The Story of Masinissa, written from an Algerian p

Gestart door Massugrada, 17/05/2004 om 14:35:02


North Africa was divided into three kingdoms, each led by a military chief, an aguellid. Those kingdoms were Massylia in the east, Masaessylia in the west, and Guetulia in the South, but this last kingdom was not known in antiquity [historically not known and written about], though it existed, and thus let's say there were only two kingdoms.

By the time Rome started to come into contact with the Berber aguellids, Gaïa was the aguellid of Massylia and Syphax of the Masaessylians, also known as the Western Maures. The kindom of Syphax covered a huge territory with two capital cities: SIGA in the west, and Korta or Cirta (today's Constantine), taken from the Massyles. Thus, the territory of Gaïa was deprived of one of its fertile lands.

In 213 B.C, a war started between Syphax and Carthage, Gaïa immediately gave support to Carthage by sending his son, Masinissa, at the head of his military troops, hoping to recover his lost territories. The war ended one year after the beginning of the hostilities, but the hopes of Gaïa were not fulfilled. In spite of that, he kept his alliance with Carthage and helped them in the Second Punic War, with Carthage in opposition to Rome in Spain. This war turned to the benefit of Rome since Carthage lost all of its possessions in Spain, except for Gades.

The Romans wanted to destroy the power of Carthage, not only in Spain, but also in North Africa. Therefore, they sent Scipio Africanus to Siga in order to win Syphax over to their camp. Knowing about the Romans' plan, the Carthaginians did the same; they promised Syphax they would forget his usurpation of their ally's territory, if he remained neutral. Syphax proposed to both antagonists to meet on his land in order to discuss and reach a peaceful compromise. This proposal did not satisfy Scipio and thus, he went back to Rome.

Meanwhile, the Carthaginians continued their mission until they won from Syphax the promise that he would not support Rome. In return, he was given Sophonisba, daughter of Asdrubal, as bride, in addition to material compensation. Scipio knew well about the conflicts between Gaïa and Syphax. He knew, as well, that Gaïa had some members of his family fighting for Carthage against Rome in Spain. He, therefore, decided to take full advantage of this situation. Scipio made Masiva (one of Gaïa's grandchildren) prisoner of war and then released him immediatly to win the Numidians' sympathy. Scipio finally met Masinissa, son of Gaïa and head of his military troops, in Gades. Their meeting ended with a mutual agreement: Masinissa decided to help Rome in fighting Carthage, and Scipion promised that he would help him recover the lands of his ancestors.


When Gaïa died (206 B.C.), his brother Oezalces succeded him. Oezalces was married to a Carthaginian, niece of Hannibal. Therefore, he had the support of Carthage, but he died soon afterwards and left behind him two sons: Capussa and Lacumaze. Capussa, the elder, ascended the throne, but his reign was contested by Meztule, a member of the royal family. Meztule received military support from Syphax and attacked his cousin. Capussa died on the battle field. Meztule, knowing that he was not eligible to rule, installed Lacumaze on the throne though, according to tradition, Masinissa was the successor since he had seniority over his cousin. When Masinissa heard the news, he was in Spain. He immediately left Gades for Mauritania (the ancient kingdom, in western north Africa, which included part of what is today western Algeria, as well as Morocco)* in 206 B.C in order to avoid Syphax's attack. He went to Baga (king of the Maures) and asked for anaïa (a Berber tradition of help and protection). Baga offered him an escort of 4,000 men, who accompanied him to his land. Once there, he gathered 500 cavalryman and attacked Lacumaze, who was leaving Thappsus (today's Skikda, on the Algerian east coast) on his way to Cirta. Lacumaze lost his military troops and fled to Cirta, but not without thinking of revenge. Lacumaze and Meztule asked for Syphax's help and returned to the battle with 15,000 infantarymen and 10,000 cavalrymen. Masinissa did not have as large a miltary force; yet he was able to defeat them. This victory permitted Masinissa to be at the head of Massylia. After recovering his throne, Masinissa's first aim was to unite all the Numidians in order to retrieve the lands of his ancestors, taken from them by the Carthaginians.

The union of Numidian chiefs worried the Carthaginians since they had interests to protect in the region. They, therefore, sent Asdrubal to Syphax who had old grievances against Gaïa, father of Massinisa. Asdrubal convinced Syphax that the alliance of Numidian chiefs endangered his power. Syphax, made aware of the strength of his neighbor, decided to occupy a territory which had been litigated since the time of Gaïa, but this was only a trick to urge Massinisa to engage in military action, which he did. Massinisa was defeated, and Syphax established his troops in Massylia.

Massinisa and some of his men hid in the mountains of the Kroumirie (part of the Atlas on the border of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Tunisia. This region is inhabited by the Kroumirs, a mix between Amazigh berbers and Arabs). From there, they attacked the Carthaginians' farms, a situation which brought a highly rising insecurity to the region.

