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The Frogs › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 28 February 2018
Xanthias from 'The Frogs (The British Museum)
The Frogs is a comedy play by Aristophanes (c 445 – c 385 BCE), the most famous of the comic playwrights of ancient Greece. Named after the creatures who composed the play's chorus, it won first prize at the dramatic festival at Lenaea in 405 BCE and, proving to be successful, it would later be performed at the Dionysia festival in Athens.
The play represented the last of the playwright's works written during the turbulent era of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Although he endured prosecution for his continued attacks on the politician Cleon, The Frogs brought Aristophanes public honors for its promotion of Athenian unity. The play tells the story of Dionysos, the patron deity of theater, who complains about the sad state of Athenian drama. In an attempt to save tragedy from a generation of poor writers, Dionysos, disguised as the god Hercules, and his slave Xanthias, descend into Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead - the tragedian had died the previous year. However, before Dionysos can leave Hades and return to Athens, he is persuaded to serve as a judge at Hades' court over a contest between Euripides and Aeschylus as to who was the greatest Athenian tragic poet.


Aristophanes was one of the best examples of the “grace, charm, and scope” of Old Attic Comedy. Unfortunately, his works from this period are the only ones known to exist - only eleven of his plays have survived. Little is known of his early life with even his birthdate unclear. The son of Phillippus, he was a native of Athens but owned property on the Greek island of Aegina. He had two sons - one of whom, Aroses, composed a few minor comedies. Classicist Edith Hamilton in her book The Greek Way said that Aristophanes wore the halo of Greece: “Aristophanes' Athens is for the most part inhabited by a most disreputable lot of people, as unplatonic as possible” (101). All of Athenian life could be seen in his plays: its politics, politicians, complaining taxpayers, fiscal reforms and the city ’s general disgust at the on-going war between Athens and Sparta. “All was food for his mockery” ( ibid ). Athens was a city of unrest. Residents were confined to the city as Spartan armies loomed nearby. People were outraged at their ineffective leadership in both city government and on the battlefield. All of this served as ammunition for Aristophanes' plays.


By the time Aristophanes began to write, Greek drama was in serious decline. Euripides was dead and Sophocles would die before the play was completed. However, as in tragedy, much of the presentation of a play remained the same: there were three or four actors (sometimes more) who wore grotesque masks and costumes as well as a chorus of 24 - even the chorus wore masks. Unlike tragedy, a comedy's purpose was to present beautifully written poetry while securing a laugh. Although Aristophanes is sometimes condemned for bringing tragedy down from the high level of Aeschylus, his plays, with their simplicity and vulgarity, were recognized and appreciated for their rich fantasy as well as bawdiness, gaiety, and satire. His comedy was a masterful blend of risqué wit and invention. According to Norman Cantor in his book Antiquity, his plays reflected the conservative opinions of the Athenian people who valued not only society's old simplicity but its morality, too.
Greek Comedy Mask

Greek Comedy Mask

Aristophanes was an observer of Athenian society. David Barrett in his translation of Aristophanes said that the tension between the old and the new in Athens appears prominently in The Frogs and, like his predecessor Euripides, this change - the anti-war tension and political unrest - could be seen throughout his plays. Since his comedies often contained a theme of peace, many were led to believe he was a pacifist. Aristophanes' observations of his fellow Athenians and the city's poor leadership made him a staunch opponent of war. As a whole, his plays were used to ridicule politicians as well as philosophers: the statesman Cleon was a favorite recipient of his satire while Socrates was depicted as a traitor. Mythologyand theology did not escape his scorn either - gods were often portrayed as both foolish and spineless.


The Frogs has a rather large cast of characters: Dionysos, Xanthias, Hercules, Euripides, Aeschylus, Hades, Charon (ferryman of the dead), Aeacus (doorkeeper of Hades), two landladies, a maid, a slave, and two choruses - one of initiates and one of frogs.


