Early traces of hominid habitation in North Africa were discovered in the area of Ain Hanech (Sada Province) about 200,000 BC. Hand axes of the Levalloisian and Mousterian types (43,000 BC), comparable to those found in the Levant, were made by Neanderthal tool makers.
Algeria has the greatest level of development in Middle Paleolithic Flake tool technology. This era’s tools, which began about 30,000 BC, are known as Aterian (after the archeological site of Bir el Ater, south of Tebessa).
Iberomaurusian blade industry were the first in North Africa (located mainly in Oran region). Between 15,000 and 10,000 BC, this industry seems to have expanded across the Maghreb’s coastal areas. The Neolithic civilisation (animal domestication and agriculture) emerged in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghreb as early as 11,000 BC or as late as 6000–2000 BC. This way of life predominated in Algeria until the classical era, as vividly portrayed in the Tassili n’Ajjer paintings.
The mixture of North African peoples ultimately crystallized into a separate local group known as Berbers, who are the indigenous peoples of northern Africa.
The Carthaginians extended and built minor towns along the North African coast from their main base of power at Carthage; by 600 BC, a Phoenician presence was at Tipasa, east of Cherchell, Hippo Regius (modern Annaba), and Rusicade (modern Skikda). These communities functioned as both market towns and anchorages.
As Carthaginian dominance expanded, so did its effect on the indigenous people. Berber civilisation had progressed to the point that agriculture, industry, commerce, and political structure could sustain many nations. Trade connections between Carthage and the Berbers of the interior expanded, but territorial expansion also led in the slavery or military recruitment of certain Berbers and the collection of tribute from others.
By the early fourth century BC, Berbers had become the Carthaginian army’s single biggest component. Berber troops revolted in the Revolt of the Mercenaries from 241 to 238 BC after being underpaid after Carthage’s loss in the First Punic War. They were successful in gaining control of most of Carthage’s North African empire, and they issued coins carrying the term Libyan, which was used in Greek to designate North African people. The Carthaginian state collapsed as a result of repeated Roman losses in the Punic Wars.
The city of Carthage was destroyed in 146 BC. As Carthaginian hegemony weakened, Berber chiefs’ influence in the hinterland increased. Several powerful but loosely governed Berber kingdoms had formed by the 2nd century BC. Two of them were founded in Numidia, behind Carthage’s control over the coastal regions. West of Numidia was Mauretania, which spanned the Moulouya River in modern-day Morocco all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The reign of Massinissa in the 2nd century BC marked the pinnacle of Berber civilisation, which would not be surpassed until the arrival of the Almohads and Almoravids more than a millennium later.
The Berber kingdoms were split and reunited many times after Masinissa’s death in 148 BC. Massinissa’s dynasty lasted until 24 AD, when the Roman Empire seized the remaining Berber land.
For many years, Algeria was controlled by the Romans, who established many colonies in the area. Algeria, like the rest of North Africa, was one of the empire’s breadbaskets, exporting grains and other agricultural goods. Saint Augustine was the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern-day Algeria), a Roman province in Africa. Geiseric’s Germanic Vandals invaded North Africa in 429 and dominated coastal Numidia by 435. They made no significant settlement on the land because they were harassed by local tribes; in fact, by the time the Byzantines arrived, Lepcis Magna had been abandoned and the Msellata region had been occupied by the indigenous Laguatan, who had been busy facilitating an Amazigh political, military, and cultural revival.
The Arabs invaded Algeria in the mid-7th century, with little opposition from the natives, and a significant proportion of the indigenous people converted to the new religion. Following the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate, a number of local dynasties arose, including the Aghlabids, Almohads, Abdalwadids, Zirids, Rustamids, Hammadids, Almoravids, and Fatimids.
During the Middle Ages, North Africa was home to many famous scholars, saints, and rulers, including Judah Ibn Quraysh, the first grammarian to propose the Afroasiatic language family, the great Sufi gurus Sidi Boumediene (Abu Madyan) and Sidi El Houari, and the Emirs Abd Al Mu’min and Yghmrasen. During this time, the Fatimids, or children of Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, arrived in the Maghreb. These “Fatimids” went on to establish a long-lasting dynasty spanning the Maghreb, Hejaz, and the Levant, having a secular interior administration as well as a strong army and fleet comprised mainly of Arabs and Levantians ranging from Algeria to their capital state of Cairo. When the Fatimid caliphate’s governors, the Zirids, seceded, the Fatimid empire started to crumble. To punish them, the Fatimids sent the Arabs Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym against them. The epic Tghribt tells the story of the ensuing battle. In Al-Tghrbt, the Amazigh Zirid Hero Khlf Al-Znat begs for duels on a regular basis in order to beat the Hilalan hero Ibn Zayd al-Hilal and many other Arab knights in a series of triumphs. The Zirids, on the other hand, were eventually vanquished, ushering in the adoption of Arab traditions and culture. The indigenous Amazigh tribes, on the other hand, remained mostly independent, and depending on tribe, location, and time controlled varying parts of the Maghreb, at times uniting it (as under the Fatimids). During the Islamic Era, caliphates from Northern Africa traded with other empires as well as being part of a confederated support and commerce network with other Islamic kingdoms.
