The Berber People, Their Conquests and Invasions: Between Myths and Reality

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t's not uncommon to come across individuals who, through ignorance or malice, portray Berbers (also known as the Amazigh people or Imazighen in plural) as a group of people whose entire history consists of being conquered and defeated, this discourse being particularly prevalent among certain Afrocentrist or pan-Arabist groups. It's an image that has been shaped and strengthened by various forces over time and one that sadly continues to be perpetuated today.

In this article, we'll most often refer to Berberia, the Maghreb or Northwestern Africa as Tamazgha for simplification purposes.

Colonial Propaganda

It's essential to understand that these propaganda schemes were used to legitimize the colonization of North African countries in the last century. Colonialists, wanting to pass off North Africans as a constantly dominated people in order to justify their colonization, used this image to strengthen their grip and to marginalize and oppress indigenous people.

The various foreign invasions on North African soil and their contexts will be discussed here. These invasions are often subject to myths and are used for nefarious purposes by various groups even today, making it crucial to debunk them and to re-establish the truths about them. Only by doing so can we understand the true nature of these invasions and their impact on the region both demographically and in terms of identity.


We will start by addressing Antiquity by listing the foreigners or invaders who settled in the Maghreb over time, their influence and the context. It was a period rich in events and changes that greatly contributed to shaping the Maghreb as we know it today.

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Some basic concepts

Before diving deeper into the subject, it's important to understand a few basics. First of all, the term “Libyans” refers to the Berbers of Antiquity, as the historian Samir Aounallah recalls. Likewise, the term “Tamazgha” is often used academically to refer to the region where the Berbers settled, a territory of approximately 7 million km².

Basic term: Libyan
Libyan: Language of the Libyans, also called Berbers or Amazighs, Libyan, still imperfectly known to specialists despite the progress made since the discovery, especially in Dougga, of the famous bilingual Libyco-Punic inscriptions, is an exclusively consonantal language and, as a result, is an exclusively consonantal language and, therefore, does not lend itself to integral reconstruction and is unpronounceable by foreigners.

Basic term: Tamazgha
Maghreb, North Africa, Berberia or even Tamazgha are modern appellations whose ancient equivalents were Libué, country of the Libou, Libya of the Greeks (not to be confused with current Libya), and Africa, country of Afri, Africa of the Latins, the Africa of the Latins, a word that seems to derive directly from Africus, a word that seems to derive directly from Africus, a word that seems to derive directly from Africus, a wind “that vomits flames (Corripe, Joh. 7.322)” and in what way You have to see our Sirocco/Chehili.

Tunisian Antiquity: Samir Aounallah, p.28, p.43

It is also important to note that, although the majority of Berbers/North Africans now live near the Maghreb coast, the further we go back in time, the more the population was distributed in a slightly more balanced way.

Due to the size of their vast region and to various ethnic factors, the Berbers were a group of people almost impossible to federate as a whole. The Berbers lived in scattered tribes when they were not federated by a state or chiefdom.

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The Phoenicians

Map of the Phoenician influence on Tamazgha in blue).

Let's start with the Phoenicians, who founded various trading posts on the Berber coast around 800 BCE. But what did they come to do in Maghreb? To martyrize and dominate the population? Taking their land from the Berbers? The reality is that they simply came to establish trading posts among the Berbers as in the rest of the Mediterranean.

Justin, an ancient historian, states in his book XVIII that the Phoenicians came to trade with the Berbers. According to him, when they arrived on the shores of Africa, the Phoenicians sought the friendship of local inhabitants who welcomed these foreigners. They saw it as an opportunity to develop a mutual and lucrative business. Justin describes how Berbers, attracted by the prospect of earnings, flocked in droves from surrounding areas to sell their products to newcomers. They settled among the Phoenicians, and their growing number quickly transformed the colony into a real city.

Justin also reports that the representatives of Utica, considering the Phoenicians to be brothers, offered them gifts and encouraged them to found a city in the territory that had been allocated to them as a refuge. African inhabitants also wanted to keep these foreigners among them. Thus, with the consent of all, Carthage was founded, and an annual tribute was paid for the territory it occupied. The fame of Carthage soon attracted many inhabitants who came to populate and expand it.

This is confirmed by almost all modern historians, including Samir Aounallah in his book “L'Antiquité Tunisienne” (p.64). Aounallah claims that the Phoenicians traded with the Berbers and mixed with them. According to him, when the Phoenicians began to settle along the Tunisian coast, probably beginning with Utica, the country was occupied exclusively by Libyans.

As expected, the two populations mixed very quickly and this mixture was at the origin of what the ancients called Libyphoenicians, a mixture of Libyans and Phoenicians resulting from mixed marriages between members of the two populations and from marital alliances between Libyan leaders and members of the Carthaginian aristocracy; the most symbolic of these alliances is undoubtedly the couple formed by the Numidian king Syphax and Sophonisbius the Carthaginian whose tragic end is well known. The rest of Tunisia, which we'll talk about later, was occupied by the Numidians, a faction of the Libyan people.

To speak in figures, the Phoenicians represented about 3% of the population of the Maghreb, as mentioned in the Atlas of World Population History (p.219-220). At the time of the fall of Carthage, it was estimated that there were perhaps 100,000 Phoenicians and 500,000 Berbers in Tunisia, as well as 2,500,000 Berbers in the rest of North Africa.

Various Phoenician trading posts were in fact set up in Berber oppidums as shown on the map below:

The Punics

Map of the Carthaginian domain in Tamazgha, on the eve of the Punic Wars (in blue).

In order to know a little more about the Phoenicians and the destiny they will have in the Maghreb, let's discuss the case of the Punics (or Carthaginians).

During the Carthage period, various Berber kingdoms emerged from the shadows. Like Mauretania or Numidia. These indigenous kingdoms will be independent and will sometimes be inspired by various Punic elements.

According to Strabo in his book XVII, we can say that the Maurusii, the Masaesylii, their closest neighbors, and all the peoples included under the common name of Libyans, had the same weapons, the same equipment, and in general all the same habits.

The Phoenicians therefore mixed with the Berbers by settling in the Maghreb, thus giving birth to Carthage. And as seen above, Carthage was subordinate to the Berber kingdoms.

Justin reports that Carthage remained subordinate to the Libyan kings for a long time. According to him, beyond the limits of the city proper, the territory belonged to the Libyans, and since its foundation, Carthage paid an annual tribute for the rent of the land it occupied. This information is also confirmed by modern historians, such as Samir Aounallah in his work “Tunisian Antiquity” (p.66).

