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Masinissa, or Masensen, (Berber: Masensen, ⵎⵙⵏⵙⵏ; c.238 BC
– 148 BC:180,183)—also spelled Massinissa and Massena[citation
needed]—was the first King of Numidia.
During his younger years while not yet king he fought in the Second
Punic War (218–201 BC), first against the Romans as an ally of
Carthage and later switching sides (206 BC). With Roman support, he
united the eastern and western Numidian tribes and founded the Kingdom
of Numidia. He is well-known for his role as a Roman ally in the
Battle of Zama
Battle of Zama (202 BC) and as husband of Sophonisba, a Carthaginian
noblewoman whom he allowed to poison herself to avoid being paraded in
a triumph in Rome.:180–181
Numidia for some 54 years until dying at about the age of 90.
He was vigorous, leading troops until his death and fathering some
forty-four sons, and a staunch ally of Rome.:181
Masinissa's story is told in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (written c.
27–25 BC). He is also featured in Cicero's Scipio's Dream.
His name was found in his tomb of Cirta, modern-day Constantine in
Algeria under the form of MSNSN (which has to be read as Mas'n'sen
which means "Their Lord").
The Greek historian Polybius, who met him, called him "the best man of
all the kings of our time".  and wrote that "his greatest and most
divine achievement was this:
Numidia had been before his time
universally unproductive, and was looked upon as incapable of
producing any cultivated fruits. He was the first and only man who
showed that it could produce cultivated fruits just as well as any
other country". In the following centuries his territory would become
known as the breadbasket of Rome.
Masinissa is largely viewed as an icon and an important forefather
among modern Berbers.
1.1 Early life
1.2 Later life
2 In literature, art and film
3 See also
5 External links
Masinissa was the son of the chieftain Gaia of a Numidian tribal
group, the Massylii. He was brought up in Carthage, an ally of his
father. At the start of the Second Punic War,
Masinissa fought for
Carthage against Syphax, the king of the
Masaesyli of western Numidia
(present day Algeria), who had allied himself with the Romans.
Masinissa, then about 17 years old, led an army of Numidian troops and
Carthaginian auxiliaries against Syphax's army and won a decisive
victory (215-212 BC). He was betrothed to the daughter of the
Carthaginian general Hasdrubal Gisgo.:180
Massinissa of Numidia
After his victory over Syphax,
Masinissa commanded his skilled
Numidian cavalry against the Romans in Spain, where he was involved in
the Carthaginian victories of Castulo and Ilorca in 211 BC. After
Hasdrubal Barca departed for Italy,
Masinissa was placed in command of
all the Carthaginian cavalry in Spain, where he fought a successful
guerrilla campaign against the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio
(Scipio Africanus) throughout 208 and 207, while
Mago Barca and
Hasdrubal Gisgo levied and trained new forces. In c.206 BC, with fresh
reinforcements, Mago and Hasdrubal Gisgo—supported by Masinissa's
Numidian cavalry—met Scipio at the Battle of Ilipa, where Carthage's
Hispania was forever broken in arguably Scipio Africanus's
most brilliant victory.
When Gaia died in 206 BC, his son
Masinissa and his brother Oezalces
quarreled about the inheritance, and
Syphax — now an ally of
Carthage — was able to conquer considerable parts of the eastern
Numidia. Meanwhile, with the Carthaginians having been driven from
Masinissa concluded that
Rome was winning the war against
Carthage and therefore decided to defect to Rome. He promised to
assist Scipio in the invasion of Carthaginian territory in Africa.
This decision was aided by the move by
Scipio Africanus to free
Masinissa's nephew, Massiva, whom the Romans had captured when he had
disobeyed his uncle and ridden into battle. Having lost the alliance
with Masinissa, Hasdrubal started to look for another ally, which he
found in Syphax, who married Sophonisba, Hasdrubal's daughter who
until the defection had been betrothed to Masinissa. The Romans
supported Masinissa's claim to the Numidian throne against Syphax, who
was nevertheless successful in driving
Masinissa from power until
Africa in 204.
Masinissa joined the Roman forces and
participated in the victorious
Battle of the Great Plains
Battle of the Great Plains (203), after
Syphax was captured.
Battle of Bagbrades
Battle of Bagbrades (203), Scipio overcame Hasdrubal and Syphax
and while the Roman general concentrated on Carthage, Gaius Laelius
Syphax to Cirta, where he was captured and
handed over to Scipio. After the defeat of Syphax,
Syphax's wife Sophonisba, but Scipio, suspicious of her loyalty,
demanded that she be taken to
Rome and appear in the triumphal parade.
To save her from such humiliation,
Masinissa sent her poison, with
which she killed herself.
