It pleased the Carthaginians that Hanno should voyage outside the Pillars of Hercules. (..) After passing through the Pillars we went on and sailed for two days' journey beyond, where we founded the
first city, which we called Thymiaterium. (..) Sailing thence toward the west we came to Solois (..) Having set up an altar here to Neptune, we proceeded
again, going toward the east for half the day, until we reached
a marsh lying no great way from the sea, thickly grown with
tall reeds. Here also were elephants and other wild beasts
feeding, in great numbers. (..) Sailing thence we came to the Lixus, a great river
flowing from Libya. By it a wandering people, the Lixitas,
were pasturing their flocks; with whom we remained some
time, becoming friends. Above these folk lived unfriendly Ethiopians, dwelling
in a land full of wild beasts, and shut off by great mountains. (..) Taking interpreters from them, we sailed twelve days toward the south along a desert, turning thence toward
the east one day's sail. (..) Thence, sailing by a great river whose name was
Chretes, we came to a lake, which had three islands (..). Running a day's sail beyond these, we came to
the end of the lake, above which rose great mountains, peopled by savage men wearing skins of wild beasts, who threw
stones at us and prevented us from landing from our ships. Sailing thence, we came to another river, very great
and broad, which was full of crocodiles and hippopotami.
"The Periplus of Hanno", a Greek account of a voyage by Hanno, a Carthaginian general of the Vth century BC - translation by Wilfred H. Schoff
Detail from the 1851 Longman's Map of Ancient Northern Africa. Red dots indicate the sites covered in this section. Blue dots indicate Roman towns which are covered in another section, namely Baelo Claudia in Spain and Caesarea Mauretaniae (Cherchell) and Tipasa in Algeria. A separate section with a more recent map of Morocco covers the monuments of some historical medinas (walled towns)
The word Africa was at first applied by the Romans to that portion of it
with which they were best acquainted, the Africa Propria, or Africa Provincia,
corresponding roughly to the Carthaginian territory erected into a Roman
province after the third Punic war, B.C. 146. (..) Next followed Numidia, corresponding to part of the French province of
From Numidia to the Atlantic the country was known generally as Mauretania. (..) Subsequently, about A.D. 297 it was divided into Mauretania
Setifensis, from Numidia to Icosium (Algiers); Mauretania Cesariensis,
thence to the Molochath River, and Mauretania Tingitana; corresponding roughly
to the French provinces of Algiers and Oran, and the Empire of Morocco.
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis - 1878
Archaeological Museum of Rabat: (left) rock carvings; (right) inscription in Libyan alphabet (you may wish to see a bilingual inscription in Libyan and Punic alphabets - it opens in another window - from Thugga)
Morocco did not attract European travellers for its ancient past; until the early XIXth century accounts of the country focussed on its piratical activities and its treatment of captured Christian seamen and merchants (which was made popular by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe). Archaeological campaigns in the late XIXth century and the first half of the XXth century were mainly aimed at identifying memories of the Carthaginian and Roman presence in the country. Even today the museums of Morocco can display only a limited number of exhibits related to prehistory or to local ancient cultures. You may wish to see some rock carvings in the Museum of Algiers and in Libya.
There formerly existed some Commentaries written by Hanno, a Carthaginian general, who was commanded, in the most flourishing times of the Punic state, to explore the sea-coast of Africa. The greater part of the Greek and Roman writers have followed him, and have related, among other fabulous stories, that many cities there were founded by him, of which no remembrance, nor yet the slightest vestige, now exists. (..) In Asia the best purple is that of Tyre, in Africa that of Meninx (near the Isle of Djerba in Tunisia) and the parts of Gaetulia that border on the Ocean (i.e. the coast of Morocco south of Rabat), and in Europe that of Laconia.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book V/Book IX - translation by John Bostock and H.T. Riley
The Carthaginians explored the coast of Morocco along the Atlantic Ocean in search of purple, which they found in some small islets near Mogador, today's Essaouira. They established a series of colonies along the coast to safely reach them and in general to develop their trade.
After the final destruction of Carthage by the Romans in 146 BC, some of their colonies along the coast of Morocco accepted the Roman hegemony, while the inland territories became part of a kingdom established by Bocchus I, a local leader, in ca 110 BC. This kingdom became a client state of the Roman Empire and its rulers adopted a Roman lifestyle. They resided at Caesarea Mauretaniae, near today's Algiers, but they sent statues of themselves to the main towns of their kingdom to be placed in the forums or temples or other public buildings, similar to what Roman emperors did.
Sala: Roman Baths
(In 40 AD Emperor Caligula) after inviting Ptolemy to come from his kingdom and receiving him with honour, suddenly had him executed for no other reason than that when giving a gladiatorial show, he noticed that Ptolemy on entering the theatre attracted general attention by the splendour of his purple cloak.
Suetonius - The Twelve Caesars - Loeb Classical Library
This was the end of the Kingdom of Mauretania which Emperor Claudius annexed to the Empire and split into the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis with capital at Caesarea and Mauretania Tingitana with capital at Tingis, today's Tangier (see a personification of the latter province in Rome). The border between the two provinces roughly corresponded to that between today's Morocco and Algeria. The southern limit of Mauretania Tingitana is less clear, but along the coast it did not go much beyond Sala. There were other Roman ports further south, but they were not territorially united to the province.