It is true that the Phoenicians, in particular the Carthaginians or Punics, did not act in a relationship of tyrannical dominants over the Berbers, contrary to certain mythical ideas. As Titus Livius states, Carthage did not have a national army, but relied mainly on African and Numidian mercenaries. In his book XXVIII, he points out that the fickle character of these African and Numidian mercenaries was always ready to betray, which demonstrates the absence of absolute dominance of the Carthaginians over the Berbers.

Livius also mentions that the Carthaginians often had more deaths in Berber raids than in a regular war. The Berbers, especially the Massyls, were conducting open incursions and devastating the surrounding lands, mainly targeting the richer lands of the Carthaginians. They then sold their loot to merchants who went to the coast. Livius relates how these surprise attacks caused numerous losses of human lives and prisoners for the Carthaginians, who complained about these incidents to the Berber kings, especially to Syphax.

Syphax was himself irritated by these robbery acts, but he considered it unworthy of a king to pursue bandits roaming in the mountains, as Livius mentions in his book XXIX. These quotations from Titus Livius illustrate the complex context of relationships between the Carthaginians and the Berbers, thus refuting the idea of absolute dominance of the Carthaginians over the Berbers.

Various alliances and marriages took place between Berbers and Carthaginians, for example, the marriage between Syphax, a Berber king, and Sophonisbe, a Carthaginian woman, who was often considered very symbolic.

With regard to genetic evidence, various studies point in the direction of historians, something obvious.

Map showing the populations of Central Mediterranean Iron Age individuals in different QPWave clusters, organized by site. Regional labels and arrows indicate likely sources of ancestry (arrows are not meant to indicate specific routes). The colors indicate the ancestry clusters identified by QPwave.
The genetic formation of the Carthaginians. Illustration by Mohamed Abdulhady for Moots et al. 2022, A Genetic History of Continuity and Mobility in the Iron Age Mediterranean Center.

The Punics were a mixture between Berbers and Phoenicians, and sometimes a mixture between Berbers and Sicilians/Greeks. Although the Phoenician population was small, its influence on the other hand will be very great. Carthage was the work of the Phoenicians and the Berbers.

The Greeks

Map of the Greek domain in Tamazgha (in blue).

The Greeks in Tamazgha occupied a small part of Cyrenaica, so their influence will be quite limited. The Greeks seem to have settled in Cyrenaica around 630 BCE.

The founding of Cyrene, in Cyrenaica, is attributed to a colony that originated in Thera, a Greek island that considered Lacedaemon to be its metropolis and was originally known as Callistus. According to Strabo in his book XVII, Cyrene owes its origin to this colony.

The motivation behind this establishment in Cyrenaica was a period of drought, probably in the region of origin, which prompted the inhabitants of Thera to look for new territories in which to settle.

Location of Thera.

In other words, the demographic impact of the Greeks was quite low, the Greeks of Cyrenaica will become independent and will go so far as to form their own “state”.

This time, no evidence seems to show a common agreement between Greeks and Berbers. That said, the Berbers were neither driven off their coastline nor suffocated in the hinterland, both with the arrival of the Greeks and that of the Romans or the Phoenicians.

It is important to remember, as Diodore of Sicily points out in book III, that Cyrenaica was also populated by Berbers. Diodore mentions that in addition to the previous stories, it is appropriate to mention the Libyans who live near Egypt and to explore the surrounding areas. Cyrenaica, the Syrtes, and the adjacent interior regions are inhabited by four races of Libyans.

To the south are the Nasamons, to the west the Auchises, the Marmarids occupy the strip of land between Egypt and Cyrenaica that borders the sea, and finally the Macians, who are the most numerous, live near the Syrtes.

In reality, as Herodotus states in book IV, the Cyrene coastline was the only area not occupied by the Berbers. The sea coasts were occupied by the Cyreneans, while the Berbers found their way up to the sea coasts of Barcé, also located in Cyrenaica.

Herodotus details the order in which the peoples of Libya are found. Immediately after the Giligammas, we find the Asbysts on the western side, living in the country above Cyrene, but not extending to the sea. The sea coasts are occupied by the Cyreneans. The Auschises are located to the west of the Asbysts and border with them. They live above Barcé and extend to the sea, near the Evesperides. The Cabals, a small nation, are located in the middle of the Auschise territory, extending along the sea coasts to Tauchires, a city in the territory of Barcé, as explained by Herodotus.

In addition, Herodotus mentions that the Garamantes live above the Nasamons, while the Macians are to the west, along the sea. The Lotophages occupy the sea shore, which is located in front of the country of the Gindanes. The Lotophages border on the Machlyes along the sea, and the Machlyes extend all the way to Triton, an important river that flows into a large lake called Tritonis, where the island of Phia is visible. Thus, the nomadic peoples who inhabit the maritime coasts of Libya are described by Herodotus.

Be that as it may, this Greek influence was limited to Cyrenaica before it began to disappear around the beginning of the Middle Ages.

The Romans

Map of the Roman Empire at its peak in Tamazgha (in blue).

The arrival of the Romans in Tamazgha is undoubtedly one of the most controversial eras in relation to the Maghreb. Let's start by clarifying that it is wrong to say that the Romans invaded all of Tamazgha or all of Maghreb, given that they only owned the northern parts. During Antiquity, this nuance was very important as we will see later.

Since it would be much too long and tedious to describe all the events of the Roman era in the Maghreb, we will summarize the essentials to remember.

The Romans first began by annexing Carthage, helped by Massinissa. They will then annex part of Numidia, helped by Bocchus. Mauretania will initially become a client state which, in turn, will also be annexed by Rome. All these ancient states, both Berber and Punic, will end up in the web of Rome.

With regard to the local population and a possible population replacement, Pliny the Elder addressed the issue in his writings. In his book V of Natural History, he insists on the indigenous character of Libya (understand Tamazgha/Maghreb). He mentions that the names of the peoples and cities of the region are often difficult for foreigners to pronounce and that the indigenous inhabitants generally only live in castles.

Pliny also explains, in another paragraph, that the Roman province of Tingitane, annexed by Rome, is mainly occupied by “Getulian nations” (therefore Berbers). It indicates that the Moors, who gave their name to Mauretania, were the main Tingitan nation, but that disastrous wars reduced their numbers to a few families. Moreover, the Massasyles nation, which was also in this region, is also extinct. Thus, the territory is now occupied by the Getulian nations, in particular the Baniures, the Autololes and the Vesunians, who separated from the latter to form their own nation, alongside the Ethiopians.

