As demonstrated by the aïn hanech (Setif ) lower paleolithic site, human presence in algeria goes back more than one million years. The faceted spheroids and chopping tools found beside the remains of archaic wildlife confirm the existence of a settlement in early times.
The faceted spheroids and chopping tools found beside the remains of archaic wildlife confirm the existence of human settlements in prehistoric times.
However, the most ancient ancestor discovered to this day is the famous Atlanthropus found in Tighenif (Mascara). According to tests his bones are 400,000 years old, going back to the era of elephants, rhinoceroses and giraffes.
The Aterian civilization would emerge later, near Bir El Ater (Tebessa).
Finally, the Ibero-Moorish group found in Mechta Laarbi (Constantine) and the Capsians found in the east and south represent neolithic sites dating back a few millenniums B.C. It is the era of snail plates and snail eaters. This group of Homo sapiens is considered to be the direct ancestors of the Numidians.
Northern Capsian art as well as southern engravings and paintings heralded the blossoming of outstanding civilizations from the Sahara to the Tell Atlas.
Constantine‘s bear caves and Oran‘s troglodyte caves are some of the most important habitats of that era.
Human beings who lived in that region are known as Berbers but the Romans called them Moors or Numidians. They actually called themselves „Imazighen,“ the singular form of which is Amazigh, meaning „free men“ or literally „men from the heights.“ Most of them were nomads or small-scale beef, sheep and goat breeders.
Those living in the rich humid plains combined animal breeding with growing wheat, barley and olives. Living as settlers, they sometimes inhabited caves or mud and earthen houses that were grouped in villages on hilltops for better protection against pillaging.
The Berber population evolved from a Neolithic mixture of old Paleo-Mediterranean ancestry and two Mediterranean groups originating from Western Asia. From early historical times Berbers acted as a link between the Occident and Orient. This period saw the propagation of cultural influences, mostly from western Mediterranean and European countries, such as dolmens, silo-shaped graves, ceramics and settlements. At the same time, Berbers were integrating Oriental cultural contributions. Berbers are linguistically related to the Orient, their language being of Hamito-Semitic origin, a group that covered all of the Near East and North Africa.



Berber civilization emerges on the (written) historical landscape in the 6th Century B.C. in a Greco-Pheonician confrontation for the control of the Mediterranean.
For centuries Carthage imposed its supremacy over the entire Mediterranean Basin. Towards the end of the Carthaginian era and early Roman dominance, Berbers (Numidians) were divided into two major groups, Massyles and Massaesyli, and were led by their respective kings, Masinissa and Syphax. Syphax, king of the Massaesyli (Numidians) initially lived in western Algeria and was the most powerful Berber monarch during the Second Punic War. The two greatest powers of the Mediterranean, Carthage and Rome, were competing to win him over as an ally. His rival, Masinissa, king of the Massyles, ruled over his kingdom from 202 to 148 B.C. Cirta, later known as Constantine, was the capital of that kingdom.
Masinissa offered his services to Rome and was influential in the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. Syphax went into exile in Italy while his son Vermina inherited some parts of his father‘s kingdom. Heartened by his alliance with Rome, Masinissa decided to conquer all of Numidia which he turned into a unified kingdom. However, Rome could not tolerate the emergence of a Berber power. With Carthage eliminated this new power had to be eradicated. Roman hegemonic designs would be hampered by the tenacious Jugurtha, Masinissa‘s grandson and the son of Micipsa. Jugurtha hoped to reunite all of Numidia but he was imprisoned and sent to Italy. He died of starvation in Tullanium, the Rome prison where Vercingetorix had been strangled.
During the last century B.C. all of Maghreb was ruled by Roman public servants. The last two Massyle Kings, Juba from 25 B.C. to 23 A.D., and Ptolemy from 23 to 40 A.D., acted more as vassals of the various „Caesars“ than as truly autonomous princes. This bloody „Roman peace,“ that was forced on the Berber kingdom for a period of over four centuries, was marked by two major events.
The Roman occupation triggered a brutal reorganization of social structures, lifestyles and production processes. Not content with ending the first Berber political centralization effort, it also brought an end to structural benefits that had resulted from the emergence of villages initiated by Massinissa. Pushed back towards the desert, the population had no choice but to reluctantly resume a nomadic lifestyle. Confined behind the „limes,“ as Roman boundary lines were called, for nearly three centuries entire fragments of Berber society were disenfranchised from their right to a normal agrarian lifestyle and were compelled to lead an enforced Bedouin lifestyle, synonymous with constant uprooting and roaming.