Syphax was again asked to interfere, He sent his troops, and once again, Massinisa was defeated, losing almost all his men. Massinisa and what remained of his troops were chased by Buccar (chief of Syphax's troops) until they had no other choice but to jump astride their horses into the river (probably Oued El Kebir - a river in Annaba (a town in eastern Algeria, the ancient Hippone). "Kebir" (or kabïr) in arabic means "big." ). Many lost their lives, and Massinisa was thought to be dead, but he had survived and found refuge, where he was able to recuperate.

Once his wounds were healed, Massinisa decided to take revenge. He gathered 6,000 foot soldiers


Once his wounds were healed, Massinisa decided to take revenge. He gathered 6,000 foot soldiers and 4,000 cavalry men ready to fight. The Carthaginians, with the help of Syphax, gathered a powerful army, stronger than Massinisa's. Massinisa again saw his hopes of victory fading away. All these events took place in less then a year after the first Punic War (about 205 B.C.). By the second year, the war was brought to Africa, which the Romans entered from its Mediterranean gate: the Algerian coast, namely Hippone (today's Annaba). When Massinisa learned that Rome decided to reroute the war from Europe and into Africa (where the heart of Carthage pulsated), he left his refuge and awaited them on the coast. Once the Romans arrived, Massinisa asked for a meeting with the troops' chief, Laelius. The agreement Massinisa had signed with Rome in Spain was finally going to take shape (see previous article). Scipio's purpose was to isolate Carthage in North Africa; therefore, he sent a delegation to Syphax--who was already engaged with the Carthaginians, mainly because of his marriage to Sophonisba, daughter of Asdrubal--and declared that he would unite his forces to the forces of Carthage against Rome. After his unsuccessful attempt to bring Syphax into his camp, Scipio decided to attack Carthage with Massinisa by his side.

With the alliance of of Massinisa, Scipio Africanus succeeded in defeating Carthage, while Massinisa took revenge on his sworn enemy, Syphax, by taking him prisoner. Syphax was sent to Rome, to Tibur (Ancient Roman town. Today’s Tivoli), where he died. Sophonisba, his wife and daughter of Asdrubal, on knowing that her husband was taken prisoner, asked for «anaïa» from Massinisa, which he could not refuse. (In the Amazigh Berber tradition, anaïa is a protection, which anyone can request from someone else, and which can never be refused). He thus took Sophonisba to wife. That marriage suprised the Romans and provoked their anger. Massinisa’s advisers decided that only the death of Sophonisba could solve the dilemma which he was facing. The aguellid made Sophonisba aware of the Romans' pressures to force him to hand her over to them and the difficulties in opposing them. She understood what Massinisa meant and asked him to bring her a cup of poison, with which she put an end to her life. (The destiny of Sophonisbe or Sofonisba is not well known. There is still a mystery surrounding the true circumstances of her suicide. Some historians say that she committed suicide as soon as she knew that Syphax was taken prisoner.).

With no allies, the Carthaginian were obliged to ask for peace, and they paid highly for it. Scipio asked them to free all the prisoners, to retire the Carthaginian troops from Gaul and Italy, and to give up their possessions in Spain and the Mediterranean islands. He also required the payment of 5,000 talents(4), 500,000 bushels (measures of about 8 gallons) of wheat, and 300,000 of barley. After this treaty of peace, Massinisa took over the territories which he considered his. Around 202 B.C., peace again was broken. This time, Hannibal, chief of the Carthagininan troops, united his forces to those of Vermina, son of Syphax, and invaded Massinisa’s territories. Facing such an action, Scipio joined Massinisa’s troops and landed them in Zama (probably today’s Zouam), where Hannibal was camped. The armies fought, and Massinisa’s troops gained victory.


After the battle of Zama, Carthage was obliged to relinquish her Lybian possessions, and thus, Massininsa united Massylia to Massaessylia. By the time Massinisa fought the battle of Zama, he was 37 years old. After his victory, he reigned for more than half a century. All along his reign, he founded a modern state, with the same organization and prosperity that Carthage had enjoyed. Massinisa retrieved the territories annexed by the Carthagininans without the help of Rome. He called for the union of the Numidians, who became a people strong enough to form a state in the modern sense. Numidia was divided into provinces. At the head of each, Massinisa placed a governor, and at the head of each tribe, he placed an «amokrane» (chief). His council, a kind of "congress," was composed of ten people, among whom three were sons of Massinisa: Miscipsa, who could be considered something similar to a prime minister; Gulussa, whose position was akin to army and defense minister; and Mastanbaal, who was in charge of the state's treasury. Massinisa also had his own currency. After uniting the Numidians, Massinisa's next aim was to have a capital of renown. The object of his desire was Carthage.