History of Mediterranean Africa

Mediterranean Africa is divided  into two sharply defined geographical regions, an eastern and a western. In the east the coast line sinks back to the south ; in the west it juts out towards the north ; and while on the eastern edge the desert regions extend to the sea, in the western and projecting part there rises a country of mighty mountains with snow – covered peaks and foaming torrents, and of fertile valleys and well-watered plains.

Here, then, tribes of agriculturists could develop into powerful nations, while the east is the home only of nomads. Only at one point in the eastern coast, in modern Tripoli, just where the tableland of Barca projects like a peninsula into the sea, lies a feeble counterpart of the western mountainous region, an agricultural district formerly the possession of the once flourishing Greek colony of Cyrene.

But if the coast-line in the east . as an independent country is at a dis- advantage compared with the west, it has some counterbalancing features.First, it is situated nearer to the ancient civilized countries and came compara- tively earlier under their influence ; and, secondly, owing to the deep bays that indent its coast, it is the favored starting- point and terminus of the entire Sudan trade, which is again facilitated by the convenient position of numerous oases.

It is no accident that the two most powerful ancient commercial cities of North Africa, Carthage and Cyrene, flourished in the vicinity of the Syrtes. Communication with the Sudan was in ancient times probably less difficult than at present. There is no doubt that there has been an unfavourable change in the climate. In the northern Sahara especially, the calcareous deposits of dried – up springs, the traces of a formerly richer flora, but, above all, the remains of human settlements in regions now completely uninhabited, speak only too clear a language and assure us that even the de- ficiency of water in the Algeria of to-day as compared with that of Roman times is not to be referred merely to the decay of arti- ficial irrigation, but must have deeper causes.

Africa must have been easier than now, notwithstanding that in early antiquity the camel was not known to the tribes of North Africa.

We can mention only briefly the traces which point to the existence in the steppes and oases of North Africa of a stunted race, probably related to the bushmen and the dwarf tribes of the rest of Africa. The inhabitants of the oasis of Tidicelt were expressly described by the ancients as being of small stature. Other tribes, such as Troglodytes and Garamantes, may have intermingled with the pigmy peoples who then, perhaps, roamed about the Sahara, as the Bushmen still do in the Kalahari.

The Ethiopians must have come later than the previously mentioned races to Northern Africa, with the exception, natu- rally, of Egypt, where they were settled from the first beginnings of civilisation. A certain affinity of the Ethiopian languages with the Semitic, the accounts handed down of their ancient history, and even the conditions of the people at the present day, make us suppose that the original homes of the Ethiopians may have been in Eastern Africa. There they received the stimulus of Asiatic civilisation, which they carried further westward, together with the acquisitions of Egyptian culture. North Africa became Ethiopian only within the course of authentic history.

We must, first of all, consider the historyof the two colonising states, Cyrene andCarthage. Then we must give our at-tention to Roman times and describe the invasion of the Arabs. Finally, considering how North Africa has been split up intoseparate states and possessions, we mustfix our eyes on the modern development of these states. The encroachments of the European Powers will be briefly touched upon in conclusion.

by Abdullah Sam
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