Gordon Casserly.

Algeria today online

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

having overthrown the Fourteenth Dynasty, conquered
Egypt and the Nile valley and occupied it for three
centuries, were driven out westward by the Pharaohs
of the Seventeenth Dynasty, allied themselves to
the Berbers and led them against Egypt under the
Nineteenth Dynasty in the fifteenth century before

Twice in the days of Rameses II. and his
successor Minephtah waves of the invading tattooed
nomads, blonde and blue-eyed giants with metal
helmets or skulls protected by the heads of wild
beasts, swept out of the illimitable West against

Then the Berbers and others inhabiting the fertile

strip of North Africa between the mountains and the
sea settled down as husbandmen and cultivators living
in towns or villages, and were entitled Getulians by
the ancients. Those of them who wandered with
flocks of sheep and herds of cattle about the hills and
the high tablelands, tents their only habitations, were
known as Numidians or nomads.

The first overseas civilised people to come in
contact with them, the Phoenicians, gave them the
name of Mahourim, " Westerners," from which were
derived Moors, Maures and Mauritania. The Greeks
termed them all Libyans. Later the Arabs called the


country Mag'reb, " The West," the name they still
give Morocco, the most westerly land of all.

The Berbers, inhabiting a country divided up by
mountain ranges and devoid of navigable rivers which
would have served as channels of communication, were
split up into groups of families and small tribes each
jealous of its independence and constantly at war
with its neighbours, never uniting under one leader
unless for a short war or raid that promised plunder.
Hardworking, industrious, brave in battle, they have
transmitted their yirtues and their vices to their
descendants; and the Kabyles of Algeria, the
mountaineers of Morocco, the Touareg of the
Southern Sahara, resemble to-day in character as in
appearance the fair Iberians of ancient Europe from
whom they have sprung.

Their being split up into countless tribes,
prevented by the conformation of the country from
intercommunication, with no feeling of nationality or
bond of common religion tending to hold the Berbers
of old together, their tribal jealousies sundered them
and made them ever ready to ally themselves with
foreign invaders to gain a temporary advantage over
their neighbours of the same blood. They were thus
always an easy prey to< an organised enemy from

The Phoenicians, those adventurous merchant
sailors from Sidon and Tyre, who daringly steered
their barks from known seas out through the Pillars
of Hercules into the mysterious Atlantic and traded
for tin with the savages of far Britain, did not neglect
the Barbary coast. They founded mercantile depots

along the North African shores, generally placed in
charge of Jews then as now distinguished by their
commercial aptitude. Thus were established among
others on the Tunisian coast colonies at Lamta, Souca,
Tunis, Carthage and Benzert.

As they sought no territorial expansion and paid
tribute to the local chieftains of the coast the
Phoenicians were always welcomed by the Berbers.
But when Tyre fell its commercial prosperity passed
to Carthage, founded in the ninth century before Our
Lord by Elissar the widowed daughter of Mathan,
King of Tyre, who had fled from her native city in
fear of her brother's vengeance and was hence known
as Dido or " the fugitive."

This city was built on the Tunisian coast, a few
miles from where Tunis stands to-day. Prospering
exceedingly and growing powerful it founded in its
turn other colonies on the Barbary coast, among them
Hippo (where to-day is Bone), Rus-Cuar (now
Philippeville), Djidjel (Djidjelli), Soldea (Bougie),
Tingis (Tangiers) and Eikoci (Algiers).

But the Carthaginians, unlike their progenitors
the Phoenicians, were guilty of territorial aggression
and seized large tracts of country around their cities,
reducing the Berber inhabitants to the state of
territorial serfs. Unwarlike traders themselves they
recruited armies of mercenaries, Gauls, Greeks,
slingers from the Balearic Isles, Numidian cavalry and
African light infantry. As such hireling troops will
do these mongrel soldiers often revolted against their
paymasters and were aided by the downtrodden Berber
peasants. But despite many trials Carthage flourished



until after three wars she was annihilated by Rome and
her possessions passed to her victorious rival.

For many centuries the Romans Republican and
Imperial ruled over Northern Africa. Their soldiers
pushed as far south as into the Sahara and crossed the
Grand Atlas Mountains in Morocco. In Tunisia
and Algeria the traveller to-day marvels at the ruined
cities and camps, the amphitheatres, temples and
triumphal arches, that show how far into Africa the
short-sworded warriors, the functionaries and the
colonists of Rome extended the dominion of their race.

