The Numidians: Gaia, Masinissa, Jugurtha, Juba


During the last two centuries BC, the Numidians created in North Africa, a powerful state with an original civilization. This is an exceptional event in the history of ancient Africa.

While Carthage beamed with all its power, the Numidian kingdoms of Gaia, Masinissa and Syphax, had reached an exceptional degree of economic, social and cultural development. Although little known, this period remains one of the most exciting in the history of the Maziɣes. Lacking more precise reference, we must go back to the history of Carthage to access the chronology of the Numidian kingdoms. According to accounts of Virgil in the Aeneid, Dido Elissa, sister of Pygmalion, king of Tyre, fleeing oppression of his brother, landed with his treasures and a handful of faithful Tyrians and Cypriots on the African coast of Tunis, about 860 -870 BC. Between the lake and brackish marshes, in the peninsula formed by the old mouth and the alluvial deposits of the river Madjerda, she founded Carthage “Qart Hadast” (new city).

At its foundation, it is only a modest stopover. Before becoming a powerful Mediterranean metropolis. For three and a half centuries, she had to pay an annual tribute to the maziɣes. Following the destruction of Tyre, she imposed protection to Phoenician cities. By the sixth century, she began to conquer territories in Tamazɣa.

In the third century BC., while a Moorish federation was formed in today northern Morocco , two Numidian kingdoms appeared, that of Masaesyli in the west, between Mulucha (Moulouya) and Cirta (Constantine), one of Massyles in the confines of the Carthaginian territories. Syphax, king of Masaesyli appeared as a powerful personage, he dominated all of what is today Algeria and chooses Cirta as capital as its natural site made it almost impregnable. In 203, however, this power was collapsing. The massyle kingdom was much smaller than its rival. Syphax undertook its conquest and reduced Masinissa, son of deceased King Gaia to a life of outlaw.

The heart of the Numidian country was the current Constantine area, the high plains between the Aures south of Hodna and Kabylia in the north. However, was considered Numidian the Maziɣes confederations of what is now Tunisia. Numidians inhabited therefore the eastern part of North Africa and differed from the Moors in the western part and the Gaetuli in the Sahara. All were aware about agriculture, but for the most part, until the third century BC, they living as nomadic pastoralists: the Greeks called it ὅι Νομαδες: those who graze. This is the origin of the name of Numidia. They were divided into many clans between which loose and unstable links were common.


Gaia (in Punic: GUY) Was the last Massyles king of Eastern Numidia before its reunification with the western Numidia by his son Massinissa. He is grand son of Ilès, son of Zelalsan and brother of Ulzasen and also had  a girl, Massiva.

Succession to the throne of Gaia was done during Civil War, when the heir to the throne,  Massinissa’s uncle was assassinated by the adventurer Macetulo, who persuaded the people and placed on the throne the young Lacumaces, while retaining the power. Massinissa had to come back and then fight Lacumaces then Macetulo’s troops reinforced by Syphax. He defeated Macetulo and took back the kingdom of his father, while the struggle against Syphax was just to start. The latter, pushed by Hasdrubal attacked Massinissa with fury, forcing him to withdraw in mountainous areas without stopping the  fighting. The impending war in Africa was closer, the two monarchs were forced to take position. Hasdrubal forced Syphax by his side by marrying him to his daughter. Massinissa, in order to recover the kingdom of his father joined forces with Scipio. With the support of the Romans in 203 BC., he defeated and took Syphax prisoner and married Sophonisba. Scipio, fearing Sophonisba would push her husband to the Carthaginian party, insisted she was delivered to him. But Massinissa promised Sophonisba not to deliver her to the Romans and give her poison if this eventuality would occur. And it did.


He was the first king of unified Numidia. His name was found in his tomb at Cirta, today Constantine in the form MSNSN (read MAS-N-SEN, which means “their Lord”). Son of King Gaia (agellid in Tamaziɣeṭ). He was born about 238 BC. AD in the Massyles (Mis Ilès/son of Iles). He died in early January 148 BC. BC. At his coronation, Massinissa was 36 and reigned for 54 years until his death. After his death, a temple was erected to him at Dougga.

Massinissa was quenching and had exceptional skill. During the war between Rome and Carthage, he allied himself to Scipio. He benefited from the Roman victory. His entry by surprise at Cirta in 203, put an end to the Massaessyle kingdom . Soon he was the master of all the countries between the Mulucha and the territory left to Carthage northeast of present-day Tunisia.

It was at the end of the Second Punic War, that Massinissa was restored to the kingdom of his fathers. The title of King of Numidia put him in a position to recover the territories from the Carthaginian. Without Roman aid, he worked throughout his life to the recovery of territories annexed by Carthage in Africa since its establishment. So he appropriated the cities; Emporium. The opulent Leptis Magna was one of the Carthaginian possessions recovered by Massinissa. Seventy localities of Zeugitai part of the territory of Hippo Regius and extending to the Tasca were recovered, as well as the region stretching on the right bank of Madjerda.

