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  Numidia (202 BC - 40 BC)

🎨 “Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva,” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

“Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva,” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.(W)

As described by the Roman historian Livy (1st century BC), the youthful Massiva was the nephew of a prince of Numidia in present-day Algeria who had supported Scipio Africanus (a Roman general so known because of his conquests in North Africa) and the Romans in battle. The young Massiva was captured by the Romans in 209 BC and brought before Scipio. When Scipio learned the youth's identity, he sent him back to his uncle laden with gifts. Tiepolo, the greatest Italian history painter of the 18th century, combines dramatic gestures, grand scale, and classical architecture to tell his story of generosity and statesmanship. Details such as the banner with the initials of the Roman state situate the story in Roman history. Under the artistic conventions of the time, North Africans of high status, including Numidians, were generally depicted with European features. The black youth chatting with the soldiers on the left is probably Scipio's servant.



Numidia (202-40 BC) (W)

Numidia of Syphax and Gaïa before the unification.

(202 BC – 40 BC, Berber: Inumiden) was the ancient kingdom of the Numidians located in what is now Algeria and a smaller part of Tunisia and small part of Libya in the Maghreb. The polity was originally divided between Massylii in the east and Masaesyli in the west. During the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), Masinissa, king of the Massylii, defeated Syphax of the Masaesyli to unify Numidia into one kingdom. The kingdom began as a sovereign state and later alternated between being a Roman province and a Roman client state.

Numidia was bordered by Atlantic Ocean to the west, Africa Proconsularis (now Tunisia) to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahara to the south. It is considered to be one of the first major states in the history of Algeria and the Berber world.

The Greek historians referred to these peoples as “Νομάδες” (i.e. Nomads), which by Latin interpretation became "Numidae" (but cf. also the correct use of Nomades). Historian Gabriel Camps, however, disputes this claim, favoring instead an African origin for the term.

The name appears first in Polybius (second century BC) to indicate the peoples and territory west of Carthage including the entire north of Algeria as far as the river Mulucha (Muluya), about 160 kilometres (100 mi) west of Oran.

Massinisia (c. 237-148 BC).


was a king of the ancient Numidian tribe Masaesyli of western Numidia during the last quarter of the 3rd century BC. His story is told in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (written c. 27-25 BC).

The Numidians were composed of two great tribal groups: the Massylii in eastern Numidia, and the Masaesyli in the west. During the first part of the Second Punic War, the eastern Massylii, under their king Gala, were allied with Carthage (a 'Punic', i.e. Phoenician, Semitic, mercantile sea empire called after its capital in present Tunisia), while the western Masaesyli, under king Syphax, were allied with Rome. However, in 206 BC, the new king of the eastern Massylii, Masinissa, allied himself with Rome, and Syphax of the Masaesyli switched his allegiance to the Carthaginian side. At the end of the war, the victorious Romans gave all of Numidia to Masinissa of the Massylii. At the time of his death in 148 BC, Masinissa's territory extended from Mauretania to the boundary of the Carthaginian territory, and also southeast as far as Cyrenaica, so that Numidia entirely surrounded Carthage (Appian, Punica, 106) except towards the sea.

After the death of the long-lived Masinissa around 148 BC, he was succeeded by his son Micipsa. When Micipsa died in 118 BC, he was succeeded jointly by his two sons Hiempsal I and Adherbal and Masinissa's illegitimate grandson, Jugurtha, of Ancient Libyan origin, who was very popular among the Numidians. Hiempsal and Jugurtha quarrelled immediately after the death of Micipsa. Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed, which led to open war with Adherbal.



Numidians (W)

Map of the western and central Mediterranean in the period c. 148-121 BC, showing the extent of the Kingdom of Numidia in the reign of Micipsa, depicted here in light pink.

The Numidians were the Berber population of Numidia (present day Algeria) and in a smaller part of Tunisia. The Numidians were one of the earliest Berber tribes to trade with the settlers of Carthage. As Carthage grew, the relationship with the Numidians blossomed. Carthage’s military used the Numidian cavalry as mercenaries. Numidia provided some of the highest quality cavalry of the Second Punic War, and the Numidian cavalry played a key role in a number of battles, both early on in support of Hannibal and later in the war after switching allegiance to the Roman Republic.