In another excerpt, Pliny mentions various Berber peoples living in an area extending from western Egypt to the Gulf of Sirte. These Berber settlement areas seem to have not been disturbed despite Rome's influence in the rest of Tamazgha.

In sum, according to Pliny the Elder, the Berber peoples still occupied the regions of Tamazgha, although some wars led to a decrease in the population, especially among the Moors and the Massasyles.

The Maghreb coastline is still well populated by Berbers, even in Roman areas. Contemporary historians of this period do not speak at any time of an alleged population replacement by Italian Romans or others.

The Relationship between Rome and the Berbers

There will be Berber revolts against Roman influence as well as Berber participation in Roman influence. Berbers will reach high positions, some will even become emperors, like Macrin.

Returning to the settlement of the Maghreb under the Empire, it is also affirmed by modern specialists and historians, such as Eugène Albertini in his book “Roman Africa”, that Italians/Europeans had a very limited demographic influence in the Maghreb, and that unions between Berbers and non-Berbers were extremely rare.

According to Albertini, if we seek to determine the numerical size of the contingent of Roman or Italian immigrants in Africa, we have every reason to admit that it was small. Even including non-Italian immigrants, their demographic impact remains minimal. Immigrants included senior officials, but junior office staff were generally recruited locally. Some major landowners resided in Rome and were represented in Africa by stewards and farmers, many of whom were of local origin. A few Italian, Oriental or Spanish traders were present in coastal cities and some major inland locations, such as Cirta. However, these contributions did not significantly change the Berber character of the local population.

Albertini points out that the enormous numerical preponderance of the Berber element in the region makes it necessary to give it a large place in all areas. The Berbers had been Romanized from outside, but they remained Berbers and maintained very rare unions with non-Berbers. Thus, the Berber population maintained its distinct character and dominated numerically (Albertini, L'Afrique Romaine, p.21, p.69).

Genetically speaking, we can say without controversy that the Levant had more Roman influence than the Maghreb, this being perfectly understandable taking into account the fact that for example for each Roman legion in the Maghreb, there were at least 4 in the Levant.

The Vandals

Map of the Vandal influence in Tamazgha (in blue).

The Vandals, a Germanic tribe often falsely associated with the origin of blond hair and blue eyes in the Maghreb, have also played a role in the region's history. Around the year 435CE, right after invading Iberia, the Vandals headed towards the Maghreb, with a certain “complicity” of Rome, which was undergoing barbaric invasions at that time, as reported by Procopius of Caesarea in his book III.

According to Procopius, following a treaty, the Vandals crossed the Strait of Cadiz and entered Africa. The Visigoths, for their part, settled in Spain. Gensérie, the leader of the Vandals, then organized his troops into cohorts and created eighty chiefs called chiliarchs, in order to give the impression that he had eighty thousand fighters under the flag.

Their number varied between 20,000 and 80,000 individuals, a negligible quantity compared to the Berber population of over 3 million at that time, as Walter A. Goffart points out.

According to Goffart, the fact that Geiseric led 80,000 Vandals and associated peoples from Spain to Africa in 429 is considered to be the only certain information we have about the size of the barbaric groups during the invasions. This certainty is based on the fact that it is attested by apparently independent informants, one Latin and the other Greek.

At first, the Vandals and the Berbers concluded a kind of peace that would soon break apart. According to Procopius, the peace between the Vandals and the Berbers was broken for the first time near the end of Huneric's reign, in 484, when the Moors of Aurès rose up and no longer recognized the authority of the Vandals. It was during this period of rupture that the famous “Sack of Rome” took place, led by the Vandals and the Berbers.

The revolts multiplied thereafter, but unfortunately, they did not receive much attention from our author, as Yves Moderan points out in his book “The Moors and Roman Africa”.

Shortly after the end of this peace, according to Jean-Pierre Laporte in his book “The Vandals, Africa and the Moors”, the Vandals were threatened by the Berbers of the steppes, who harassed them in the hinterland.

Towards the end of Huneric's reign (477-484), the Vandals abandoned the monasteries of southern and western Byzacene to the Moors of the steppes. During the reign of Gunthamund (484-496), these Moors again threatened Vandal territory, especially southwest Byzacena, which was the most urbanized and richest province of the three.

The aggressors were not nomads from Tripolitania, but semi-nomads from the steppes of southern Tunisia, owning camels, who advanced to a region where Roman cities based around the main water points were once located. The Moors of Caesarean won numerous victories over the Vandals and occupied the country called Mauretania, extending from Gadeira to the borders of Caesarea. Afterwards, the Vandals only controlled a string of coastal cities like Tipasa.

The interior of Mauretania Caesarean had been abandoned after 455, both by the Vandals and by the Roman Empire. Berbero-Roman principalities then emerged in this region, staying away from written history, as Laporte points out.

The Vandals controlled only a string of coastal cities and were reduced to being confined to the coastline. When they ventured too far from their possessions, they suffered crushing defeats at the hands of the Berbers, including the nomads, as reported by Procopius of Caesarea in his book III.

Procopius relates an event where the Vandals were routed by the Moors. The Vandals fled, and the Moors, coming out of their entrenchment, killed a large number of them and took many prisoners. Of this numerous Vandal army, only a small number of soldiers managed to return to their country. This is how the Moors defied the Vandals under the rule of Trasamond, who died after occupying the throne for twenty-seven years.

When the Romano-Berber townspeople rose up against the Vandals, the Byzantines decided to act, as reported by Jean-Pierre Laporte in his book “The Vandals, Africa and the Moors”.

Shortly before the end of the Vandal kingdom, other Moors, such as Leouata and Austuriani, represented a threat to Romanized territories. These groups nomadized in the south of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. They were not exclusively nomadic camel farmers, but rather transhumant herders who sought to get closer to the well-watered plateaus near the coast, or even to control coastal cities. In Tripolitania, their leader Cabaon broke a Vandal army, and in 533, the province rose up against the Vandals under the initiative of a certain Pudentios.

Faced with this situation, Belisarius, a Byzantine general, had to send reinforcements quickly to Tripolitania, because the Romans were pressed by the Moors. The Byzantines landed on 30 August 533 at Caput Vada and took Carthage on 13 September. The troops of Gélimer, the Vandal king, were finally defeated at Tricamarum on 15 December 533. Gélimer surrendered at the beginning of the year 534. The Vandals dispersed, some fleeing to Visigothic Spain, others taking refuge in Mauretania, while the last were captured and exiled to the East.

The Byzantines

Map of the Byzantine domain in Tamazgha (in blue).

