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date: 05 December 2023

North Africa under Byzantiumlocked

North Africa under Byzantiumlocked

  • Jonathan P. ConantJonathan P. ConantDepartment of History, Brown University


For over 150 years, western North Africa formed a valuable part of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. In the 5th century, a Vandal army had conquered the Roman Empire’s African provinces and established an autonomous kingdom with its capital at Carthage. In 533–534, the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527–565) took advantage of political turmoil within Vandal Africa to invade and (re)conquer the region. In seeking to reintegrate this territory into the empire, Byzantine officials confronted both unrest among their own troops and resistance from autochthonous “Moorish” rulers. Imperial attempts to define Christian orthodoxy also sparked local opposition, although Africa’s Nicene Christian bishops were primarily concerned with consolidating their authority in the aftermath of what they perceived as Vandal “persecution.” Despite dwindling levels of overall prosperity, Byzantine Africa remained wealthy enough to sustain a building campaign focused on the renovation of churches and the fortification of strategic sites. Local wheat, olive oil, cloth, and ceramics also continued to reach markets across the Mediterranean, and changes in North African land- and cityscapes unfolded along lines that had been visible for centuries. At the end of the 6th century, the emperor Maurice (582–602) reorganized the region under an exarch, who combined civil and military authority. Shortly thereafter, the exarch Heraclius launched a rebellion that placed his son, also named Heraclius, on the imperial throne. Forty years later, a second exarch, Gregory, tried and failed to stage a similar military coup. In the mid-7th century, the Maghrib became a focus of the unfolding Islamic futūḥ or “opening,” and Gregory’s rebellion was ended by an invading Arab army. Similar armies or raiding parties were a persistent presence until 698, when the forces of Hassān ibn al-Nuʿmān captured Carthage, facilitating the conquest of the rest of North Africa.


  • North Africa and the Gulf

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