Carthage – Berbers and Phoenicians – North African History

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ruins of stone houses and a paved street - North African history

North African history: Punic houses in Carthage (146 BC)

Who were the Berbers?

The first people to live along the North African coast were Berbers, nomadic shepherds and cattle herders. These people spoke a Hamitic language related to Ancient Egyptian. They were probably a genetic mixture of people from West Asia with people from southern Africa. These Hamitic people frequently invaded Egypt. Egyptians called them Libyans. Sometimes the Libyans had a lot of power in Egyptian politics.

Phoenicians start the city of Carthage

a tombstone with a pointed top and a carving of a woman and a moon

A North African tombstone honoring the Phoenician goddess Tanit.

But about 800 BCPhoenician colonists arrived from West Asia and started the city of Carthage, in modern Tunisia. Carthage had a good port, and an important military location. It is located at a narrow point of the Mediterranean Sea, opposite the island of Sicily. So a navy that controls both southern Sicily and Carthage (as the Phoenicians did) can control shipping in the Mediterranean. Because of its good port and strategic location, Carthage quickly grew into an important city.

Carthage colonizes Spain

When the Persians conquered Phoenicia in the late 500s BC, Carthage gained its independence. The Persians had no navy, and were not that interested in the Mediterranean, so Carthage was able to become an independent country. In addition to North Africa and southern Sicily, Carthage also conquered and colonized a lot of Spain. The Carthaginians wanted to rule Spain because there were big silver mines there.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about North African history? Click below to read about the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome, or to find out about North African history under the Roman Empire.

The Punic Wars
Go on to Roman North Africa

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Carthage:

Umm El Madayan: An Islamic City Through the Ages
by Abderrahman Ayoub, Jamila Binous, Abderrazak Gragueb (1994)

Hannibal (First Book) by Robert Green (1997)

The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty (1860s, reprinted 2001) This is a good adventure story that can introduce you to the wars between Rome and Carthage, but because it was written more than 100 years ago, it has some racist and unfair assumptions about the Romans being better people than the Carthaginians – watch out!

The Late Roman West and the Vandals by Frank M. Clover (not a kids’ book) (1993)

Phoenician History
Egyptian History
African History
Ancient Africa home

By |2018-04-09T10:31:06+00:00May 18th, 2017|Africa, History|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Carthage – Berbers and Phoenicians – North African History. Study Guides, May 18, 2017. Web. January 18, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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