Algeria in ancient times

The substantial development of cities in the Maghreb during the Roman era, is a source of contention for many historians who dot not always have access to the necessary data to evaluate their respective population and to better understand their legal and administrative structures as well as urban characteristics.
Archeological excavations performed in the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century have brought to light only a handful of ancient major urban centers. The main objective of those excavations was often to dig up art objects and ceramic tiles or to dig up monuments to a „useful level“ with very little thought for archeological layers or subsequent levels under them. This is why, upon visiting museums, the Italian archeologist M.A. Carandini declared: „One is under the impression that the only occupation of ancient people was to sculpt statues, create elaborate mosaics or paint vases and walls“.
When visiting ancient archeological sites, one is frequently told that the first cities were Roman colonies and that „in this barbaric country inhabited by nomadic tribes, the first sedentary Inhabitants were Roman soldiers released from duty.“
As J. Toutain observed, „A vision of archeology and ancient history that only seeks to enhance Rome’s reputation, by focusing exclusively on its colonizing efforts and its urbanization of Africa, must indeed be reviewed in the light of recent research and requires a thorough reevaluation of the colonial centered point of view.“

One must remember that French archeologists working in Algeria, even the most scientifically competent ones, have been prone to focus on Roman colonization during a century of research in Africa, if only to legitimize French colonialism. The introduction of J. Toutain‘s work devoted to the study of Roman cities is quite revealing: „The better we will know the accomplishments of Romans in their African provinces, the better we shall orient our efforts and the quicker we shall succeed.“ He wrote those words at the end of the 19th Century.
However, in recent years, the backlash of de-colonization and the use of new and stricter scientific methods have greatly affected archeological research. The old historical concept of the primacy of Roman conquests is the object of fierce criticism, which reminds us, with good reason, that African-based Roman civilization was dependent on Libyan and Punic civilizations that preceded them, a fact that we are only now beginning to fully recognize.
From that point of view accurate archeological insights are still in their earliest stages of development. With this in mind we must rid ourselves of some biases and clichés that some reference works, and even identifiers of records, rely upon to turn almost every antique archeological object into a „Roman ruin.“ This is symptomatic of an insistence on defining ancient Maghrebian cities as the exclusive creations of Roman conquerors, especially where central Maghrebian cities are concerned. But how can anyone forget Carthage, and its influence or the powerful Cirta (Constantine).
Toponomy, as applied to established ancient site guides, provides interesting data on the occupation of some Algerian coastal sites during the Phoenician and Punic eras. Such is the case of Icosium, currently Algiers, whose first syllable is found in the names of some trading posts such as Iol (Cherchell) and Igilgili (Jijel). Elsewhere, the prefix „rus“ refers to sites established on capes or promontories, such as Russicade (Skikda), Rusazus (Azeffoun), Rusucurru (Dellys) or Rusgunia (Bjord al-Bahri or Cape Matifou). It should be noted that this prefix is of the same Semitic origin as „ras“ (cape in Arabic).

Toward the end of the first millennium Phoenician sailors, and later from the 8th Century onwards Carthaginian sailors, almost certainly inhabited coastal islands before settling on the main continent. Their stations, called „ladders“ or trading posts, were thus set along the Maghrebian coast roughly fifty kilometers apart, which equaled the distance covered by ancient vessels in a day‘s voyage.
We must consider those ancient Maghrebian cities from a new perspective, as their dug up content may date back to the Roman era but their true origin may quite often precede the Roman conquest.
These facts raise an interesting question: What was the nature of the relationship between those trading posts and the neighboring tribes and, generally speaking, with Libyan or „Imazighen“ populations during those particular centuries? One should also wonder about the number of „Punic posts“ and whether there could have been more ancient villages established by the natives near those posts or at the very same locations. Only necropolises, from which Tipasa, Cherchell, Jijel, Gouraya and Rachgoun inherited a wealth of funeral goods, confirm the substantial Punic contribution and exchanges with Greece, Sicily, Italy, and Spain. Grave steles, geometrically ornamented pottery, the prevalent forms of stone-cutting and the shape of monuments are valuable clues that can help us determine the true identities of the local artists.