Masinissa was now accepted as a loyal ally
of Rome, and was confirmed by Scipio as the king of the Massylii.
Battle of Zama
Battle of Zama
Masinissa commanded the cavalry (6,000 Numidian
and 3,000 Roman) on Scipio's right wing, Scipio delayed the engagement
for long enough to allow for
Masinissa to join him. With the battle
hanging in the balance, Masinissa's cavalry, having driven the fleeing
Carthaginian horsemen away, returned and immediately fell onto the
rear of the Carthaginian lines. This decided the battle and at once
Hannibal's army began to collapse. The
Second Punic War
Second Punic War was over and
for his services
Masinissa received the kingdom of Syphax, and became
king of Numidia.
Masinissa was now king of both the
Massylii and the Masaesyli. He
showed unconditional loyalty to Rome, and his position in
strengthened by a clause in the peace treaty of 201 between
Carthage prohibiting the latter from going to war even in self-defense
without Roman permission. This enabled
Masinissa to encroach on the
remaining Carthaginian territory as long as he judged that
Carthage further weakened.
The tomb of
Masinissa above, and the completely restored Libyco-Punic
Mausoleum of Dougga, which may be a cenotaph for him, below.
With Roman backing,
Masinissa established his own kingdom of Numidia,
west of Carthage, with
Cirta — present day Constantine — as its
capital city. All of this happened in accordance with Roman interest,
as they wanted to give
Carthage more problems with its neighbours.
Masinissa’s chief aim was to build a strong and unified state from
the semi-nomadic Numidian tribes. To that end, he introduced
Carthaginian agricultural techniques and forced many Numidians to
settle as peasant farmers.
Masinissa and his sons possessed large
estates throughout Numidia, to the extent that Roman authors
attributed to him, quite falsely, the sedentarization of the
Numidians. Major towns included Capsa,
Thugga (modern Dougga), Bulla
Regia and Hippo Regius.
All through his reign,
Masinissa extended his territory, and he was
Rome when, towards the end of his life, he provoked
Carthage to go to war against him. Any hopes he may have had of
extending his rule right across
North Africa were dashed, however,
when a Roman commission headed by the elderly Marcus Porcius Cato
(Cato the Elder) came to
Africa about 155 BC to decide a territorial
Masinissa and Carthage. Animated probably by an
irrational fear of a Carthaginian revival, but possibly by suspicion
of Masinissa’s ambitions, Cato thenceforward advocated, finally with
success, the destruction of Carthage. Based on descriptions from Livy,
the Numidians began raiding around seventy towns in the southern and
western sections of Carthage's remaining territory. Outraged with
Carthage went to war against them, in defiance of the
Roman treaty forbidding them to make war on anyone, thus precipitating
Third Punic War
Third Punic War (149–146 BC).
Masinissa showed his displeasure
when the Roman army arrived in
Africa in 149 BC, but he died early in
148 BC without a breach in the alliance. Ancient accounts suggest
Masinissa lived beyond the age of 90 and was apparently still
personally leading the armies of his kingdom when he died.
After his death, Micispa succeeded to the throne,
Micipsa had two sons
Hiempsal I and Adherbal who took the power for a short period before
being overthrown by their cousin Jughurta. Some of his descendants
were the elder Juba I of
Numidia (85 BC–46 BC) and younger Juba II
(52 BC–AD 24).
In literature, art and film
Africa (late 1330s), an epic poem by Petrarch
Sophonisbe (1680), a German mourning play by Daniel Casper von
Cabiria (1914), classic Italian silent film directed by Giovanni
Masinissa is portrayed by Vitale Di Stefano.
Carthage (2005), a novel by David Anthony Durham
Scipio at the deathbed of Masinissa
Central wall depicting
Sophonisba requesting help from Massinissa
List of Kings of Numidia
^ "Tombeau de Massinissa" (in Arabic (French summary)).
AlgeriePresseService. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2017. CS1
maint: Unrecognized language (link)
^ a b c d Law, R.C.C. (1979), "
North Africa in the Hellenistic and
Roman periods, 323 BC to AD 305", in Fage, J.D., Cambridge History of
Africa, 2, Cambridge University Press, pp. 148–209,
^ Walsh, P.G. (1965). "Massinissa". The Journal of Roman Studies. 55:
149–160. doi:10.2307/297437. JSTOR 297437.
^ Cite error: The named reference Polybius: Histories Book 37 was
invoked but never defined (see the help page).
^ Smith, William, ed. (1873). "Masinissa". A Dictionary of Greek and
Roman biography and mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Co. – via
Perseus Digital Library.
Livy (trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt) (1965). The War With Hannibal. New
York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044145-X
ISNI: 0000 0000 7729 4650