The term “Berber” was first coined by foreign conquerors in an attempt to classify a large population who resided in the Maghreb region of North Africa.
The term “Berber” was first coined by foreign conquerors in an attempt to classify a large population who resided in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Some scholars believe that “Imazighen” was the self-referential term. The exact identification of who constituted the Berber people during this period becomes difficult to determine given the wide use of this appellation and the complicated ancestry of those it attempts to describe. In the words of one of the foremost modern Berber scholars, Elizabeth Fentress, “at best we can define Berbers as Mediterranean.” The term
The Berber population was not contained in one nation and was embroiled in numerous intertribal and international conflicts. Throughout the period from 1000
The Berbers’ actions on hundreds of battlefields across the ancient world, from the coasts of North Africa to Italy and Spain, earned them a reputation as accomplished and fierce fighters. Both Carthage and Rome courted Berbers during their long feud, drawing them into all three of the Punic Wars. Berbers again were a serious political and military consideration during the Vandal conquest and occupation of North Africa. Berber cavalry and infantry formed the backbone of resistance during the Muslim invasion of North Africa in the seventh century
A descendant of Masinissa,
Perhaps the most effective weapon in the Berber arsenal was the
According to accounts left by their opponents, the Berber horsemen rode bareback (although it is likely they used saddlecloths). There was also amazement that the Berbers seemed to guide their horses without reins; in fact, they utilized the bozal, a rope or leather bridle to which a lead-rein is attached with a metal bit. The ability of the Berbers to marshal massive numbers of mounts was considered extraordinary. According to a report from Greek geographer
Of course the horse was simply the conveyance for the warrior, who had to exploit the opportunity provided by his steed. The preferred missile weapon of the Berbers was the broad-bladed
For protection, a small, rounded leather
As Berber troops hailed from various tribes rather than a single nation and were often employed as
Berber gatherings began at the level of the
In times of need, warring Berber tribes would put aside their differences and muster into a coalition called a
The two most significant early Berber kingdoms were
During the third century, under Emperor Diocletian’s reforms, the Romans made a concerted effort to assimilate Berber forces into the Roman military machine. Large numbers of Berbers served with the Romans as
Berbers were experts in guerrilla warfare against larger, better-equipped foes. The favored stratagem was to lead the enemy forces into an ambush on favorable ground by means of feigned retreat, then, once they arrived at a prearranged fixed position, spring the trap. A reserve, usually mounted, would often be kept at a distance and would then surge forward to envelop the enemy from all directions.
Mounts, such as horses, remained an important element in the Berbers’ military operations. David Nicolle, a scholar of Berber warfare, gives an illuminating example of Berber ingenuity:
In the later centuries, with a greater use of
Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. The Berbers. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997. Falola, Toyin. African History Before 1885. Vol. 1 in Africa. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2000. Gabriel, Richard A. Empires at War. Vol. 2. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Montagne, Robert. The Berbers: Their Social and Political Organization. London: Frank Cass, 1973. Nicolle, David. The Desert Frontier. Vol. 5 in Rome’s Enemies. New York: Osprey, 1996. Oliver, Roland, and Brian M. Fagan. Africa in the Iron Age, c. 500 B.C. to A.D. 1400. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Santosuosso, Antonio. Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels: The Ways of Medieval Warfare. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. The Road Behind, the Road Ahead: A Berber Story. Documentary. Zennia Studio, 2008. Carthage: A Journey Back in Time. Documentary. Cromwell Productions, 2006. The Dark Ages. Documentary. History Channel, 2007. Legions of Rome: Punic Wars. Documentary. Kultur Video, 2007. Maghreb: Back in the Middle Ages. Documentary. Customflix, 2007. The Romans in North Africa: A Journey Back in Time. Documentary. Cromwell Productions, 2006.
Greek Warfare to Alexander
Greek and Hellenistic Warfare from Alexander to Rome
Roman Warfare During the Republic
Roman Warfare During the Empire
Tribal Warfare in Central and Eastern Europe