Meeting Hercules
The play opens with Dionysos and his servant Xanthias arriving at Hercules' home. In a futile attempt to disguise himself as Hercules, Dionysos is dressed in a yellow robe covered by a lion-skin. Hercules opens the door and begins to laugh at Dionysus' attire.
Sorry, friend, I couldn't help it. A lion-skin over a yellow negligee! What's going on? Why the high-heel boots?Why the club? What's your regiment? (Barrett, 135)
They ask Hercules how he had made his way into Hades and explain they hoped to bring back Euripides from the dead.Dionysos explains, “I need a poet who can really write. Nowadays it seems like many are gone, and those that live are bad.” (136). Hercules responds by naming a number of capable, young poets (Iophon and Agathon) but Dionysos contends that none of them is genuine. “…insignificant squeakers, twittering like a choir of swallows. A disgrace to their calling.” (137). He adds, “I defy you to find a genuine poet among the whole lot of them, one who can coin a memorable line” (137). In order to restore Athenian tragedy, he must go to Hades and bring back Euripides. So, what's the best way to get to there? Trying to scare the deity, Hercules tells him of the possible terrors: snakes, wild beasts, the Great Mire of Filth and the Eternal Stream of Dung. His warnings, though, have little effect.
Statuette of Hades

Statuette of Hades

Travelling to Hades
Dionysos leaves and arrives at a large lake where Charon, the ferryman, escorts him across to Hades. Xanthias arrives by another, longer route. While on the boat, Dionysos, who had to help row, continually complains about his “sore bottom” and his blisters. He gets into a heated argument with a chorus of frogs - singing frogs that refuse to be silenced: "Now listen, you lyrical twerps, I don't give a damn for your burps” (144).
As they move away from the lake, they are approached by a singing and dancing chorus of initiates, chanting hymns to Demeter, Persephone and Iacchus. The two travelers decide to join the dance but finally interrupt to ask for and receive, directions to Hades' home. At the palace door of Hades they (Dionysos still being disguised as Hercules) are greeted by Aeacus, the doorkeeper. Fearful, Dionysos exchanges clothes with Xanthias. After an altercation with a landlady over who exactly is who, the doorkeeper decides to let Hades and Persephone determine who is the god and who the servant.
Euripides v. Aeschylus
Later, Xanthias and a slave begin to talk. They overhear shouting coming from inside Hades' home. The slave tells him that there is trouble in Hades:
Well, there's a custom down here that applies to all the fine arts and skilled professions: whoever's the best in each discipline has the right to his dinner in the Great Hall with his own chair of honor? (164).
Xanthias learns that Aeschylus had the chair but now Euripides has challenged him for it. It seems he appealed to all the cut-throats and murderers for support. So, Hades decided to have a contest betwee Euripides and Aeschylus - Sophocles had renounced any claim. Scales are soon brought in: “…. It's all got to be measured properly, with rulers, yardsticks, compasses and wedges, and god knows what else” (165). When Xanthias inquired about the judge of the contest, the slave said it would be difficult to find someone clever enough in Hades, and Aeschylus didn't see eye to eye with any Athenians.


The contest begins with Euripides' verbal assaults on Aeschylus:
I saw through him years ago, All that rugged grandeur --- it's all so uncultivated and unrestrained. No subtlety whatsoever. Just a torrent of verbiage… (166)
Aeschylus responds that his plays have lived on while Euripides' died with him. Throughout the contest, the two poets make references to their plays. Euripides says, “I wrote about everyday things, things the audience know about and could take up on if necessary. I didn't try to bludgeon them into submission with long words” (171). He believed he added logic to his drama.Aeschylus says that it pained him to have to answer verbal attacks but in frustration, he finally asks Euripedes what qualities does one look for in a good poet. The reply: to teach people to be better citizens. Aeschylus responded:
My heroes weren't like these marketplace loafers, delinquents and rogues they write about nowadays. They were real heroes, breathing spears and lances… (172)
Aeschylus the Winner
Finally, Aeschylus grows tired of the contest and asks for the test of the scales. Dionysos looks at both men:
I came down here for a poet. What for? To save a city, of course! Otherwise there won't be any more drama festivals - and then where would I be?...I'll judge between you on this score alone. I shall select the man my soul desires. (188)
In the end Dionysos chooses Aeschylus. Of course, feeling betrayed, Euripides calls him a traitor: “You leave me here to stay deceased” (189). As they leave the palace Hades bids Aeschylus goodbye and advises him to “educate the fools” (189).Aeschylus walks away, telling Hades to keep that lying foul-mouthed rogue out of his chair.


Aristophanes was the last of the great playwrights of Old Attic Comedy. His acerbic wit can even be seen in Plato ’s Symposium where he discusses the origin of the species of man. One unique aspect of The Frogs concerns the tragedian Sophocles who died during the writing of the play. Aristophanes was forced to make several quick changes. Like his contemporaries, Aristophanes used his plays to critique Athenian society: its political unrest and involvement in the war against Sparta. In his book The Classical Greeks, Michael Grant says that Aristophanes wrote The Frogs during a time when military and political power in the city was on the verge of collapse. In an attempt to escape the world he sends Dionysos to Hades. He adds that his plays contain assaults on Athenian political figures but also a plea for peace. Although often criticized for their bawdiness and risqué tone, Aristophanes plays were popular among the Athenian audiences. His plays remained appreciated and admired for years after his death, influenced Hellenistic and Roman comedy, and are still regularly performed today.

Mamikonian Dynasty › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 01 March 2018
Vardan Mamikonian (Центральный банк Республики Армения)
The Mamikonians were a powerful clan group who were influential in Armenian political and military affairs from the 1st century BCE onwards. They rose to particular prominence from c. 428 CE to 652 CE in the half of Armenia ruled by the Sasanian Empire when marzpan viceroys represented the Persian king. One of the dynasty's most famous figures is Vardan Mamikonian who fell at the 451 CE Battle of Avarayr fought against Persia to defend Armenia's cultural and religious independence.


The Arsacid dynasty ruled Armenia from 12 CE and had managed to keep their balance on the diplomatic tightrope strung between the great powers of Rome and Persia for four centuries. By the 5th century CE, though, the Sasanian Empire had begun to expand its influence into areas previously contested between the two Empires. Armenia had already been formally divided between Persia and the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 387 CE. The last Arsacid ruler was Artashes IV (r. 422-428 CE) as the Armenian crown, unable to repress the pro-Persian and anti-Christian factions at court, was abolished by Persia in their half of the country (sometimes referred to as Persarmenia). In 428 CE the marzpans were installed, a position which was higher than satraps and more akin to viceroys. Representing the Sasanian king, the marzpans had full civilian and military authority in Armenia and the system would not change until the mid-7th century CE.


The dynasty that now ruled the roost in Armenia was the Mamikonians whose heartlands were in the northern province of Tayk. Their earliest recorded member is Mancaeus who defended Tigranocerta in 69 BCE against Roman attacks. Long a powerful clan group, the Mamikonians had been particularly successful in the military thanks to their ability to raise cavalry forces of 3,000 knights. By the end of the 4th century CE the hereditary office of grand marshal ( sparapet ), who led the armed forces of Armenia, usually had a Mamikonian lord in the position. Amongst the other noble families the Mamikonians had been only second in importance to the Arsacid royal family itself, indeed two members had even served as regents: Mushegh and Manuel Mamikonian.
Once the ruling house of Arsacid fell, the Mamikonians were left to dominate both Armenian politics and military affairs within the limitations imposed by their Persian overlords. One of the most powerful early Mamikonian princes was Hamazasp, who married Sahakanyush, the daughter of the First Bishop Sakak c. 439 CE. The marriage unified the most prominent feudal and ecclesiastical families in Armenia and the vast territories of the Mamikonians with those of the descendants of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (dc 330 CE). Over the next three centuries, seven Mamikonian princes would rule Armenia.
Armenian Marzpanate

