Mauri (from which derives the English term "Moors") was the Latin designation for the Berber population of Mauretania. It was located in the part of Africa west of Numidia, an area coextensive with present-day Northern Morocco and northwest Algeria.
Mauri (Μαῦροι) by Strabo, who wrote in the early 1st century, as the native name, which was also adopted into Latin, while he cites the Greek name for the same people as Maurusii (Μαυρούσιοι). The name Mauri as a tribal confederation or generic ethnic designator thus seems to roughly correspond to the people known as Numidians in earlier ethnography; both terms presumably group early Berber-speaking populations (the earliest Tifinagh epigraph dates to about the third century BC).
In 44 AD, the Roman Empire incorporated the region as the province of Mauretania, later divided into Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana. The area around Carthage was already part of Africa Proconsulare. Roman rule was effective enough so that these provinces became integrated into the empire.
Mauri raids into the southern Iberian Peninsula are mentioned as early as the reign of Nero in the Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus: "Geryon's meads, a wealthy prize to tempt the fierce Moor's avarice, where Baetis huge, so legends say, rolls downward on his western way to find the shore." The Baetis is the modern Guadalquivir, so this poem implies Mauri raiding into Baetica in the first century CE. Mauri from the mountains beyond the border of the Roman Empire crossed the straits of Gibraltar to raid into the Roman province of Baetica, in what is today southern Spain, in the early 170s. Mauri raided Baetica again in the late 170s or 180s in the reign of Commodus. At that time they besieged the town of Singilia Barba, which was freed from the siege by the arrival of Roman troops from the province of Mauretania Tingitana, led by C. Vallius Maximianus.
By the early Christian era, the byname Mauritius identified anyone originating in Africa (the Maghreb), roughly corresponding to Berber populations. Two prominent "Mauritian" churchmen were Tertullian and St. Augustine. The 3rd-century Christian saint Mauritius, in whose honour the given name Maurice originated, was from Egypt.
When Aurelian marched against Zenobia in 272, his army included Moorish cavalry. The Notitia Dignitatum mentions Roman cavalry units called Equites Mauri, or Moorish cavalry. Many Mauri were enlisted in the Roman army and were well known as members of the comitatus, the emperor's mobile army, prior to the reign of Diocletian. Jones cites the record of a consular interrogation from Numidia in 320, in which a Latin grammarian named Victor stated that his father was a decurion in Cirta (modern Constantine), and his grandfather served in the comitatus, 'for our family is of Moorish origin'.
By the time of Diocletian, Moorish cavalry were no longer part of the mobile field army, but rather were stationed along the Persian and Danube borders. There was one regiment of Equites Mauri in "each of the six provinces from Mesopotamia to Arabia". The Mauri were part of a larger group called Equites Illyricani, indicating previous service in Illyricum.
While many Mauri were part of the Roman empire, others resisted Roman rule. As Gibbon related for the years 296-297, "From the Nile to Mount Atlas, Africa was in arms." Diocletian's co-emperor Maximian campaigned against the Mauri for two years, entering into their mountain fastness to terrify them of Rome's power. This may be the reason why the border legions of northwest Africa were reinforced in Diocletian's time with seven new legions spread through Tingitania, Tripolitania, Africa, Numidia, and the Mauritanias.
In the 370s, Mauri raided the Roman towns of Northwest Africa. Theodosius the Elder campaigned against them in 372. A Moorish tribe called the Austoriani are specified as participating in these raids. According to Jones, who follows Ammianus Marcellinus, the raids into Tripolitania were caused by the "negligence and corruption of Romanus, the comes Africae ... in 372 Firmus, a Moorish chieftain with whom Romanus had quarrelled, raised a revolt, winning several Roman regiments to his side". Theodosius defeated the rebellion, but was executed shortly thereafter in Carthage.
Firmus' brother Gildo, also a Moorish chieftain, joined the Romans and helped defeat Firmus' revolt. As a reward, he was given the post of magister utriusque militiae per Africam, or master of foot soldiers and cavalry for Africa. In 397 he broke his allegiance to the Western Empire, then under the control of the child emperor Honorius and his master of soldiers Stilicho. Gildo withheld the corn ships from Rome and declared allegiance to Stilicho's enemy Eutropius in Constantinople. Eutropius sent encouragement but no troops or money. The Roman Senate declared Gildo a public enemy (hostis publicus).
Gildo had another brother called Mascezel. At some point, Gildo executed Mascezel's children. Because of this, Mascezel helped the Romans defeat his brother's rebellion. With Mascezel's help, a Roman force of 5000 men defeated Gildo and restored control over northwest Africa to the Western Empire. Stilicho then saw to it that Mascezel was eliminated. To replace Gildo, Stilicho put his brother-in-law Bathanarius in charge of military affairs in Africa in 401.
In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, large numbers of troops from the mobile imperial field army (the comitatus) were permanently stationed in Africa to maintain order against the Moors. A.H.M. Jones estimated that out of a total of 113000 men in the comitatus 23000 were stationed in Africa. These troops were in addition to the limitanei, the permanent border armies; but the limitanei were insufficient against the Moors and so portions of the field army were placed alongside them. These troops were, according to Jones, then unavailable for their original purpose, which was to respond to barbarian invasions rapidly and wherever necessary.
In 411-412, the dux Libyarum (commander of Roman forces in Libya) was named Anysius. He is recorded as the commander of a war against the Austuriani Mauri. Synesius of Cyrene praised him for courage and effective management of the war.