Historically, the Amazighs were made up of many tribes. The two major branches were the Botr and Barnès tribes, which were further subdivided into tribes and sub-tribes. There were numerous tribes in each Maghreb area (for example, Sanhadja,Houara, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, and Berghwata). All of these tribes made their own territorial choices.
Several Amazigh dynasties arose in the Maghreb and other neighboring regions throughout the Middle Ages. Ibn Khaldun summarizes the Amazigh dynasties of the Maghreb area, including the Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid, Meknassa, and Hafsid.
Spain built fortified outposts (presidios) on or near the Algerian coast in the early 16th century. In 1505 and 1509, Spain gained possession of a few coastal towns, including Mers el Kebir, Oran, and Tlemcen, Mostaganem, and Ténès. In the same year, a few Algiers merchants gave one of their harbor’s rocky islands to Spain, who constructed a fort on it. The presidios in North Africa proved to be an expensive and mostly unsuccessful military venture that did not provide access for Spain’s commercial fleet.
There ruled in Ifriqiya, modern Tunisia, a Berber dynasty, Zirid, who acknowledged the Fatimid caliph of Cairo’s suzerainty. The Zirid king or viceroy, el-Mu’izz, most likely chose to terminate this suzerainty in 1048. The Fatimid kingdom was too weak to launch a punitive expedition; the Viceroy, el-Mu’izz, devised another method of retaliation.
Between the Nile and the Red Sea, there were living Bedouin tribes exiled from Arabia for their disturbance and tumultuous impact, such Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, whose presence disturbed farmers in the Nile Valley because the nomads would often steal. The then Fatimid vizier developed a plan to cede sovereignty of the Maghreb and gained his sovereign’s approval. This not only encouraged the Bedouins to flee, but the Fatimid treasury also provided them with a little financial stipend for their journey.
Women, children, ancestors, animals, and camping equipment were carried by whole tribes. Some halted along the route, particularly in Cyrenaica, where they are still an important part of the population, but the majority came in Ifriqiya through the Gabes area. The Zirid king attempted to stem the growing tide, but at each encounter, including the most recent beneath the walls of Kairouan, his soldiers were beaten, and the Arabs remained lords of the field.
The water was steadily rising, and in 1057, the Arabs expanded over Constantine’s high plains, gradually choking Qalaa of Banu Hammad, as they had done Kairouan a few decades before. From there, they eventually acquired control of the upper Algiers and Oran plains, some of which were seized by force by the Almohads in the second part of the 12th century. We may conclude that in the 13th century, with the exception of the major mountain ranges and some coastal areas, North Africa was completely Berber.
From 1516 until 1830, the area of Algeria was partly controlled by the Ottomans. The Turkish privateer brothers Aruj and Hayreddin Barbarossa, who had previously operated effectively under the Hafsids, relocated their center of operations to Algiers in 1516. They were successful in taking Jijel and Algiers from the Spaniards, but ultimately took control of the city and surrounding area, compelling the previous monarch, Abu Hamo Musa III of the Bani Ziyad dynasty, to leave. When Aruj was slain during his assault of Tlemcen in 1518, Hayreddin took over as military leader of Algiers. The Ottoman sultan bestowed the title of beylerbey upon him, as well as a force of 2,000 janissaries. Hayreddin captured the whole region between Constantine and Oran with the help of this army (although the city of Oran remained in Spanish hands until 1791).
Hayreddin’s son Hasan was the next beylerbey, taking over in 1544. Until 1587, the region was ruled by officials who served for indefinite periods. Following the establishment of a formal Ottoman government, governors with the title of pasha reigned for three years. The pasha was aided by janissaries, called as the ojaq in Algeria and commanded by Ana gha. Because they were not paid on a regular basis, the ojaq became dissatisfied in the mid-1600s and rebelled against the pasha many times. As a consequence, in 1659, the agha accused the pasha with corruption and ineptitude and took control.
The plague has frequently hit North African towns. In 1620–21, Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 people to the plague, and it experienced significant mortality in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42.
