Roman-Africans are the ancient North African populations that had a
Romanized culture and used to speak its own variety of
Latin as a
result. They were mostly concentrated from the Roman conquest in
the antiquity to the late Middle-Ages (approximately the 14th century
AD) in all the coastal cities of contemporary Tunisia, Tripolitania
and East Algeria, an area which was known under Arab rule as Ifriqiya,
from the Roman province of Africa.
Roman Africans were generally local
Berbers or Punics, but also
the descendants of the populations that came directly from
or the diverse regions of the Empire as legionaries and senators.
The Roman-Africans first adopted the Roman pantheon under the rule of
the Roman Republic, but then were one of the first provinces to
convert to Christianity and among their most known figures we can
mention Saint Felicita, Saint Perpetua, Saint
Cyprian and Saint
Augustine. Contrarily to the so-called Mauri that mostly inhabited the
westernmost part of North Africa and were barely romanised, Roman
Septimus Severus or the saint Aurelius Augustinus) had
Latin names in addition to speaking Latin.
The amphitheatre of Thysdrus (modern El Djem)
The African province was amongst the wealthiest regions in the Empire
(rivaled only by Egypt, Syria and Italy itself) and as a consequence
people from all over the Empire migrated into the province. Large
Roman Army veterans settled in North Africa on farming
plots promised for their military service.
Even so, the Roman military presence of North Africa was relatively
small, consisting of about 28,000 troops and auxiliaries in Numidia.
Starting in the 2nd century AD, these garrisons were manned mostly by
local inhabitants. A sizable
Latin speaking population developed from
a multinational background, sharing the north African region with
those speaking Punic and Berber languages. Imperial security
forces began to be drawn from the local population, including the
By the end of the Western Roman Empire nearly all of the African
province was fully romanised, according to Mommsen in his The
Provinces of the Roman Empire.
Roman Africans enjoyed a high level of
prosperity. Such prosperity (and romanisation) touched partially even
the populations living outside of the
Roman limes (mainly the
Garamantes and the Getuli).
The Roman African populations kept their
Latin language, as well as
Catholic Christian religion, under the Germanic vandal
occupation, the Byzantine restoration and the Islamic conquest, where
they progressively converted to Islam until the extinction of
Christianity in the Maghreb in the 12th century under the Almohads.
Latin dialect constituted a significant substratum
of the modern varieties of the
Berber languages and Maghrebi
The Muslim conquerors indeed distinguished in the 7th century three
distinct categories of populations in North Africa: the Rūm
(Byzantines), a foreign population, mainly composing the military and
administrative elite, who generally spoke Greek (From Byzacena); the
Afāriqah: the Roman Africans, the native Latin-speaking community
mostly concentrated in the urban areas; and finally the Barbar: that
is, the Berber farmers that populated most of the rural
The willing acceptance of Roman citizenship by members of the ruling
class in African cities produced such
Roman Africans as the comic poet
Terence, the rhetorician Fronto of Cirta, the jurist Salvius Julianus
of Hadrumetum, the novelist Apuleius of Madauros, the emperor
Septimius Severus of Lepcis Magna, the Christians Tertullian and
Cyprian of Carthage, and Arnobius of Sicca and his pupil Lactantius;
the angelic doctor Augustine of Thagaste, the epigrammatist Luxorius
of Vandal Carthage, and perhaps the biographer Suetonius, and the poet
— Paul MacKendrick, The North African Stones Speak (1969), UNC
Press, 2000, p.326
^ Gilbert Meynier, l'Algérie des origines : de la préhistoire
à l'avènement de l'islam éditions La Découverte, 2007, à partir
de la page 65, chapitre : sous la domination romaine : les
^ Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (1970, 1977) at 35-37.
^ Laroui challenges the accepted view of the prevalence of the Latin
language, in his The History of the Maghrib (1970, 1977) at 45-46.
^ (in French) Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére
et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia
norteafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99–119
^ Corriente, F. (1992). Árabe andalusí y lenguas romances.
^ The muslim conquest and settlement of North Africa and Spain,
Abdulwahid Thanun Taha, Routledge Library Edition