Mauri (from which derives the English term "Moors") was the Latin designation for the Berber population of Mauretania. It was located in the part of Africa west of Numidia, an area coextensive with present-day Morocco. Mauri (Μαῦροι) is recorded by Strabo, who wrote in the early 1st century, as the native name, which was also adopted into Latin, while he cites the Greek name for the same people as Maurusii (Μαυρούσιοι).
The name Mauri as a tribal confederation or generic ethnic designator thus seems to roughly correspond to the people known as Numidians in earlier ethnography; both terms presumably group early Berber-speaking populations (the earliest Tifinagh epigraph dates to about the third century BC). In 44 AD, the Roman Empire incorporated the region as the province of Mauretania, later divided into Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana. The area around Carthage was already part of the Africa province. Roman rule was effective enough so that these provinces became integrated into the empire.
Mauri raids into the southern Iberian Peninsula are mentioned as early as the reign of Nero in the Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus: "Geryon's meads, a wealthy prize to tempt the fierce Moor's avarice, where Baetis huge, so legends say, rolls downward on his western way to find the shore." The Baetis is the modern Guadalquivir, so this poem implies Mauri raiding into Baetica in the first century CE. Mauri from the mountains beyond the border of the Roman Empire crossed the straits of Gibraltar to raid into the Roman province of Baetica, in what is today southern Spain, in the early 170s. Mauri raided Baetica again in the late 170s or 180s in the reign of Commodus. At that time they besieged the town of Singilia Barba, which was freed from the siege by the arrival of Roman troops from the province of Mauretania Tingitana, led by C. Vallius Maximianus.
By the early Christian era, the byname Mauritius identified anyone originating in Africa (the Maghreb), roughly corresponding to Berber populations. Two prominent "Mauritian" churchmen were Tertullian and St. Augustine. The 3rd-century Christian saint Mauritius, in whose honour the given name Maurice originated, was from Egypt.
When Aurelian marched against Zenobia in 272, his army included Moorish cavalry. The Notitia Dignitatum mentions Roman cavalry units called Equites Mauri, or Moorish cavalry. Many Mauri were enlisted in the Roman army and were well known as members of the comitatus, the emperor's mobile army, prior to the reign of Diocletian. Jones cites the record of a consular interrogation from Numidia in 320, in which a Latin grammarian named Victor stated that his father was a decurion in Contantina (modern Sirte), and his grandfather served in the comitatus, 'for our family is of Moorish origin'.
By the time of Diocletian, Moorish cavalry were no longer part of the mobile field army, but rather were stationed along the Persian and Danube borders. There was one regiment of Equites Mauri in "each of the six provinces from Mesopotamia to Arabia". The Mauri were part of a larger group called Equites Illyricani, indicating previous service in Illyricum.
While many Mauri were part of the Roman empire, others resisted Roman rule. Diocletian's co-emperor Maximian campaigned against the Mauri for two years in the late 290s. This may be the reason why the border legions of north Africa were reinforced in Diocletian's time with seven new legions spread through Tingitania, Tripolitania, Africa, Numidia, and the Mauritanias.
In the 370s, Mauri raided the Roman towns of North Africa. Theodosius the Elder campaigned against them in 372. A Moorish tribe called the Austoriani are specified as participating in these raids. According to Jones, who follows Ammianus Marcellinus, the raids into Tripolitania were caused by the "negligence and corruption of Romanus, the comes Africae ... in 372 Firmus, a Moorish chieftain with whom Romanus had quarrelled, raised a revolt, winning several Roman regiments to his side". Theodosius defeated the rebellion, but was executed shortly thereafter in Carthage.
Firmus' brother Gildo, also a Moorish chieftain, joined the Romans and helped defeat Firmus' revolt. As a reward, he was given the post of magister utriusque militiae per Africam, or master of foot soldiers and cavalry for Africa.  In 397 he broke his allegiance to the Western Empire, then under the control of the child emperor Honorius and his master of soldiers Stilicho. Gildo withheld the corn ships from Rome and declared allegiance to Stilicho's enemy Eutropius in Constantinople. Eutropius sent encouragement but no troops or money. The Roman Senate declared Gildo a public enemy (hostis publicus).
Gildo had another brother called Mascezel. At some point, Gildo executed Mascezel's children. Because of this, Mascezel helped the Romans defeat his brother's rebellion. With Mascezel's help, a Roman force of 5000 men defeated Gildo and restored control over north Africa to the Western Empire. Stilicho then saw to it that Mascezel was eliminated. To replace Gildo, Stilicho put his brother-in-law Bathanarius in charge of military affairs in Africa in 401.
In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, large numbers of troops from the mobile imperial field army (the comitatus) were permanently stationed in Africa to maintain order against the Moors. A.H.M. Jones estimated that out of a total of 113000 men in the comitatus 23000 were stationed in Africa. These troops were in addition to the limitanei, the permanent border armies; but the limitanei were insufficient against the Moors and so portions of the field army were placed alongside them. These troops were, according to Jones, then unavailable for their original purpose, which was to respond to barbarian invasions rapidly and wherever necessary.
In 411-412, the dux Libyarum (commander of Roman forces in Libya) was named Anysius. He is recorded as the commander of a war against the Austuriani Mauri. Synesius of Cyrene praised him for courage and effective management of the war.
In the year 412, the limitanei (permanently stationed border guards) of Cyrenaica needed help to resist attacks by the Austuriani group of Mauri. The Eastern Empire (at that time under regents for the young Emperor Theodosius II) sent a squadron of Unigardi barbarians. Synesius of Cyrene praised these barbarian federates and requested more.
After the fall of Rome, the Germanic kingdom of the Vandals ruled much of the area. Neither Vandal nor Byzantine could extend effective rule; the interior remained under Mauri (Berber) control. The Vandal army was not a standing army, and under the later Vandal kings (from Huneric to Gelimer), its strength deteriorated. No frontier army was set up to protect against Mauri incursions, so the Mauri encroached on the border areas of the kingdom. As a result, when Belisarius reconquered Africa for the Byzantine Empire in 533-534, he had little difficulty establishing rule over the Vandal kingdom, but his successors had great difficulty controlling the Mauri.
The Vandal king Huneric (477-484) exiled 4966 catholic bishops and priests across the southern border of the Vandal kingdom into Mauri territory. Huneric was an Arian Christian and wanted only Arian clergy in the Vandal kingdom. Exiling catholic clergy to the Mauri was thus Huneric's means of establishing Arian dominance in the Vandal kingdom of north Africa.
After the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, there seem to have been continued Mauri resistance for another 50 years. The Chronicle of 754 still mentions Mauri but by the High Middle Ages the endonym seems to have disappeared, while Christian sources begin to apply the term Mauri, Moors to the Islamic populations of the Maghreb and Andalusia in general.
- οἰκοῦσι δ᾽ ἐνταῦθα Μαυρούσιοι μὲν ὑπὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων λεγόμενοι, Μαῦροι δ᾽ ὑπὸ τῶν Ῥωμαίων καὶ τῶν ἐπιχωρίων "Here dwell a people called by the Greeks Maurusii, and by the Romans and the natives Mauri" Strabo, Geographica 17.3.2. Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary, 1879 s.v. "Mauri"
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- c.f. Kusaila, Kahina. "The conquest of North Africa and Berber resistance" in General History of Africa.[according to whom?][year needed]