In A.D. 42 the Roman Emperor divided Barbary
into four provinces. The first, the Proconsular
Province, comprised Tunisia as it exists to-day.
Modern Algeria nearly corresponds with the next two
provinces Numidia extending from the river Tusca,
near Tabarka, to the Ampsaga or Rummel that flows
by Constantine and stretching from this stream to the
Moulouia, Caesarian Mauretania with Caesarea
(Cherchel) as its capital. The fourth province,
Tingitanian Mauretania, with Tangiers as the capital,
corresponded to the Morocco of to-day.

A Proconsul residing in Carthage ruled the first as
a civil governor, while its military forces and those of
the second province were under the orders of the Legate
governing Numidia. Two Procurators administered
the Mauretanias. These provincial governors
delegated their authority in the interior to native

The garrison of North Africa then consisted of the
3rd Augustan Legion, six thousand strong, with the
headquarters at Lambessa where the tourists can still


see the remains of praetorium, temple and triumphal
arch near the more famous ruins of Timgad. These
Roman troops were supplemented by others recruited
from widely scattered portions of the far-flung Empire
horsemen from the plains of Thrace, the famous
Parthian cavalry, agile light infantry from Sardinia
and elsewhere. And the Romans enlisted mounted
men from the Numidians or nomads of the High
Tablelands and foot-soldiers from among the sturdy
Berber peasants of the maritime districts and sent them,
the latter to serve in the Nile Valley, the former to
Belgium, Germany and Pannonia.

Under the dominion of Rome Barbary reached a
degree of prosperity, commercial and mercantile, that
it has never known since; although under the
enlightened rule of France it may hope to attain it
again some day. Irrigation to an extent that does not
exist even now supplied any defect in the uncertain
rainfall and made the soil so productive that, as the
old authors said, " under the palms grew olive trees,
under the olives fig-trees, under them pomegranates,
under these vines, beneath the vines wheat and when
the wheat was reaped vegetables, and after them pot-
herbs, were cultivated, all in the same year.

Barbary provisioned Italy for eight months out of
the twelve, and in a good season supplied 348,000 tons
of corn. One town, Leptis, alone sent to Rome three
million pounds of olive oil in a year. North Africa
gave the Empire soldiers, sailors, and for her cavalry
the graceful, light but sturdy horses, such as the Spahis
ride to-day. It exported wine, wax, copper, gold dust
and silver ingots. Rome drew supplies of luxuries as


well as necessities from it black slaves to wait on her
patrician ladies, ivory, marble, onyx and precious
woods for imperial palaces, gladiators and wild beasts
for her circuses. For immense forests covered vast
tracts now treeless ; and in them roamed herds of wild
elephants and stranger animals.

And when in time the throne came to be a prize
within the reach of any military adventurer Barbary
even supplied her conqueror with emperors ; for several
wearers of the imperial purple were born on African

Yet all the return that Rome made to the unhappy
country was to despise, rob and enslave its native-born
inhabitants. Deprived of their land, reduced to serf-
dom, the wretched Berbers rebelled again and again,
always in vain.

Small wonder that they hated Rome and all that
she stood for. They eagerly embraced Christianity at
first, because its professors were regarded as enemies
of the State; but when it became the religion of the
Emperors they wandered in will-o'-the-wisp pursuit of
every fresh heresy.

In A.D. 429, when a rebellious Roman governor of
North Africa, Count Boniface, invited King Genseric
and his Vandals barbarians from the Baltic shores of
Germany, who had made their way into Spain to come
to Barbary to his aid, and when, to the number of
80,000 warriors with women, children and non-com-
batants, they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, the
Berbers welcomed and helped them to end the Roman
dominion and establish a Vandal Empire in its place.
It lasted a century. The luckless Berbers found them-


selves no better off, and in 533 turned against their
new masters and eagerly joined the famous general
Belisarius sent by the Byzantine Emperor to win North
Africa from the Vandals.

But as usual the Berbers found themselves left in
the lurch when the Byzantines were victorious. Again
they struck for independence ; but tribal jealousies still
rendered their efforts fruitless and the land was
gradually ruined in the long struggle for freedom.
Roman and Greek colonists disappeared, the forests
were burned, cultivation gave place to jungle, and
Barbary became once more a wilderness.