In 1671, the taifa revolted, assassinated the agha, and installed one of their own as ruler. The new leader was given the title dey. After 1689, the divan, a council of around sixty lords, was given the authority to choose the dey. The ojaq dominated it at initially, but by the 18th century, it had become the dey’s instrument. In 1710, the dey convinced the Sultan to acknowledge him and his successors as regent, replacing the pasha in that position, despite the fact that Algiers remained part of the Ottoman Empire.
In effect, the dey was a constitutional despot. The dey was elected for life, although fourteen of the twenty-nine deys were murdered during the system’s 159-year existence (1671–1830). Despite usurpation, military coups, and sometimes mob control, Ottomon government operations were surprisingly organized. Although the regency patronized tribal chieftains, it never had the unqualified support of the countryside, where harsh taxes often sparked rebellion. In the Kabylie, autonomous tribe states were allowed, and the regency’s power was seldom used.
In the western Mediterranean Sea, Barbary pirates preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic ships. Passengers and crew were often taken aboard ships by pirates and sold or exploited as slaves. They also did well by ransoming some of the prisoners. According to Robert Davis, pirates kidnapped 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They often conducted Razzia attacks on European coastal cities in order to abduct Christian captives for sale in slave markets in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.
Hayreddin conquered the island of Ischia in 1544, capturing 4,000 captives and enslaving 9,000 Lipari residents, almost the whole population. Turgut Reis enslaved the whole inhabitants of the Maltese island of Gozo in 1551, enslaving between 5,000 and 6,000 people and transporting them to Libya. Pirates attacked Vieste in southern Italy in 1554, taking an estimated 7,000 prisoners as slaves.
Barbary corsairs seized Ciutadella (Minorca) in 1558, devastated it, killed its people, and transported 3,000 survivors as slaves to Istanbul. Barbary pirates often raided the Balearic Islands, prompting the inhabitants to construct many coastal watchtowers and fortified churches. The danger was so serious that inhabitants of Formentera fled the island.
Between 1609 and 1616, England suffered 466 commercial ship losses at the hands of Barbary pirates.
In July 1627, two Algiers pirate ships raided and captured slaves as far as Iceland. Another pirate ship from Salé, Morocco, had attacked Iceland two weeks before. Some of the slaves sent to Algiers were subsequently ransomed and returned to Iceland, while others opted to remain in Algeria. Algerian pirate ships attacked the Faroe Islands in 1629.
Pirates formed alliances with Caribbean nations in the nineteenth century, paying a “license fee” in return for safe port for their ships. From 1785 through 1793, the Algerians enslaved 130 American sailors in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, according to one American slave.
Piracy against American ships in the Mediterranean prompted the United States to launch the First (1801–1805) and Second Barbary Wars (1815). Following those battles, Algeria was weakened, and Europeans invaded Algiers with an Anglo-Dutch navy led by the British Lord Exmouth. Following a nine-hour bombardment, they secured a treaty with the Dey that reiterated the terms set by Decatur (US naval) about tribute demands. Furthermore, the Dey promised to put a stop to the practice of enslaving Christians.
French colonisation (1830–1962)
In 1830, the French attacked and conquered Algiers under the guise of a slight to their consul. When the French captured Algiers, the slave trade and piracy came to an end. The French conquest of Algeria took time and resulted in significant bloodshed. Between 1830 and 1872, the indigenous Algerian population declined by almost one-third due to a mixture of violence and illness outbreaks. Algeria’s population grew from approximately 1.5 million in 1830 to over 11 million in 1960. The French government’s strategy was based on “civilizing” the nation. During the occupation, Algeria’s social fabric deteriorated; literacy rates fell. During this time, a tiny but powerful French-speaking indigenous aristocracy of Berbers, mainly Kabyles, emerged. As a result, the French authorities preferred the Kabyles. Approximately 80% of Indigenous Schools were built for Kabyles.
France governed the whole Mediterranean area of Algeria as an essential component and département of the country from 1848 until independence. Algeria, one of France’s longest-held overseas possessions, became a destination for hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, first as colons and then Pied-Noirs. 50,000 French citizens moved to Algeria between 1825 and 1847. These immigrants profited from the French government’s seizure of indigenous peoples’ communal land, as well as the use of modern agricultural methods, which expanded the quantity of fertile land. Many Europeans settled in Oran and Algiers, becoming the majority of the population in both towns by the early twentieth century.