After dealing the coup de grace to the Vandals, the Byzantines took their place again. However, this period was relatively short and the Byzantine presence in the Maghreb was limited and very fragile. The Byzantines, who came when the Vandals were collapsing against the Berbers, had limited influence and the Maghreb was left to itself at this period.

Thus, subtracted by the Vandals, in 430, from the power of Rome, North Africa remained, from that date, left to itself, and only in limited territories experienced the effective influence of the Vandals and the Byzantines. The date of 430, for Africa, therefore marks, at the same time as the end of the Roman period, the end of Romanization.
Materially, it was from this date that many Roman cities were attacked by the tribes that remained nomadic and plundered, devastated, depopulated; morally, in the same years, everything that the Romans had brought, institutions, manners, language, etc., began to disappear.

Roman Africa: Eugene Albertini, p.68

They first formed an alliance with the Berbers, then clashed, and various revolts took place.

The Byzantines, who had not in the least considered the Moorish risk, remained one-on-one with the Moors, with whom they had much the same concerns, but this time without a period of state of grace.

The Vandals, Africa and the Moors: Jean-Pierre Laporte

Following various plots and disagreements between Berbers in their fight against the Byzantines, some joined the Byzantine camp. According to Yves Moderan, the Byzantine army was undoubtedly more than 75% Berber. The author adds that various Byzantine reforms, which were initially revolting, were finally adopted in favor of the Berbers to encourage them to join the ranks of the empire.

[...] His true genius therefore lies in his ability to detach numerous tribes from the insurrection and to make them participate in the fight behind his standards. In addition to Corippe's lyrical testimony, Jordanès' brief summary of the war of 548 is particularly revealing in this respect, since, without saying a word about the Byzantine army, he simply states that John defeated the enemy Moors by using the pacified Moors... (Romana, 385).
Without following Corippe, who attributes more than 130,000 men to all of these Allied contingents, we can safely estimate that John's “Byzantine” army in 548 was more than 60%, or even more than 75%, a Berber army.”

However, obtaining such rallies, which Solomon had largely failed in 534-535 and 544, was, in the context of this period, after the catastrophic defeats of 544 and 545, by no means easy, and we must therefore recognize, behind John's diplomatic skill, a real change in the Berber policy of Byzantium, of which he was the architect.
Returning to the radical plans expressed in the military law of 534 and that Solomon had sought to implement until his death (the expulsion of the Moors from all provinces, who would be brought back to their 4th-century borders), John had to make concessions and recognize the right of the tribes of the interior of Byzacena and Numidia to occupy provincial territories, with their own leaders, under suzerainty imperial. The evolution of the status of Cusina during his long career, from 533 to 563, is the best example of this change: expelled in 535, this leader became at the time of John the faithful Cusina, magister militum and then exarch of the Moors, placed at the head of thirty tribes of Numidia.

Yves Moderan as Jean Troglita

For the rest, various Berber kingdoms east of Carthage were formed and remained independent, probably until the arrival of the Umayyads.

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The Middle Ages

Let us now approach a significant historical era in the Maghreb: the Middle Ages. The events of that time had a lasting impact on the present and are still the subject of lively discussions today. In this context, our aim is to examine, in a concise and objective manner, the various invasions and conquests that have taken place in the Maghreb and to assess their impact on the settlement and evolution of the region.

The Rachiduns: Islamic conquest of the Maghreb

Map of the influence of Rashiduns in Tamazgha (in blue).

Perhaps the event that most shaped the destiny of the Maghreb was the Islamic conquest of the region. This was led by the Rashiduns, the first caliphal dynasty of Islam, and followed the Islamic conquest of Egypt.

This conquest took place in the 27th year of the Hijra (647 CE) and marked a turning point for the Maghreb. Indeed, it was from this period that the Berber tribes began to convert to Islam.

The opposition and the arrangements

It is interesting to note that the omnipresent Omar Ibn al-Khattab opposed this conquest for reasons that are not always clearly defined by medieval authors. However, the conquest took place because the majority of the companions were in favor of it.

Khalif Othman, having conceived the project of subjugating this country, consulted the companions of Muhammad, who were of the opinion that an army should be sent there, only one of them, Abu 'I-Aawwer Said ibn Yazid. expressed his disapproval and replied to Othman, who asked him the reason for his dissent, that he had heard the Khalif Omar ibn el-Khattab say these words:
“No Muslim will go on an expedition there as long as I live.”
And that he would never advise him to take an approach that would be in opposition to Omar's statement. The matter remained at that for some time, but Othman then called in Zeid ibn Thabit and Mohammed bin Moslema to ask for their opinion, and as they advised him to send an army there, he called on the Muslims to wage a holy war.

Othman provided a thousand camels at his own expense to be used as mounts for poor Muslims; he also gave horses for the same purpose, then he distributed arms to the soldiers, and he gave them a reward: this took place in the month of Moharrem in the year 27 of the Hegira (October 647 of AD). Uthman then climbed into the pulpit and urged the troops to fight for the cause of God, he then said to them: I have put El-Harith ibn el-Hakem at your head who will take you to Abd Allah ibn Saad, who will then take
the commandment, and now I commend you to the custody of God!
The army, having arrived in Egypt, was reinforced by a considerable body that Abd Allah ibn Saad had assembled, and the number of combatants was thus increased to twenty thousand. Ibn Saad then appointed Uqba ibn Nafi his lieutenant in Egypt, and set off himself with the troops.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

An example of these arrangements is the appointment of Ouzemar, a Berber leader of the Maghraouas, as governor of his people by the Caliph Othman.

Among these was Ouezmar-Ibn-Saclab. the ancestor of the Khazer family, and who was then head of the Maghraoua and other Zenatian peoples. The Khalife Othman-Ibn-Affan, to whom he was sent, received his profession of Islamism and treated him with great kindness. He granted him not only freedom, but also the commander-in-chief of the Maghraoua. Other historians report that Ouezmar went to Othman as an ambassador. Muslims lavished such honors on Berber leaders that they did not accord to the Franes or to other nations.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

The story also reminds us of Ikrima al-Barbari, a Berber who is considered to be one of the main Tabi'in and jurists of Mecca. These facts illustrate the dynamic nature of relationships between Berbers and Arabs at that time.

Abu Abd Allah Ikrima Ibn Abdallah, a mawla of Abd
Allah Ibn Abas, has its origins in the Berbers of the Maghreb. He was one of the main taskmen and jurists of Mecca, (but) he constantly moved from one city to another [...]
Ikrima died in 107 (725-6 CE).