Punic Wars

Statue of a male in the Vatican museum, called "Syphax, King of Numidia".

was a king of the ancient Numidian tribe Masaesyli of western Numidia during the last quarter of the 3rd century BC. His story is told in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (written c. 27-25 BC).

During the Punic Wars, Syphax was the king of the largest Numidian kingdom, the Masaesyli. In 213 BC, Syphax ended his alliance with Carthage. In 208 BC, he rejoined after marrying Sophonisba, daughter of Hasdrubal Gisco.

During the Second Punic War, Syphax sued for peace between Hannon Barca and Publius Cornelius Scipio after the Romans had landed in Africa. With the help of Masinissa, Publius Scipio's troops set fire to Syphax's camp. The king Masinissa added Syphax's former territory to his eastern kingdom Massylii as a reward gained through military victory against Carthage. After the Second Punic War, Massinissa combined the Amazigh people into a united nation with an agricultural industry.

The peace treaty between Carthage and Rome after the Second Punic Wars prevented Carthage from entering any wars without Rome's permission. Masinissa exploited the treaty by taking Carthaginian land. He used various tricks to get land including stating that Carthage was rebuilding their Navy despite the treaty which prohibited a Navy. When Carthage asked for an appeal Cato the Elderwas sent with a commission to mediate a settlement. The commission insisted that both sides agree to their final decision. Masinissa agreed, but Carthage refused because of how unfavorable previous Roman decisions had been. Cato, who had served in the Roman Legion during the Second Punic War, was convinced by Carthage's refusal to accept the commission that the Third Punic War was needed. Cato made a series of speeches to the senate all of which ended with "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" (Moreover, I advise that Carthage should be destroyed).

A group of Carthaginian senators supported a peace treaty with the Numidians. This group was in the minority, in part because the populace of Carthage did not want to submit to a people they had traditionally dominated. The pro-Numidians were eventually exiled. Upon exile they went to Masinissa for help. Masinissa sent two (of his forty-four) sons to ask for the pro-Numidians to be let back in. Carthalo, who led a democratic group who were against the Numidian encroachment, blocked their entry. Hamilcar, another leader of the same group, sent a party to attack Masinissa's sons.

Masinissa sent a force to siege the Carthaginian city of Oroscopa but they were repelled by a Carthaginian army led by a Hasdrubal. Among the captured were two of Masinissa's sons. This became the final excuse for Rome to attack Carthage. In 149 BC, Masinissa died of old age. His death occurred during the Third Punic War. Micipsa became the second king of Numidia.


🎨 “Sophonisba.” Ferrari, Luca, called Luca da Reggio, 1650s.

“Sophonisba.” Ferrari, Luca, called Luca da Reggio, 1650s.

"Sophonisba." Ferrari, Luca, called Luca da Reggio, 1650s. (L)

Sophonisba ( in Punic, 𐤑𐤐𐤍𐤁𐤏𐤋 Ṣap̄anbaʿal) (fl. 203 BC) was a Carthaginian noblewoman who lived during the Second Punic War, and the daughter of Hasdrubal Gisco. She held influence over the Numidian political landscape, convincing king Syphax to change sides during the war, and later, in an act that became legendary, she poisoned herself rather than be humiliated in a Roman triumph.

"Semiramis called to Arms," 1652, Ferrari, Luca, called Luca da Reggio. The subject of this picture was at one time given as "The Death of Sofonisba" although in the Hermitage Inventory of 1859 it is correctly designated. (L).

"Sophonisba Receiving The Poisoned Cup," by Gerard Hoet.

"The Death of Sophonisba," Gregorio Lazzarini.