Loathing the religion of their oppressors the
Berbers had abjured Christianity and were sunk again
in idolatry or had gone over to Judaism. For
thousands of Jews expelled from Palestine in the fourth
century B.C. and others driven in the second century A.D.
from Cyrenaica, where they had sought refuge after
the fall of Jerusalem, had swelled the number of the
comparatively few descendants of these Israelites who
had come to Africa as the Phoenicians' commercial

The way was cleared for a new faith and fresh
invaders. And in the seventh century of the Christian
era both came. After two incursions into Tunisia in
641 and 665 the Arabs swept into Barbary from Egypt,
a sword in one hand, the Koran in the other, offering
death or conversion to Islam to all who opposed them.
In 669 the Caliph of Bagdad nominated an old com-
rade of the dead Prophet to seize and be governor of
what he termed the Province of Ifrikya, which means
"The Land of Corn." This man, Okba-ben-Mafa,


entered Tunisia, reinforced his army with converted
Berbers, built the holy city of Kairouan as a Moslem
stronghold, and in 680 marched victoriously through
Algeria and Morocco to Ceuta, and then south as far
as the Souss, and, riding his horse into the Atlantic
Ocean, called on Allah to witness that he had left none
behind him who dared deny that God was God and
Mahomet was his prophet. But returning victoriously
through the north of the Algerian Sahara he incautiously
separated himself from his army with only three hundred
horsemen, and he and they were all slain by pursuing
Berbers a few miles east of Biskra. And to-day
tourists motor out from that pleasant winter resort to
see the mosque at Sidi Okba that holds his tomb.

But the Arabs came again and swept away unstable
Berber kingdoms that rose ephemerally. They
welcomed into their ranks on equal terms any defeated
warriors prepared to adopt Mahommedanism. A
former officer of a Berber queen who had fought against
them, Tarik-Ibn-Ziad, a Jewish Berber himself, was
made by them governor of Tangier when he became a
Moslem. And this man with a Berber force, stiffened
by a few Arabs, crossed into Spain, landed near Mount
Calpe, since called after him Djebel-Tarik, " The Hill
of Tarik," that is Gibraltar now, and thus began the
Moorish conquest of Spain.

The progress of the Arabs in Barbary was facilitated
by the instant appeal that their religion made to many
of the Berbers. This new faith was simple to under-
stand. In it all men were equal, the beggar and the
king, and would be equally rewarded in the next life
w;th sensual joys easy to imagine. All Believers paid


only the same one fixed and equitable tax, and the poor
man was not, as under the Empire, ground down by
countless unjust imposts from which the rich and highly
placed were free. There were no priests or prelates
to support in idleness; and the doctrines were not
difficult for the ignorant to grasp.

So the Berbers readily went over to the new creed ;
and they held on to it even when in Morocco and
Algeria they revolted against the Eastern Caliphs and
set up sovereigns of their own race in Tiharet, Tlem^en
and Sidjil-Massa. But the Arabs retained their hold
on Tunisia.

In the eleventh century occurred the second and
greater Arab invasion of Africa that was destined to be
the permanent conquest. Formerly the men of Arabia
had come in small numbers, had married Berber
women, and settling down, often merged with the
aborigines. But in this, the Hilalian Invasion as it is
called, the Beni-Hilal and other nomad tribes from
Egypt and the Libyan desert swept into Barbary two
hundred thousand, soon to be a million, strong with
their families and herds. Driving the disunited
Berbers into the mountains and the Sahara, to be the
ancestors of the Kabyles, Chaouias and Touareg of
to-day, they occupied the plains of Tunisia, Algeria
and part of Morocco, never reaching, however, the
extreme west of this last country. Seeking only
pasture for their flocks, these human locusts cut down
trees, destroyed crops, burned forests, broke down
dams and put an end to irrigation and agriculture, and
turned the land into a desert again.

But in time the Arabs in Barbary established


kingdoms; and some built cities or occupied existing
ones, although many have remained nomads to this day.
Moslem monarchs from Arabia to Spain became pro-
verbial for their state, splendour and luxury. The
Caliphs of Bagdad, the Almoravide kings in Africa, the
emirs in Spain, adorned their capitals with sumptuous
palaces built by Byzantine architects and embellished
by sculptors. They encouraged arts and letters,
science and medicine. The cities of Fez, Marrakesh,
Tlemgen, Kairouan and Cordova were centres of light
and learning, with famous schools crowded with
students even from Christian European lands. From
the Alexandrian Greeks the Arabs had learned
astronomy, philosophy, physics, mechanics and
medicine. From India they acquired arithmetic and
algebra, from the Chinese they got the compass, paper
and gunpowder. They progressed in geography,
literature, mathematics, and gave us the Arabic

The towns on the Barbary coast, Sale and Rabat in
Morocco, Oran, Cherchel, Algiers, Dellys, Bougie and
Djidjelli in Algeria, as well as Tunis and Tripoli,
became notorious in a far different way. From the
Moslem pirates of Spain these sea-bordering cities
learned piracy and soon excelled their masters. And
then they embroiled Africa with European nations.

