Byzantine CitiesByzantine History

Carthage Under the Byzantine Empire (533 – 698 CE)

Carthage, the once-mighty Phoenician city-state and longtime rival of Rome, experienced a period of renewed importance under the Byzantine Empire. Recaptured from the Vandals in 533 CE by the famed Byzantine general Belisarius, Carthage became the center of the Exarchate of Africa, a powerful and semi-autonomous province within the Byzantine realm.

A Strategic Outpost of Carthage

The Byzantine reconquest of Carthage held immense strategic significance. The city boasted a well-protected harbor, fertile hinterland, and a central location in the Mediterranean Sea. This made it a crucial center for trade, administration, and military operations. The Byzantines aimed to re-establish Roman control over North Africa, a region rich in agricultural resources and a vital source of grain for the empire.

Challenges and Reorganization

However, the Byzantines faced numerous challenges in consolidating their power. The region was still recovering from the Vandalic Wars, and Berber tribes in the hinterland posed a constant threat. To address these issues, Emperor Maurice (r. 582-602 CE) established the Exarchate of Africa in the late 6th century. This semi-autonomous province, with Carthage as its capital, granted the Exarch (governor) significant military and administrative authority. This allowed for a more flexible and responsive approach to the unique challenges of the region.

Military Prowess and Berber Relations

The Exarchate of Africa played a vital role in defending the Byzantine Empire’s western flank. Under capable leaders like Heraclius the Elder, who later became Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641 CE), the Byzantines successfully repelled early Arab incursions in the 7th century. However, maintaining control over the vast territory proved difficult. The Byzantines often relied on diplomacy and alliances with Berber tribes to maintain order and secure vital trade routes.

Economic and Cultural Life

Despite the constant military pressure, Carthage remained a significant economic and cultural center under the Byzantines. The city benefited from its position as a key trading hub between Europe and North Africa. Byzantine coinage circulated widely, and the city continued to produce luxury goods like olive oil and textiles. While Latin remained the dominant language in administration, Greek cultural influences also grew.

Decline and Fall of Carthage

The 7th century marked a turning point for the Exarchate. The rise of Islam and the expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate posed a new and formidable threat. The Byzantines suffered a series of defeats, culminating in the devastating Arab siege of Carthage in 698 CE. The city was sacked and largely destroyed, marking the end of Byzantine rule in North Africa.


The period of Byzantine rule in Carthage, though overshadowed by its glorious past and the dramatic events that followed, was one of significant consequence. The Byzantines restored the city’s strategic importance, used it as a springboard for military campaigns, and fostered economic activity. However, internal rivalries, Berber uprisings, and the rise of Islam ultimately led to the city’s downfall. Carthage’s legacy under the Byzantines continues to be studied by historians, offering valuable insights into the complex political, economic, and military dynamics of the late antique Mediterranean world.


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