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Baga, Bocchus and Juba … these Berber Kings who ruled Roman-era Mauretania

Ancient Mauretania, which refers to present-day Maghreb, was ruled for centuries by powerful Berber Kings who played a crucial role in writing the Roman and Greek history. Baga, Bocchus, Juba and Bogud, were kings who fought some of the greatest wars of the ancient times and left their footprint in Africa and Europe’s shared history.

The Roman Empire. / DR
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Northern Morocco was an important part of Mauretania, the ancient Maghreb kingdom. Stretched from central present-day Algeria westwards to the Atlantic, the kingdom was ruled by powerful Berber kings, who shaped the course of history, fighting wars with Numidians and concluding agreements with Roman generals and kings.

During the ancient times, Mauretanian kings played a crucial geopolitical role by interacting with neighboring kingdoms and territories. Who are these Kings and what are their greatest struggles ? 

Baga, Mauretania’s first king

Mauretanians believed that Atlas, a Berber god, was their first king. But, according to historians, Baga was the first historical king of the Maur and Mauretania. In history books, the name of King Baga, who took Ceuta as his capital, is linked to the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), fought across the entire Western Mediterranean region for 17 years.

«By the time of the war of 218-201 BC, a powerful Kingdom existed among the Mauri», wrote J. D. Fage, John Desmond Clark and Roland Anthony Oliver in «The Cambridge History of Africa» (Cambridge University Press, 1975), referring to the Kingdom of Baga.

Masinissa, the first King of Numedia. / DRMasinissa, the first King of Numedia. / DR

Baga is mostly known for the role he played during this war. Described as a «wealthy» and powerful king, he was «appealed for aid» by the first king of Numidia «Masinissa» in his «attempt to seize the throne of the Massylies (eastern Numidia) in 206 BC», recalled the same source.

Although Baga refused to get involved in the war that was fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic, he accepted to help Masinissa. According to «The Cambridge History of Africa», Baga gave «Masinissa an escort of 4,000 troops to see him safely to the borders’ of his father’s kingdom (Numidia)».

The same book indicates that this was the only and last mention of the Berber king in Roman history books. «After Baga’s fleeting appearance in recorded history, his Kingdom of the Mauri is lost in almost total obscurity for nearly a century», the abovementioned source indicates. Despite his brief appearance, Baga remains a «prominent» Berber leader, stressed Duane W Roller in «The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome's African Frontier» (Routledge, 2004).

Bocchus I, a treacherous king

Another Berber king that interested the Romans is Bocchus I. The Mauretanian king who ruled the area from 110 BC to circa 91-81 BC, rose to fame during the Jugurthine War (112–106 BC), fought between Rome and Jugurtha the king of Numidia (modern-day Algeria).

After he unsuccessfully attempted to sign a treaty with Rome, Bocchus joined Jugurtha in his war against the Romans. «In 107-106, they fought successfully against Gains Marius», a Roman general, wrote Britannica. The king’s alliance with the Numidian ruler was mainly aimed at «receiving western Numidia as his price», stressed Oxford.

But Bocchus’ alliance with Jugurtha was marked with betrayal. According to history books, the Berber king was «persuaded» by Roman general and statesman Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, known commonly as Sulla, to «betray Jugurtha and hand him over» to the Romans.

Bocchus I. / DRBocchus I. / DR

Bocchus’ deal with Sulla was, indeed, fruitful as it allowed him to «keep Western Numidia as far as the Moulouya river (near Oujda), which Jugurtha had ceded to him and he became an ally of Rome».

As dear friend of the Romans, Bocchus was «depicted on Sulla’s signet ring (…) and in a controversial group of statues dedicated by Bocchus on the Capitol in 91 BC», Oxford wrote.

According to historians, King Bocchus I ruled Mauretania from his capital Volubilis. In his book, Duane W. Roller recalls that there is evidence proving that the ancient city was home to Bocchus’ royal court. «[This] can be shown from the first known event of his career, his encounter with Eudoxos of Kyzikos, the great explorer who opened up the route between the Mediterranean and India», Roller said.

He further explains that «Eudoxos attempted to reach India by sailing west into the Atlantic, but he abandoned his voyage somewhere near the Kingdom of Bocchus and then went by foot to the royal court (…) Volubilis seems the only place that Euxodos could have encountered Bocchus court».

Bogud, a king dethroned due to his greed

Named by two Moorish princes, Bogud was the king of Western Mauretania, controlling the land between Tangier and the Moulouya river, at the time of Julius Caesar and King Bocchus II the younger, who reigned over Eastern Mauretania. «King Bogud ruled in 49 BC Western Moors, while Bocchus junior dominated eastern Mauretania», writes Berber Encyclopedia.

Although no one knows when their simultaneous reigns began, it is proved that these two kings succeeded Sosus-Mastanesosus, and shared his kingdom. Bocchus and Bogud are brothers and both sons of the same king.

But while he reigned peacefully over the western part of Mauretania, the death of Julius Caesar pushed Bogud to make a bad choice. Supporting the famous Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) during the Perugia War (41-40 BC), the Amazigh king went to Spain in the name of the latter and besieged Cadiz, leaving his throne empty.

Coins with the name of King Bogud. / DRCoins with the name of King Bogud. / DR

While in Spain, his subjects in Tingis (present-day Tangier) carried a coup against him in 38 BC. Bocchus II then seized this part of Mauretania, bringing together the two North African kingdoms. Bogud died in 31 BC in Greece, according to Berber Encyclopedia.

Bocchus II, who succeeded in reestablishing a Moorish kingdom, died without leaving an heir. But he gave his kingdom to Augustus who, after a period of direct administration, offered it to Juba II, son of Juba I the Amazigh king and famous opponent to Julius Caesar.

Juba II, a Berber king raised by the Romans

During the first century BC, Rome managed to seize Numidia and Mauretania after a long and fierce war against North Africans and their Berber king Juba I. In 25 BC, the first roman emperor Augustus decided to bring back order to the region.

In fact, Augustus turned Numidia into an annexed province of the Roman empire, choosing a local prince «who was dependent on Rome for foreign policy and was almost free when it comes to domestic affairs», said Christa Landwehr in «Les portraits de Juba II, roi de Maurétanie, et de Ptolémée, son fils et successeur» (Revue archéologique, 2007).

This is how Juba II was named king of Mauretania. He was the son of Juba I, who had fought against famous Roman general Julius Caesar, lost to the Roman Empire and committed suicide before getting captured.

Juba II. / DRJuba II. / DR

By the end of this war, Juba II was taken to Rome where he received «excellent education at the court of Augustus» and married Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Egypt’s Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony.

«The friendship that bound and subordinated the Mauretanian rulers to Rome was obviously based on the political commitment of the latter, but was also justified, much more informally, by the reciprocal esteem of two men, Augustus and Juba II», said Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy in «Le royaume de Maurétanie sous Juba II et Ptolémée (25 av. J.- C. - 40 ap. J.-C.)», (Revue Études d'Antiquités africaines, 1997).

But before being granted Mauretania, Juba II had to be trained, accompanying the Roman emperor in several campaigns, just before being enthroned.

At the time of his accession to the throne, in 25 BC, Juba II was only 25 years old. He chose a capital in the center of his kingdom, Caesarea (current Cherchell in Algeria). He was «a businessman who knew how to exploit the resources of his country, a general-in-chief, and a geographer».

He later fathered Ptolemy (also known as Ptolemaios or Ptolemaeus) and a girl named Drusilla. He reigned together with his son, from 21 BC on, but died two years later, leaving the throne to his son.

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