Moroccan History

Figure 1.--Perhaps the most important question that historians andeconmists have to answer about Morocco and other Arab countries is why are they so culturally backward. This photograph was taken in Fez in the early-20 century. The photographer was Boushira. It could have easily been taken a millenia earlier or for that matter two millenia earlier. The same could not be said about Europe, India, China and the Americas. How could the countries that comprised the Calophate which were once so advanced become so backward and resistant to change, dependent on the West for modern medical science and other tchnologies.

Morocco is often grouped with the three other Mediterranean North African Arab states which comprise the Maghreb. There are a number of similarities and there are other factors making Morocco unique. Morocco had a thousand-year old recird of independence. Morocco was part of the Islamic Caliphate, but not a part of the Ottoman Empire. There was also a history of relations with Spain. This was most pronounced during the centuries of Islamic rule in Spain, but continued even after the Reconquista creating a unique relationship between the two countries. Geography also made Morocco different. It was the only North African country with an Atlantic coast. This affected the outlook of Moroccans. In addition the status of Tangiers as an internatijal city provided contacts with Europeans that other North African countries did not have. Much of Morocco's modern infrastructure and institutions can be dated to the French colonial period.


Northwestern Africa has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Morocco in Mesolithic times was a savanna watered with precipitation. Very little is known about human settlement at this time. Archeologists have found some remains elsewhere in the Magreb from which conditions in Morocco can be inferred. Archeologists report an abundance of game and forests that would have supported nomadic Mesolithic hunter gatherers. Archeologists discovered a homonoid fosil at Sale (fating to s0me 0.4 millio yearts ago). The earliest Homo sapiens were discovered at Jebel Irhoud (about 160,000 years old). Archeologists found small perforated sea shell beads at Taforalt (about 82,000 years old). This is the earliest evidence of personal adornment found so far anywhere. The area's first-known inhabitants were nomads. Paleolithic settlements appear in what is now Morocco (15,000 BC). early Neolithic culture was common throughout the entire Mediterranean coastal areas including wht is now Morocco. This included the the domestication of cattle and the development of agriculture. South of the Atlas and other mountain ranges in what is now the vast Sahara Desert, a well-watered savanna supported Neolithic hunters and herders who developed a culture which flourished there (about 6,000 BC). [Rubella] The desication of this savana began (about 4,000 BC). Simple pastoral and agricultural settlements appeared (4,000-3,000 BC). This culture began to decline, however, as the climate began to become more arid and the Sahara began to form. The people that populated North Africa appear to be the same people further east that graviated toward the Nile Valley as the Sahara formed The Capsian culture what is now Morocco into the Neolithic age at a time when the Maghreb was less arid than it is today but had begun to dry (about 2000 BC).


Morocco's history is often seen as beginning with the Berber people as so little is known about Paleolithicsettlement. These were the first well known aboriginal people who appeared in North Africa (2nd-1st millennium BC). They migrated south from Europe. The Berber language is believed to have formed at about the same time as agriculture developed. The Berber language seems to have been developed by the existing population and adopted by immigrants who arrived later. DNA studies suggest that the Berber people are an amalgem of several different populations in addition to the main ethnic group--Amazighs/Berbers. Only a a very small pprportion of those other populations are Iberians and sub-Saharan Africans.


Sefaring Phoenician traders appear to have arrived, setting up trading post along the coast (about 1100-800 BC). These settlements were separate from the Berber communities in the interior. The decline of the Phoenician empire, especially the destruction of Carthage which originted as a Phoenician colony. Paradoxily this meant the growth of their settkements in Morocco as refugees from Carthage sought to escape the Romans (around 200 BC). A Berber kingdom was established in northwestern Morocco which inckuded most of northern Algeria (about 110 BC).

Roman Empire

Rome began extending its control over North Africa after finally defeating and totaly destroying Carthage in the Third Punic War (146 BC). The Roman empire imposed direct rule over the Moroccan coastal region. Morocco becomes part of the province called Mauretania Tingitana. The Roman intrusion was met with hard resistance from the Berbers, resulting in unrest and numerous wars. Roman Emperor Caligula, frustrated with Berber unrest, declared the end of Berber autonomy (40 AD). The Romans built up Volubilis into a city of 20,000 people, mostly Berbers (2st century AD). Volubilis is now the best preserved Roman ruins. The Romans built up Volubilis into a city of 20,000 people, mostly Berbers (2st century AD). Volubilis is now the best preserved Roman ruins. Rome annexed what is now Morocco to the province of Mauritania (46 AD). The borders of modern Morocco are very similar to the Roman province of Mauretania. The Romans withdrew the Legions from most Moroccan settlements (253 AD).

Vandal Kingdom (5th century)

The Vandals were one of the tribes which established a Germanic kingdom in an area of the former Roman Empire. Reports suggest that Gaiseric was invited to help defend North Africa by the Roman govenrnor fearing he was to be removed. Gaiseric ferried his people across the Strait of Gibraltar in boats they had built. He then led them east along the African coast. North Africa had the time was better watered than is the case today nd was a rich agricultural province still untouched by barbarian assault. Gaiseric's Vandals pne by one seized the prosperous and largely undefended Roman cities along the coast. The graneries were full, easily feeding the Vandal army. They easily moved east and seized the rich city--Carthage (439). The Western Empire at the time was very weak. Seizing North Africa was essentially the end of the Western Empire as North Africa was the grain basket and richest area still under Roman control. The one city to resist was Hippo Regius (Hippone), now known as Annaba in Algeria. It was one of the richest cities and fully Romanized. The Bishop of Hippo, the famed but then elderly Augustine, organized the defense of the city. Augustine died during the 14-month Vandal siege. Hippo with no rescuers at hand also eventually fell to the Vandals. The Vandal conquest of Roman North Africa took nearly a decade to complete. The loss of North Africa ith its rich grain fields dealt the final blow to the Western Empire. The Vandals seized large rural estates, ruling the local Romanized popultion. They left administrative duties to the educated Roman bureaucrats. One of the ongoing problems disrupting the new Vabdal kingdom wwas relgion. The Arian Vandals terrirized the Catholic churchmen and their congregations. Gaiseric managed to limit the violence. His successors were less restrained. The Vandals openly persecuted the Roman Catholic majority. They martyred Catholic clerics providing medieval hagiographers with stirring accounts for the bravery and sanctity of the saints. The last phase of that conquest were still underway when Gaiseric turned to his next undertaking. He expanded his fleet with new faster ships which were perfect for piracy attacking Mediterranean merchant shipping. The wealth of his North African conquests and the loot from piracy enabled Gaiseric to build a sizeable fleet. Not satisfied with piracy, he began raiding Roman cities throught the Mediteranean. Emperor Valentinian III with death of Atilla was able to focus on the Vandals. He attempted to deal with them diplomatically, offering his sister in marriage to Gaiseric son. When Valentinian was assasinated, Gaiseric invaded and sacked Rome (455). Pope Leo the Great could not prevent Gaiseric from entering Rome, but did limit the bloodshead.

Byzantine Empire (6th century)

The Vandal raids attracted the hostility of the Eastern Empire as did the Vandals Arian faith and persucution of Catholics. The first major Byzantine offensive failed. Gaiseric died (477) and Vandal power declined under the leaders who followed. The Vandal military power, however, was on the decline. Gaiseric’s fierce warriors were gradually replaced by a new generation who grewup aminst lurury and privlige. Also without Gaiseric’s leadership, the Vandals begame less focused and organized. Coription was rife. The rise of Justinian brought plans to reconquer lost Roman territory and restore the former glories of the Empire. The Vandalsho continued to raid Italy and Mediterranean shiping became arime target. A second Byzanine campaign led by Justnian's great general Belisarius succeeded, with only a small force in a campaign completed in 4 months. [Jacobsen] Belisarius seized Carthage (533). This ended the existence of the Vandals as a nation. They had ruled North Africa as only a small ruling elite in a largely Romanized population and passed from history leaving little trace except their role in inally destroying the Western Empire. The Byzantines found it difficult, however, to maintain control so far west of their power center. The revived Byzantine Empire under Justinuan established control over coastal settlements in north and northwest Morocco (533). Imperial contro, however, was difficult.

Arab Conquest: The Caliphate (7th century)

Arab wariors brought Islam to Morocco. Uqba ibn Nafi is believed to have first brought Islam to Morocco with a spread Islam to Morocco with a 5000 km through North Africa (681). The Berbers fiercely resisted the Arabs. A Berber chieftain defeats Uqba and drive his Arab warriors out of the country (683). Brber families finally submitted to the Arab armies and Islam (702). Until this, Morocco was through Rome connected to the culture of the West. With the Arab cnquest Morocco and North Africa would begin a cultural and religiouus separation from Europe and the West. The Arab governor Musa Ibn Nasr established control over central Morocco. By this time, Arab culture and Islam begin to become established in Morocco as the Berbers bdgin to convert. For several centuries, Morocco and Spain which was conquered from Morocco ws at the frontline of the conflict between the Islam and the Christian west. The Berbers joined the Arabs in invading and conquering Spain (711). Islam proved to be a permanent addition to Moroccan culture. While the Berbers passionately adopted Islam, they resisted Arab rule. Morocco was the most westerly expansion of the Caliphate. The limited number of Arabs and distances involved made it difficult for the Caliphate to retain control from Bagdad. External Arab rule lasted little more than a century. Incredibly the 20th century photograph here could easily have been taken during the time of the Caliphate or medieval Moroccan dynasties (figure 1). Morocco nd the Magreb in general did not participate in the intelctual and cultural rise of the West which began with the Renaissance (14th century).

Independent Moroccan Dynasties

An independent Moroccan dynasty was established (788). A series of ruling dynasties came to power in what is now Morocco, including the Idrissids, the Almoravids, and the Almohads. A Shi'i refugee, Moulay Idriss, lAunches a 4-year campaign util his own death to beguin building the infrastructure for an Arab Islamic state in central Morocco (787). Idriss aquired the title of Imam. With him the first line of Moroccan rulers began with the Idrissid dynasty. Moulay Idriss II assumes power (807) During his 20 years reign, he extends control to the northern mountains and to the oases south of the Atlas mountains. He estblishes his cpital at Fez. They varied in duration, often falling becuse they failed to maintaining the support of the indeginous Berber people. The most powerful Moroccan dynasties were the great Berber kingdoms of the Almoravides and the Almorhades.

Portuguese (1415-1578)

Portugal even before the completion of the Reconquista began to move south along the Africa coast. They seized Ceuta (1415). The subsequentlyvseized other Moroccan ports. The Moors defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Alcazar-Quivir (1578).

Alouites (1600)

The Alouites are the current ruling dynasty in Morocco. They seized power from Saadian or first Sherifian Dynasty (1660).

Barbary Pirates

Morocco was one of the main Barbary states. The roots of Barbary piracy were founded on the the Morrs expelled from Spain at the conclusion of the Reconquista (1492). Piracy became the chief purpose and main source of income of all settlements along the Barbary coast whichcame loosely under Ottoman control. he Barbary states were essentially pirate bases preying upon European trade in the Mediterranean. As Europe developed commercially and economically after the Renaisance, the states iof the Magreb did not. They began to develop economoes based on preying upon the increasingly rich European commerce. This was centered on Meditarannean maritime trade. European settlements anbd shipping were targeted. The booty including enskaving captives and ransoming the wealthy supported the Barbry states which produced little themselves, esentially becoming a paraeasite culture. Te cost of fidhing wars with the Barbary stafound it more cost effective to pay tribute. The Moroccan Barbary pirates occassionally venturedg into the Atlantic Ocean (17th-19th century). After independence, American tribute to the Barbary states became the largest single item in the Federal budget. An American show of naval force eventually convinced the Moroccans not to attack American shipping. The Ameican Barbary Wars thus were fiought further east, focusing on Tripoli. After the Napoleopnic Wars, rising European industrial power enable the Europeansto permanently end Barbary piracy.

Sultan's Declining Authority

Sultan Sidi Mohammad died (1790). Struggles for the sucession lead to civil war. Factions in both Fez and Marrakech struggle for control. After several years of disorder,sultan Moulay Slimane establishes his authority, including control of Fez and Marrakech. Sultan Moulay Slimane is able to control Morocco, but was not a modern ruler abd turned Morocco in on itself. He saw Europeans as a distruptive non-Islamic influence. He thus broke relations with European countries. Morocco at the time had been treated by the Europeans as an equal state actor. This put Morocco completely outside the world of European powers. As a result of the Sultan's actions, Morocco was completely cut off from the science and learning sweeping Europe. The Sultn even banned exports to Europe. This significantly weakened the Moroccan economy.

French Empire

France after the Napoleonic War becam to construct a new empire. All that was left od the old empire were a few small islands, mostly located in the Caribbean. The first new acquisition was Algeria (1830s). Next was Tunisia which they ruled as a protectorate through the nominal authority of the Sultan. France moved to gain control of Morocco which because of the imperal desires of Gemany caused an international incident.

European Involvement

European countries by the mid-19th century were demanding special rights in Morocco a country which due to its geographic situation was of considerable strategic impotance. The Alaouite dynasty in Morocco was a weak central authority, but unlike most of Africa it was an establish national government. And it managed to resist European conrol as the rest of the continent was carved up and North Africa succumbed to Turkish, French, or British domination. The inability of the Alaouite rulers to maintain order generated complaints from European invesors in the country. The European powers began demanding concessions from the Moroccan Government. And the military weakness of the regime left it unable to effectively resist the European demands. The industrial revolutuon transforming Europe did not touch Morroco. Here backward rulers and Islamic scholars played roles in maintaning Morocco as a virtually fedudal state. The industrial revolution radically transformed the balance of power between Morocco and the European powers. Spain was the first country to intervebe in Morocco. Spain intervened to enforce such demands and defeated Moroccan forces (1860). Morocco had to transfer Sidi Ifni to Spain unfder the Treaty of Tetouan. More European demands followed. The European powers next demanded coincessions in Tangier. The Madrid Conference essentially turned Tangier into an international city administered by a European coinsortium. Both Spain and France had by this time interfered in Morocco to support various claims by its citizens. Sultan Moulay Hassan died (1894). His son Abdu l-Aziz was only 10 years old and unable to effectively execise his authority as sultan. European advisors became the major influences at court. Provincial rulers exerted their influence as the Sultan's influence becomes limited largely to the capital where foreign troops are garisoned. France was in particular determined to seize control of Morocco. The major impediment was not the Alaouite dynasty and Moroccan resistance, but the competition among the European powers. The result was a series of diplomatic moves which not only affected Morocco, but was a pat of the European diplomatic chain of events that ultimatel led to World War I.

French Protectorate (1912-56)

European countries by the mid-19th century were demanding special rights in Morocco a country which do to its geographic situation was of considerable strategic impotyance. The industrial revolutuon transforming Europe did not touch Morroco. Here backward rulers and Islamic scholars played roles in maintaning Moricco as a virtually fedudal state. The industrial revolution radically transformed the balance of power between Morocco and the European powers. Spain was the first country to intervebe n Morocco. Spain intervened to enforce such demands and defeated Moroccan forces (1860). They were soon followed by the French. The Europeans by the 20th century had colonized virtually all of Africa and much of Asia. An indedpendent Morocco was an anomaly. One reason for this was that the European powers could not agree over who should take possession of Morocco. This was asituation that the Europeans moved to correct. With a weakened Sultan, the Europeans move to actually colonize Morocco. France established a protectorate along the lines of Tunisia (1912). The French rule in Morocco as in Algeria and Tunisia was maintained by the French Army, but there were substantial differences. A fiction of Moroccan ruke was mauntained with the Sultn. The Sultan had a degree of authority unlike any figure in either Algeria or Tunisia. It was the French-appointed resident general, howwever, who held the real authority in Morocco. The Sultan was forced to work through newly created ministeries staffed by French officials. The Spanish created a smaller protectorate in Morocco.

World War II

World War War began with the NAZI German and Soviet invasions of Poland (September 1939). The Sultan called for cooperation with the French. A substantial Moroccan contingent (largely Amazigh) served with distinction in France. Within a year, the Germans invaded an occupied France (June 1940). The collapse of the French and the installation of the Vichy regime entirely changed the situation. The fall of France shocked many nationalists who thought French military power was invincible. The situation did not immetiately change because under the Franco-German Armistice the Vichy regime retained control of France's colonial dependencies. This essentially created an associated with the Germans and thus Moroccan natioinalists viewed the Germans differently than other Arab nationlists. French Moroccan authorities were loyal to Vichy. They instituted actions against Jews based in Vichy racial laws. The Sultan refusedg to approve anti-Jewish legislation, but was powerless to prevent the implementation.


The French signed an armistice leaving souther France unoccupied and a capital at Vichy. French colonies were also unoccupied, including Morocco. These were provisions of the Franco-German Armistice (June 1940). It was one of several reltively moderate provisions. They probably were part of Hitler's effort to lure Britain int making peace. What Pétain and the other Vichy officials seem unaware of was that if Hitler won the War, he could dictate France's future and France would have no way of maintaining the terms of the Armistice. The colonies thus came under Vichy law. This included the new race laws which Vichy passed. Thus Jews came under the same percecution they were subjected to in France itself. As a result, Moroccan Jews were targeted b\in the Holocaust. Fortunately the Allies launched Operation Torch before transports to death camps in NAZI-occupied Poland began.

Operation Torch (November 1942)

After Pear Harbor, Hitler declared war on America (December 1941). This was the only cointry for which Hitler bothered to issue a formal declaration of war. America and Britain launced the first Allied offensive of the war less than a year later. Opearation Torch involved an Anglo-American invasion of Morocco and Algeria. After 3 days of fighting, the French capitulated and kjoined the Allies. American forces rapidly occupied Morocco (November 1942). Morocco was used as a supply base for the Allied forces driving east toward Tunisia. The actual fighting thus took place to the east. The Allies held one of the most important conferences of the War at Casablanca (January 1943). Roosevelt, Churchill, and DeGualle attended, but Stalin declined. It was at Casablanca that the call for "unconditional surrender" was issued and the decession to launch an expanded strategic bombing campaign was made. President Roosevelt gave personal assurances to the Sultan (future King Mohammed V), that the United States would support independence. The French in Morocco went over to the Free French and Allied side. The Allies promised Morocco independence within 10 years if they cooperated with the war effort. Nationalist groups later based their campaign for independence on such Allied pronouncements as the Atlantic Charter. The Istiqlal (Independence) Party issued a manifesto demanding independemce (1944). France after the War, however, did not honor the pledge.


France's capitulation to the Germans had seriously undermined their creditability as a colonial force in Morocco which had always been based on the French Army. The grwing nationalist movement took the new title of ?izb al-Istiqlal (Independence Party). The party submitted to the Sultan and the Allied occupation authorities approved a memorandum asking for independence (January 1944).

Reimposition of French Control

France after the War tried to reimpose colonial rule. This proved difficult because France had been so totally defeated by the Germans. In addition there was groing denand for independence from Moroccans. The French found Sultan Mohammed V increasingly difficult. On several occassions he refussed to cooperate with French authorities. The Sultan final;ly joined forces with the nationalisrs. The French responded by exiling the Sultan. The French attemoted to replace Mohammed with the Berber pasha of Marrakech, Thamil-Glaoui, the new sultan. Here Thamil-Glaoui was able to attract few followers. Disorder began to increase with a variety of attacks and outbreaks of violence. Finally the French allowed the Sultan to return (1955). This was essentialy admitting defeat. This did not end the unrest as increasingly Moroccans saw that independence was within their grasp.


France at the time was involved in a full scale civil war in Algeria. This was an actual colony much more impoetant to the French than Morocco. Large number of French colonisyts had settled in Algeria.

Independence (1956)

France decided to grant full independence to Moricco so that it could focus on the civil war in Algeria. Sultan Muhammad V took over a country that had united against French conntrol. The country had benefitted economically from five decades of French cintrol which brought infrastructire (ports, irrigation, roads and railroads). There were, however, aide range of conflicts between religious and political groups in Morocco. The country also began to press Spain for the return of both Spanish Morocco and the Spanish Sahara.


Rubella, D. "Environmentalism and Pi Paleolithic economies in the Maghreb (ca. 20,000 to 5000 B.P.)," in, J.D. Clark and S.A. Brandt (eds.) From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 41–56


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Created: 3:00 AM 8/5/2007
Last updated: 6:53 PM 1/4/2015