History Files
 

 

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient North Africa

 

 

 

Utica

The earliest of the Phoenician colonies in North Africa, Utica was founded on the modern Tunisian coast by explorers and colonists from Tyre as a stop-off point on the route into the Mediterranean. Traditionally founded in 1101 BC, very shortly after Gadir was founded in Spain, it enjoyed an advantageous position thanks to being situated on the Lake of Tunis at the outlet of the River Majardah (the only river in Tunisia which flows throughout the year). Its original name may have been different, as 'Utica' comes from the Phoenician word for 'old town' in contrast to the later colony of Carthage, which was the 'new town'.

No archaeological remains have so far been dated to this period, but that may be due to such posts being very seasonal in nature at first, and therefore temporary. Only some centuries later did they grow into full cities. Today, Utica no longer exists, being just a set of ruins.

1101 BC

This is the traditional date at which the North African colony of Utica is founded by traders and explorers from Tyre. At this point in time, although remnants of the Phoenician port cities have often survived to the present day, documentary evidence of their existence has not survived.

c.950 BC

It is during Hiram's reign that Tyre grows to become the most important Phoenician city. Hiram also puts down a rebellion in Utica, showing that Tyre remains the principal authority for the colony. In fact, the method of organisation of any authority for Utica remains unknown, although it is possible that it mirrors the set-up adopted in Cartage.

8th century BC

The first archaeological evidence for Utica's existence can be dated to this century, showing that it became a permanent settlement by a date of 700 BC at the very latest.

Ruins of Utica
Utica's ruins today still show clear evidence of streets and buildings

539 BC

All of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. As a result, many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power. Utica quickly becomes a dependency.

264 - 241 BC

The First Punic War erupts between Rome and Carthage. Following its conclusion, there is a rebellion amongst mercenaries who have not been paid. The leader of the Libyan mercenaries, Spendius and Matho, lay siege to Utica and nearby Hippocritae. Despite being rescued by generals Hanno and Hamilcar of Carthage, both cities defy Carthaginian governance and have to be brought into line by force.

215 - 205 BC

The Second Punic War is fought by Rome and Carthage, starting at Saguntum (near modern Valencia) in Hispania. Using Gadir as a base, Hannibal Barca sets out to attack Rome, leading his armies over the Alps into Italy. He has to fight off resistance by Gaulish tribes such as the Allobroges along the way but is supported by other Gauls such as the Insubres. At first he wins great victories at Trasimeno and Cannae which all but destroys Roman military strength, but he is denied the reinforcements to pursue his victory by an opposing political faction back at home. The majority of Rome's Italian allies remain loyal and Rome is able to rebuild its strength. In 206 BC, Gadir is lost, and in 202 BC a force is landed in North Africa thanks to which, Hannibal is defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama, ending the war.

146 - 40 BC

The Third Punic War witnesses the fall of Carthage. Utica defies the bigger city to surrender to Rome and become an ally. It is made the capital of the North African region as a result. However, grain cultivation in the local mountains causes large amounts of silt to erode into the river, which in turn causes silt to built up in the main harbour. Eventually the harbour is rendered virtually useless, so Carthage is rebuilt (44 BC) and within five years becomes the capital of Africa Proconsularis.

46 BC

Following the Roman Civil War and defeat at the Battle of Thapsus, the surviving Pompeians, including Cato the Younger, flee to Utica. Pursued by Julius Caesar, Cato ensures the escape of his fellow Pompeians before committing suicide. He is given a burial near the coast with full stately honours by the people of Utica.

AD 439 - 534

Roman Carthage and Utica are conquered by the invading Vandali, who form their own powerful kingdom along the North African coast.

534 - 695

General Belisarius is sent by the Byzantine emperor Justinian to North Africa with an army. In one campaigning season, the Vandali are conquered and Utica and Carthage are retaken.

695 - 698

In 695, Wali of Ifriqiyya and the Maghreb Hasan ibn al-Nu'man captures Carthage and advances into the Atlas Mountains. Taking advantage of his absence, a Byzantine fleet arrives to retake Carthage in 697, but within a year Hasan returns and defeats Emperor Tiberius III at the Battle of Carthage. Africa is abandoned to the Islamic empire. Both Carthage and Utica are destroyed. Only ruins survive into the twenty-first century.