"Northern Africa" redirects here.
For the region of the United Nations, see United Nations geoscheme for Africa § Northern Africa.
For the region of the African Union, see Regions of the African Union § North.
For the western part of the Arab world, see Maghreb.
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Other territories (3)
Unrecognized states (1)
North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent.
Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb ("West", The western part of Arab World).
This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.
As a result, many modern African nation-states that are included in the Sahel evidence cultural similarities and historical overlap with their North African neighbours.
The tallest peaks are in the High Atlas range in south-central Morocco, which has many snow-capped peaks.
South of the Atlas Mountains is the dry and barren expanse of the Sahara desert, which is the largest sand desert in the world.
In places the desert is cut by irregular watercourses called wadis—streams that flow only after rainfalls but are usually dry.
The Sahara's major landforms include ergs, large seas of sand that sometimes form into huge dunes; the hammada, a level rocky plateau without soil or sand; and the reg, a level plain of gravel or small stones.
The Sahara covers the southern part of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and most of Libya.
Most of Egypt is also desert, with the exception of the Nile River and the irrigated land along its banks.
The Nile Valley forms a narrow fertile thread that runs along the length of the country.
A wide variety of valuable crops including cereals, rice and cotton, and woods such as cedar and cork, are grown.
Typical Mediterranean crops, such as olives, figs, dates and citrus fruits, also thrive in these areas.
The Nile Valley is particularly fertile and most of the population in Egypt live close to the river.
Elsewhere, irrigation is essential to improve crop yields on the desert margins.
In general geopolitical and business usage, as for example with the World Bank, North Africa is often grouped with the Middle East under the acronym MENA ("Middle East and North Africa") and sometimes in American governmental usage the geopolitical term Greater Middle East.
However, these areas are not generally considered part of North Africa, but rather Southern Europe, due to their European-based cultures and religion.
The Maghreb or western North Africa on the whole is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers since at least 10,000 B.C., while the eastern part of North Africa or the Nile Valley has mainly been home to the Egyptians.
Ancient Egyptians record extensive contact in their Western desert with people that appear to have been Berber or proto-Berber.
As the Tassili n'Ajjer and other rock art findings in the Sahara have shown, the Sahara also hosted various populations before its rapid desertification in 3500 B.C and even today continues to host small populations of nomadic trans-Saharan peoples.
In the eleventh century, the Banu Hilal invaded the North African plains and plateaus, but not the mountainous areas such as the Tell Atlas range, the Rif or the Aurès Mountains and brought with them Hilalian dialects of Arabic, which over the centuries have been in significant contact with other languages, including the languages of Europe.
Historians mark their movement as a critical moment in the Arabization of North Africa.
The official languages in the countries making up the Maghreb are Tamazight which is also known as Berber, and Arabic and French as administrative languages.
The most spoken language is Darija, which is a form of ancient Arabic dating back from the 8th century AD that follows a Berber grammatical and syntactical structure.
For the remaining North African countries the official language is Arabic.
Main article: History of North Africa
Further information: African empires § North Africa, and List of kingdoms in pre-colonial Africa § North Africa
Main article: Prehistoric North Africa
Further information: History of North Africa § Prehistory
Due to the recent African origin of modern humans, the history of Prehistoric North Africa is important to the understanding of pre-hominid and early modern human history in Africa.
The earliest inhabitants of central North Africa have left behind significant remains: early remnants of hominid occupation in North Africa, for example, were found in Ain el Hanech, near Saïda (c. 200,000 BCE); in fact, more recent investigations have found signs of Oldowan technology there, and indicate a date of up to 1.8 million BCE.
Recent finds in Jebel Irhoud in Morocco have been found to contain some of the oldest Homo sapiens remains; This suggests that, rather than arising only in East Africa around 200,000 years ago, early Homo sapiens may already have been present across the length of Africa 100,000 years earlier.