But already France had intervened in the affairs of
the Continent facing her southern shores. In A.D. 1 270
the first French expeditionary force directed against
Tunis landed in Tunisia. The last, by the way, did
so in 1 88 1 and established the French Protectorate.
King Louis IX. was the commander of this first invad-


ing army; but he died of plague and his son, Philip the
Hardy, withdrew the troops.

A second equally abortive French expedition landed
near Tunis in 1390.

In 1505 pirates from Oran in Algeria ravaged the
Spanish coast and burned ships in Malaga harbour. So
the Spanish premier, Cardinal Ximenes, Archbishop
of Toledo, raised an army and sent it against Oran,
which was captured in 1509. Then in the next year
the Spaniards took the then larger and richer city of
Bougie, with its 8,000 houses, 30,000 inhabitants
and renowned schools of philosophy, medicine,
letters and astronomy.

Now Bougie is near Algiers, and its fate so
frightened the Algerian citizens that they voluntarily
submitted to the Spaniards, who, better to keep a watch
on them, built on the tiny isle of Stofla, before Algiers,
a fort called the Pefion de Argel (" The Great Rock
of Algiers "), a bastion of which remains to this day.

The origin of Algiers is lost in the mists of
antiquity. Legend has it that when after his expedi-
tion to the Garden of the Hesperides Hercules was
re-embarking at the spot where it now stands, twenty
of his comrades remained behind and built this town,
which they called Eixosi which means " twenty "
whence its old name Eikosion. It certainly was a
Phoenician trading depot, then a Carthaginian port,
and later a Roman town known as Icosium. Probably
it got its appellation from twenty small islets or rocks
off its shore.

The Byzantines abandoned it and it lay in ruins.
The little Berber tribe of the Mezr'anna, fraction of


the Senhadja (then occupying the maritime region
between Grand Kabylia and Cheliff) established them-
selves in the ruins and called the town Argel, a Cymric
word meaning " sheltered " probably referring to its
lying on the bay protected by Capes Matifou and

The Moslems later named it Djezair-Beni-Mezr'-
anna, " The Isles of the Sons of Mezr'anna." It arose
from its ruins; and in the eleventh century the
Cordovan historian, El Bekri, described it admiringly
as a town filled with magnificent buildings and monu-
ments, with fine gates and a magnificent mosque that
was once a Christian church.

Algiers had many vicissitudes and knew many
masters before it saw the Spaniards at its doors in 1510.
To get rid of them the citizens called in a famous
Levantine adventurer, Aroudj, known by the Christians
as Barbarossa or Red Beard, who treacherously turned
on them and proclaimed himself Sultan. When he
was killed later near Morocco, his brother Kheir-ed-
Dine (" Welfare of the Religion " his name means),
left in charge of Algiers and menaced by many foes,
offered its sovereignty to the Sultan of Turkey, who
included it in his dominions and made Kheir-ed-Dine
his viceroy or Beylerbeg. This means " bey of beys " ;
for each of the three provinces, Algiers, Oran and
Constantine, was under a bey. The interior of the
province of Algiers was administered by the bey of
Titeri, residing at Medea.

Later on the title of Beylerbeg was changed, first
to Pasha, then to Dey.

Kheir-ed-Dine gave the Regency of Algiers, as it


was called, the organisation which it retained to the
coming of the French. The Viceroy was nominated
every three years by the Ottoman Porte in Constanti-
nople. He presided over the Diwan, or Council of
State, which was composed of the four Secretaries of
State, the Grand Administrator, the High Treasurer,
the Minister of Marine and the Agha or General Com-
manding the Army. To these were joined on occasions
representatives of the military forces and of the Moslem
religious functionaries.

