African Studies North Africa to 600
by
Allen Fromherz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0081

Introduction

The history of North Africa in Antiquity is one of the most exciting, if still comparatively unexplored, fields of ancient history and archaeology. From the continuing, highly charged controversy over the origin of the Berbers, the original inhabitants of North Africa, to the prominence of Carthage—Rome’s one significant rival for the control of the ancient Mediterranean—to the astoundingly preserved and understudied ancient ruins that meet or surpass much of what can be seen on other Mediterranean shores, North Africa in Antiquity remains a subject of great importance to scholars of the ancient world. This bibliography will include sources up to the Arab conquests of the 7th century CE.

General Overviews

A mere glance at the astonishing mosaics in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, an opportunity afforded to readers by Abed 2006, confirms the extent of the region’s rich legacy. Beyond its artistic heritage, North Africa in Antiquity is also of central importance to the formation of national identities in the Maghrib, as is examined in Hannoum 2008, a study of the historiography of ancient North Africa. Despite the controversy surrounding Stéphane Gsell’s work, primarily supported by the French colonial establishment, the most important single history of ancient North Africa remains Gsell 1913–1928, an eight-volume foundational text. His work includes an atlas of archaeology, as well as other important works such as Gsell 1911. Although many of his conclusions have been dismantled by careful specialist research, Gsell’s impact has been so overwhelming that few have attempted to provide an updated overview of pre-Islamic North Africa. Most surveys of the period in English exist as introductions to the general history of North Africa. Overviews that do exist focus on specific periods of North African Antiquity: the prehistoric, the Punic, the Roman, and late Antiquity. MacKendrick 1980 provides a good introduction to classical sites in North Africa. For an overview of the Jewish community of North Africa in Antiquity see Hirschberg 1974.

  • Abed, Ben Aicha. Tunisian Mosaics: Treasures from Roman Africa. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    The Bardo collection of mosaics is mind-boggling to witness in person. This book brings together images from the Bardo, as well as more recent excavations. There are frequent discoveries of ancient mosaics in the rich olive plantations of the Tunisian hinterland.

  • Gsell, Stéphane. Atlas archéologique de l’Algérie, édition spéciale des cartes au 200.000° du Service géographique de l’Armée. Algiers, Algeria: A. Jourdan, 1911.

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    In this rare atlas Gsell details the major classical and preclassical sites of Algeria.

  • Gsell, Stéphane. Histoire ancienne de l’Afrique du Nord. 8 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1913–1928.

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    Although sponsored by the French Army’s geographical services, Gsell’s monumental work remains an important reference for scholars of North African Antiquity.

  • Hannoum, Abdelmajid. “The Historiographic State: How Algeria Once Became French.” History and Anthropology 19 (2008): 91–114.

    DOI: 10.1080/02757200802320876E-mail Citation »

    Known for his decisive critiques of classic, colonial histories of ancient North Africa, Hannoum examines the problematic construction of a legendary Franco Roman/Berber past in North Africa. France, according to Hannoum, saw itself as the new Roman ally of the Berbers against Arabs.

  • Hirschberg, Haim. A History of the Jews in North Africa: From Antiquity to the Sixteenth Century. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974.

    E-mail Citation »

    Hirschberg engages various theories and sources pointing to the existence of vibrant Berber Jewish communities as well as the fascinating history of Babylonian Diaspora Jews in North Africa.

  • MacKendrick, Paul. The North African Stones Speak. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

    E-mail Citation »

    An overview of classical sites and archaeological remains in North Africa for the general reader. This book is an accessible introduction.

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