Discontent among the Muslim community, who lacked political and economic standing in the colonial system, gradually gave birth to calls for greater political autonomy, and ultimately independence from France. Tensions between the two populations reached a boiling point in 1954, when the first violent events of what became known as the Algerian War started. Historians believe that the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) or lynch mobs murdered between 30,000 and 150,000 Harkis and their dependents in Algeria. The FLN employed hit-and-run assaults in Algeria and France as part of its war strategy, and the French retaliated harshly. Hundreds of thousands of Algerians were killed and hundreds of thousands were injured as a result of the conflict.
The struggle against French sovereignty ended in 1962, when Algeria achieved full independence as a result of the March 1962 Evian accords and the July 1962 vote on self-determination.
The first three decades of independence (1962–1991)
Between 1962 and 1964, more than 900,000 European Pied-Noirs left Algeria. After the Oran massacre in 1962, when hundreds of militants invaded European parts of the city and started assaulting residents, the migration to mainland France intensified.
Ahmed Ben Bella, the head of Algeria’s Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), was the country’s first president. Morocco’s claim to western Algeria sparked the Sand War in 1963. Houari Boumediene, a former ally and defense minister, deposed Ben Bella in 1965. The government had grown more socialist and dictatorial under Ben Bella, and Boumédienne maintained this tendency. However, he depended much more on the army for backing, reducing the only legal party to a symbolic role. He nationalized agriculture and embarked on a major industrialisation push. Nationalization of oil extraction facilities This was particularly useful to the leadership after the 1973 worldwide oil crisis.
Algeria undertook an industrialization program inside a state-controlled socialist economy throughout the 1960s and 1970s under President Houari Boumediene. Chadli Bendjedid, Boumediene’s successor, instituted some liberal economic reforms. He advocated an Arabisation agenda in Algerian society and public life. Arabic teachers coming in from other Muslim nations propagated traditional Islamic thinking in schools, sowing the seeds of a return to Orthodox Islam.
Algeria’s economy grew more reliant on oil, resulting in hardship when prices fell during the 1980s oil glut. During the 1980s, Algerian civil unrest was exacerbated by an economic crisis induced by a drop in global oil prices; by the end of the decade, Bendjedid had implemented a multi-party system. Political parties arose, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a wide alliance of Muslim organizations.
Civil War (1991–2002) and aftermath
The Islamic Salvation Front won the first of two rounds of parliamentary elections in December 1991. The authorities interfered on 11 January 1992, canceling the polls, fearing the establishment of an Islamist administration. Bendjedid resigned, and a High Council of State was formed to serve as the Presidency. It outlawed the FIS, sparking a civil war between the Front’s armed branch, the Armed Islamic Group, and the national armed forces that killed more than 100,000 people. Islamist terrorists carried out a bloody campaign of innocent killings. The situation in Algeria became a source of international concern at various times throughout the war, most notably during the crisis involving the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 by the Armed Islamic Group. In October 1997, the Armed Islamic Group announced a cease-fire.
Algeria conducted elections in 1999, which were deemed skewed by foreign observers and the majority of opposition parties, and won by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He worked to restore political stability in the country and announced a ‘Civil Concord’ initiative, which was approved in a referendum, under which many political prisoners were pardoned and several thousand members of armed groups were granted immunity from prosecution under a limited amnesty, which was in effect until January 13, 2000. The AIS was dissolved, and rebel violence dropped precipitously. The Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédiction et le Combat (GSPC), a breakaway organization of the Groupe Islamic Armée, carried out a terrorist campaign against the government.
Bouteflika was re-elected president in April 2004 after running on a national reconciliation platform. The program included economic, institutional, political, and social reforms aimed at modernizing the country, raising living conditions, and addressing the root reasons of estrangement. It also contained a second amnesty proposal, the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which was passed in a vote in September 2005. It granted amnesty to the majority of insurgents and government security personnel.
Following a decision in Parliament, the Algerian Constitution was modified in November 2008, eliminating the two-term restriction on Presidential incumbents. Because of this amendment, Bouteflika was allowed to run for re-election in the 2009 presidential elections, and he was re-elected in April 2009. During his campaign and after his re-election, Bouteflika pledged to prolong the national reconciliation program and a $150 billion expenditure plan to generate three million new jobs, build one million new housing units, and continue public sector and infrastructure modernization programs.
On December 28, 2010, a series of demonstrations throughout the nation began, inspired by previous uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Algeria’s 19-year-old state of emergency was ended on February 24, 2011. The administration passed laws governing political parties, the electoral code, and women’s participation in elected entities. Bouteflika pledged further constitutional and political reforms in April 2011. Elections, however, are regularly condemned as unfair by opposition parties, and international human rights organizations claim that media restrictions and persecution of political opponents persist.