Armenian Marzpanate


Fortunately for Armenia, Sasanid Persia, although selecting each ruling viceroy, mostly left alone the two key institutions of the Armenian state: the nakharars and the Church. The former were local princes whose ranks and titles were based on the hereditary clans of ancient Armenia, and they governed their own extensive lands as semi-autonomous fiefdoms. Some princes did switch loyalties to the Persians, even converting to Zoroastrianism, in exchange for tax and other privileges under the new regime.
The second institution, the Christian Church founded in Armenia around 314 CE, was not outlawed and crushed. Rather, it was indirectly attacked by the Sassanids through their active promotion of Zoroastrianism, the sending of missionaries from Persia, and reductions in tax privileges for the Church's landed estates. The actual institutions of churches and monasteries themselves, like the nakharars, were largely permitted to keep their lands and revenue, maintain a low profile and live to fight another day.
Matters came to a head with the succession of the Persian king Yazdgird (Yazdagerd) II in c. 439 BCE and his prime minister Mihr-Narseh. Sasanid rulers had long been suspicious that Armenian Christians were all simply spies of Byzantium in Persian territory but both these figures were zealous proponents of Zoroastrianism and the double-edged sword of political and religious policy was about to cut Armenia down to size. The fiscal obligations on the Church were increased, more Persian-friendly bishops were appointed, and a delegation of nobles and clergy invited to Persia was even forced to convert to the Persian religion on pain of death. A military confrontation seemed inevitable, and it came in 451 CE at the Battle of Avarayr (Avarair) when the Armenians faced a massive Persian army.


The battle was preceded by sporadic outbreaks of open rebellion with Zoroastrian temples burned down and even priests killed. There was also a minor Armenian victory against a small force of Persians in the summer of 450 CE. The crisis peaked, though, in May or June 451 CE on the plain of Avarayr (modern Iran). The 6,000 or so Armenians were led by Vardan Mamikonian, the son of Hamazasp, and they presented a genuinely united front of the anti-Persian aristocracy and Church.Unfortunately for the Armenians, help from the Byzantine Empire was not forthcoming despite an embassy sent for that purpose. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the Persian-backed marzpan, Vasak Siuni, was nowhere to be seen in the battle either.
Battle of Avarayr

Battle of Avarayr

The Persians, greatly outnumbering their opponents and fielding, besides their ordinary troops, an elite corps of “Immortals” and a host of war elephants, won the battle easily enough and massacred their opponents; 'martyred' would be the term used by the Armenian Church, thereafter. Indeed, the battle became a symbol of resistance with Vardan, who died on the battlefield, even being made a saint. Minor rebellions continued in the next few decades and the Mamikonians, in particular, continued a policy of careful resistance against Persian cultural control. The strategy paid off for in 484 CE the Treaty of Nvarsak was signed between the two states which granted Armenia a greater political autonomy and freedom of religious thought. In this result, the Armenians were helped by the military disasters the Sasanids were enduring on their eastern frontiers and the Persians being fully occupied with the other side of their empire.
Ultimately then, Avarayr was then and still is, seen as a moral victory for Christian Armenia. In political terms, too, the Mamikonians were ultimately successful, as Vahan, the nephew of Vardan, was made the marzpan in 485 CE. During his decade-long reign, Armenia prospered, as is seen in the many new building projects of the period, especially the cathedral at Dvin and many impressive basilicas. Trade also flourished, and the city of Artashat was confirmed as a trading point between the Byzantine and Persian Empires in a Byzantine edict of 562 BCE.


Armenia's zeal for Christianity did bring it closer to the Byzantine Empire and several Mamikonian rulers enjoyed patronage from the emperor in Constantinople when they were given the honorary title Prince of Armenia. However, the Armenian and Byzantine Churches did often differ on matters of dogma. Disagreement with the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE opened a rift which would never be closed. Then the Council of Dvin c. 554 CE declared the Armenian Church's adherence to the doctrine of monophysitism (that Christ has one nature and not two) thus breaking away from the duophysitism of the Roman Church. As in politics, Armenian Christians were having to find their own rocky road between east and west.