Ibn Khallikan (Kitab Wafavat Al'van: Volume II)

The geopolitical context

During this period, the Maghreb was divided between Byzantine possessions and Berber kingdoms. The Rashiduns will mainly be concerned with Byzantine possessions. After a time of relative peace, the Great Fitna happened, temporarily holding back the development of the situation.

Consequences and transition to the Umayyad era

It was therefore from this period, marked by the Rashiduns, that Berbers from the Maghreb began to convert to Islam. The Umayyad period followed that of the Rashiduns, marking a new era for the Maghreb.

From there they sent to Ibn Saad to offer him three hundred kintars of gold, on condition that he would put an end to the hostilities and that he would evacuate the country; after having made some difficulties, he accepted this proposal. According to another account, he granted them peace in return for a sum of two million five hundred thousand dinars that were counted to him, and one of the conditions of the treaty was that the Muslims would keep all the loot they had made during the war, but that they would return what they had taken away since the beginning of the talks.
[...] Then came the assassination of Othman and the disputes between Ali and Moawia. When the latter's authority was firmly established, he entrusted the government of the province of Africa to Moawia ibn Khodeidj.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

The Umayyad Era: Expansion, Conflicts, and Revolt

Map of the influence of the Umayyads in Tamazgha (in blue).

Expansion to the West

The Umayyad dynasty succeeded the Rashiduns in the conquest of the Maghreb. They continued their expansion to the West, taking about half a century to conquer the rest of the Maghreb.

From the beginning of their reign, the Umayyads, with Uqba Ibn Nafi as their leader, relied in part on the converted Berbers to continue the conquest of the Maghreb. This strategy testifies both to the importance of the Berbers in the conquest and to their preponderance already at the time of the Rashiduns.

In the year 50 (670 CE), Moawia ibn Abi Sofyan sent Uqba ibn Nafi from the Fihr tribe to Africa, who had remained Barka and Zewila while Amr ibn el-Aasi was governor (of Egypt). Uqba then gathered the proselytizing Berbers, and incorporated them into the army that Moavia had just sent to him, and in which there were ten thousand Muslim cavalry. He immediately marched against Africa, and, having penetrated there, he put everything at the edge of the sword and exterminated the Christians who remained there.”

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

Internal conflicts

The first conflicts between the Umayyads and the Berbers broke out with a dispute between Uqba and the Berber Koceila.

Koceila was one of the leading men among the Berbers. Becoming a Muslim during the government of Abu'l-Mohajir, he was so sincere in his conversion that he spoke to Uqba who had just arrived, and taught him about the great influence and authority that Koceila exercised over the Berbers. Uqba paid no attention to this recommendation; on the contrary, he only testified to Koceila's indifference and

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

This reached a point of no return when an offense from Uqba caused Koceila to flee and finally kill Uqba. The Umayyads, on the other hand, reacted by killing Koceila.

After Koceila's death, the Umayyads faced a riddler named Dihya in Ifriqiya. The Berbers who were in Koceila's camp passed under Dihya's (or the Kahina's) when the latter died. However, after a long battle, Dihya will be killed in turn.

Having joined the Kahina, Hassan fought against it, we fought hard, and the carnage was so great that everyone expected to be exterminated, but God came to the aid of the Muslims, and the Berbers.
were routed, after having experienced enormous losses. The Kahina was hit and killed while she was fleeing. The Berbers asked Hassan for mercy, and obtained their forgiveness on the condition of providing the Muslims with an auxiliary body of twelve thousand men, who were immediately put, by Hassan, under the orders of the two sons of the Kahina. From this time, Islam spread among the Berbers, and the war having thus ended, Hassan returned to Kairewan, after having happily re-established the affairs of the province.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

The integration of the Berbers

Following the death of Dihya, 12,000 Berbers joined the Umayyad troops led by his two sons. This figure is significant because it exceeds the number of troops sent from the East to Uqba at the beginning of the conquest. It was after this battle that the Umayyads reached Tangier and thus began the conquest of Andalusia.

The ups and downs of Umayyad rule

The reign of the Umayyads was marked by periods of stability and progress, but also by tensions and conflicts. Although the situation would improve in Maghreb under the reign of Omar II, his efforts to strengthen the cohesion of the Umayyad Empire were in vain as a result of his possible assassination.

When Omar ibn Abd el-Aziz became caliph, he appointed Ismail administrator of the province of Africa. He was an excellent governor, he appealed to the Berbers who had not yet embraced Islam, and they converted, so that religion prevailed throughout the Maghreb. He still ruled Africa in the year 101 (720 CE), at which time he was deposed by Yezid ibn Abd el-Melik, the successor of Omar ibn Abd el-Aziz. He was replaced by Yezid ibn Abi Moslim.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

It was his successor who would end up triggering the Great Berber Revolt by putting in place tyrannical and anti-Berber governors, causing the anger of the Berber subjects of the empire.

Among the first tensions that will lead to the Great Berber Revolt, we can cite that between the Berbers of Ifriqiya and this new governor, Yazid, who was put in place.

Yezid arrived in Ifriqiya in the year 102 (720-721 AD). He wanted to imitate in this country the conduct that El-Haddjadj had shown towards the Muslims of Souad (Babylonia) who were descended from tributary ancestors: El-Haddjadi sent him to their villages to force them to pay the capitation as they did before their conversion to Islamism. Yezid had resolved to follow the same system in Ifrigiva, but the inhabitants, by mutual agreement, took his life and put themselves back under the orders of their former governor, Mohammed-Ibn-Yezid.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

Yazid will want to humiliate the Berbers of Ifriqiya as he had humiliated the inhabitants of Souad. But Ifriqiya is not Souad, the Berbers will end up killing him.

The situation was quickly defused in Ifriqiya because the Caliph approved the death of Yazid following a letter from the Berbers sent to him.

They then wrote to the Khalife Yezíd-ibn-Abd-el-Melek to declare that they had not renounced their loyalty, but that Yezid-Ibn-Abi-Moslem had treated them in an offensive manner before God and the Muslims, and that they had just returned to the authority of their former governor. The Caliph gave them an answer in which he disapproved of the conduct of Ibn-Abi-Moslem and confirmed the choice they had made of Mohammed-Ibn-Yezid.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

A few years later, in the Maghreb, the Umayyad policy will still not improve. The governors put in place continued behaving like tyrants against the Berbers, according to even fairly pro-Umayyad sources.