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

The death of Sophonisba was a relatively common subject in art from the 17th century onwards. The literary source for this episode, which dates to the end of the Second Punic War, is Livy’s History of Rome (XXX, 14-15). Sophonisba, who lived from 235 to 203BC, was Queen of Numidia and daughter of the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal. She married one of the Numidian chiefs, Syphax, an ally of Rome, but succeeded in dissuading him against his commitments to the Republic. Syphax was defeated at the battle of Utica by Masinissa, another Numidian chief, whom Sophonisba married, having been betrothed to him before her marriage to Syphax. Worried that this new union would also result in the defection of an ally from the Roman side, Scipio Africanus ordered Masinissa to hand over Sophonisba in order to take her as a prisoner to Rome. Unable to enter into conflict with the Roman general but determined to avoid dishonour, Masinissa sent his wife a cup of poison which she drank. (L)

"The Death of Sophonisba," Cipriani, Giovanni Battista, 1727-1785, Italian painter.

"Dying Sophonisba," by Guercino (1630).

The Death of Sophonisba, by Giambattista Pittoni (1730s).


Jugurtha (W)

Jugurtha (160-104 BC) (W)

Jugurtha or Jugurthen (c. 160 – 104 BC) was a king of Numidia, born in Cirta (modern-day Constantine). When the Numidian king Micipsa, who had adopted Jugurtha, died in 118 BC, Jugurtha and his two adoptive brothers, Hiempsal and Adherbal, succeeded him. Jugurtha arranged to have Hiempsal killed and, after a civil war, defeated and killed Adherbal in 112 BC. The death of Adherbal, which was against the wishes of Rome, along with the growing popular anger in Rome at Jugurtha’s success in bribing Roman senators (and thus avoiding Roman retribution for his crimes), led to the Jugurthine War between Rome and Numidia which, after a number of battles in Numidia between Roman and Numidian forces, eventually led to Jugurtha’s capture in 106 BC and his being paraded through Rome as part of Gaius Marius' Roman triumph. He was then thrown into the Tullianum prison where he died of starvation in 104 BC. He was survived by his son, Oxyntas.

Jugurtha's capture. Drawing from: [D.n Gabriel de Borbon, Infante de España], La conjuracion de Catilina y la Guerra de Jugurta por Cayo Salustio Crispo, Madrid, Joachin Ibarra, impresor de Camara del Rei Nuestro Señor, M.DCC.LXXII. The picture is in front of page 97.


Until the reign of Jugurtha's grandfather Masinissa, the Numidians were semi-nomadic and indistinguishable from the other Berber tribes in North Africa. Masinissa established a kingdom (roughly equivalent to modern northern Algeria) and became a Roman ally in 206 BC. After a long reign he was succeeded in 148 BC by his son Micipsa. Jugurtha, Micipsa's adopted son (and Mastanabal's illegitimate son), was so popular among the Numidians that Micipsa was obliged to send him away to Spain. Unfortunately for Micipsa, instead of quietly keeping out of the way, Jugurtha used his time in Spain to make several influential Roman contacts. He served under Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia (134-133 BC) alongside Gaius Marius and learned of Rome’s weakness for bribes. He famously described Rome as "urbem venalem et mature perituram, si emptorem invenerit" (“a city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should find a buyer,” Sallust, Jug. 35.10).

Rise to power

When Micipsa died in 118, he was succeeded jointly by Jugurtha and his two sons (Jugurtha's adoptive-brothers) Hiempsal and Adherbal. Hiempsal and Jugurtha quarrelled immediately after the death of Micipsa. Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed, which led to open war with Adherbal. After Jugurtha defeated him in open battle, Adherbal fled to Rome for help. The Roman officials settled the fight by dividing Numidia into two parts, probably in 116, but this settlement was tainted by accusations that the Roman officials accepted bribes to favor Jugurtha. Among the officials found guilty was Lucius Opimius (who, as consul in 121, had presided over events which led to the death of Gaius Gracchus). Jugurtha was assigned the western half; later Roman propaganda claimed that this half was also richer, but in truth it was both less populated and less developed.