In the year 412, the limitanei (permanently stationed border guards) of Cyrenaica needed help to resist attacks by the Austuriani group of Mauri. The Eastern Empire (at that time under regents for the young Emperor Theodosius II) sent a squadron of Unigardi barbarians. Synesius of Cyrene praised these barbarian federates and requested more.
After the fall of Rome, the Germanic kingdom of the Vandals ruled much of the area. Neither Vandal nor Byzantine could extend effective rule; the interior remained under Mauri (Berber) control. The Vandal army was not a standing army, and under the later Vandal kings (from Huneric to Gelimer), its strength deteriorated. No frontier army was set up to protect against Mauri incursions, so the Mauri encroached on the border areas of the kingdom. Later, when Belisarius reconquered Africa for the Byzantine Empire in 533-534, he had little difficulty establishing rule over the Vandal kingdom, but his successors had great difficulty controlling the Mauri.
The Vandal king Huneric (477-484) exiled 4966 catholic bishops and priests across the southern border of the Vandal kingdom into Mauri territory. Huneric was an Arian Christian and wanted only Arian clergy in the Vandal kingdom. Exiling catholic clergy to the Mauri was thus Huneric's means of establishing Arian dominance in the Vandal kingdom of north Africa.
Hilderic (523-530) was not able to control Mauri attacks. In 530 he was deposed and replaced with Gelimer. The Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, used this as an excuse for invasion, as he had treaty relations with Hilderic. Justinian's general Belisarius quickly established control over the old Roman province of Africa. King Gelimer sought refuge with a Mauri chieftain in the city of Medeus on Mount Papua. There, he was besieged for three months, until the city's suffering became too unbearable and he surrendered.
Otherwise, for the most part the Mauri did not resist Belisarius, but waited for the outcome of the battle and gave their allegiance to the Byzantines when it was done. The Vandals had lost a great deal of the original Roman territory to the Mauri, including everything west of Caesarea. As soon as Belisarius left Africa in 534, the Mauri began raiding again. The general Solomon fought a series of campaigns against them, putting a stop to the raids, until a Byzantine troop rebellion in 536. Following the troop mutiny the Mauri were able to raid again with impunity into Byzantine territory. Solomon was recalled and replaced with Germanus, who pacified the troop rebellion; then Solomon was recalled to fight against the Mauri again in 539. Because of the Mauri war and the troop rebellion, the Byzantines had difficulty collecting taxes from the newly conquered province. Justinian was preoccupied with wars against the Ostrogoths and Persians and was unable to apply many resources to controlling the Mauri, opening the door to further Mauri rebellions in the 540s and later.
Solomon succeeded in establishing Byzantine control over Mauri in Byzantine territory. However, his nephew Sergius invited the chiefs of a local Mauri tribe called the Levathi to a parley, and massacred them in 544. This led to a Mauri uprising, in which Solomon was killed. Justinian gave control of the Byzantine African province to Sergius, but Sergius was incompetent, so Justinian sent Areobindus as general. The Byzantine duke of Numidia, Gontharis, wishing to become king of Africa, supported the Mauri in secret. The Byzantine troops were not being paid on time and were frequently unreliable. Gontharis occupied Carthage and killed Areobindus, only to be killed in turn by an Armenian Byzantine loyalist, Artabanes. Artabanes managed to regain control of the troops. His successor, John Troglita, defeated the Mauri revolt in 546-547. Following this defeat there were no more Mauri rebellions until 563, and this one was quickly suppressed.
A.H.M. Jones states that the grave difficulties experienced by the Byzantines in establishing control over the Mauri following the conquest of the Vandal kingdom, were in large part due to a failure to supply enough money and resources to the troops stationed in Africa, and this in turn due to the numerous wars being fought by Justinian elsewhere. The Mauri had taken large areas of land from the Vandals during the reign of the ineffective Hilderic, and the Byzantines never recovered these territories. Within the area of Byzantine control, almost every town was fortified, even far from the border areas. Many towns appear to have been reduced in size as populations concentrated within reduced fortified areas. In some towns the forum was fortified. All this suggests reduced prosperity and population and increased threat of war, most likely with the Mauri. Jones argues that because of the failure to commit enough resources to thoroughly pacify the region, it never contributed more taxes to Justinian's government than it cost in resources to maintain control. However, some Mauri were recruited into the Byzantine armies for service overseas, and at least two African regiments were raised and assigned to Egypt.
A major Mauri revolt against Byzantine rule took place in 569, during the reign of Justin II, in which the praetorian prefect was killed. The following year, the magister militum was killed. In 571 another magister militum was killed. During the reign of the Emperor Maurice, 582-602 there were another two, smaller, Mauri rebellions.
The Byzantine Empire would remain in control of North Africa until the late 600s, when the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb ended Byzantine rule in Africa. After the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, there seem to have been continued Mauri resistance for another 50 years. The Chronicle of 754 still mentions Mauri but by the High Middle Ages the endonym seems to have disappeared, while Christian sources begin to apply the term Mauri, Moors to the Islamic populations of the Maghreb and Andalusia in general.
Revival of the name
- οἰκοῦσι δ᾽ ἐνταῦθα Μαυρούσιοι μὲν ὑπὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων λεγόμενοι, Μαῦροι δ᾽ ὑπὸ τῶν Ῥωμαίων καὶ τῶν ἐπιχωρίων "Here dwell a people called by the Greeks Maurusii, and by the Romans and the natives Mauri" Strabo, Geographica 17.3.2. Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary, 1879 s.v. "Mauri"
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