Obeid-Allah-ibn-el-Habhab, appointed governor of Ifrigiva by Hisham- ibn-el-Melek, left Egypt according to the order of this khalife, and having arrived at his destination in the year 114 (732-3), he gave command of Tangier and Maghreb-el-Acsa to Omar ibn-Abd-Allah-el-Moradi. He also appointed his own son, Ismail, to rule the Sub and the regions that extend beyond this province. The administration of these two officials continued and became so oppressive that the Berber populations ended up detesting it. They forced this people to provide services composed of beautiful Berber slaves, yellow fleeces and the rarest products of the Maghreb; they even pushed their demands so far that one was often forced to kill an entire herd of sheep to have one or two fetuses whose wool was from
the desired color.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

Note, for example, the fact that the inhabitants were ordered to slaughter their entire herd, especially pregnant females. Why? To recover one or two fetuses, because the wool of fetuses was very much appreciated by the Umayyad nobility of the Orient. We are sliding towards the diabolical.

Al Nowaïri said of the governor of Tangier at that time:

Obeid Allah Ibn el-Habhab, a mewla from the Seloul tribe, occupied an eminent place in civil administration, spoke elegantly and knew by heart the poetry of the Arabs of the desert, the history of their days celebrated and the stories of their battles. [...]
He entrusted the command of Tangier and its dependencies to Omar Ibn Abd Allah el-Moradi; but the latter behaved unfairly and committed illegalities in collecting the cash tithe and distributing the spoils. He wanted to levy the quint on the property of the Berbers, under the pretext that the properties of this people were loot acquired from Muslims, something that no alim before him had dared to do. It was only on those of them who refused to adopt Islam that the governors imposed this tribute.
This conduct led the Berbers of Tangier to revolt, and they all went into insurrection against him, in the year 122 (739-40 CE). It was the first time that, in the province of Africa, unrest broke out within Islam.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

Maysara, precursor of the Great Berber Revolt, sent a deputation to Hicham, the Umayyad king of that time, to complain about the situation of his people. His deputation will be ignored. This was a fatal decision.

The Great Berber Revolt

The unfair treatment of Berbers by the Umayyad governors eventually led to the Great Berber Revolt. The Berbers, tired of the humiliations and exploitation, revolted against the Umayyad governors, killing Omar, the Umayyad governor of Tangier, and Ismail, the Umayyad emir of the Souss region. The Umayyad troops in Kairouan tried to quell the revolt, but to no avail.

These acts of oppression and tyranny having finally become unbearable, the Berbers gave in to the instigations of Maysara, and, in the year 122 (740CE), they killed Omar-Ibn-Abd-Allah, governor of Tangier [...] Maysara then went to the Souss and killed Ismail-Ibn-Obeid-Allah, emir of that province.
The fire of the revolt spread immediately throughout the Maghreb and to such an extent that the Khalifs of the East could no longer enforce their authority there. Ibn-el-Habhab left Kairouan to fight the rebel, but his vanguard, commanded by Khaled-ibn-Habib-el-Fihri, was routed and this general lost his life.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

News of this revolt spread as far as Andalusia, causing a Berber rebellion in that region as well.

Caliph Hicham, in his attempt to control the Maghreb, sent an impressive force of 12,000 Syrian militia soldiers to fight Maysara, a local leader. Kolthoum, another Syrian leader, had also been mobilized with his troop to oppose the Berber insurgents.

On the news of this victory, the Berbers who were in Spain deposed their governor, Ocba-ibn-el-Haddjadj-es-Selouli, and named themselves Abd-el-Mélek-ibn-Calen-el-Fihri as their leader. This upheaval saw the Caliph Hicham-ibn-Abd-el-Mélek send 12,000 soldiers of the Syrian militia to Africa and to replace Ibn-el-Habhab with Kolthoum-Ibn-Eiad-el-Cocheiri, to whom he also entrusted the command of this expedition.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

However, the Umayyad troops were routed by the Berbers. It should be noted that throughout Maysara's lifetime, no caliph had ever exercised any authority over the Maghreb.

A rebound occurred shortly after with the deposition of Maysara by the Berbers themselves following an internal conflict. The leadership of the revolt was then taken over by Khalid al-Zenati. The latter found himself facing the Umayyads in what history would later remember as “The Battle of the Nobles”. Against all odds, Khalid al-Zenati emerged victorious.

Repercussions of the Battles

The historian al-Nowairi reports that following this battle, King Hisham expressed great anger. He promised to put an end to the Berbers and decided to send a massive army to the Maghreb.

Upon learning of this misfortune, Hischam ibn Abd el-Melik exclaimed: “By Allah! I will get mad at them for the anger of an Arab! I will send them an army such as they have never seen in their country, the head of the column will be at home while the queue is still at my house. I will not leave a Berber castle without establishing a camp for warriors from the tribe of Keis or that of Temim next door.”
He then sent a reminder letter to Obeid Allah Ibn el-Habhab.

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

This army of an unprecedented scale was however destroyed by the Berbers. Khalid al-Zenati, after this victory, disappeared from the chronicles and no one heard about him anymore.

While his destiny is uncertain, his legacy is undeniable. Thanks to his battles, he definitively broke the hold of the Umayyads, the largest empire of its time, on the Western and Central Maghreb. Although the Umayyads took about half a century to conquer the Maghreb and reigned there for an equivalent amount of time, they were defeated in less than 10 years due to too prolonged neglect and an anti-Berber supremacist turn.

The Situation in Ifriqiya

Following the withdrawal of the Umayyads from Western and Central Maghreb, one question remains: what about Ifriqiya? This region, where the situation was initially defused, will remain under Umayyad control. The revolts in Ifriqiya were led by other leaders, this time relying largely on the Houaras. The latter were subdued and defeated by the Umayyads during the Battle of al-Qarn. Thus, Ifriqiya will remain under Umayyad, then Abbasid and finally Aghlabid control before becoming truly independent.

The Post-Umayyad Berber Revolts

The situation in the Maghreb after the Great Berber Revolt.

However, the situation in Ifriqiya did not end there. Various Berber revolts still took place after the fall of the Umayyads. Like that of the Werfadjjouma, who seized Kairouan.

The Werfadjjouma, who became masters of Kairewan, delivered to the most cruel tortures and to death the members of the Koreisch tribe who had remained there. They housed their horses in the city's great mosque itself, and (through this scandalous conduct) they made their allies feel deep regret for having cooperated in their successes. [...]

Al-Nowaïri (History of the province of Africa and the Maghreb)

Following this revolt, the branch of the Fihr family died out. This revolt prompted the Abbasids to send troops to Ifriqiya. However, the Werfadjjouma were themselves massacred by other Berbers led by Abu al-Khattab, and the latter then confronted the Abbasids. Abu al-Khattab and his troops defeated the Abbasids at first, but an internal conflict broke out among them. The Abbasids took advantage of this situation and defeated them in turn. This is how the Aghlabid Emirate was established in Ifriqiya.

