Exarchate of Africa
The Exarchate of Africa or of Carthage, after its capital, was the name of an administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire encompassing its possessions on the Western Mediterranean, ruled by an exarch
In the Byzantine Empire, an exarch was governor with extended authority of a province at some remove from the capital Constantinople. The prevailing situation frequently involved him in military operations....

, or viceroy. It was created by emperor Maurice
Maurice (emperor)
Maurice was Byzantine Emperor from 582 to 602.A prominent general in his youth, Maurice fought with success against the Sassanid Persians...

 in the late 580s and survived until its conquest by the Muslims
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

 in the late 7th century.


Northwestern Africa, along with Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

 and the Balearics was reconquered by the East Romans under Belisarius
Flavius Belisarius was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century previously....

 in the Vandalic War
Vandalic War
The Vandalic War was a war fought in North Africa, in the areas of modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria, in 533-534, between the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Vandal Kingdom of Carthage...

 of 533, and reorganized as the Praetorian prefecture of Africa
Praetorian prefecture of Africa
The praetorian prefecture of Africa was a major administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire, established after the reconquest of northwestern Africa from the Vandals in 533-534 by emperor Justinian I...

 by Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

. It included the provinces of Africa Proconsularis, Byzacena
Byzacena was a Roman province in what is now Tunisia.At the end of the third century AD, the Emperor Diocletian divided the great Roman province of Africa Proconsularis into three smaller provinces: Zeugitana in the north, still governed by a proconsul and referred to as Proconsularis, Byzacena,...

, Tripolitania
Tripolitania or Tripolitana is a historic region and former province of Libya.Tripolitania was a separate Italian colony from 1927 to 1934...

, Numidia
Numidia was an ancient Berber kingdom in part of present-day Eastern Algeria and Western Tunisia in North Africa. It is known today as the Chawi-land, the land of the Chawi people , the direct descendants of the historical Numidians or the Massyles The kingdom began as a sovereign state and later...

, Mauretania Caesariensis
Mauretania Caesariensis
Mauretania Caesariensis was a Roman province located in northwestern Africa. It was the easternmost of the North African Roman provinces, mainly in present Algeria, with its capital at Caesarea , now Cherchell.-Historical background:In the first century AD, Roman...

 and Mauretania Sitifensis, and was centered at Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. In the 560s, a Roman expedition succeeded in regaining parts of southern Spain, which were administrated as the new province of Spania
Spania was a province of the Roman Empire from 552 until 624 in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. It was a part of the conquests of Roman Emperor Justinian I in an effort to restore the western half of the Empire....

. After the death of Justinian, the Empire came into increasing attacks on all fronts, and the remoter provinces were often left to themselves to cope as best as they could, with Constantinople unable to provide assistance.

Establishment of the Exarchate

The Late Roman administrative system, as established by Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

, provided for a clear distinction between civil and military offices, primarily to lessen the possibility of rebellion by over-powerful provincial governors. Under Justinian I, the process was partially reversed for provinces which were judged to be especially vulnerable or in internal disorder. Capitalizing upon this precedent and taking it one step further, the emperor Maurice
Maurice (emperor)
Maurice was Byzantine Emperor from 582 to 602.A prominent general in his youth, Maurice fought with success against the Sassanid Persians...

 sometime between 585 and 590 created the office of exarch, which combined the supreme civil authority of a praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

 and the military authority of a magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

, and enjoyed considerable autonomy from Constantinople. Two exarchates were established, one in Italy, with seat at Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 (hence known as the Exarchate of Ravenna
Exarchate of Ravenna
The Exarchate of Ravenna or of Italy was a centre of Byzantine power in Italy, from the end of the 6th century to 751, when the last exarch was put to death by the Lombards.-Introduction:...

), and one in Africa, based at Carthage and including all imperial possessions in the Western Mediterranean. The first African exarch was the patricius Gennadius
Gennadius (6th century)
Gennadius was an East Roman general and the first exarch of Africa.He was appointed as magister militum Africae in ca. 578, and quickly defeated the Romano-Moorish kingdom of Garmul in Mauretania. He held this post until named exarch by Emperor Maurice sometime between 585 and 591...


The Visigothic kingdom in Spain
The Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Goths, the Ostrogoths being the other. These tribes were among the Germans who spread through the late Roman Empire during the Migration Period...

 was also a continuous threat. The African exarch was in possession of Mauretania II, which was little more than a tiny outpost in southern Spain. The conflict continued until the final conquest of the last Spanish strongholds in ca. 624 by the Visigoths. The Byzantines retained only the fort of Septum (modern Ceuta
Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa surrounded by Morocco. Separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, Ceuta lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Ceuta along with the other Spanish...

), across Gibraltar.

