A Traveler’s Handbook: Algeria’s History
Ancient Algeria was known as the Kingdom of Numidia and its people were called the Numidians. The Kingdom of Numidia had early relations with the Carthaginians, Romans and Ancient Greeks, the region was considered a fertile area, and provided much needed agricultural products for the Roman Empire.
The indigenous peoples of northern Africa are known as the Berbers, and after 1000 BCE, the Carthaginians began establishing settlements along the coast. The Berbers seized the opportunity offered by the Punic Wars to become independent of Carthage, and Berber kingdoms began to emerge, including the Kingdom of Numidia.
In 200 BCE, they were once again taken over, this time by the Roman Republic. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 CE, the Berbers became independent again in many regions, while the Vandals took control over other areas, where they remained until expelled by the Byzantine general Belisarius under Emperor Justinian I. The Byzantine Empire then retained a precarious grip on the eastern part of the country until the Arabs came in the 8th century. When the Muslim Arabs arrived in Algeria, a large number of locals converted to the new faith.
The Berber people controlled much of the Maghreb region throughout the Middle Ages. The Berbers were made up of several independent tribes. The two main branches were the Botr and Barnès tribes, who were themselves divided into tribes, and again into sub-tribes. Each region of the Maghreb contained several tribes (for example, Sanhadja, Houaras, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, and Berghwata). All these tribes were independent and made territorial decisions.
The Spanish expansionist policy in North Africa began with the rule of the Catholic monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and their regent Cisneros. Several towns and outposts on the Algerian coast were conquered and occupied by the Spanish Empire: Mers El Kébir (1505), Oran (1509), Algiers (1510) and Bugia (1510). In 1510 the King of Algiers, Samis El Felipe, was forced into submission by the king of Spain. King El Felipe called for help from the pirates Hayreddin Barbarossa and Oruç Reis who previously helped Andalusian Muslims and Jews escape from Spanish oppression in 1492. In 1516, Oruç Reis conquered Algiers with the support of 1,300 Turkish soldiers and became its ruler, with Algiers joining the Ottoman Empire.
The Spaniards left Algiers in 1529, Bugia in 1554, Mers El Kébir and Oran in 1708. The Spanish returned in 1732 when the armada of the Duke of Montemar was victorious in the Battle of Aïn-el-Turk. Spain recaptured Oran and Mers El Kébir, and both cities were held until 1792, when they were sold by King Charles IV of Spain to the Bey of Algiers.
Algeria was made part of the Ottoman Empire by Hayreddin Barbarossa and his brother Aruj in 1517. The Sultan Selim I sent him 6,000 soldiers and 2,000 janissaries with which he conquered most of the Algerian territory taken by the Spanish, from Annaba to Mostaganem. In 1541, Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, attacked Algiers however it was unsuccessful, and the Algerian leader Hassan Agha became a national hero as Algiers grew into a center of military power in the Mediterranean.
The Ottomans established Algeria’s modern boundaries in the north and made its coast a base for the Ottoman corsairs. Their privateering peaked in Algiers in the 17th century. Piracy on American vessels in the Mediterranean resulted in the First (1801-1805) and Second Barbary Wars (1815) with the United States.
The Barbary pirates, also sometimes called Ottoman corsairs were Muslim pirates and privateers that operated from North Africa, from the time of the Crusades until the early 19th century. Based in North African ports such as Tunis in Tunisia, Tripoli in Libya and Algiers in Algeria, they preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea.
Their stronghold was along the stretch of northern Africa known as the Barbary Coast (a medieval term for the Maghreb after its Berber inhabitants), but their territory of piracy was said to extend throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa’s Atlantic seaboard, and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland and the United States. The impact of these attacks was devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants.