The Phoenicians first set up shop in Tunisia, North Africa, at Utica in 1100 BC, using it as a staging post along the route from their home port of Tyre (in modern-day Lebanon) to Spain.
They went on to establish a chain of ports along the North African coast, the most important of which included Hadrumètum (Sousse) and Hippo Diarrhytus (Bizerte). But the port that looms largest in history books is Carthage, arch enemy of Rome.
It became the leader of the western Phoenician world in the 7th century and the main power in the Western Mediterranean in the early 5th century. The city’s regional dominance lasted until the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, which began in 263 BC and ended in 146 BC with Carthage utterly razed and its people sold into slavery.
The Tunisian territory became Roman property after the war. The emperor Augustus refunded Carthage as a Roman city in 44 BC, naming it the capital of Africa Proconsularis, Rome’s African holdings. Agriculture became all-important, and by the 1st century AD, the wheat-growing plains of Tunisia were supplying over 60% of the empire’s requirements. The Romans went on to found cities and colonies across Tunisia’s plains and coastline; today, they’re Tunisia’s principal tourist attractions.
By the beginning of the 5th century, with Rome’s power in terminal decline, the Vandals decided the area was ripe for plucking. Within 10 years, they’d taken Carthage as their capital and began to, well, vandalize. Their exploitative policies alienated them from the native Berber population, who in turn formed small kingdoms and began raiding the Vandal settlements. The Byzantines of Constantinople, who pulled the territory from the Vandals in 533 and kept it for the next 150 years, fared no better.
Islam burst onto the scene in the 7th century, when the Arab armies swept out of Arabia, quickly conquering Egypt. The Arabs had taken all of North Africa by the start of the 8th century, and, with Kairouan as its capital, the region became a province of the fast-expanding Islamic empire controlled by the caliphs of Damascus.
The Berbers adopted Islamic religious teachings readily enough, but they riled under their harsh treatment by the Arabs. Their uprisings continued until 909, when a group of Berber Shiites, the Fatimids, glommed together disaffected Berber tribes and took North Africa back from the Arabs.
Their capital was raised on the coast at Mahdia, but the unity was to be short-lived. When some of the tribes returned to the Sunni mainstream, the tribes began to fight one another and North Africa was slowly reduced to ruins.
Conflicts arose again when North Africa was caught in the middle of the rivalry between Spain and the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the 16th century. Tunis changed hands half a dozen times in some 50 years, before the Turks took it in 1574 and it became an Ottoman territory. Ottoman power lasted through to the 19th century, when France became the new power in the Western Mediterranean and Tunis came under increasing pressure to conform to their European ways.
In 1881, the French sent 30,000 troops into Tunisia under the pretext of countering border raids into French-occupied Algeria. They quickly occupied Tunis and forced the ruling Bey to sign over his power to the French. Soon after, they had discretely nabbed the best of Tunisian land. The fall of France in WWII opened the door for Tunisian nationalists to step up their independence campaign, and one man in particular, Habib Bourguiba, set about bringing Tunisia’s position into the international spotlight.
By the early 1950s, the French were ready to make concessions.
Tunisia was formally granted independence on 20 March 1956, with Bourguiba as prime minister. The following year, the country was declared a republic and Bourguiba became its first president, instituting sweeping political and social changes. Regarding Islam as a force that was holding the country back, Bourguiba set about reducing its role in society by removing religious leaders from their traditional areas of influence, such as education and the law. The shari’a (Qur’anic law) courts were also abolished, and lands that had financed mosques and religious institutions were confiscated.
In December 2010, the people rose up against dictator president Ben Ali. What is called the Arab spring which has snowballed from a large number of Arab countries suffering from the dictatorship. A 2nd Republic was born, a globally unique constitution was adopted, and 3 authorities were put in place: President, Assembly and Prime Minister. But the political, social and economic problems have sprung up everywhere, putting naked all the injustices committed by the dictator who was exiled in Saudi Arabia…