The historical emphasis has too often been placed upon Carthaginian expansion and Roman conquest, thus neglecting the main participants of Algerian history, the Berber or Amazigh populations. Nowadays many historians insist on the need to review the role and the evolution of the native substratum with a point of view that is not only based on Greek and Roman perspectives but also on the basis of data that provides us with a proper understanding of the „indigenous“ peoples‘ share in the formation of the same history.
Although Roman architectural models are omnipresent in ancient cities, several characteristics distinguish African cities established during the Roman era from those encountered in Gaul and in Italy.
Archeology can better serve history, especially economic and social history, by using modern archeological survey and excavation technology such as aerial photography. In recent years, aerial photography has become a key element of archeological research when studying ancient cities. It represents a very useful discovery tool and offers unrivaled benefits for ground level shots.
Few literary works or ancient maps contain information on the history of cities or their economic and social structures. Hence, archeological excavation remains the primary source of information.
A strict policy of colonization was maintained during the Roman era with the help of Augustus‘ Third Legion, a military body that played a deciding role and which was based in the Ammaedera camp (Haidra - Tunisia) and the Theveste camp (currently Tebessa). This African army‘s base camp was set up in Lambese (currently Tazoult), because of its strategic location along the Aures Mountains.
The ruins of these camps are among the best preserved of the thirteen known camps of the Roman legions. A military road was actually built through the Aures mountains, between Lambese and Biskra (the ancient Vescera), and led to the various southern posts forming the so-called „limes,“ or borderline. A rock engraving located along the Fighaniminet narrows, between Roufi and Arris, states that the road was built in 145 A.D. in the reign of Antorrin the Pious by a detachment of the Eight Ferrata Legion.
In the north, there were colonies such as Cuicul (Djemila), Mopth (Mons), and Sitifis (Setif ), and in the south, there were the colonies Theveste, Caesaris (Youks), Vazavi, Mascula (Khenchela), Aquae Flavianae (Hendair El- Hammam), Thamugadi (Timgad), and Verecunda (Arcouna).
This progression was maintained toward the south and the west during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus with the conquest of cities such as Pomaria (Tlemcen), Numerus Syrorum (Maghnia), and Altava (Ouled el Mimoun).
Roman occupation was relatively negligible in Western Algeria where columns sent by Augustus eventually reached the Setif valley.
As Paul-Albert Février wrote in his book “L’Art de l‘Algérie antique”: „This Roman progression gave rise to resistance efforts and throughout the occupied zone remained some undefeated and at time rebellious pockets,located in mountainous areas of the Small or Great Kabylie or of the Tellian Atlas. Around the middle of the 3rd Century and until the second half of the 4thCentury, these tribal pockets of resistance clearly conveyed to Rome that it had not yet won the battle.“
After two centuries, Roman influence had a great impact on the Maghrebian landscape, with Rome administering four of its provinces.
– Proconsular Africa included Augustean, Verus and Nova Africa. It formed a senatorial province headed by a Carthage based proconsul. As to its territory, it included parts of Libya, Tunisia and the oriental part of Algeria, along with several cities: Hippone (Atmaha), Calama (Guelma), Thubursicu Numidar- um (Khamissa), Thagaste (Souk Ahras), Madauros (Md‘aourouch), and Theveste.
– A second Numidian province was established west of proconsular Africa, essentially for military purposes, at the very beginning of the First Century. It was delimited on the western side by the entrance to the Ampsaga (Oued EI-Kebir), a series of valleys west of Cuicul (Djemila), the Zaraï region (nowadays Zraïa), the Hodna plains and the Zahrez Chergui, right up to the Laghouat region. Headed by a legate, a commander-in-chief of the entire region based in Lambese, this province served as a military base.
– The two Mauritanias formed the two other provinces. The first extended to the center and west of Algeria as well as to a part of what is now Morocco. Its capital city was Caesarea (Cherchell). The second one covered the northern part of Morocco and its capital city was Tingi (Tangiers). The emperor assigned them a procurator, with a rank below that of the proconsul, and the Numidian legate.
Inscriptions etched on funeral steles found virtually everywhere remind us of the sustained and deadly insurrections that Roman troops tried to quell for nearly four centuries. Given the wealth and diversity of art and architectural treasures of Ancient Algeria, recalling this past history covering many centuries, from the end of prehistory to the emergence of Islam, translates into a quest for knowledge and an invitation to travel.
A municipal Berber elite, whose names had been Latinized, contributed to the economic expansion of provinces and to urban development. Under no circumstances should one think that overseas foreigners inhabited all cities, about five hundred in all, during the late Empire. Indeed, according to Gilbert-Charles Picard, from the Second Century onwards, „lf one wishes to explain these developments and renewed expansions, one should consider the social dynamics as language and mores slowly evolved. Roman and Latin socialization was indicated not only by monuments but also by tens of thousands of preserved inscriptions as well as by the Second Century works of such writers as Fronton de Cirta or Apulée de Madaure, and then of Christians authors such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and eventually Augustine, all of whom were driven by apologetics and polemics and offer us a vibrant testimony to the legacy of the Third Century.“