During the successful revolt of the exarch of Carthage Heraclius in 608, the Amazigh comprised a large portion of the fleet that transported Heraclius to Constantinople. Due to religious and political ambitions, the Exarch Gregory the Patrician
Gregory the Patrician
Gregory the Patrician was a Byzantine governor, and self-proclaimed Emperor of the province of Africa.-Career:Gregory the Patrician was related by blood to the Imperial House of Heraclius, through the Eastern Roman Emperor Constans II's cousin Nicetas. Gregory was appointed Exarch of Africa by the...

 (who was related by blood to the imperial family, through the emperor's cousin Nicetas
Nicetas (cousin of Heraclius)
Nicetas was the cousin of Emperor Heraclius, helping him the wars against Phocas and the Persians in the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. He helped Heraclius revolt against Phocas by conquering Egypt in 610. At Egypt, Nicetas established a power base because of his friendship with Patriarch John...

) declared himself independent of Constantinople in 647. At this time the influence and power of the exarchate was exemplified in the forces gathered by Gregory in the battle of Sufetula also in that year where more than 100,000 men of Amazigh origin fought for Gregory.

The Arab Muslim Conquest

The first Islamic expeditions began with an initiative from Egypt under the emir Amr Ibn Al-as and his nephew Uqba Ibn al Nafia al Fihri. Sensing Roman weakness they conquered Barca
Barce was an ancient Greek colony and later Roman, Byzantine, city in North Africa. It occupied the coastal area of what is modern day Libya...

, in Cyrenaica
Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya.Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it was part of the Creta et Cyrenaica province during the Roman period, later divided in Libia Pentapolis and Libia Sicca...

, then successively on to Tripolitania
Tripolitania or Tripolitana is a historic region and former province of Libya.Tripolitania was a separate Italian colony from 1927 to 1934...

 where they encountered resistance. Due to the unrest caused by theological disputes concerning Monothelitism
Monothelitism is a particular teaching about how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus, known as a Christological doctrine, that formally emerged in Armenia and Syria in 629. Specifically, monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will...

 and Monoenergism
Monoenergism is a Christian heresy related to Monophysitism.In the 7th century, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius attempted to solve the schism between Chalcedonians and Monophysites, and suggested the compromise of Monoenergism...

 the Exarchate under Gregory distanced itself from the empire in open revolt. Carthage being flooded with refugees from Egypt (especially Melkite
The term Melkite, also written Melchite, refers to various Byzantine Rite Christian churches and their members originating in the Middle East. The word comes from the Syriac word malkāyā , and the Arabic word Malakī...

s), Palestine and Syria exacerbated religious tensions and further raised the alarm to Gregory of the approaching Arab threat. Sensing that the more immediate danger came from the Muslim forces Gregory gathered his allies and initiated a confrontation with the Muslims and was defeated at the Battle of Sufetula
Sbeitla is a small town in north-central Tunisia. Nearby are the Roman ruins of Sufetula, containing the best preserved Forum temples in Tunisia...

, which was actually the capital of the exarchate under Gregory.

The exarchate reverted to imperial rule after Gregory was killed in battle against the Muslims under Abdallah ibn al-Sa'ad at Sufetula. Carthage also once again became the capital of it, since Gregory had moved to the interior for a better defense against Roman counter-offensives from the sea. Afterwards the exarchate became a semi-client state under a new Exarch called Gennadius. Attempting to maintain tributary status with Constantinople and Damascus strained the resources of the exarchate and caused unrest amongst the population.

With tenuous Byzantine control confined to a few poorly defended coastal strongholds, the Arab horsemen who first crossed into Cyrenaica in 642 encountered little resistance. The peak of resistance reached by the exarchate with assistance from its Amazigh allies (led by king Kaisula ait Lamazm) was the victory over the forces of Uqba Ibn Nafia at the Battle of Biskra in 682. The victory caused the Muslim forces to retreat to Egypt, giving the Exarchate a decade's respite. The repeated confrontations took their toll on the dwindling and ever-divided resources of the Exarchate. In 698, the Muslim commander Hasan ibn al-Nu'man
Hasan ibn al-Nu'man
Hasan ibn an-Nu`uman al-Ghasani , amir of the Umayyad army in North Africa. The nisba indicates he either came from Ghassān in Yemen or was part of an Arab tribe originally from that area.-Biography:...

and a force of 40,000 men crushed Roman Carthage. Many of its defenders were Visigoths sent to defend the Exarchate by their king, who also feared Muslim expansion. Many Visigoths fought to the death; in the ensuing battle Roman Carthage was again reduced to rubble, as it had been centuries earlier by the Romans.

The loss of the mainland African exarchate was an enormous blow to the Byzantine empire in the Western Mediterranean because both Carthage and Egypt were Constantinople's main sources of manpower and grain. It was also an enormous blow because it permanently ended Roman presence in Africa.
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