Lixus: "garum" factory
The Carthaginians were great seafarers and were always keen to explore the feasibility of new trade routes; not so the Romans. Their interest in this remote western province focussed on its capability to provide the Empire with useful commodities, e.g. garum, a fish sauce which was highly praised by the Romans. The best garum was made from the viscera of tuna, together with the blood, juices, and gills, salted and allowed to ferment for two months. Wine, herbs, and spices also could be added. Well preserved garum factories can be seen at Baelo Claudia on the northern side of the Strait of Gibraltar and at Neapolis in Tunisia. The garum factory of Lixus was situated at the mouth of a river which provided fresh water for cleaning and brining. The development of this activity at Lixus is dated early Ist century AD, but it acquired an "industrial" dimension during the direct Roman rule.
Museum of Tétouan: details of the mosaic from the House of Helios at Lixus
The establishment and management of a large garum factory at Lixus required capital investments and entrepreneurial skills. Maybe its owners lived in a rich house on the hill above the harbour, where they could not be reached by the smell produced by their factory.
Due to the establishment of a French/Spanish protectorate over Morocco in 1912, archaeological campaigns were separately conducted by French and Spanish teams. That at Lixus was a Spanish initiative and the finest mosaics which were found were moved to a museum at Tétouan, the capital of the Spanish Protectorate. The French instead opened an Archaeological Museum at Rabat in 1932. The Protectorates ended in 1956.
Volubilis: a paved street in the southern part of the town and the area of the Forum in the background
In all that concerns Marocco, no author is so much quoted
as Leo*, who wrote in the sixteenth century; and his statements may in general be relied on. (..) A reference to Leo's work will show
that he also speaks of a certaine towne called the Palace
of Pharao as being founded by the Romans. (..) After combating
the idea that the town was built by Pharaoh, King of Egypt,
he says: "I am rather of opinion, by the Latine letters
which are engraven on the walles, that the Romans built
Arthur Leared - Marocco and the Moors - 2nd edition 1891
In the 1830s the French conquered Algeria and in the following years they identified the ruins of many Roman towns. This led to paying greater attention at the remaining evidence of Roman monuments in Morocco. Arthur Leared explored unfrequented parts of that country and he succeeded in identifying the Roman town of Volubilis in a site known as Pharaoh's Castle. An account of this discovery was published in The Academy, a review of literature and general topics, in 1878.
*Leo Africanus (ca 1494-1554) was an Arab diplomat captured by Spanish corsairs in 1518 and taken to Rome. He was later released by Pope Leo X and enjoyed papal patronage. His work describes the region of north Africa known as the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and was considered the most authoritative account of the cultures, religions and politics of this region until the start of European exploration in the nineteenth century.
From the Cambridge University Press introduction to: Leo Africanus - The history and description of Africa: and of the notable things therein contained - 1526 - 1600 translation by John Pory.
Archaeological Museum of Rabat: marble statues from Volubilis
Volubilis contains essentially Roman vestiges of a fortified municipium built on a commanding site at the foot of the Jebel Zerhoun. Covering an area of 42 hectares, it is of outstanding importance demonstrating urban development and Romanisation at the frontiers of the Roman Empire and the graphic illustration of the interface between the Roman and indigenous cultures. Because of its isolation and the fact that it had not been occupied for nearly a thousand years, it presents an important level of authenticity. It is one of the richest sites of this period in North Africa, not only for its ruins but also for the great wealth of its epigraphic evidence.
From the UNESCO brief synthesis of the universal value of Volubilis which in 1997 was included in the World Heritage List.
Archaeological Museum of Rabat: bronze exhibits from Volubilis: (left) ephebe pouring drink; (right) two small heads of children
Many of the works of art which were found at Volubilis were marble and bronze artefacts which were imported from other parts of the Roman Empire. They testify to the wealth and culture of the élite of landowners and public officers who lived in the town.
The floor mosaics, similar to those in Spain (e.g. at Italica), reflect the development of a highly skilled and talented tradition in this field which spread from the coastal cities to the prosperous agricultural towns of the interior. This occurred also in Tunisia and Algeria.
Archaeological Museum of Rabat: bronze exhibits; fragments of statues, statuettes and a "paludamentum", a cloak worn by military commanders
Mauretania Tingitana, although being at the extreme border of the Roman Empire, was not under threat of being conquered by another nation, but its towns were at risk of being raided by local tribes, similar to the Garamantes in Libya. A Roman legion was stationed at Lambaesis in today's Algeria, not far from Tunisia, but in case of trouble it is likely that troops were sent to Mauretania Tingitana from Spain. The southern border of the province was not protected by major lines of fortifications. The local warriors were known for being skilled cavalrymen (equites Maurorum) and they were offered a military career in the Roman army as auxiliary troops (see a relief in Colonna di Traiano in Rome).
Roman remains found in 2005 during chance excavations near Kasbah of the Udayas at Rabat
At the end of the IIIrd century Emperor Diocletian promoted an administrative reform of the Empire aimed at reducing the size of the provinces to make them more easily controllable; many of them, e.g. Africa, were split into two or three smaller provinces. Mauretania Tingitana was reduced in size: Volubilis and Sala were left outside the border of the Empire and they had to deal themselves with the risk of being raided. The Romans retained control of the coastal strip along the Mediterranean Sea and not much else. The end of the Roman rule however was not caused by an invasion from the south: in 429 the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, invaded Northern Africa from Spain and they rapidly conquered it.