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Caecilius (ⴰⴽⵙⵉⵍ)
Reign Early 7th century
Predecessor Yabdas
Successor Dihya ⴷⵉⵀⵢⴰ
Burial Khenchela, Algeria
Religion Christian

Caecilius (Arabic: Kusaila[1] Tamazight: Aksel, ⴰⴽⵙⵉⵍ, Latin: Caecilius), his name means Leopard in Tamazight , died in the year 690 AD, was a 7th-century Berber Christian king of the kingdom of Altava and leader of the Awraba tribe of the Imazighen Berber people and possibly Christian head of the Sanhadja confederation. He is known for prosecuting an effective Berber resistance against the Muslim Arab expansion into North Africa in the 680s.

Historical importance[edit]

Initially the Romano-Berber states were able to defeat the Arab invaders at the Battle of Vescera (modern Biskra in Algeria), that was fought in 682 AD between the Berbers of King Caecilius and their Byzantine allies from the Exarchate of Carthage against an Umayyad Arab army under Uqba ibn Nafi (the founder of Kairouan).[2] Uqba ibn Nafi had led his men in an invasion across North Africa, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean and marching as far south as the Draa and Sous rivers. On his return, he was met by the Berber-Byzantine coalition at Tahuda south of Vescera, his army was crushed and he himself was killed. As a result of this crushing defeat, the Arabs were expelled from the area of modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria for more than a decade.[3]


His homeland was Tlemcen in modern Algeria, according to Ibn Khaldun. However, this account dates from the 14th century, some 700 years later. Indeed Caecilius -according to historian Noe Villaverde[4]- was probably a king of the Kingdom of Altava. Other sources closer to Caecilius's time (9th century are the earliest available) associate him only with the Awras area.[1] Caecilius grew up in Berber tribal territory during the time of the Byzantine exarchate.

Caecilius is speculated to be a Christian based on his Roman sounding name. According to historian Camps, his name was a possible translation in Berber of the Latin name "Caecilius", showing that he was from a noble Romano-Berber family.[5] His name even intrigued Orientalists; unlike other Romano-Berber kings, like his predecessors Masuna, Masties, Mastinas and Garmul, Caecilius is not named after a Berber sounding. Arab chroniclers likely transmitted us -according to Camps- a name of another language: Latin Caecilius, a common name found in the graves of Volubilis.

However Caecilius had suffered much at the hands of the Muslims. He was captured by Oqba, put in chains and paraded throughout North Africa. But in AD 683 he succeeded in escaping and raised against his tormentors a large force of Christian Berber and Byzantine soldiers. The Arabs were taken by surprise when Oqba decided to return to Kairouan with only 300 soldiers; he allowed the rest to go back to their hometowns. Oqba was ambushed killed. Caecilius captured Kairouan itself and for a while he seems to have been, in name at least, the master of all North Africa. But the respite was to be short-lived. Five years later Caecilius was killed in battle against fresh Arab forces led by a Muslim general from Damascus. This soldier was himself ambushed and put to death by Byzantine sea-raiders shortly afterwards. For a while confusion reigned, but the Awraba recognized the weakness of their position and eventually capitulated to the newly re-organized and reinforced Arab army. With the death of Caecilius, the torch of resistance passed to a tribe known as the Jerawa, who had their home in the Aurès mountains.

According to late Moslem accounts (11th century through to Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century) the amir of the invading Arabs, who was then a freed slave called Abu al-Muhajir Dinar, surprisingly invited Caecilius to meet with him in his camp. Abu al-Muhajir convinced him to accept Islam and join his army with a promise of full equality with the Arabs (678). Abu al-Muhajir was a master in diplomacy and thoroughly impressed Caecilius with not only his piety but with his high sense of respect and etiquette. Caecilius incorporated the Awraba-Sanhajda into the conquering Arab force and participated in their uniformly successful campaigns under Abu al-Muhajir. This amir was then forcibly replaced by Uqba ibn Nafi who treated Caecilius and his men with contempt. Eventually Uqba's disrespect enraged Caecilius and provoked a plot of revenge. On the army's return from Morocco, Uqba allowed his troops to break up and go home. The remainder, about 300, was vulnerable and exhausted. On the return march to Kairowan, Caecilius joined with the Byzantine forces and organised an ambush. The Christian-Berber force, about 5000 strong, defeated the Arabs and felled Uqba at Tahudha near Biskra (683). Caecilius now held undisputed mastery over North Africa and marched to Kairowan in triumph.[3]

The above account is disputed by some historians, who prefer the earlier 9th-century sources.[1][6] According to these, Abu al-Muhajir had no connection with Caecilius, nor did Uqba ibn Nafi until he was ambushed at Tahudha. These earlier sources also describe Caecilius as a Christian, not a Muslim convert. They do agree, however, that he led a combined Byzantine-Berber force when he defeated Uqba.

In 688 AD Arab reinforcements arrived under Zuhair ibn Kays. Caecilius met them in 690 AD at the Battle of Mamma. Vastly outnumbered, the Awraba were defeated and Caecilius was killed. In 693 AD, Caliph Abd al-Malik sent an army of 40,000 men comanded by Hasan ibn al-Nu'man to Cyrenaica and Tripolitana in order to remove the Byzantine threat to the Umayyads in North-Africa. They met no rival groups until they reached Tunisia were they captured Carthage and defeated the Byzantine empires and berbers around Bizerte.[7] It was not the last instance of Berber resistance, however (see al-Kahina).


  1. ^ a b c article by Modéran cited below
  2. ^ McKenna, Amy (2011). The History of Northern Africa. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 1615303189. 
  3. ^ a b Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0521196973. 
  4. ^ Noé Villaverde, Vega: "El Reino mauretoromano de Altava, siglo VI" (The Mauro-Roman kingdom of Altava) p.355
  5. ^ Camps: Rex gentium Maurorum et Romanorum. Recherches sur les royaumes de Maurétanie des VIe et VIIe siècles. pg 218
  6. ^ article by Benabbès cited below
  7. ^ Islamic books by ibn Taymiyyah, Maqdisi and Abdullah Azzam. Ibn Taymiyyah and Sayyid Qutb. 2015.


  • Benabbès, A. Les premiers raids arabes en Numidie Byzantine: questions toponymiques. In Identités et Cultures dans l'Algérie Antique, University of Rouen, 2005 (ISBN 2-87775-391-3)
  • Camps, G. Rex gentium Maurorum et Romanorum. Recherches sur les royaumes de Maurétanie des VIe et VIIe siècles
  • Hrbek, I., ed. General History of Africa III: Africa From the Seventh to the Eleventh Century.
  • Modéran, Y. Kusayla, l'Afrique et les Arabes. In Identités et Cultures dans l'Algérie Antique, University of Rouen, 2005 (ISBN 2-87775-391-3).
  • Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0521196973. 

See also[edit]