War with Rome

By 112 Jugurtha resumed his war with Adherbal, penning the latter up in his capital of Cirta. Adherbal was encouraged to hold out by a corps of Italian residents, in expectation of military aid arriving from Rome. However, Roman troops were engaged in the Cimbrian Warand the Senate merely sent two successive embassies to remonstrate with Jugurtha who delayed until he had captured Cirta. His troops then massacred many residents including the Italians. This brought Jugurtha into direct conflict with Rome, which sent troops under the Consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia. Although the Romans made significant inroads into Numidia, their heavy infantry was unable to inflict any significant casualties on Jugurtha's army which included large numbers of light cavalry.

Bestia then accepted an offer of negotiations from Jugurtha, who surrendered and received a highly favourable peace treaty, which raised suspicions of bribery once more. The local Roman commander was summoned to Rome to face corruption charges brought by his political rival Gaius Memmius, who also induced the tribal assembly to vote safe conduct to Jugurtha to come to Rome to give evidence against the officials suspected of succumbing to bribery. However once Jugurtha had reached Rome, another tribune used his veto to prevent evidence being given. Jugurtha also severely damaged his reputation and weakened his position by using his time in Rome to set gangs onto a cousin, named Massiva, a potential rival for the Numidian throne.

War again broke out between Numidia and the Roman Republic, and several legions were dispatched to North Africa under the command of the consul, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus. The war dragged out into a long and seemingly endless campaign, as the Romans tried to inflict a decisive defeat on Jugurtha. Frustrated at the apparent lack of action, Metellus's lieutenant, Gaius Marius, returned to Rome to seek election as consul. After winning the election, Marius returned to Numidia to take control of the war. He sent his quaestor, Sulla, to neighbouring Mauretania to eliminate their support for Jugurtha. With the help of Bocchus I of Mauretania, Sulla was able to capture Jugurtha and bring the war to a conclusive end. Jugurtha was brought to Rome in chains and placed in the Tullianum.

Jugurtha was paraded through the streets in Gaius Marius' Roman triumph after which his royal robes were removed and his earrings were ripped off. He lost an ear lobe in the process. He was then thrown into the Tullianum, where he died of starvation in 104 BC. He was survived by his son, Oxyntas.




Jugurtha KING OF NUMIDIA (160-104 BC) (B)

Jugurtha, (born c. 160 BC—died 104, Rome), king of Numidia from 118 to 105, who struggled to free his North African kingdom from Roman rule.

Jugurtha was the illegitimate grandson of Masinissa (d. 148), under whom Numidia had become a Roman ally, and the nephew of Masinissa’s successor, Micipsa. Jugurtha became so popular among the Numidians that Micipsa tried to eliminate his influence by sending him in 134 to assist the Roman general Scipio Africanus the Younger in the siege of Numantia (Spain). Jugurtha, however, established close relations with Scipio, who was the hereditary patron of Numidia and who probably persuaded Micipsa to adopt Jugurtha in 120.

After Micipsa’s death in 118, Jugurtha shared the rule of Numidia with Micipsa’s two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, the first of whom Jugurtha assassinated. When Adherbal was attacked by Jugurtha, he fled to Rome for aid — Rome’s approval being required for any change in the government of Numidia. A senatorial commission divided Numidia, with Jugurtha taking the less-developed western half and Adherbal the richer eastern half. Trusting in his influence at Rome, Jugurtha again attacked Adherbal (112), capturing his capital at Cirta and killing him. During the sack of Cirta, a number of Italian traders were also slain. Popular anger in Rome at this action forced the Senate to declare war on Jugurtha, but in 111 the consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia made a generous settlement with him. Summoned to Rome to explain how he had managed to obtain the treaty, Jugurtha was silenced by a tribune of the plebs. He then had a potential rival killed in the capital, and even the best of his Roman friends could no longer support him.

