The history of Algeria can be tracked down to the time of Numidia or the army that rode horses. You may recall that they were called cavalry and then became more famously known as the Berbers later on.
Algeria is the largest country based on the total land area in Africa and is predominantly inhabited by Muslim people.
It is located in the north of Africa and extends down into the center of the Sahara, which scientists call a forbidden region because it is where the hottest temperatures on Earth can be felt.
Its capital city is Algiers, where you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Mediterranean.
The name Algeria is derived from the Arabic al-Jazāʾir (الجزائر, “The Islands”). Algerian history can be traced back to the Neolithic period, as evidenced by the stone tools and animal and agricultural traces found in the Saharan Maghreb between approximately 6000 and 2000 B.C. Maghreb is associated with the fertile coastal plain of North Africa.
You can recognize the northern part of ancient Africa as the transit region for people traveling to Europe and coming down to the Middle East at that time.
This fabulous country in North Africa is composed of a Mediterranean coastline and the hot Saharan desert. You have a choice on whether you want to explore the sea or the sand.
According to historical records, the people of Algeria have been influenced by several powerful empires. All of these empires have left a rich legacy for what is now presently Algeria. Some of these empires include the ancient Numidians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Vandals, Byzantines, and many more. You can read along and learn about their culture in each timeline.
When Was Algeria Founded?
Algeria was first conquered by the French nearly 200 years ago. It gained its independence in 1962 after a protracted battle against France, notable for the use of terrorist tactics and torture on both sides. Algerian history reveals a long record of its civilization, including traditions from its African roots and the legacy of various cultures that have stepped on its territory.
You can admire the tenacity of the people here and their resilience in times of subjugation. You truly cannot undermine the amount of passion Algerians have and how they have continued to take pride in their heritage.
This period highlights the earliest inhabitants of Maghreb, who showed their distinct civilization founded in the northern part of Africa. The discovered remains have been recorded to date from as far back as ca. 200,000 B.C. Since the area is surrounded by the Sahara Desert, their forefathers tended to animals who lived with them in their dwellings and nourished remarkable vegetation despite the crude status of the region.
Anthropologists unveiled their discoveries about Algeria, and the outcomes are extraordinary because there was a substantial civilization during the prehistoric age.
A good piece of evidence is the discovery of cave paintings from the classical period in the area where the Berbers lived.
They didn’t have a writing system, but they expressed their thoughts through paintings on cave walls. You can tell now how literacy emerged during ancient times. This discovery proves that at some point, the unique ability of human beings to survive and innovate in any given circumstance shone through.
This time in history was highlighted by the Phoenician traders who appeared on the northern African coastline around 900 B.C. These peace-loving people had built Carthage or what is now modern-day Tunisia. How did they transport their goods?
You might be wondering how they were able to accomplish this. Remarkably, the people had their means, no matter how primitive their time was. Although they had a short timeline, their contribution is priceless.
For instance, the Berber civilization had already practiced farming and trading even before modern tools were invented. They had a progressive system of agriculture. Despite using primitive materials, Berber farmers made sure they could produce something out of the earth.
In the long run, trade links between Carthage and the Berbers expanded, but it resulted in the slavery of some Berbers. Carthaginians refused to bow before any slave master, and so the city was destroyed in 146 B.C. This led to the empowerment of the Berber kingdom, which was annexed to the Roman Empire in A.D. 24.
You should take note of the abundance in the region at that time. The kingdom became prominent for agriculture and thus became known as the “granary of the empire,” but greed emerged when foreign invaders enslaved the Berbers. You can imagine how painful it is for these native people to be treated as slaves in their own land.
Subsequently, the arrival of Christianity began in the second century, which had prompted some individuals to be converted. This included some Berber tribes. You may be surprised to learn that Christianity was already present in this area in the second century.
However, the birth of Christianity in Algeria did not come as a surprise because its followers were enthusiastic about sharing Christian doctrines. Spreading the Christian faith in a stronghold of the Muslim faith was definitely a great feat.
Amazingly, one can observe that various religious faiths started appearing around this time, and people kept believing and converting. It may have been innate for humans to embrace a stronger power, even though it is unseen.
The Ottoman Period
Algiers became the center of Ottoman authority in Maghreb, and for 300 years, Algeria was a vassal state of the Ottoman period. With the institution of a regular Ottoman administration, governors with the title of pasha ruled. Turkish became the official language.
Although Algiers is still a part of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman government stopped having effective influence there. Algeria and surrounding areas, collectively known as the Barbary States, were responsible for piracy in the Mediterranean Sea and the enslavement of Christians. This brought them into a war with the United States of America.
Islamic Faith in Algeria
The expansion of the Islamic faith resulted from the first Arab military expeditions into the Maghreb between 642 and 669. In the year 711, the Umayyads, a Muslim dynasty originating from Damascus and reigning supreme from 661 to 750, had conquered the northern part of Africa with the guidance of Berber converts to Islam.
In 750, the Abbasids succeeded the Umayyads as Muslim rulers and transferred the caliphate to Baghdad. It was a strategic decision to strengthen the leadership of the Abbasids.
Under the young leadership of the Abbasids, the Rustumid imamate (761–909) led most of the central Maghreb from Tahirt, southwest of Algiers. The imams restored their reputation for being honest, pious, and just. The court of Tahirt was recognized for its support of scholarship.
You can also consider some shortcomings like the failure of the Rustumid imams to mandate a reliable standing army, which paved the way to Tahirt’s demise under the assault of the Fatimid dynasty.
With their goals focused primarily on Egypt and Muslim lands, the Fatimids decided to leave the rule of most of Algeria to the Zirids (972–1148), a Berber dynasty that centered their local power in Algeria for the first time. This period was marred by perennial conflict, political chaos, and economic decline.
Following a large incursion of Arab Bedouins or desert dwellers from Egypt beginning in the first half of the 11th century, the use of Arabic spread to the countryside, and sedentary Berbers were gradually influenced by the Arabic language.
The Almoravid group grew in the 11th century among the Sanhaja Berbers of the western Sahara. The group’s initial goal was religion. They wanted to impose moral discipline and pious adherence to the Islamic faith.
Meanwhile, the Almoravid movement engaged in military conquest after 1054. To prove their power, the Almoravid had conquered Morocco, the Maghreb, Algiers, and Spain up to the Ebro River.
Another religious group came up, and they were called the Almohads, who founded their inspiration in Islamic reform. They took control of Morocco, Algiers, and the central Maghreb. The highest peak of Almohad power occurred between 1163 and 1199. These groups did not last long because the continuing wars in Spain overtaxed the Almohads, and in the Maghreb, their position was compromised by factional strife and tribal warfare.
Moreover, the Zayanids established a dynasty in colonial Algeria in the central Maghreb. They had stayed for more than 300 years until the Ottoman regime subdued the region in the 16th century.
It was widely known that the Zayanids kept a stronghold in central Maghreb. Many coastal cities founded their autonomous leadership as municipal republics administered by merchant oligarchies or tribal chieftains from the surrounding countryside.
A time came when the powerful nations during that era started having difficulty in keeping their colonies. They had no resort but to abandon their rights over certain nations. France faced a similar dilemma in North Africa. It has given freedom to Morocco and Tunisia, which both obtained independence in 1956, but Algeria remained legally part of the French republic.
The Algerian War caused the downfall of the French and the accession to power of Charles de Gaulle, who had been in retirement since 1951. It was a difficult decision made by France and other powerful nations like Spain, Portugal, and Britain to give up their control of their colonized countries.
One effect of the post-colonial period was the influx of European emigrants from their colonies. Most of them were civil servants and businessmen who had to relocate themselves due to the end of their stay in a foreign land. For instance, in Britain, the first immigrant groups from the remote territory of the West Indies were warmly welcomed. Unfortunately, others have encountered racial discrimination.
