1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mauretania

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MAURETANIA, the ancient name of the north-western angle of the African continent, and under the Roman Empire also of a large territory eastward of that angle. The name had different significations at different times; but before the Roman occupation, Mauretania comprised a considerable part of the modern Morocco i.e. the northern portion bounded on the east by Algiers. Towards the south we may suppose it bounded by the Atlas range, and it seems to have been regarded by geographers as extending along the coast to the Atlantic as far as the point where that chain descends to the sea, in about 30 N. lat. (Strabo, p. 825). The magnificent plateau in which the city of Morocco is situated seems to have been unknown to ancient geographers, and was certainly never included in the Roman Empire. On the other hand, the Gaetulians to the south of the Atlas range, on the date-producing slopes towards the Sahara, seem to have owned a precarious subjection to the kings of Mauretania, as afterwards to the Roman government. A large part of the country is of great natural fertility, and in ancient times produced large quantities of corn, while the slopes of Atlas were clothed with forests, which, besides other kinds of timber, produced the celebrated ornamental wood called citrum (Plin. Hist. Nat. 13-96), for tables of which the Romans gave fabulous prices. (For physical geography, see Morocco.)

Mauretania, or Maurusia as it was called by Greek writers, signified the land of the Mauri, a term still retained in the modern name of Moors (q.v.). The origin and ethnical affinities of the race are uncertain; but it is probable that all the inhabitants of this northern tract of Africa were kindred races belonging to the great Berber family, possibly with an intermingled fair-skinned race from Europe (see Tissot, Géographie comparée de la province romaine d’Afrique, i. 400 seq.; also Berbers). They first appear in history at the time of the Jugurthine War (110–106 B.C.), when Mauretania was under the government of Bocchus and seems to have been recognized as organized state (Sallust, Jugurtha, 19). To this Bocchus was given, after the war, the western part of Jugurtha’s kingdom of Numidia, perhaps as far east as Saldae (Bougie). Sixty years later, at the time of the dictator Caesar, we find two Mauretanian kingdoms, one to the west of the river Mulucha under Bogud, and the other to the east under a Bocchus; as to the date or cause of the division we are ignorant. Both these kings took Caesar’s part in the civil wars, and had their territory enlarged by him (Appian, B.C. 4, 54). In 25 B.C., after their deaths, Augustus gave the two kingdoms to Juba II. of Numidia (see under Juba), with the river Ampsaga as the eastern frontier (Plin. 5. 22; Ptol. 4. 3. 1). Juba and his son Ptolemaeus after him reigned till A.D. 40, when the latter was put to death by Caligula, and shortly afterwards Claudius incorporated the kingdom into the Roman state as two provinces, viz. Mauretania Tingitana to the west of the Mulucha and M. Caesariensis to the east of that river, the latter taking its name from the city Caesarea (formerly Iol), which Juba had thus named and adopted as his capital. Thus the dividing line between the two provinces was the same as that which had originally separated Mauretania from Numidia (q.v.). These provinces were governed until the time of Diocletian by imperial procurators, and were occasionally united for military purposes. Under and after Diocletian M. Tingitana was attached administratively to the dioicesis of Spain, with which it was in all respects closely connected; while M. Caesariensis was divided by making its eastern part into a separate government, which was called M. Sitifensis from the Roman colony Sitifis.

In the two provinces of Mauretania there were at the time of Pliny a number of towns, including seven (possibly eight) Roman colonies in M. Tingitana and eleven in M. Caesariensis; others were added later. These were mostly military foundations, and served the purpose of securing civilization against the inroads of the natives, who were not in a condition to be used as material for town-life as in Gaul and Spain, but were under the immediate government of the procurators, retaining their own clan organization. Of these colonies the most important, beginning from the west, were Lixus on the Atlantic, Tingis (Tangier), Rusaddir (Melila, Melilla), Cartenna (Tenes), Iol or Caesarea (Cherchel), Icosium (Algiers), Saldae (Bougie), Igilgili (Jijelli) and Sitifis (Setif). All these were on the coast but the last, which was some distance inland. Besides these there were many municipia or oppida civium romanorum (Plin. 5. 19 seq.), but, as has been made clear by French archaeologists who have explored these regions, Roman settlements are less frequent the farther we go west, and M. Tingitana has as yet yielded but scanty evidence of Roman civilization. On the whole Mauretania was in a flourishing condition down to the irruption of the Vandals in A.D. 429; in the Notitia nearly a hundred and seventy episcopal sees are enumerated here, but we must remember that numbers of these were mere villages.

In 1904 the term Mauretania was revived as an official designation by the French government, and applied to the territory north of the lower Senegal under French protection (see Senegal).

To the authorities quoted under Africa, Roman, may be added here Göbel, Die West-küste Afrikas im Alterthum.  (W. W. F.*)