Ancient Africa and Early Rome

Ancient African people, sometimes called Moors, are known to have had a significant presence and influence in early Rome.  African soldiers, specifically identified as Moors, were actively recruited for Roman military service and were stationed in Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Romania. 

Many of these Africans rose to high rank.  Lusius Quietus, for example, was one of Rome’s greatest generals and was named by Roman Emperor Trajan as his successor.  He is described as a “man of Moorish race and considered the ablest soldier in the Roman army.”

For most of the second century Africans dominated the intellectual life of Rome.  By the end of the second century nearly a third of the Roman senate was of African origin.

St. Victor 1 became the first African bishop of Rome in 189 C.E. and reigned until 199 C.E. he is the first pope known to have had dealings with the imperial household, is described as “the most forceful of the 2nd-century popes.”Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, the most distinguished of the African emperors of Rome, reigned from 193 to 211, and was born at Leptis Magna on the North African coast.

Marcus Opellius Macrinus, Emperor of Rome for fourteen months, “was a Moor by birth.” 

St. Miltiades, a Black priest from Africa, was elected the thirty-seventh pope in 311 C.E. Under Miltiades the Roman persecution of Christians ceased. 

The third African pope, St. Gelasius 1, governed as pope from 492 to 496 C.E.

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian, another African, was the first of the Church writers to make Latin the language of Christianity. 

Other Africans included the playwright Publius Terentius Afer (Terence).  It is to Terence that we owe the expression, “I am a man, and reckon nothing human is alien to me.”

SOURCE: Rome and Africa, by Susan Raven
African Presence in Early Europe, Edited by Ivan Van Sertima


Although, Hannibal was finally defeated by the Romans, his fighting techniques and war strategies are still admired, and are often studied by modern day military Generals.

After Hannibal’s defeat Rome always feared that under a new leader, the people of Carthage would again rise up. In 146 B.C, the Romans destroyed the city and annexed all Carthaginian territories. Situated along the Bay of Tunis, Carthage was strategically placed at an excellent point for trade. In 45 B.C, Julius Caesar rebuilt the city to make it the commercial, cultural and administrative centre of Roman Africa.

When Rome was a young up and coming state, Carthage was already long established.  The Carthaginians had devised a quick and simple method of constructing sailing vessels.  The Romans stole this knowledge of ship building from the people of Carthage, with this newly acquired skill they were able to travel further a field and conquer new territories.                                                                        

  • Punic: – of or pertaining to ancient Carthage or its people.
  • Punic Wars: – Three wars waged by Rome against Carthage in which Rome finally defeated Carthage (Hannibal)
  • Hannibal – (247-183 B.C) Carthaginian soldier and statesman, who fought against Rome. Hannibal is remembered for his daring attack, when he crossed the Alps in 218 B.C, in fifteen days, with 35, 000 men and 37 elephants to defeat the Roman army.  He is often described as the man who came closest to bringing Rome to its knees       

Source: Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary (1998)    


Libya is richer in sights – and sites – than in oil. In antiquity, Tripoli was known as Oea. Along with the neighbouring ports of Sabratha and Leptis Magna, it made up the Tripolis, the three cities. The province is still known as Tripolitana – the place of three cities.

The survival of this name – and the monumental Roman arch – in no way prepared me for Sabratha…as soon as I entered the site, the view opened up and I found myself in a Roman city, a city of cut stone and marble facing…

History has piled up in Sabratha like leaves in autumn. Within minutes of arriving, (my guide) had stirred up the pile, mentioning the Phoenicians, Carthage, the Punic Wars, Romans, the earthquake of AD 365, Vandals and Byzantine (and Italians, and Libyans, and …)

…Sabratha needs no introduction. Yes, it was fascinating to know that there were five or six hundred North African cities during the Roman heyday of the 3rd  century AD, and that Sabratha was one of the largest, home to as many as some 40,000 people.

Tripoli, Sabratha, (or the oasis town of) Ghadames …these places alone justified the journey to Libya, but the best was about to come… the wonder of living in Leptis… Of the three cities of Tripoli, Leptis was the most important. Home to twice as many people as Sabratha. In the end, though, it was just one man who made the difference. Septimius Severus was born in Leptis in AD 145; he went as a teenager to Rome and was proclaimed emperor before his 50th birthday. The first African emperor didn’t forget his origins: In 202 he ordered Leptis to be rebuilt on a grand scale, using grey marble from Algeria and rose granite from Egypt. There were reasons for all this attention, and it was not all sentimentality: in Roman times, the Libyans were key exporters of a different sort of oil (that made from olives).

I spent a day in Leptis but would happily have stayed longer. No other Roman site – not the wonderfully, located Volubilis in Morocco nor the pomp of the Forum in Rome – has so seduced me.

…Back in Tripoli, I went to play cards with my (guide), during the game he told me that when he misbehaved as a child, his parents warned him that Mrs. Thatcher would come and get him. “She was the bogeywoman.”

Vandal/s: Germanic people that overran Gaul (France), Spain, and North Africa in the forth and fifth centuries A.D. and sacked Rome in A.D. 455.

Source: The Sunday Times. October 24 2004
TRAVEL section
By Anthony Sattin