Looking back, Algeria has been a tough country to rule. Geographically, it looks exciting, but the Sahara Atlas mountain range delays the flow of communication from north to south.
The French Rule
The French colonization began in 1830. To benefit French colonists and nearly all the people who lived in urban areas, northern Algeria was eventually organized into overseas departments, with representatives in the French National Assembly. France controlled the whole country, but the traditional Muslim population in the rural areas remained separated from the modern economic infrastructure of the European community.
As a result of what the French called an insult to the French consul in Algiers by the Day in 1827, France blockaded Algiers for three years. In 1830, France successfully occupied the coastal areas of Algeria. Hussein went into exile.
During the Algeria colonization period, France devoured the local culture by destroying hundred-year-old palaces and important buildings. Do you know, it was estimated that around half of Algiers, a city founded in the 10th century, was destroyed? You can say it was one of the worst effects of colonization in Algeria.
Algiers, Oran, and Constantine were selected as French local administrative units operated by a civilian government. All throughout Algeria colonization, the French continued to block or delay all proposals for reforms. For three years, escalating social, political, and economic problems in Algeria ruined the morale of the people, which led to political protests. At that time, the government played deaf in responding to the people’s clamor.
More ridiculous was the support of Muslims in Algeria to the French side at the start of World War II. They had the audacity to support foreign invaders instead of supporting their own fellows.
Later on, more political changes occurred. Muslim leader Ferhat Abbas proposed to the French government the foundation for an Algerian constitution to guarantee efficient political participation and equality for the Muslims. He spearheaded a campaign to uplift the rights of the Algerians, which garnered support later on.
The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria was officially declared on September 25, 1962. Premier Ahmed Ben Bella formed a cabinet that united the leadership of the army, the party, and the government. Unfortunately, his dream of putting up an authoritarian government did not sit well with his people.
Instead, his ambitious plans had provoked more upheavals in the country. It was intended for the good of his people and deserved overwhelming support, but the people had to make their own choices.
When people are unhappy, you can probably guess what could possibly happen. The war calling for liberation had devastated Algeria’s economy and society. The professionals saw bleak hope for the new government, which led to their exodus. It was somehow an opportunity for Algeria to be liberated, but the voice of the people was strong and defined their fate.
The homeless grew in number while 70 percent of the workforce was unemployed. Bella declared that all agricultural, industrial, and commercial properties previously owned and operated by Europeans were confiscated by the state. It was a drastic change in modern Algeria, yet it was also a time for them to learn a lesson the hard way.
A new constitution was drafted and approved by a nationwide referendum in September 1963, and Ben Bella was confirmed as the sole choice to lead the country for a five-year term. Under the new constitution, Ben Bella as president, formed his government with no need for legislative approval and was solely responsible for the definition and direction of its policies.
This is surely not the kind of government you would want. He directed the people using his political power, and everything was in his hands. People were unsatisfied with the government at that time.
Opposition leader Hosine Ait-Ahmed quit the National Assembly in 1963 to protest the increasingly dictatorial tendencies of the regime. Tensions increased in the administration, resulting in the overthrow of Ben Bella in a bloodless military coup d’état on June 19, 1965. Algeria was on the verge of failure at that time, but it recovered, thanks to the support of the civilians to reclaim Algerian independence.
However, given this scenario, reform efforts failed to end high unemployment and other economic hardships, all of which fueled Islamist activism, riots, and unrest. You can see the hope of the local people to change the country for good, but the challenges were many.
On the other hand, Algeria stands as an invaluable economic, commercial, and financial center in the region. It prides itself in being a strong economy in northern Africa with a capital of 60 million euros.
Algeria is a promising country with a rich and diverse history, which translates well with its considerably large land area and being the largest country in Africa.
Now, you have learned that the northern part of Africa was the transit region for people traveling to Europe and coming down to the Middle East in ancient times.
Needless to say, Algeria is a melting pot of marvelous cultures that shaped the country’s traditions and customs. Islamic faith has a deep influence on the country, where the people learned persistence and resilience from their hard history.