Overlooking the charming and inviting city of Annaba, located in eastern Algeria an hour from Marseilles or Italy by air, is the majestic Saint Augustine Basilica imposing in its strength and beauty. Over a millennium ago Saint Augustine delivered sermons in which he described a building made of stone and wood, skillfully assembled, into which one could set foot with „no fear of its crumbling to the ground.“ Construction of the actual basilica started on October 30, 1831 and was consecrated on March 20, 1900 with the assistance of the Italian city of Pavia.

It is now a large complex including the basilica itself, a library, a monastery and a reception house. It represents a harmonious combination of Moorish, Byzantine and Roman design. Participants to the first International Symposium of Algiers and Annaba organized by the Supreme Islamic Council, had the opportunity to visit this site at the conclusion of the conference that dealt with the life and work of this philosopher, son of Thagaste (Souk Ahras). They discovered the splendor of the basilica, overlooking a sumptuous site, in the midst of Roman ruins from the former Hippone.

One of the towering figures of medieval philosophy whose authority and thought came to exert a pervasive and enduring influence well into the modern period (e.g. Descartes and specially Malebranche), and even up to the present day, Saint Augustine was born in Aurelus Augustinus on November 13, 354 CE in Thagaste, in the eastern Algerian city of Souk Ahras and 650 km from the capital city of Algiers. More commonly known as “Saint Augustine of Hippo”, often simply as “Augustine”, he was the son of Patricius, a Roman citizen and Pagan, and Monique, a convert to Christianity, and was educated in Thagaste and Madauros, both in what is now Algeria and Carthage.

The genial author of “The Confessions” and “City of God” was the founder of African monasticism and is one of the most famous sons of Algeria.

Augustine convert to Christianity in 386 and was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan on Easter Sunday 387. Having spent 7 years in Rome (his only time outside North Africa), he returned to his place of birth, Taghaste, and would spent the rest of his years immersed in the affairs and controversies of the Church into which he had been recently baptized. In 391, Augustine was ordained priest of Hippo Regius (now the Algerian city of Annaba) and in 395 he was made Bishop. He died in August 430 in Hippo, thirty-five years later, as the Vandals were besieging the gates of the city.

On April 1-6, 2001, an international conference was held in Algiers and Annaba on “The Africaness and universality of Augustine”, under the sponsorship of the Algerian Higher Islamic Council, the Augustine university of Rome and the university of Fribourg, Switzerland. Speaking at the conference, the archbishop of Algiers, Mgr Henri Tessier established a parallel between Augustine’s body of work, namely his city of God, and the contribution of the famous Muslim scholar Mawardi, particularly his treaty on the imamate, to say that both the Christian thinker and the Muslim jurist wanted to let the work of god shape the minds of men and not substitute a religious law for the free temporal power of men, thus debunking the claims of those who misinterpreted Augustine’s view on faith to justify the holy wars of history.

For Augustine, faith is the result of divine grace and can never be imposed other than accepted as a truth and freely confronted to that held by others. Numerous scholars underlined that the alliance of faith, intelligence and freedom proclaimed by the roman African philosopher would later be adopted by Thomas d’Aquin in the Christian tradition but also by Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Ghazali, whose works reflected their beliefs as strong bulwarks against any fundamentalist or extremist views.