The Regular Army garrisoned the chief fortified
places of the Regency and consisted of a few hundred
cavalry, the Sbahihis or Spahis (supplemented in war
by the goums or contingents of irregular horsemen sent
by the beys of provinces), and the infantry, which
eventually numbered thirty thousand. This army was
known as the Odjak, which meant to these Turkish
soldiers " the place where their pot boiled," indicating
that they were strangers in the land and had no home
other than their barracks. For they were janissaries,
foreigners recruited at Constantinople and Smyrna,
criminals, renegades, scoundrels of every nation. To
keep them distinct from the Algerians, whom they were
taught to despise, they were forbidden to marry native
women. They, however, formed irregular unions, the
offspring of which were termed " Koulouglis."

The janissaries' barracks in Algiers is now the
splendid Officers' Club in the Square de la Re'publique.
The raw recruit on arrival in Algiers found himself
quite an important person, was addressed as " Effendi "
and could aspire to the highest dignities in the State.
The ranks of the Invincible Militia, as the army was


termed, were yoldash, or priyate, shaoush or sergeant,
oda-bashi, lieutenant, boulousk-bashi, captain of a
company, agka-bashi, major, oukilhardji, quarter-
master, kaya, colonel, agha or the general. This agha
remained only two months in command and then
became Member of the Diwan; and the kaya
succeeded him. Promotion in the Militia went strictly
by seniority.

At times Algiers put as many as sixty thousand
men into the field in its expeditions against Morocco
and Tunis. But as a rule it only concerned itself
with the mastery of the sea, by which it lived.
Consequently the interior of the Regency was little
interfered with and the inland towns were fairly free.

The Marine was simply a navy of pirates, for
piracy was the trade by which Algiers existed.
Every ship was licensed by the Viceroy to go out to
capture the vessels of every nation not allied to
Turkey; and a fifth of the plunder brought home
went into the State Treasury, whilst the Pasha or
Dey had first pick of the female and male captives.

The Algerine navy began with only a few ships and
never rivalled in strength that of even a fourth-rate
European power; yet for centuries it ruled the seas,
devastated the shores of Christian lands as far away
as Ireland and Iceland, and extorted tribute in some
shape from almost every maritime nation. It is the
almost incredible fact that Holland, Portugal, Naples,
Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and later, the United
States of America paid an annual tribute usually
about 25,000 francs France, England, Spain,
Sardinia, Hanover, Tuscany, Ragusa and Venice gave


presents instead of tribute, while Hamburg and
Bremen sent naval munitions and material of war.
In addition Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were
obliged to furnish arms, ropes, masts, spearheads,
powder and lead.

And all this to purchase immunity for their
merchant ships. Yet more often than not this cowardly
policy failed, and the Algerine pirates respected no
flag, except perhaps those of Austria and Russia. For
these countries, being near neighbours of Turkey,
could put effective pressure on the suzerain of Algiers.

It seems incredible that this nest of pirates, this city
of at most 180,000 inhabitants, should have defied all
Europe for centuries. Spain, France, England,
Holland, the United States of America, in turn sent
fleets to batter down Algiers ; but none succeeded in
utterly annihilating it. As usual disgraceful inter-
national jealousies prevented the Christian powers
from uniting to extirpate this pest of the civilised
world; and crime-stained Algiers managed to exist
until well into the nineteenth century.

Charles V. failed to destroy it. Napoleon planned
its conquest but never carried out his design. At last,
in 1816, an English admiral, Lord Exmouth, bom-
barded it effectively, destroying the greater part of
its fleet, and the last of its ships were sunk in the battle
of Navarino ; so that Algiers never again was a danger
at sea. In 1830 its Dey Hassan, still swollen with
pride, by an insult to the French consul, whom he
struck in the face with his fan, gave France an excuse
for ending the pirate kingdom for all time. In the July
of that year a French squadron manoeuvred before


Algiers and engaged the forts ; while an army of 30,000
men disembarked at Sidi Ferruch, a few miles
along the coast, and defeated the Algerian troops.
Then climbing the hills above the city it attacked the
land fortifications and so damaged Fort 1'Empereur
that its commander blew it up and left Algiers at the
mercy of the invaders. The Dey surrendered and was
exiled, and his capital was annexed by France.

At first the victors did not seek to extend their
conquests ; but events gradually forced them to
advance farther and farther into Algeria. The city of
Constantine, which formed almost a separate princi-
pality, was taken after two sieges. Oran was captured.
The famous Abd-el-Kader, Bey of Mascara, for years

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 5 of 18)