According to study author Jean-Jacques Hublin, "The idea is that early Homo sapiens dispersed around the continent and elements of human modernity appeared in different places, and so different parts of Africa contributed to the emergence of what we call modern humans today."
Early humans may have comprised a large, interbreeding population dispersed across Africa whose spread was facilitated by a wetter climate that created a "green Sahara", around 330,000 to 300,000 years ago.
The rise of modern humans may thus have taken place on a continental scale rather than being confined to a particular corner of Africa.
The cave paintings found at Tassili n'Ajjer, north of Tamanrasset, Algeria, and at other locations depict vibrant and vivid scenes of everyday life in central North Africa during the Neolithic Subpluvial period (about 8000 to 4000 BCE).
Some parts of North Africa began to participate in the Neolithic revolution in the 6th millennium BCE, just before the rapid desertification of the Sahara around 3500 B.C. largely due to a tilt in the Earth's orbit.
It was during this period that domesticated plants and animals were introduced in the region, spreading from the north and east to the southwest.
There has been an inferred connection between areas of rapid drying and the introduction of livestock in which the natural (orbital) aridification was amplified by the spread of shrubs and open land due to grazing.
Nevertheless, changes in northern Africa's ecology after 3500 BCE provided the backdrop for the formation of dynastic civilizations and the construction of monumental architecture such as the Pyramids of Giza.
When Egypt entered the Bronze Age, the Maghreb remained focused on small-scale subsistence in small, highly mobile groups.
Antiquity and ancient Rome
Main article: History of North Africa § Classical period
The Carthaginians were of Phoenician origin, with the Roman myth of their origin being that Dido, a Phoenician princess, was granted land by a local ruler based on how much land she could cover with a piece of cowhide.
She ingeniously devised a method to extend the cowhide to a high proportion, thus gaining a large territory.
Ancient Carthage was a commercial power and had a strong navy, but relied on mercenaries for land soldiers.
Over a hundred years and more, all Carthaginian territory was eventually conquered by the Romans, resulting in the Carthaginian North African territories becoming the Roman province of Africa in 146 B.C.
The Numidian wars are notable for launching the careers of both Gaius Marius, and Sulla, and stretching the constitutional burden of the Roman republic as Marius required a professional army, something previously contrary to Roman values, to overcome the talented military leader Jugurtha.
North Africa remained a part of the Roman Empire, which produced many notable citizens such as Augustine of Hippo, until incompetent leadership from Roman commanders in the early fifth century allowed the Germanic peoples, the Vandals, to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, whereupon they overcame the fickle Roman defense.
The loss of North Africa is considered a pinnacle point in the fall of the Western Roman Empire as Africa had previously been an important grain province that maintained Roman prosperity despite the barbarian incursions, and the wealth required to create new armies.
The issue of regaining North Africa became paramount to the Western Empire, but was frustrated by Vandal victories.
The focus of Roman energy had to be on the emerging threat of the Huns.
In 468 AD, the Romans made one last serious attempt to invade North Africa but were repelled.
This perhaps marks the point of terminal decline for the Western Roman Empire.
Arab conquest to modern times
Main article: History of North Africa § Arrival of Islam
The early Muslim conquests included North Africa by 640.
By 700, most of North Africa had come under Muslim rule.
Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.
The Spanish Empire conquered several coastal cities between the 16th and 18th centuries.
During the 1950s and 1960s all of the North African states gained independence.
In 2010–2011 massive protests swept the region leading to the overthrow of the governments in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as civil war in Libya.
Large protests also occurred in Algeria and Morocco to a lesser extent.
Many hundreds died in the uprisings.
This uprising is commonly referred to as the "Arab spring".
Science and technology
Further information: History of science and technology in Africa § Northern Africa and the Nile Valley
Transport and industry
- Demographics of the Middle East and North Africa
- European Digital Archive on Soil Maps of the World
- List of modern conflicts in North Africa
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North Africa.