1902 Encyclopedia > Mauretania (Mauritania)

(also known as: Mauritania)

MAURETANIA, or MAURITANIA (the former is the more correct form of the name, according to coins and inscriptions), was the name given in ancient geography to the district which constituted the north-western angle of the African continent. It comprised a considerable part of the modern empire of Morocco, together with the western portion of Algeria. But its limits varied much at different times. When it first appears in history the river Mrducha constituted its eastern limit, which separated it from the Numidian tribe of the Massyli, who held all the country from that river to the Ampsaga ; but at a later period the kingdom of Mauretania was extended to the latter river so as to include the whole territory from the Ampsaga to the Atlantic Ocean. Towards the south it was bounded by the great range of Mount Atlas, and it appears to have been regarded by geographers as extending along the coast of the Atlantic as far as the point where that chain descends to the sea, in about 30° N. lat., though the Roman province of the name extended but a little beyond Sala (Sallee), and it is probable that there were no towns or permanent settlements farther south. The magnificent plain, or rather 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 Geetuliaus, who inhabited the narrow strip of fertile date-producing territory on the southern slopes of the Atlas, though not included under the name of Mauretania, seem to have always owned a precarious subjection to the kings of that country, and in after days to its Roman governors.

The physical geography of the country will be described under the heading MOROCCO, though it must be observed that the term Mauretania, as used by the Romans, comprised also the greater portion of the French colony of Algeria, including the provinces of Oran and Algiers, and even a part of that of Constantine. The range of Mount Atlas forms throughout the backbone of the country, from which the streams descend to the Mediterranean and the ocean. The most important of those on the north coast is the Muluclia. or Molochath, which in the earliest times constituted the eastern limit of the country ; it is still called Malaya. Farther east are the Chinala, the Usar, and the Ampsaga. Of those that flow westward towards the Atlantic, the most considerable were the Lixus, Subur, and Sala. But from the proximity of the mountain ranges to the sea none of these streams were of any importance, or navigable beyond a short distance from the sea.

A large part of the country is of great natural fertility, and was in ancient times extensively cultivated, and produced large quantities of corn, while the slopes of Mount Atlas were clothed with vast forests, which, besides other kinds of timber, supplied the celebrated ornamental wood called Citrus, for tables of which the Romans gave such fabulous prices.
Mauretania, or Maurusia, as it was called by Greek writers, unquestionably signified the laud of the Maui, a term still retained in the modern name of Moors, and probably meaning originally nothing but "black men." The origin and ethnical affinities of the race are unknown ; but it is probable that the inhabitants of all this northern tract of Africa along the coast of the Mediterranean were kindred races belonging to the family which is represented at the present day by the Berbers of the mountain districts and the Tuaricks of the tract south of the Atlas. They first appear in history at the time of the Jngmrthine War (110-106 s.c.), when Mauretania west of the Mulucha was under the government of a king called Bocchus, and appears to have constituted a regular and organized state. It retained its independence till the time of Augustus, who in 25 B.C. bestowed the sovereignty of the previously existing kingdom upon Juba II., king of Nnmidia, at the same time uniting with it the western portion of Nnmidia, from the Mulucha to the Ampsaga, which now received the name of Mauretania Cresariensis, while the province that had previously constituted the kingdom, or Mauretania Proper, came to be known as Mauretania Tingitana. This distinction continued to subsist after the incorporation of the two provinces in the Roman empire under Claudius in 42 A.D., and remained unchanged till the time of Constantine.

In the time of Pliny and Ptolemy, Mauretania contained a number of flourishing cities and towns, several of which enjoyed the privileges of Roman colonies, having been founded no doubt in great part with a view of keeping in check the wild barbarians who still occupied the greater part of the country. The most important of these places were - Tingis, on the site of the modern Tangier, the capital of the province to which it gave its name ; Lixus and Sala, on the coast of the Atlantic, at the mouths of the rivers of the same name ; and three towns in the interior of the same province, Zilis, Babba, and Banasa, all of them bearing the title of Roman colonies. On the coast of the Mediterranean stood Rusaddir (now Melilla), within the limits of Tingitana ; and beyond the Mulucha. Cartenna (now Tencs) ; lel, surnamed Cmsarea, which was made his capital by Juba II., and continued to be that of Mauretania Coesariensis under the Romans (its site is now called Cherchell) ; Icosinm (the modern Algiers) ; Saldie (Bujeyah) ; Igilgili (Jijcli) near the eastern limit of the province ; and Sitifis (Setif) at no great distance in the interior, a town of considerable importance, which after the time of Constantine gave the name of Mauretania Sitifensis to this eastern portion of the province. The prosperity of this part of Africa under the Roman empire, previous to the irruption of the Vandals in 429 A.D. is shown by the fact that no less than one hundred and seventy towns which were episcopal sees are enumerated in the Notitia in the two provinces of Mauretania.

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