GAETULIA, an ancient district in northern Africa, which in the usage of Roman writers comprised the wandering tribes of the southern slopes of Mount Aures and the Atlas, as far as the Atlantic, and the oases in the northern part of the Sahara. They were always distinguished from the Negro people to the south, and beyond doubt belonged to the same Berber race which formed the basis of the population of Numidia and Mauretania. The tribes to be found there at the present day are probably of the same race, and retain the same wandering habits; and it is possible that they still bear in certain places the name of their Gaetulian ancestors (see Vivien St Martin, Le Nord de l'Afrique, 1863). A few only seem to have mingled with the Negroes of the Sahara, if we may thus interpret Ptolemy's allusion to Melano-Gaetuli (4.6. 5.). They were noted for the rearing of horses, and according to Strabo had 100,000 foals in a single year. They were clad in skins, lived on flesh and milk, and the only manufacture connected with their name is that of the purple dye which became famous from the time of Augustus onwards, and was made from the purple fish found on the coast, apparently both in the Syrtes and on the Atlantic.
We first hear of this people in the Jugurthine War (III - 106 B.C.), when, as Sallust tells us, they did not even know the name of Rome. They took part with Jugurtha against Rome; but when we next hear of them they are in alliance with Caesar against Juba I. (Bell. Afr. 32). In 25 B.C. Augustus seems to have given a part of Gaetulia to Juba II., together with his kingdom of Mauretania, doubtless with the object of controlling the turbulent tribes; but the Gaetulians rose and massacred the Roman residents, and it was not till a severe defeat had been inflicted on them by Lentulus Cossus (who thus acquired the surname Gaetulicus) in A.D. 6 that they submitted to the king. After Mauretania became a Roman province in A.D. 40, the Roman governors made frequent expeditions into the Gaetulian territory to the south, and the official view seems to be expressed by Pliny (v. 4.30) when he says that all Gaetulia as far as the Niger and the Ethiopian frontier was reckoned as subject to the XI. 13 Empire. How far this represents the fact is not clear; but inscriptions prove that Gaetulians served in the auxiliary troops of the empire, and it may be assumed that the country passed within the sphere of Roman influence, though hardly within the pale of Roman civilization.
For bibliography see Roman Africa.
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