Population of the Maghreb

At the same time, it is important to mention the population of the Maghreb, in particular of Ifriqiya, which remained under Umayyad and then Aghlabid control. According to al-Yaqubi, a contemporary of the Aghlabids, the vast majority of Ifriqiya was composed of Berber-speaking, and sometimes even bilingual, Muslim Berbers.

The populations of Ifrigiya consist of Arabs, Persians, and aboriginal people made up of Berbers, Byzantines, and Afriq. The Berbers make up the vast majority of the population and speak their language; they are grouped into tribes that are independent of each other. The descendants of Byzantines constitute islets on the flanks of the Aurès and in the plain of Ifriqiya. The Afariq, a population descended from Romanized Berbers who had not yet embraced Islam, live in ancient Byzantine strongholds, and speak a Latinized Berber language.

Al-Yaqubi (Kitab al-Buldan)

They were grouped into tribes that were independent of each other. This is a crucial point to remember for the future.

The Passage of Witness

The Aghlabids ruled Ifriqiya until 909. On this date, the Kutamas revolted against them and expelled the last ruler of this dynasty who fled to the East. This revolution destroyed the Arab empire in Ifriqiya forever. Thus, power in the Maghreb passed into the hands of the various Berber tribes.

This revolution destroyed forever the Arab empire in Ifriqiya and put the Ketama in possession of supreme authority. The Berbers of the Maghreb later followed the example of their neighbours, and from then on the influence exerted by the Arabs in Ifriqiya and the Maghreb disappeared forever, along with the kingdom they had founded there. Power passed into the hands of the Berbers and was maintained sometimes in one of their tribes, sometimes in the other.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

At this point in the story, we are in a Berber Maghreb, which is independent and remains essentially Islamic. After the departure of the Kutamas for the East, the Maghreb was divided between various Berber tribes.

Major change in the history of the Maghreb

The Maghreb after the departure of the Kutamas.

A major event then took place. The Berber emirs Zirid and Hammadides (El-Moezz) affirmed their attachment to Sunnism when initially, they were rather close to the Fatimids Ishmaelites, a branch of Shiism. This choice triggered a very important event in the history of the Maghreb.

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The Hilalian Invasion: The Arrival of the Banu Hilal

The Banu Hilal, mostly from the Arabian region, were nomads known for their turbulent nature. Even the Abbasids, one of the most powerful dynasties of the time, had difficulty controlling them. It is these Banu Hilal who will be sent to the Maghreb by the Fatimids with the double objective of undermining the kingdom of El-Moezz and putting an end to the misdeeds of the Banu Hilal in their own lands.

First Contacts and Confrontations

The first meeting between the Banu Hilal and El-Moezz was surprisingly cordial. However, things did not go as planned. El-Moezz asked a Hilalian leader to rally his compatriots to his cause. The latter, upon their arrival, left a trail of destruction behind them, as if, despite their initial friendly contacts, they ended up following the Fatimid plan.

The Banu Hilal' Settlement

The Banu Hilal first took possession of the Berber cities of Ifriqiya. However, they were quickly expelled by the locals and had to retreat to the countryside. For nearly a century, the Banu Hilal moved into Ifriqiya, their movements being mainly motivated by the search for pastures for their herds rather than by a desire for territorial or political conquest.

Relations with the Almohads

About a century after their invasion, the Almohads, a Berber movement, entered Ifriqiya. At first, the Banu Hilal pledged allegiance to them, but they changed their minds and opposed the Almohads. This led to the Battle of Sétif, during which the Almohads inflicted heavy losses on the Banu Hilal. Following this battle, the Banu Hilal backtracked and recognized the authority of the Almohads once more.

Initially, the Banu Hilal had no intention of leaving Ifriqiya. However, the situation forced them to migrate to Western and Central Maghreb. Unlike their arrival in Ifriqiya, which was perceived as an invasion, their movement to Western and Central Maghreb was considered more like a deportation. Some of them were sent to moroccan regions of Tamesna and Azghar.

The Balance of Power between Berbers and Banu Hilal

Despite their turbulent nature, the Banu Hilal were not always victorious. The Rîah, considered by several historians to be the most powerful and warlike Arab tribe in the Maghreb, were in particular defeated by the Banu Marin, a Zenet tribe. This defeat, coupled with other conflicts with the Hafsids in Ifriqiya and the Marinids in Western Maghreb, considerably reduced their number and influence.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that some Banu Hilal groups managed to obtain some power, such as the Zoghba who succeeded in imposing taxes on all the tribes of the Central Maghreb.

The complexity of tax relationships in the Maghreb

It is crucial to note that, in the Maghreb, taxes were not only intended for Berbers or Arabs. The Zoghba, for example, were either devoted or friendly to the Zianids, and their territories had been granted to them by the Zianids.

The influence of fiscal policy

It was not uncommon for Berbers to impose taxes on Arabs, in addition to the Almohads, Merinides, etc. In particular, we can mention the Toudjîn who will subject the Hoseins to taxes. Sometimes the Banu Hilal submitted each other to taxes. The Berber government in place often used Banu Hilal as “tax collectors.” However, Berbers were also used for this task and could also subjugate other Berbers.

Taxes as a means of control

As for taxation or tribute, the Banu Hilal often imposed a tribute or a “tax” on the peoples of a locality in exchange for “illusory protection.” While some refused to pay this tax or tribute, the Hilalian chiefs launched a “ramas of vagabonds” against these localities, which was above all a form of robbery, a capacity to cause harm against the townspeople or the villagers. And this, often with the agreement, indifference or complicity of the Berber government in place.

The choice to pay tax

Some tribes paid this famous tribute out of condescence even though they could fight (we'll see that later). Others, because they simply had no choice.

The evolution of the fiscal situation in Central Maghreb

As for the populations of Central Maghreb, they would not remain subject to Zoghba taxes indefinitely. A few decades after Ibn Khaldun, we learn that various regions of Central Maghreb are not subject to Kings or Zoghba.

The Mesrata: a Houara Berber tribe from Ifriqiya

A more striking example is that of the Mesrata, a Houara Berber tribe from Ifriqiya. According to Ibn Khaldun, this tribe paid the Banu Hilal a low, almost symbolic tax, out of pure “condescence”.

