Phoenicians and Carthage

As Nubia thrived along the Nile, Carthage began to rise as a great North African power. Founded by Phoenician traders as a port on the Mediterranean coast, Carthage came to dominate trade in the western Mediterranean. From 800 B.C. to 146 B.C., Carthage forged an empire that stretched from present-day Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco to southern Spain and beyond.

As Rome expanded, territorial and trade rivalries erupted between the two powers. After a series of fierce wars, Rome eventually defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the capital city.

Rome Controls North Africa

Rome expanded its rule over much of North Africa from the coast to the Sahara and into Egypt. There, the Romans built roads, dams, aqueducts, and cities. They developed North African farmlands to harvest bumper crops of grain, fruit, and other foods. From North Africa, they imported lions and other fierce animals to Rome to do battle with gladiators. North Africa also provided soldiers for the Roman army, including Septimius Severus, who would later become a Roman emperor.

Under Roman rule, Christianity spread to the cities of North Africa. In fact, Augustine, the most influential Christian thinker of the late Roman empire, was born in present-day Algeria. From A.D. 395 to A.D. 430, Augustine was bishop of Hippo, a city located near the ruins of ancient Carthage.

Islam Spreads

In the 690s, Muslim Arabs conquered and occupied the cities of North Africa. By the early 700s, they had successfully conquered the Berbers, a largely nomadic North African people. Islam also spread peacefully as, over time, Muslim traders from North Africa carried Islam into West Africa. Muslim civilization blossomed in cities such as Cairo, Fez, and Marrakesh, which became famous for their mosques and universities.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traders and merchants lived, bartered, and interacted with one another as commerce expanded throughout North and West Africa. Jewish communities formed near Muslim and Christian enclaves, including those in Ghana, Mali, and, later, Songhai. Some African societies adopted aspects of the religions into their cultures, while many Africans continued to practice traditional religions such as ancestor worship.

Islam eventually became the dominant religion in many regions of Africa, and Muslim caliphates governed many African kingdoms. The caliphates established a centralized system of government and a vast trade network to India and China, which allowed the movement of goods between both regions to flourish.

A map shows the distribution of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in North Africa and the Mediterranean, from 325 to 1000 A D.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all influenced African culture. By looking at the map, what can you generalize about each of the three religions?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments