Tacfarinas, the Berber Lion of Africa
by Ludwig H. Dyck
Military Heritage Magazine July 2014,
“Tacfarinas, a former soldier of Rome’s Numidian cavalry, reined in his steed at the edge of the cliff, with the ease of one born in the saddle. In the prime of his life, the scars of Tacfarinas’ muscled bare limbs and the arms of battle he carried marked him as a man of war. Tacfarinas surveyed the cultivated lands that sprawled from the base of the rocky slope. The winter winds had blown from the Atlantic Ocean, bringing life giving water to north-west Africa. It was the spring of 17 AD, and all along the fertile coastal plains Numidian farmers reaped the harvest.
“Roman rule stimulated the growth of towns, agriculture and trade. Olive, date, palm and grape thrived on Roman suburban estates. Roman Africa, alongside Egypt, replaced Sicily as the empire’s main wheat basket. The Numidians abandoned their traditional nomadic ways and settled down to farm life. Even the roar of the lion became rare, hunted and trapped, alongside other wild beasts, to die in Roman circuses.
“Not everywhere, reflected Tacfarinas proudly, did the will of Rome hold sway. Away from the coastal plains, there rise the Aurès Mountains, the eastern extension of the Atlas. Upon the high plateaus, Tacfarinas’ Musulamii tribe carried on a pastoral life inherited from Eurasian horsemen who settled among older cultures thousands of years ago. “Now, where once grew wild grasses, the Musulamii came across fields of cultivated wheat. Fences, to keep out the nomads’ flocks, cut across the land. Musulamii pleas for land grants that respected their traditional grazing grounds fell on deaf Roman ears. Long ago, the mountain tribes had formed a barrier to the extension of the Carthaginian Empire. Perhaps they could do the same to Rome.
“It was Tacfarinas who, like a fire on the steppes, ignited the Musulamii discontent into a full-fledged uprising”-L.H.Dyck
For eight long years, across the deserts and mountains of North Africa, Tacfarinas defied Roman attempts to decisively defeat him and at times even defeated Rome’s redoubtable legions.
Ludwig H. Dyck’s account of Tacfarinas, the leader of the nomadic North African Berbers in their guerrilla war against Rome, was published in the Soldiers column of Military Heritage Magazine’s July 2014 issue.