Another important figure from the period of Mamikonian rule was the historian Movses Khorenatsi ( Moses of Khoren). Widely known as the father of Armenian history, his History of the Armenians pulled together ancient texts, oral traditions, and the author's own embellishments, and has become the staple historical source of Armenian history ever since it was compiled sometime in the second half of the 5th century CE (although there are some historians who consider Movses to have lived as late as the 8th century CE). The work, at least for western scholars, is notoriously inconsistent with much fabrication but its overall effect is not disputed - it helped to create a sense of continuous history and nationhood for the Armenia people.


By the end of the 6th century CE Armenia was again a point of dispute between Persia and the Byzantine Empire and so a re-division was drawn up, which saw Byzantium acquire two-thirds of Armenia. Worse was soon to come, though. In 627 CE a full-scale war against the Sasanids was carried out by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641 CE) and Armenia was caught in the crossfire. This campaign ended the Sassanid control of Armenia but Byzantine rule was to be short-lived following the dramatic rise of a new power in the region, the Arab Umayyad Caliphate, which conquered the Sasanid capital Ctesiphon in 637 CE.
Armenia was conquered by the Arabs from Damascus between 640 to 650 CE after decades of playing, as so often before, the role of strategic pawn in a battle of Empires between the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire. Armenia was formally annexed as an Umayyad province in 701 CE. Although the Mamikonians remained an important clan - several leaders being rallying points for important rebellions in the 8th century CE, their position at the forefront of Armenian politics was ultimately usurped by a new dynasty, the Bagratuni, who would even, by the end of the 9th century CE, establish themselves as the royal family of Armenia.

The Masaesyli and Massylii of Numidia › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 27 February 2018
The North African Berber kingdom of Numidia (202-40 BCE) was originally inhabited by a tribe (or federation of tribes) known as the Masaesyli, to the west, and a coalition of smaller tribes, known as the Massylii, to the east. The meaning of these names is unknown but they are thought to be the indigenous terms for the people, not later designations. These tribes or coalitions were each ruled by their own king or chief and had a long-established culture by the time the Phoenicians of Tyrecolonized the region which would become neighboring Carthage in c. 332 BCE.
Masaesyli in Battle

Masaesyli in Battle

Both of these tribes or federations were allied to Carthage during the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE). Their respective regions are referred to as “kingdoms” but it is unclear whether they were traditionally ruled by a king or a tribal chief. By the time of the Second Punic War, however, a kingship had been established among the people of both regions. Masinissa (rc 202-148 BCE), a prince of the Massylii, was originally allied to Carthage but changed sides to support Rome while Syphax (died c. 202 BCE), king of the Masaesyli, first an ally of Rome, defected to Carthage.
Syphax was defeated by Masinissa and the Roman general Scipio Africanus in 203 BCE at the Battle of Cirta just prior to Scipio ’s victory over Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE. Following Rome's victory over Carthage, Masinissa became king and annexed the lands of the Masaesyli, uniting the entire region under his leadership as the Kingdom of Numidia. The Masaesyli tribe essentially vanishes from history after 202 BCE.
Numidia flourished under Masinissa's reign and that of his son Micipsa (c. 148-118 BCE) but after the Jugurthine War with Rome (112-105 BCE) lost its western regions to nearby Mauretania and in 46 BCE, following the Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, was divided between Mauretania and Rome.
The last king of an independent Numidia was Arabio, who was killed in 40 BCE, and afterwards Numidia became a province of Rome. The king Juba II (c. 29 BCE - 23 CE) was installed in Numidia by Augustus Caesar, but by that time, the country had long been under Roman control and, further, Juba moved his capital to nearby Mauretania early in his reign and concentrated his efforts on that region. When Juba's son Ptolemy of Mauretania was murdered by the emperor Caligula in 40 CE, the Massylii dynasty ended and nothing further is recorded regarding them.