Militarily, his power too, was considerable: he has a powerful army and a large fleet. Economically, Numidia occupied during his reign, a prominent place in the global economy of the time. Its management made his country a prosperous state that traded with Greece and Rome. Cirta was the capital. In his work of unification, it encroached on the domain of Carthage, who declared him war. Massinissa emerged victorious.

He undertook the construction of a unified monarchical state. First he endeavored to settle the people and transformed the nomadic pastoralists into farmers. He promoted the urbanization of Numidia, pushing farmers to form large towns, to which he gave a similar organization to that of the Punic cities.

“He gave value to very large areas,” says the historian Polybius. His goal was to increase the resources of the country and so to impose taxes which would provide the financial resources for the state he wanted to create. On the other hand, the nomadic were perpetual rebels, sedentary would be much more willing to accept a central political power. The new farmers were grouped in fortified towns, and developed a real urbanization. Cities received constitutions inspired by the Punic cities of the coast: they were administered by shophet. Cirta became a capital where monuments are erected.

Massinissa who was watching with interest the Greek East had accepted the form of civilization that six centuries under the influence of Carthage, itself Hellenized in the last two centuries, had brought to Numidians elites. He wanted to educate his people according to the Hellenistic methods. The most valuable political project to Massinissa was the unification of all the Numidian kingdoms, becoming the undisputed Aguellid (king) of his immense kingdom. The recovery of land that belonged to his ancestors enabled him to introduce new methods in areas as diverse as agriculture, hydraulics and terracing.
He was probably the first to introduce to farmers the Hellenistic cult of Demeter and Kore. To better ensure its power; he wanted to deify the monarchy and establish the worship of the royal divinity.

Massinissa, says Livy (Titus Livius), proclaims that Africa should belong to the Africans, not foreign, should they be Romans or Phoenicians. The civilization that developed in his state was inspired by Carthage, the Greek and Roman civilization. The scripts show a simultaneous use of the Punic and Libyan (Berber/Amazigh) language. On the religious level, the Carthaginian influence was profound.

Massinissa remain faithful to the Roman alliance, which allowed him to increase his possessions to the east. In 162, he occupied the region of Syrtes (Tripolitania). In 153, he annexed a large part of the Carthaginian territory. Carthage then had to defend itself and its rearmament was the pretext that enters Rome to trigger the Third Punic War (149-146) which ended with the total destruction of the Punic capital. Perhaps the Romans wanted to especially prevent annexation of the Carthaginian territory by the Numidians, which would have restored a powerful and dangerous African empire.
The growing power of Massinissa in Africa alarmed Rome, to the point that declaring war on Carthage in 149 BC. AD (Third Punic War), it was also intended against Massinissa. By destroying Carthage in 146 BC. AD and creating the first Roman colony in Africa, Rome put a limit to the territorial extension of Numidia and the strengthening of its economic and political power.


Massinissa died in 148, nearly ninety years old. Scipio Aemilianus, who was about to destroy Carthage, presided the sharing of Numidia between the three son of the king, but the sudden death of his brothers left all power to Micipsa. During the thirty years of his reign, he continued the policy of his father and made sure to keep good relations with Rome. At his death in 118, he bequeathed his kingdom to his two son and his nephew Jugurtha. Rome shared Numidia. Jugurtha do not resigned to it. On two occasions, in 116 and in 113-112, he attacked the states of his cousins whom he killed successively, brazenly defying orders from Rome. Cirta’s Italian merchants were massacred and a long war began.

Jugurtha gained time, using the corruption of the Roman nobility which he knew well. In 109 and 108, the Romans resumed the offensive with Metellus (Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus). The decisive successes were won by Marius in 107 and 106. Finally, in 105, thanks to the betrayal of Bocchus King of Mauretania, until now ally of Jugurtha, the Numidian was captured by the Quaestor Sylla, the future dictator. Jugurtha was cruelly put to death in Rome.

Juba and the end of Numidian kingdoms

The Numidian kingdom was divided into two parts, assigned to kings who were the obedient vassal of Rome. One of them, Juba, who reigned in the middle of the first century on the eastern half of the country was the personal enemy of Caesar. He sided with Pompey refugees in Africa and joined forces with them. The rout of the Republicans in Africa after the battle of Thapsus (46 BC) was fatal to him. He committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of Caesar, who annexed his kingdom to the Roman Empire.

In the central and western part of North Africa, the vassal kingdom of Mauretania was to survive until the time of Caligula.

It was the end of the Numidian independence. A long work of Romanization and development began. Under Tiberius, Takfarinas lifted the great Numidian tribe of the Musulamii, and the guerrillas stood up to the Roman army from 17 to 23 AD. Later, Roman domination did not encounter serious obstacles in Numidia (while it remained precarious in Mauretania).

Romanization was profound, as evidenced by the many ruins of Roman towns found in the country. Loyalty to the Punic cult of Baal-Saturn testifies however the keeping of the pre-Roman religious traditions in Numidia

Firmus T.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s