As the desert surrounding them began to dry up around 2000 BC, the people who occupied the plains and mountains of northwest Africa became virtually isolated. They remained at an early form of cultural development, hunting wild animals, herding stock, or settling to simple agriculture. The Greek called them Libyans, Romans referred to them as Africans, Numidians and Moors; the Arabs would dub them Berbers.
The Berber were fair skinned people, closer to Indo-Germanic than Semitic, who gathered in tribes and practiced subsistence economy, either through basic farming or transhumance herding (the movement of flocks and herds from winter and summer pastures, some up to 200 miles apart!). It is thought that loose alliances were formed between farming and herding tribes to avoid the conflict of one tribe bringing their cattle through the crops of another.
Around 1000 BC, the Phoenicians began to use the North African coastline as a trade route to Spain from Syria. The Phoenicians, who preferred to sail by day and in sight of land, began to build coastal settlements for their ships to rest at. These ports were chosen by the ease a small population would have defending it. The Phoenicians had no interest in Africa as a resource (other than murex: a shellfish from which purple dye could be extracted), and thought the interior land to be quite hostile.
To the Berber, however, even the smallest settlement became a fascinating place where they could trade and gain knowledge of settled living. The Phoenicians, never being able to turn down the opportunity to wheel and deal, began interacting with the Berber tribes. It was not long before the Berbers had adapted their own form of writing from their civilized neighbors, and gained their first taste of city living.
By the sixth century BC, the Greek had begun to heavily muscle in on Phoenician trade. Eventually, the Greek city states in Sicily attempted to push the nearby Phoenician settlements off the island. A wholly Greek Sicily was unthinkable, and soon Carthage, the largest of the Phoenician port cities, became the leader and protector of the Phoenician people. The struggle between the Phoenicians and the Greeks lasted over one hundred years.
In the end, it was the Greeks who triumphed. The Phoenicians, having been dealt a heavy blow, and looking for a place of new resource, began exploring their own African backyard. The success of this fifth century exploration becomes apparent in the renaming of the Phoenicians, to the Carthaginians.
It was not long before the Carthaginians implemented Berber manpower in their plans, using their farming as a resource and their manpower in the army. This gave the Berbers a smattering of civilization. Word spread, and not long thereafter, chieftains were organizing their tribesmen into agricultural kingdoms in the Numidian mountains.
Upon this cultural mix eventually landed the heavy hand of Rome.
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