By Jean Marie Carey

On 5 November 1911 Italy annexed the Libyan cities of Cyrenaica and Tripoli, escalating the Italo-Turkish War. The Italian had attacked the weakening Ottoman Empire in a decade that say the rapid destabilisation into the First World War. Italy had long had both military and cultural contact with Libya and North Africa. As early as 146 BCE the Punic Wars had left Rome heir to the Carthaginian empire. Although the attempt to found a colony at Carthage failed, Roman and Italian traders and farmers settled in the province in large numbers, and many veterans settled west of the boundary line. after the battle of Thapsus in 46 Caesar added to the existing province the Numidian territory of Juba. Caesar’s intention to colonize Carthage afresh was carried out by Augustus.

Under Augustas, the united province, called Africa Prōconsulāris, extended from the edge of Cyrenaica to western Algeria. At least eleven colonies were founded in Proconsularis, in addition to the thirteen colonies settled on the coast of Mauretania. The provincialization of North Africa was completed by Claudius with the creation of two provinces in Mauretania. Resistance to Roman rule on the fringes of the Sahara and in the mountainous regions was only sporadic, and for over three centuries the whole area from Cyrenaica to the Atlantic was protected by a single legion and auxiliaries.

Urban life in North Africa was of pre‐Roman origin, both Punic and Numidian. In spite of the destruction of Carthage, a number of towns of Phoenician or Carthaginian origin survived on the coast, such as Hadrumetum and Lepcis Magna. Under Roman control, urbanization increased greatly, and refounded Carthage became the largest city in the western empire after Rome.

Corn was the most important product, and with Egypt, Africa replaced Sicily as Italy’s major supplier during the empire. Olive‐growing and the production of oil for export became an increasingly important part of the african economy. The arts flourished, with several vigorous local schools of sculptors working in both limestone and marble, while mosaic workshops, in response to the demand for elaborate polychrome figured mosaics in both private houses and public buildings such as baths, adopted an original and creative approach to mosaic design, which left its influence on mosaic floors in Italy and several other provinces as well.

Reference: Loredana Polezzi. “Il pieno e il vuoto: Visual Representations of Africa in Italian Accounts of Colonial Experiences,” Italian Studies, November 2012, Vol. 67(3), pp. 336-359.

Roman Imperial Statuette of a Dolphin, c. 400. Found in Carthage (now in Tunisia, North Africa). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 55.135.9.

Paolo Pellegrin. “LIBYA. 2002.” Tripoli. New buildings; Tripoli. Muammar Qaddafi in his residential compound. Magnum Photos.

Giovanni de Nores, 1489-1544, Count of Tripoli, 1530. Venetian sculpture. The National Gallery of Art, Nr. 1957.14.1089.

Secreta secretorum, Latin translation by Philip of Tripoli. Initial D(omino Suo) with Aristotle teaching. Composite manuscript. Author-portrait attributed to the Novella Master, non-figurative decoration to Cristoforo Cortese, c. 1400-1405. Made in Venice or Treviso. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford; Shelfmark: MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 135.

Panathenaic Amphora: Athena with shield device of Tyrannicides Cyrenaica, c. 402 BCE. Found in Rome. University of California, San Diego.

Terracotta donkey with baskets from Cyrenaica, 4th century BCE. Musée du Louvre, Nr. 1037 (N 4430).

Further Reading: Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller. Italian Colonialism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 

Jonathan Conant. Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 

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