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No Arab conquest of the Maghreb

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
In our timeline, the Arabs had a hard time conquering the Maghreb. Suppose they had not been able to advance beyond Cyrenaica. Can the Byzantines hold the Maghreb for very long or does the geographical separation lead it being becoming a series of Romano-Berber states? If the latter, how do such states develop?
 
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I was once a student of the main UK classical historian/ archaeologist to have run a 'dig' in Carthage looking for signs of the post-533 Byzantine city there, and her conclusions were that it was in sharp decline as far as both population/ built-up area and prosperity went well before it fell to the Arabs in 698. Ditto the security and signs of a vibrant economy in the countryside of what is now Tunisia were in decline well before 698, possibly due to the increased rate of raiding from the more vibrant and confident pastoral Berber tribes to the West - who seem to have been only a minor problem in the C6th, as far as our meagre sources tell us.

The question of culturally or politically 'nationalist' Berber tribal aggression against the 'alien' intrusion of Eastern Roman government in Tunisia after 533 is unclear; was this just opportunism as the Roman/ Byzantine garrisons were small and poorly funded so vulnerable, was it a rising tide of 'smash and grab' raids by the Berbers once the ongoing Eastern military crisis from c.580 (first Avars in the Balkans, then after 602 civil war and Persian attack) and Heraclius' taking a lot of the local troops off to Constantinople as he overthrew Phocas in 610 caused a drastic cut in troops levels? (Cf the position of the declining Roman army in Britain and the rise of Irish, Pictish and possibly Saxon attacks after rebel Emperor Magnus Maximus took most of the garrisons off to Gaul min a civil war in 383 and the rest went off with rebel Constantine III in 407-9?) Were the smaller Roman troops levels a sitting duck for Berber attacks, rendering the province unviable as a centre of resistance to any outsider if attacked by a large army (ie not only Arabs - a Visigoth invasion too if they had had a strong leader?) , or did the 540s Great Plague wreck the urban economy and the numbers of taxpayers and make the region too poor to survived long-term as a viable state? The towns declined and so did trade in OTL Italy and to a degree in Gaul - was North Africa hit similarly? The Berbers put up a strong resistance to the Arab invasions in the later C7th in OTL, led by their warlike 'prophetess' queen known to literary sources as 'Kahina' - is this a sign that such resistance would face any surviving stronger Eastern Roman military-led govt and fatally weaken it?

Assuming that a stronger Byz army and better leadership , plus possibly a better survival of trade and a monetary economy, does make the 'Exarchate' of Carthage a viable entity - perhaps Emperor Maurice does not get overthrown so Heraclius does not take most of the army off to the East or H can send troops home later after an easier defeat of the Sassanids - the Arabs might have been held up longer. Even better for Carthage if the Byz can stop the Arabs at the Sinai peninsula due to stronger defences and garrisons around Pelusium/ Gaza in 640-1, or retake Egypt successfully in 646 for which they may need an earlier-defeated Avar vassal state plus the Slavs to supply mercenaries.In that case, a Western Mediterranean free of Arab ships would have improved trade and prosperity in the C8th, and the Empire kept up links to N Africa and if the Berbers are quiescent or bribed to be co-operative have used Tunisia as a bread-basket for Constantinople as safer than Egypt. Sicily would not have had an Arab invasion after 827 or an Arab element to its culture; Constans II could have built up Syracuse as more of a regional centre had he not been assassinated while residing there in 668; and refugees from the Lombards have moved from S Italy to safer Sicily and Tunisia. the fractured and internal-coup-hit Visigothic kingdom of Spain would have continued , with probably too weak a central govt to have escaped more coups by regional warlords - though it might have had a strong reunifier who turned his lords' aggression into an attack on coastal Mauretania / Morocco later. The rise of Charles 'Martel' as a strongman and the real ruler of Francia occurred independently of and before the Arab invasions so he would still have emerged , but been less of a Christian hero as victor at Tours in 732. But would he or his son Pepin have later decided to predate on a weak Visigothic state in Spain and have overrun Catalonia and/or the Ebro valley?
 

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
I was once a student of the main UK classical historian/ archaeologist to have run a 'dig' in Carthage looking for signs of the post-533 Byzantine city there, and her conclusions were that it was in sharp decline as far as both population/ built-up area and prosperity went well before it fell to the Arabs in 698. Ditto the security and signs of a vibrant economy in the countryside of what is now Tunisia were in decline well before 698, possibly due to the increased rate of raiding from the more vibrant and confident pastoral Berber tribes to the West - who seem to have been only a minor problem in the C6th, as far as our meagre sources tell us.

