had been founded. Soon the Roman forces began to withdraw from the west.
How far Diocletian, who became Emperor in 284, pulled back Roman forces in the rest of north Africa is debatable, but there was a substantial withdrawal from Mauritania Tingitana. As a result of pressure from unsubmitted tribes on the southern frontier, Volubilis was abandoned by its Roman administrators in 285. The Romans remained in control of Tingis (Tangier) and, apparently, of Salé. It has been said that this left the communications with Mauritania Caesariensis so exposed that most of that province was abandoned as well, but there is scant evidence that this happened. It is anyway hard to make out the difference between occupied territory and territory that was unoccupied yet still deeply Romanised. Volubilis was still inhabited and remained essentially a Roman town. What was left of the province was linked with Iberia. It remained firmly enough under the imperial rule for Diocletian’s campaigns against the Christians to result in the martyrdom of a centurion named Marcel in 298. This was the first mention of Christianity in the province.
In the fourth century, Christianity spread even in the abandoned interior. A mosaic showing the cross and other symbols has been found at Salé, and a basilica was built in Lixus where the statues of Roman gods were broken. It may even be that the Roman withdrawal gave Christianity a greater impetus. The earliest Christian objects – altar lamps and a censor that have been found at Volubilis – date from the middle of the sixth century. By then, the town was the capital of the Baqates, but they still used Latin, and men and women had Latin names. That suggests a continued occupation that preserved Roman culture, which now included Catholic Christianity. There were bishops in Tingis and Lixus and maybe elsewhere, but they were Catholic, not Donatist: there were no Donatist bishops, and no Donatist inscriptions have been found west of Ala Miliaria near Chélif.
THE VANDALS AND BYZANTINES
The other major schism in the Church, and political crisis in the Empire, did not affect Mauritania Tingitana very much either. In the late fourth century, the Vandals, a Germanic people on the Danube frontier, rebelled against the Roman Empire. By 416 they had moved across Europe into Spain, and in 429 they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and invaded North Africa. The Vandals adhered to Arianism, a variety of Christianity that the Catholics of Rome and Byzantium called heretically, and their intentions in North Africa were directed towards plunder. So they did not tarry in Mauritania Tingitana: they probably moved directly from their landing point near Tangier, through the Taza Gap towards Numidia and Carthage. In 442 the Roman Emperor Valentinian III made a treaty with the Vandals that ceded to them North Africa from Tripolitania to eastern Numidia. There, they persecuted Catholics and looted their churches, but they had no wish to impoverish their land by cutting down olive trees or burning vineyards. They lived in the Roman style: Latin was the official language, they minted coins in the Roman style, and their leaders built bathhouses and villas, just like the Roman rich. There were so few of them that it was hardly surprising that they should be Romanised so easily – maybe five percent of the total population of the most fertile parts of North Africa.
Since the far northwest was less wealthy and fertile and was anyway excluded from the treaty, the Vandals left a little trace there. Some tombs at Tamuda, near Tetuan, contain the bodies of men equipped in a Germanic style, but there is little evidence of Arianism. Further east, a series of small Berber kingdoms emerged as Vandal rule declined, and it has often been assumed that this happened in the far west too, but there is also some evidence of rather larger state structures. An inscription dated 508 from Altava (near the modern city of Tlemcen in Algeria) talked of a “King of the Moors and Romans,” of “prefects” and a “procurator.” That suggests that the old pattern survived of a powerful local ruler who claimed the recognition of Rome to legitimize himself and used the Roman system of rule. There is simply very little information at all about this period.
The vandal rule did not last very long anywhere. The Berber kingdoms that ringed their lands in the east began to invade Vandal territory as the ruling family fell apart in a dynastic dispute. At the same time, Justinian, who had succeeded to the throne in Byzantium in 527, began to rebuild the Roman Empire. In 533 he sent Count Belisarius with an army to reimpose Roman rule in North Africa. The Byzantine historian Procopius accompanied Belisarius and he wrote how the Berbers, whom he called Moors, already controlled most of North Africa: “the Moors won many victories over the Vandals and gained possession of the land now called Mauritania, extending from Gadara [Tangier] as far as the boundaries of Caesarea.”1 Belisarius did away with what was left of the Vandal kingdom, but even around Carthage, Byzantine rule did not reach the extent of the old Roman Empire. What land was occupied had to be heavily fortified against the Berbers of the interior. To do so, the Byzantines reused the masonry of older buildings and destroyed much of the architectural heritage of Roman Africa in the process.
That was in the east. In the far west, Byzantine occupation was limited to Ceuta and Tangier, although their influence was much wider. Quite substantial Byzantine remains have been found at Salé and it is clear that Volubilis was still occupied, or perhaps reoccupied: inscriptions there date from the sixth century. Most significantly, there were also new city walls. Elsewhere, tribal chiefs seem to have used the Byzantine presence and Byzantine forms to legitimize their rule. Berber chiefs who entered into relations with the Byzantines could claim a higher status than their rivals. On the Atlantic plains, Tamesna was the most important of these shadowy Berber kingdoms. Yet nothing was very permanent, and no power was very strong. In truth, no external power had ever really penetrated Mauritania Tingitana deeply: this was perhaps the farthest frontier of all the frontier provinces of the Roman empire. Now the whole of north-western Africa awaited a new ruler.