Evidence for the long history of the Masaesyli and Massylii of the region is, possibly, the Neolithic site of Msoura (also given as Mzoura) near modern-day Asilah, Morocco. The site is a ring of 168 megaliths astronomically aligned around a tumulus which, legend claims, is the tomb of the king Antaeus, best known from the Greco-Roman tales of Hercules. In the story, Antaeus cannot be defeated as long as his feet are touching the earth and so Hercules lifts him into the air and crushes him to death. The origins of the legend may have been inspired by a Numidian king who drew his strength from his land.
Both tribes/federations were polytheistic, practiced ancestor worship, and venerated the dead (especially past kings), followed a lunar calendar, and also worshipped the sun and the moon. The claim by later Greek and Roman writers that they worshiped stones most likely comes from sites like Msoura and is clearly wrong; the Numidians were no more worshiping the stones than the people of Britain and Scotland were at Stonehenge or the Ness of Brodgar (two sites which are similar in construction to Msoura). Worship of anthropomorphic deities developed later in their history and, it is claimed, resulted in some of the most important gods to be exported to ancient Egypt : Amun, Osiris, and Neith. These deities are sometimes referenced by ancient historians as originating in 'Libya' which was a term often used for Numidia.


The Greek and Roman writers claim that the Phoenicians, ancestors of the Carthaginians, colonized the region after the fall of Tyre to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Upon their arrival, they encountered native peoples living a nomadic existence and these were therefore referred to as Numidae (nomads) which eventually gave rise to the practice of calling them Numidians.They are first referenced as 'Numidians' by Polybius (2nd century BCE) though they are also frequently cited as 'Libyans' by ancient writers. It appears that they called themselves the Masaesyli and Massylii but this is unclear and those terms may have been names others called them.
The lack of clarity regarding the names of the tribes (and whether they were single tribes or coalitions) reflects how little the later writers of their history knew about them. Numidian history was not written by Numidians but by the Romans and the Greeks and, naturally, focus only on those aspects of culture which interested them. The Roman writer Sallust (86-35 BCE), for example, was governor of Numidia and observed the culture first-hand but leaves out many details which are mentioned by other writers, presumably because these did not interest him personally.
Although the text of Numidia's ancient history is written by others, the people of the land did leave behind their own stories in their own way. The script known as Tifinagh (pronounced `Tiffany') was in use from at least the 3rd century BCE onward and, although the inscriptions in Tifinagh found thus far do not constitute any kind of text, they do attest to important people and events. It is possible that the ancient Numidians used the Tifinagh text the way the Norse used runes: as a means of celebrating events or communing with the gods, not as a form of everyday communication, but this is speculative. Tombs and monuments such as those at Thugga, the ruins at Tipasa, and the mausoleum of Medracen all attest to a highly advanced culture but no indigenous historical text, inscription, or reliefs accompany them.


According to the Greek and Roman historians, the Numidians adhered to a vegetarian diet, abstained from alcohol, and engaged in regular exercise. Men would take a wife and then other women as concubines, so families were usually large.Children and adults often went naked around their homes and wore loose-fitting tunics without a belt at public gatherings; they also wore sandals or went barefoot. Their high-energy, vegetarian lifestyle, coupled with the climate of the region, afforded them long lives and robust health.
The Numidians of the Massylii are often praised for their skill with horses, more so than the Masaesyli, and it is said that the people grew up in such close contact with their horses that they formed an unspoken bond and required neither saddle nor bridle to control their steeds (though they did use a whip or prod in battle). The Romans employed Numidian cavalry as mercenaries, as did Carthage, in the Second Punic War, which pit the tribes against each other according to their allegiance.
The Numidian cavalry were lightly armed with a javelin and possibly a sword or dagger. They rode using only a rope around the horse's neck, controlling it with their knees and voice, and were deployed effectively as shock troops. They would engage the enemy, hurl their javelins, and retreat, usually inflicting heavy casualties. Each federation of tribes was led by their king (or chief) who may originally have been a war-chief selected to lead in times of conflict and who led his troops as mercenaries in the wars of other nations.


