All You Need to Know About the Ancient African Kingdom of Numidia

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe September 15, 2022
Numidia's Kingdom came into being in 202 BC -- Photo Credit: Cattette

When many people think of Algeria, more often than not it is the thought of a country in North Africa with a Mediterranean coastline is the first thing that pops up. But, there is also an astonishing history to this country. Before attaining independence in 1962 Algeria was Numidia and was the longest monarchy while it existed.

Long before its colonization, Kingdoms and Empires were the order of the day in Africa, from the Ashanti Kingdom, the Somali Empire, the Kingdom of Kush and a host of others. They operated on a hierarchical basis and inheritance was through succession.

While many of these states were in existence before the 14th and 15th centuries, the Kingdom of Numidia existed long before all of them, with a history reaching several centuries before Christ.

The Kingdom of Numidia came into being in 202 BC and existed for roughly 156 years, until 46 BC. It was an ancient Berber kingdom that was located in what is now Algeria and a tiny portion of Tunisia. It covered over 5000 square miles of land.

The initial Kingdom of Carthage gave rise to the Kingdom of Numidia. There were two major tribes among the Numidians. The Masaesyli lived in the West and the Massyli in the East. While Masaesyli, led by King Syphax, sided with the Roman Empire during the second Punic War, Massylii first sided with Carthage. However, the new King of Massylii allied with Rome in 206 BC, which prompted Syphax to join forces with Carthage. This would turn out to be a mistake because the Romans would declare victory over Carthage and give the Massylii control of Numidia. As a result, King Masnissa would rule the Kingdom of Numidia as its first monarch.

King Masnissa began enlarging the Kingdom of Numidia after uniting the two regions of it. He ruled Numidia for almost 54 years until passing away at the age of 90, making him a long-lived monarch. Up until his passing, he continued to be active and command his men. He supported the Roman Empire wholeheartedly. He received the highest acclaim from Greek historian Polybius, who referred to him as “the best man of all the kings of our time.”

The Massylii (Eastern Region) and the Masaesyli (Western Region) had their own Kings before King Masnissa united both regions making him the first monarch of the Kingdom. He ruled from 202-148 and was then succeded by his son Micipsa who took over from 148-118. Subsequently, all succeeding monarchs had their sons take over from them. Eventually, the Kingdom of Numidia consisted predominantly of the Eastern part after 81 and Western Numidia became a smaller chiefdom than the East.

As was their culture, riders on Numidian horses would not use saddles or bridles. Instead, they would tie a simple rope around the neck of their horse to control it. They had no armor, unlike other cavalry of the day, other than a rounded leather shield. They would carry a little sword as well as the javelin, which was their primary weapon. Their speed and skillful handling of their horses would make up for their lack of armour and powerful weaponry. They were adept at harassing strategies as a result, which allowed them to defeat less mobile forces. When his soldiers in Africa became dissatisfied, the Great Roman Emperor Julius Caesar himself discovered this.

Their drawback, though, was that they were unable to hold their own against more powerful cavalry without assistance. Caesar would dispatch heavily armed riders to overrun huge groups of the Numidians after becoming annoyed with them. But in lesser conflicts, its cavalry was unmatched and, given the right backing, the world’s best riders. Hannibal used Numidian Cavalry to draw the Romans into traps during the Second Punic War, including at the Battle of Trebia. Soon, the Romans would discover how to take advantage of the Numidian cavalry for their own ends.

The galloping horse was imprinted on the coins and money that the Numidians used. This was the representation of the Numidians’ Cavalry.

After being overrun by Rome, Numidia was ruled by a variety of nations for centuries before gaining independence as Algeria in 1962. A significant portion of its history is devoted to the tale of the Masaesyli, and the Kingdom of Numedia became crucial to many other Empires, including the Kingdom of Mauretania.

After gaining independence, Algeria (Kingdom of Numidia) switched to a unitary state bringing together all the chiefdoms and dynasties under one roof.

While the monarchy system is no longer practiced in Algeria, it remains that the Kingdom of Numidia had the longest reign of monarchy system in Africa and is the source of other African states like Mauritania and some parts of Libya and Tunisia, but those stories are for another day.

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 15, 2022


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