When war was renewed, Jugurtha easily maintained himself against incompetent generals. Early in 110 he forced the capitulation of a whole army under Aulus Postumius Albinus and drove the Romans out of Numidia. Antisenatorial feeling caused the terms of this surrender to be disavowed by Rome, and fighting again broke out. One of the consuls for 109, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, won several battles but did not drive Jugurtha to surrender. After the arrival of a new consul, Gaius Marius, in 107, Jugurtha continued to achieve successes through guerrilla warfare. Bocchus I of Mauretania, however, encouraged by Marius’ quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, trapped the Numidian king and turned him over to the Romans early in 105. He was executed the following year.

In vigour and resource he was a worthy grandson of Masinissa but lacked his political insight. Misled by signs of corruption in the Roman governing class, he failed to realize that there were limits beyond which Rome’s satellite rulers could not go without provoking decisive intervention. The Jugurthine War gave Marius the excuse to reform the army by recruiting soldiers who were not property owners. As the Roman historian Sallust’s monograph The Jugurthine War makes clear, the Senate’s handling of Jugurtha, characterized by a mixture of corruption and incompetence, led to the loss of public confidence, which was an important factor in the eventual fall of the Roman Republic.

The republic (c. 121-91 BC)
War against Jugurtha (B)

Since Roman historians were no more interested in internal factional politics than (on the whole) in social or economic developments, the struggles of the aristocratic families must be pieced together from chance information. It would be mere paradox to deny the importance in republican Rome, as in better known aristocratic republics, of family feuds, alliances, and policies, and parts of the picture are known — e.g., the central importance of the family of the Metelli, prominent in politics for a generation after the Gracchi and dominant for part of that time. In foreign affairs the client kingdom of Numidia — loyal ever since its institution by Scipio Africanus — assumed quite unwarranted importance when a succession crisis developed there soon after 120.

After the death of its first ruler, Masinissa (148), Numidia was divided into three parts, each to be ruled by one of Masinissa’s sons. However, two of them soon died, and power fell to the eldest, Micipsa, who himself had two sons. Micipsa also adopted Jugurtha, the natural son of his brother Mastanabal. Following Micipsa’s death in 118, Jugurtha sought to oust his two cousins from their shares of the divided Numidia, relying on his superior ability and aristocratic Roman connections. Rome’s usual diplomatic methods failed to stop Jugurtha from disposing of his cousins, but the massacre of Italian settlers at Cirta by his soldiers forced the Senate to declare war (112). The war was waged reluctantly and ineffectively, with the result that charges of bribery were freely bandied about by demagogic tribunes taking advantage of suspicion of aristocratic political behaviour that had smoldered ever since the Gracchan crisis. Significantly, some eminent men, hated from those days, were now convicted of corruption. The Metelli, however, emerged unscathed, and Quintus Metellus, consul in 109, was entrusted with the war in Africa. He waged it with obvious competence but failed to finish it and thus gave Gaius Marius, a senior officer, his chance.

The career of Gaius Marius

Marius, born of an equestrian family at Arpinum, had attracted the attention of Scipio Aemilianus as a young soldier and, by shrewd political opportunism, had risen to the praetorship and married into the patrician family of the Julii Caesares. Though Marius had deeply offended the Metelli, once his patrons, his considerable military talents had induced Quintus Metellus to take him to Africa as a legatus. Marius intrigued against his commander in order to gain a consulship; he was elected (chiefly with the help of the equites and antiaristocratic tribunes) for 107 and was given charge of the war by special vote of the people. He did little better than Metellus had, but in 105 his quaestor Lucius Sulla, in delicate and dangerous negotiations, brought about the capture of Jugurtha, opportunely winning the war for Marius and Rome.


Jugurthine War

Jugurthine War (İÖ 112-106) (W)

The Jugurthine War took place in 112–106 BC, between Rome and Jugurtha of Numidia, a kingdom on the north African coast approximating to modern Algeria. Jugurtha was the nephew and adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia, whom he succeeded on the throne, overcoming his rivals through assassination, war, and bribery.

The war constituted an important phase in the Roman subjugation of Northern Africa, but Numidia did not become a Roman province until 46 BC. Following Jugurtha's usurpation of the throne of Numidia, a loyal ally of Rome since the Punic Wars, Rome felt compelled to intervene.




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