During the First Punic War (264-241 BCE), Numidia fought for Carthage. When Carthage lost the war, Rome's heavy war indemnity drained the royal treasury and the city found it could not pay their mercenaries, many of them Numidian. The Numidians were part of the rebel army against Carthage in the Mercenary Wars (241-237 BCE) which started when negotiations on their payment broke down. This conflict was resolved by Hamilcar Barca (c. 285 - c. 228 BCE), the Carthaginian champion of the First Punic War, who had fought alongside many of these men against Rome but whose duty compelled him to defend his city.
Carthage suffered greatly following the war, due to their loss of territory and control of the Mediterranean, but especially because of the indemnity Rome insisted they pay. This crippling fine contributed to the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE) in which Numidians fought under Hamilcar's son Hannibal Barca and also for Rome under Scipio Africanus. The Numidian king Gala (died 207 BCE) of the Massylii tribe was allied to Carthage while Syphax of the Masaesyli fought for Rome.
Ancient Desert Warfare

Ancient Desert Warfare

When Gala died he was succeeded by his son Masinissa. Masinissa initially maintained the alliance with Carthage until he witnessed how effective Scipio was in battle and switched sides, knowing that Rome would win the war. Syphax, meanwhile, had become disillusioned with Rome and changed his allegiance to Carthage. At the Battle of Cirta in 203 BCE, Syphax's forces were defeated by Masinissa and Scipio; Syphax was taken prisoner and brought back to Rome where he died and Masinissa was rewarded, following Rome's triumph over Carthage in 202 BCE, with Carthaginian lands in North Africa, including the territory of the Masaesyli in Numidia.


Masinissa married Sophonsiba, a Carthaginian noblewoman (daughter of the general Hasdrubal Gisco, d. 202 BCE) and the wife of Syphax, to strengthen the bond between the Massylii and Masaesyli federations but Scipio claimed she was among the spoils of war and had to be submitted to Rome along with any others. After she had been taken to Rome, Scipio said, Masinissa could work through the proper channels to have her returned. Sophonsiba was allegedly betrothed to Masinissa before he defected to Rome and only married Syphax after he switched his allegiance to Carthage (though this claim is challenged). When Scipio insisted that she be sent to Rome to appear in the Roman Triumph, Masinissa gave her a vial of poison with which she killed herself.


With Rome's support, Masinissa then began a reign which would last over 50 years. He expanded his territory, built grand monuments, and enlarged Numidian towns (such as Thugga and Hippo Regius) into cities. He established his capital at Cirta and improved the port city of Russicada. He was given a free hand by Rome in territorial expansion as long as whatever he pursued thwarted the interests of Carthage.
Masinissa encouraged raiding parties into Carthaginian territory at the same time that Rome was proposing to raze the city and have it rebuilt further inland. The Carthaginians met the Numidian and Roman threat with military force, breaking the treaty which had ended the war, and so started the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE) which ended with the destruction of Carthage.Masinissa died in 148 BCE, and the Numidian throne passed to his son Micipsa.


Micipsa's younger brother, Mastanabal, had an illegitimate son named Jugurtha (c.118-105 BCE) who proved himself an able soldier in the service of Rome. After campaigning in Spain, Jugurtha was sent home to Cirta with a letter of recommendation strongly encouraging Micipsa to make him his heir. Micipsa already had two heirs – his sons Hiempsal I and Adherbal – but made Jugurtha an heir in accordance with Rome's wishes and stipulated in his will that Numidia would be jointly ruled by all three after his death.
When Micipsa died, however, Heimpsal insulted Jugurtha who promptly had him killed. Jugurtha then led his forces against Adherbal, captured him, and tortured him to death. Jugurtha then pursued a policy of doing precisely as he pleased which brought him into further conflict with Rome and initiated the Jugurthine War of 112-105 BCE which ended in a Roman victory and Jugurtha's imprisonment and death. The western lands of Numidia which had once been those of the Masaesyli were given to Bocchus I of Mauretania who had been instrumental in the betrayal and capture of Jugurtha. The eastern part of Numidia was ruled by Jugurtha's half-brother Gauda (c. 105 - c. 88 BCE) and then by his son Hiempsal II (c. 88-60 BCE).
Jugurtha Captured

