In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section North Africa from 600 to 1800

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiographic and Anthropological Approaches
  • Early Medieval Western Maghrib and Sahara
  • Eastern Maghrib and the Fatimids
  • The Almoravids and the Almohads
  • Late Medieval Period (The Marinids, Zayyanids, and Hafsids)
  • Saints, Marabouts, and Ottomans

African Studies North Africa from 600 to 1800
Allen Fromherz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0092


North Africa was shaped fundamentally by the coming of Islam and the subsequent migration of large numbers of Arab peoples. Although the Romans and the Phoenicians made important contributions, especially on the coasts and in fertile valleys, they did not alter the religious, linguistic character of North African society as deeply as did the Muslim conquests. Even though Sunni Islam has generally become the clear, dominant religion, many instances of resistance to orthodoxy have occurred in the North African frontier. Also, the Berber peoples, never happy to be under the yoke of central urban authority, were frequently organized under various religious ideologies. In the early 21st century Arabs and Berbers often see themselves as part of the same community and culture, especially because they have united for common cause against European rule and interference.

General Overviews

Several respected overviews are available on the history of North Africa (a region also called the Maghrib in Arabic), from the Islamic conquests of the 7th century to the early 21st century. Some of these studies focus on the Berbers, the original inhabitants of the Maghrib, and their interactions with the Arabs over time (Brett and Fentress 1995). Other important works, such as the history of the Maghrib in Abun-Nasr 1987, view the historical development of the religion of Islam and its interaction with the particularities of North Africa as the overarching theme. Several classic books by French authors were influenced by decades of French colonial schools and studies. These works, somewhat dated and a source of some controversy, include Julien 1970 and Bel 1938. A good introduction to these historiographical controversies is provided by Hannoum 2008 (cited under Historiographic and Anthropological Approaches). Other works reacted to colonial histories: those by prominent North African historians who sought to reclaim their history from European domination. The most famous of these was Laroui 1977, an interpretative history of North Africa. Azaykou 2002 is representative of the interpretive histories and essays popular in this genre. Naylor 2009 examines the Maghrib and its interactions with Egypt. For a work interspersed with compelling English translations of primary sources, see the excellent and accessible Norris 1982, which is, unfortunately, out of print.

  • Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511608100

    Perhaps the most widely used and referenced general history for scholars of North Africa in English, Abun-Nasr’s analysis is both carefully rooted in sources and insightful in most of his general observations.

  • Azaykou, Ali Sidqi. Histoire du Maroc et ses possibles interprétations: Recueil d’articles. Rabat, Morocco: Centre Tarik Ibn Zyad, 2002.

    Born 1942 in the Moroccan village of Igran n tuinght, Azaykou provides a critical, and often philosophical, interpretation of general trends in North African history.

  • Bel, Alfred. La religion musulmane en Berbérie. Paris: Geuthner, 1938.

    Although critiqued as an example of colonial bias, Bel’s volume still contains information and research into the fundamental question about the interaction between Islam, a religion brought to North Africa by the Arab invasions, and its permutations in Berber society.

  • Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. The Berbers. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

    This is a comprehensive text on the history of the Berber people of North Africa and includes general historical information on North Africa as a whole, especially the interaction between Berbers and Arabs in the region.

  • Julien, Charles André. History of North Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. Edited and revised by R. Le Tourneau. New York: Praeger, 1970.

    Originally published in 1926 and considered the classic text, Julien’s volume is still used as a starting point for research on the region. Despite the existence of updated interpretations and accounts and critiques of his colonial bias, many of his conclusions remain relevant.

  • Laroui, Abdallah. The History of the Maghreb: An Interpretive Essay. Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

    Originally published in 1970. This classic interpretive and historiographic alternative to colonial histories found a wide audience outside of the region and the discipline of history. As teacher to the royal family, Laroui is both a member of the Moroccan elite and, at times, an impassioned critic of the North African political system. Text available online.

  • Naylor, Phillip C. North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

    A general survey of the history of the region including Egypt, this text integrates several key themes and discusses the historical background for current events.

  • Norris, H. T. The Berbers in Arabic Literature. London: Longman, 1982.

    This text is an excellent reference for scholars and for students just beginning their research of the region. More a commentary on sources than a singular narrative, it allows the reader to digest directly from primary sources. The bibliography is a mine of references.

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