The question of culturally or politically 'nationalist' Berber tribal aggression against the 'alien' intrusion of Eastern Roman government in Tunisia after 533 is unclear; was this just opportunism as the Roman/ Byzantine garrisons were small and poorly funded so vulnerable, was it a rising tide of 'smash and grab' raids by the Berbers once the ongoing Eastern military crisis from c.580 (first Avars in the Balkans, then after 602 civil war and Persian attack) and Heraclius' taking a lot of the local troops off to Constantinople as he overthrew Phocas in 610 caused a drastic cut in troops levels? (Cf the position of the declining Roman army in Britain and the rise of Irish, Pictish and possibly Saxon attacks after rebel Emperor Magnus Maximus took most of the garrisons off to Gaul min a civil war in 383 and the rest went off with rebel Constantine III in 407-9?) Were the smaller Roman troops levels a sitting duck for Berber attacks, rendering the province unviable as a centre of resistance to any outsider if attacked by a large army (ie not only Arabs - a Visigoth invasion too if they had had a strong leader?) , or did the 540s Great Plague wreck the urban economy and the numbers of taxpayers and make the region too poor to survived long-term as a viable state? The towns declined and so did trade in OTL Italy and to a degree in Gaul - was North Africa hit similarly? The Berbers put up a strong resistance to the Arab invasions in the later C7th in OTL, led by their warlike 'prophetess' queen known to literary sources as 'Kahina' - is this a sign that such resistance would face any surviving stronger Eastern Roman military-led govt and fatally weaken it?

Assuming that a stronger Byz army and better leadership , plus possibly a better survival of trade and a monetary economy, does make the 'Exarchate' of Carthage a viable entity - perhaps Emperor Maurice does not get overthrown so Heraclius does not take most of the army off to the East or H can send troops home later after an easier defeat of the Sassanids - the Arabs might have been held up longer. Even better for Carthage if the Byz can stop the Arabs at the Sinai peninsula due to stronger defences and garrisons around Pelusium/ Gaza in 640-1, or retake Egypt successfully in 646 for which they may need an earlier-defeated Avar vassal state plus the Slavs to supply mercenaries.In that case, a Western Mediterranean free of Arab ships would have improved trade and prosperity in the C8th, and the Empire kept up links to N Africa and if the Berbers are quiescent or bribed to be co-operative have used Tunisia as a bread-basket for Constantinople as safer than Egypt. Sicily would not have had an Arab invasion after 827 or an Arab element to its culture; Constans II could have built up Syracuse as more of a regional centre had he not been assassinated while residing there in 668; and refugees from the Lombards have moved from S Italy to safer Sicily and Tunisia. the fractured and internal-coup-hit Visigothic kingdom of Spain would have continued , with probably too weak a central govt to have escaped more coups by regional warlords - though it might have had a strong reunifier who turned his lords' aggression into an attack on coastal Mauretania / Morocco later. The rise of Charles 'Martel' as a strongman and the real ruler of Francia occurred independently of and before the Arab invasions so he would still have emerged , but been less of a Christian hero as victor at Tours in 732. But would he or his son Pepin have later decided to predate on a weak Visigothic state in Spain and have overrun Catalonia and/or the Ebro valley?
IMO, Egypt is not very defensible from the Levant. If the Arabs are unable to conquer territory beyond Cyrenaica, which makes for a good border as the desert between it and Tripolitania is pretty nasty, I doubt the Byzantines would be able to hold it due to geographical separation, internal instability and local disloyalty. IMO, a series of Romano-Berber states would take over. Eventually, it's possible that something analogous to our timeline occurs with one of them conquering at least part of the Iberian Peninsula and another conquering Sicily and maybe even Sardinia, Corsica and parts of Southern Italy.
 

Roger II

Well-known member
You could honestly go a lot of ways-something that looks like the Balkans socially in its relationship to Rome, various states with stronger or weaker ties to the Latin, Greek and Islamic ecumenes and with Berber as the majority and maybe even the literary/governmental prestige language, maybe a durably Christian North Africa or on the other hand a North Africa that Islamizes with more limited direct conquest* in a manner analogous to the southern Indian coast, island southeast Asia, or even some pretty wild stuff.

*Honestly not THAT dissimilar a dynamic to OTL but more pronounced without direct conquest.
 

iainbhx

Daddy wouldn't buy me a Bauhaus
Moderator
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Of course for every action there is a reaction.