Jugurtha Captured

Hiempsal II was driven from his throne by the people, reinstated by Rome, and succeeded by his son Juba I (60-46 BCE).Juba sided with Pompey during his war with Caesar, and when defeat was certain following the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BCE, he killed himself. Numidia was annexed by Caesar shortly after this engagement with the western part given to Bocchus II of Mauretania who had been Caesar's ally. The mercenary Publius Sittius, who had fought for Caesar's cause, was given the city of Cirta and possibly the area around it.
In c. 44 BCE a Numidian warrior named Arabio, who had fought for Pompey and fled to Spain, returned and took the western regions from Bocchus II, had Sittius executed, and re-founded the kingdom of Numidia. He could not keep from becoming embroiled in Rome's conflicts following Caesar's assassination, however, and was executed by Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great (warring against the forces of Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar), who suspected him of disloyalty.
After Sextus was executed, Octavius and Antony fought each other and, following Antony's defeat at Actium in 31 BCE, Octavius reorganized the provinces of Rome. After Julius Caesar's forces defeated Pompey's at the Battle of Thapsus, and Juba I had committed suicide, Juba's son (known as Juba II, c. 29 BCE - c. 23 CE) was taken to Rome to participate in Caesar's triumph. He remained in Rome where he was educated according to Roman custom and became completely Romanized. He went on military campaigns with the young Octavius and was instrumental in his victory at Actium. As part of Octavius' reformation, therefore, it was natural that Juba II would be given Numidia c. 29 BCE.


Juba II married Cleopatra Selene II, daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII, who encouraged Egyptian art and architecture in the kingdom. The pyramids of Numidia date from this period as does the Royal Mausoleum which still stands in Tipasa Province, Algeria. Juba II was a highly respected scholar and author of a number of works cited regularly by later ancient historians. He initiated no military expeditions but is said to have sponsored a number of scholarly missions of exploration and possibly archaeology. Under his reign, Numidian art, science, and civilization flourished, and this continued even after he moved his capital to Mauretania c. 27 BCE. He made his son, Ptolemy (c. 23-40 CE), co-ruler c. 21 CE and tutored him in how to reign in accordance with Roman customs.
After Juba's death in 23 CE, Ptolemy of Mauretania continued his policies and emulated him as a scholar and patron of the arts. His reign was so successful that Mauretania – which included the regions which had once been western Numidia – became one of the wealthiest Roman provinces. Ptolemy was murdered by the Roman emperor Caligula in 40 CE after Caligula had invited the scholar to visit him. The motivation behind the murder remains unclear. With Ptolemy's death, the Numidian dynasty of the Massylii which had been established by Masinissa ended.


Numidia had long been a Roman province and would continue as such after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE. It became the Praetorian Prefecture of Africa, under the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, following the defeat of the Vandals in North Africa in c. 534 CE and was then known as the Exarchate of Africa, remaining under Byzantine control, until the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century CE.
The region would be dominated by a number of different nationalities over the centuries until it won its independence from France in 1962 CE as modern-day Algeria and was free to direct its own fate. The story of the Masaesyli and Massylii has been seen largely as a footnote in Roman history and, unless excavations are encouraged in modern-day North Africa, will no doubt continue to be. The site of Msoura in Morocco, to choose only one example, has hardly been touched by modern archaeology and the Tifinagh script is often ignored by scholars. It is hoped that this situation changes in the future and a clearer picture of the people of ancient Numidia, and their grand history, will then emerge in its own right.


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