On the border of this province, on the side of Sort and Barca, there is a Houarid tribe called the Mesrata. Still numerous and very powerful, it pays only a small fee to the Arabs, a tribute it seems to be paying through condescence. Since she was mainly involved in trade, she made frequent expeditions to Egypt and Alexandria.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

Indeed, a few decades later, this tribe does not pay royalties, taxes, or tribute to anyone. Even later, Marmol reports that this tribe, rich, paid nothing to anyone and went to war with the neighboring Arabs.

The fact that the Mesrata are freeing themselves from their light tribute, maintaining power and wealth, but leaving their tributary Houara compatriots to their fate, testifies to this “independence” that the Berber tribes have from each other that Al Yaqubi spoke of.

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The “big replacement” theory

To close this topic, it is necessary to talk about the theory that the Berbers were replaced or supplanted by the Banu Hilal following their invasions. This argument is inadmissible because it also gives the Banu Ifran (Berber tribe) the number one million. In reality, their number is estimated today between 100,000 and 300,000 individuals.

The consequences of the Hilalian invasions

In reality, this theory of the “great replacement” of the Berbers following the Hilalian invasions is a pure recent myth. There's no need for genetics, just read the story.

The state of Maghreb after the invasions

The Western Maghreb region, from the time of Ibn Khaldun, and therefore well after the Hilalian invasions, is still mostly populated by Masmouda Berbers. The Central Maghreb region, for its part, and always during the same period, was mostly populated by Zenet Berbers. The Ifriqiya region, again during the lifetime of Ibn Khaldun, was still mostly populated by Houara Berbers.

The majority of the inhabitants of Maghreb-el-Acsa belong to the tribe of Masmouda, the Sanhadja are only found in small numbers, but in the plains of Azghar, Tamesna, Tedla and Doukkala there are nomadic peoples, some Berber and others Arab.

The central Maghreb, most of which is now inhabited by the Zenata, had belonged to the Maghraoua and Beni-Ifren, tribes who lived there with the Medouna, the Maghila, the Maghila, the Koumia, the Koumia, the Matghara and the Matmata.

The countryside of Ifriqiya still serves as a home for several other nomadic populations, most of whom also belong to the Hoouara tribe.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)
Location of the majority groups of the Maghreb in the time of Ibn Khaldun.

Overall, the Maghreb is mostly populated by Berbers from the Sanhaja branch, who would represent a third of the “Berber race”. Therefore, just this fraction is in the majority in the Maghreb.

The Sanhadja, one of the largest Berber tribes in terms of their number, have continued, until today, to form the majority of the population of the Maghreb. Each mountain, each plain in this region contains a Sanhadjian population: it is to the point that many people regard them as forming a third of the entire Berber race.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume II)

Leon the African, in the first volume of Description de l'Afrique, also confirms that the Sanhadjas are the largest population in the Maghreb, even if he later mentions their possible Himyarite origins.

Knowing that the Banu Hilal are not in the majority in Western Maghreb, Central Maghreb, or Ifriqiya, we can estimate that the population of the Maghreb, as a whole, was approximately divided as follows: the third of the population being Sanhadja, the rest being divided between the other Berber tribes and the Banu Hilal.

Population of the Maghreb in the 15th century according to the estimates of Ibn Khaldun.

These historical data correlate with genetics, a current science with which ancient sources will be gladly compared.

Genetically, the majority of Tunisians have paternal ancestry of Berber origin According to a scientific research article.

Considering the Tunisian populations as a whole, the majority of their paternal haplogroups are of indigenous Berber origin (71.67%), coexisting with others presumably from the Middle East (18.35%) and to a lesser extent from sub-Saharan Africa (5.2%), from Sub-Saharan Africa (5.2%), from Europe (3.45%) and from Asia (1.33%).

Elkamel, S., Marques, S.L., Alvarez, L. et al.

Berbers married Hilalian women, it was not forbidden. For example, among the Marinids there are women who are both Hilalian and Cherifian. Ibn Khaldun mentions that, already in his time, the Arabs mixed with Berbers because they formed the mass of the population.

As for Ifrigiya and the Maghreb, the Arabs mixed there, in fact foreign peoples, with the Berbers, because the Berbers made up the mass of the population, there was, so to speak, no city or people where there were no Berbers, so the foreign language took over the language spoken by the Arabs, and a new mixed idiom was formed, but on which foreign language has more influence, for the reason we have just said, from which it follows that this language is far removed from the primitive idiom.

Ibn Khaldun (The Prolegomena: Volume III)

The Arabization of the Maghreb

Despite the Berber-speaking majority in the Maghreb after these Hilalian invasions, one question remains: why do the majority of North Africans speak Arabic today?

To address this subject, let's take the example of the time of Ibn Khaldun, where the Maghreb was mostly Berber-speaking, except for the big cities.

On the African continent, Berbers form the bulk of the population, and their language is that of all parts of the country, except for the big cities. So the Arabic language is submerged under the waves of this barbaric idiom, of this jargon spoken by the Berbers.

Ibn Khaldun (The Prolegomena: Volume III)

Logically, the language used in these cities was Arabic or Arabic/Berber bilingualism. But who were the inhabitants of these cities? These large cities were also populated by Berbers, as shown by the examples of Tangier, Salé, Azemmour, Anfa, Asfi, and Tlemcen.

The Surrounding Sea forms the western limit of the Maghreb, as we have just said, and bathes a
shoreline where several cities in this country rise. Such are Tangier, Salé, Azemmor, Anfa and Asfi, as well as
Mesdjid-Massa, Tagaost and Noul in Sous Province.
All these cities are inhabited by Berbers.

Ibn Khaldun (History of the Berbers: Volume I)

The Banu Hilal will first transmit their language to the Louatas, then to the Houaras who inhabited Ifriqiya. Subsequently, the Arabization of the Maghreb will no longer be the sole fact of the Banu Hilal. In addition to the cities that are probably already Arabized, the rest of Maghreb will in turn be Arabized by the Houaras, Louatas and Banu Hilal.

It should also be added that the linguistic Arabization of the Maghreb has not been completed. Assuming that the Maghreb has around 30% Berber speakers, in reality, around 55% to 60% of Berbers have switched to the Arabic language today.


It is therefore clear that the concept of the “great replacement” of the Banu Hilal is a pure myth, and a recent myth at the same time. The Berbers are the majority people in Maghreb, and it is undeniable that everyone in this region has Berber blood. The Arabization of the Maghreb was mainly limited to the linguistic field, and it is therefore erroneous to say that there are no Arabs in the Maghreb. Maghreb Arabs are a historical reality, although mixed with Berbers, and there are indeed descendants of Arabs in the region. However, it should be noted that the majority of the population is of Berber origin.

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