You end up with a much more prosperous and economically stable West Med. Not only do you have African grain supplies but you also have an intact Sicily. I suspect that you end up with a mess of Christian Berber and Romano-Berber Kingdoms which change fairly frequently and will interact differently with the Visigoths/Franks/ERE. It also means Christianity being more competitive in West Africa and Islam being less competitive which changes a lot of dynamics.

But the Arabs, thwarted in the Maghreb will look elsewhere which may mean further competition in India, Central Asia, Italy or on the ERE.

And if a West Med power gets its shit together earlier, it may mean the age of explorations being brought forward by a couple of hundred years.
 

Alex Richards

Certified Goose Aware
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
But the Arabs, thwarted in the Maghreb will look elsewhere which may mean further competition in India, Central Asia, Italy or on the ERE.
I wonder if you might see a push south into Sudan occurring much earlier out of a desire to control the Red Sea more strongly.
 

Mumby

Always mysterious!
Published by SLP
Location
Municipal Commune of Bourne
Pronouns
He/Him
I wonder if you might see a push south into Sudan occurring much earlier out of a desire to control the Red Sea more strongly.
I know this is going to sound childish, but in a CK2 game I played as Abyssinia, there was a successful Catholic crusade into Egypt and the Arabs ended up crossing the Indian ocean and ruling a little bit of Southern India - to the point that when I conquered Somalia there was a very small Jain minority.
 

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
Of course for every action there is a reaction.

You end up with a much more prosperous and economically stable West Med. Not only do you have African grain supplies but you also have an intact Sicily. I suspect that you end up with a mess of Christian Berber and Romano-Berber Kingdoms which change fairly frequently and will interact differently with the Visigoths/Franks/ERE. It also means Christianity being more competitive in West Africa and Islam being less competitive which changes a lot of dynamics.

But the Arabs, thwarted in the Maghreb will look elsewhere which may mean further competition in India, Central Asia, Italy or on the ERE.

And if a West Med power gets its shit together earlier, it may mean the age of explorations being brought forward by a couple of hundred years.
I'm not sure Sicily would remain intact. I certainly find it possible that a Romano-Berber state would conquer it.
 
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Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
Do the Carolingians still rise to power in Francia? One of the reasons for their rise to power in our timeline was a reaction to the Arab conquest of the Maghreb and Iberian peninsula.
 

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
Of course for every action there is a reaction.

You end up with a much more prosperous and economically stable West Med. Not only do you have African grain supplies but you also have an intact Sicily. I suspect that you end up with a mess of Christian Berber and Romano-Berber Kingdoms which change fairly frequently and will interact differently with the Visigoths/Franks/ERE. It also means Christianity being more competitive in West Africa and Islam being less competitive which changes a lot of dynamics.

But the Arabs, thwarted in the Maghreb will look elsewhere which may mean further competition in India, Central Asia, Italy or on the ERE.

And if a West Med power gets its shit together earlier, it may mean the age of explorations being brought forward by a couple of hundred years.
I wonder if you might see a push south into Sudan occurring much earlier out of a desire to control the Red Sea more strongly.
Another possibility is that it leads to more successful campaigns against the Khazars. In our timeline, the Ummayyads once advanced deep into Khazar territory and forced the khagan to accept Islam and the Caliph's supremacy. However, soon, the Abbasid Revolution occurred and the Khazars were able to break out of the deal. If the Khazars were Islamized, we may eventually get the Rus to be Islamized, too, which radically alters history.
 
The Carolingians were already in power well before the Arab invasions; they and rival nobles had been struggling over the chief ministership ('Mayor of the Palace') to the increasingly feeble Merovingians since the mid-C7th, and after the victory of Charles Martel's father Pepin of Heristal over his rivals in battle in 687 their control was fixed. But after Pepin died in 714 , outliving his eldest son, the latter's young sons (under the control of their mother and a clique of nobles) and Pepin's illegitimate son Charles Martel fought a civil war, where Charles started out as the underdog but he had won by 719. He then assumed the title of 'Mayor' and control of the Merovingian king, who was by now just a puppet, and kept this status for his lifetime to 741- the royal title was assumed by his son Pepin the Short (Charlemagne's father) only in 751/2, with Papal backing.

Charles' only challenger was the autonomist duke of Aquitaine, which region backed onto Spain to the South so that once the Arabs reached NE Spain and started raiding Roussillon/ Narbonne Aquitaine was at a disadvantage and lost any real chance of being able to resist Charles, let alone overthrow him. (The main landed base of the Carolingians was right up in NE Francia, 'Austrasia' ie the Low Countries and the Rhineland.) The Arabs then overran Aquitaine in their great invasion of 732, though it is unclear if this was just a raid for plunder rather than an attempt at conquest and latter Christian writers may have played up the 'invasion' threat to make Charles' defeat of the invaders at Tours look more heroic and make the Carolingians seem the top defenders of Christendom. The war seems to have wrecked the military capacity of Aquitaine to resist the Carolingians and they has little trouble with it thereafter, though it resisted Pepin in the 760s; possibly the Arab presence and attack in 732 tipped the scales against any autonomist resistance there long-term, but the Carolingians had greater resources so were likely to win in the long term. The prestige from Charles' victory in 732 also brought a higher international reputation to a man seen earlier as a bastard and a usurper, and helped his son Pepin to persuade the Pope to dethrone the Merovingians for him - but the main impetus to that was Papal need of Frankish help against the 'heretic' Iconoclast Byzantine emperor Constantine V and the local Lombards so the Arab factor was a minor one.

It does beg the question, though - had Leo III and Constantine V not turned to Iconoclasm and contradicted Catholic theology on venerating icons of the saints in the 730s-740s, and/or the Byz had a stronger position against the Lombards (who took the Byz HQ in Italy, Ravenna, in 751) , would the Popes have ever called in the Franks to help them in Italy and set the way open for the Frankish conquest of Lombard N Italy in 774 and the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor in 800? If C is not called into Italy as it's a stable Byz dependency, does he attack Spain instead?
 

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
The Carolingians were already in power well before the Arab invasions; they and rival nobles had been struggling over the chief ministership ('Mayor of the Palace') to the increasingly feeble Merovingians since the mid-C7th, and after the victory of Charles Martel's father Pepin of Heristal over his rivals in battle in 687 their control was fixed. But after Pepin died in 714 , outliving his eldest son, the latter's young sons (under the control of their mother and a clique of nobles) and Pepin's illegitimate son Charles Martel fought a civil war, where Charles started out as the underdog but he had won by 719. He then assumed the title of 'Mayor' and control of the Merovingian king, who was by now just a puppet, and kept this status for his lifetime to 741- the royal title was assumed by his son Pepin the Short (Charlemagne's father) only in 751/2, with Papal backing.

Charles' only challenger was the autonomist duke of Aquitaine, which region backed onto Spain to the South so that once the Arabs reached NE Spain and started raiding Roussillon/ Narbonne Aquitaine was at a disadvantage and lost any real chance of being able to resist Charles, let alone overthrow him. (The main landed base of the Carolingians was right up in NE Francia, 'Austrasia' ie the Low Countries and the Rhineland.) The Arabs then overran Aquitaine in their great invasion of 732, though it is unclear if this was just a raid for plunder rather than an attempt at conquest and latter Christian writers may have played up the 'invasion' threat to make Charles' defeat of the invaders at Tours look more heroic and make the Carolingians seem the top defenders of Christendom. The war seems to have wrecked the military capacity of Aquitaine to resist the Carolingians and they has little trouble with it thereafter, though it resisted Pepin in the 760s; possibly the Arab presence and attack in 732 tipped the scales against any autonomist resistance there long-term, but the Carolingians had greater resources so were likely to win in the long term. The prestige from Charles' victory in 732 also brought a higher international reputation to a man seen earlier as a bastard and a usurper, and helped his son Pepin to persuade the Pope to dethrone the Merovingians for him - but the main impetus to that was Papal need of Frankish help against the 'heretic' Iconoclast Byzantine emperor Constantine V and the local Lombards so the Arab factor was a minor one.

It does beg the question, though - had Leo III and Constantine V not turned to Iconoclasm and contradicted Catholic theology on venerating icons of the saints in the 730s-740s, and/or the Byz had a stronger position against the Lombards (who took the Byz HQ in Italy, Ravenna, in 751) , would the Popes have ever called in the Franks to help them in Italy and set the way open for the Frankish conquest of Lombard N Italy in 774 and the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor in 800? If C is not called into Italy as it's a stable Byz dependency, does he attack Spain instead?
The Carolingians were already powerful before the Arab invasions but the prestige they gained defeating them allowed them to topple the Merovingians.
 

Ricardolindo

Well-known member
Location
Portugal
As for the Iberian Peninsula: Even without the Arab conquest, the Visigothic Kingdom wouldn't have lasted very long. It was too unstable. Francia may have taken some of it. A Maur kingdom might also have taken some of it. Other parts may have simply split.
 
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