MASSINISSA (c. 238-149 B.C.), king of Massylian or eastern Numidia. He was educated, like many of the Numidian chiefs, at Carthage, learnt Latin and Greek, and was an accomplished as well as a naturally clever man. Although his kingdom was nominally independent of Carthage, it really stood to it in a relation of vassalage; it was directly under Carthaginian influences, and was imbued to a very considerable extent with Carthaginian civilization. It was to this that Massinissa owed his fame and success; he was a barbarian at heart, but he had a varnish of culture, and to this he added the craft and cunning in which Carthaginian statesmen were supposed to excel. While yet a young man (212) he forced his neighbour Syphax, prince of western Numidia, who had recently entered into an alliance with Rome, to fly to the Moors in the extreme west of Africa. Soon afterwards he appeared in Spain, fighting for Carthage with a large force of Numidian cavalry against the Romans under the two Scipios. The defeat of the Carthaginian army in 206 led him to cast in his lot with Rome. Scipio Africanus is said to have cultivated his friendship. Massinissa now quitted Spain for a while for Africa, and was again engaged in a war with Syphax in which he was decidedly worsted. Scipio's arrival in Africa in 204 gave him another chance, and no sooner had he joined the Roman general than he crushed his old enemy Syphax, and captured his capital Cirta (Constantine). Here occurs the romantic story of Sophonisba, daughter of the Carthaginian Hasdrubal, who had been promised in marriage to Massinissa, but had subsequently become the wife of Syphax. Massinissa, according to the story, married Sophonisba immediately after his victory, but was required by Scipio to dismiss her as a Carthaginian, and consequently an enemy to Rome.
To save her from such humiliation he sent her poison, with which she destroyed herself. Massinissa was now accepted as a loyal ally of Rome, and was confirmed by Scipio in the possession of his kingdom. In the battle of Zama (202) (see PUNIC WARS), he commanded the cavalry on Scipio's right wing, and materially assisted the Roman victory. For his services he received the kingdom of Syphax, and thus under Roman protection he became master of the whole of Numidia, and his dominions completely enclosed the Carthaginian territories, now straitened and reduced at the close of the Second Punic War. It would seem that he had thoughts of annexing Carthage itself with the connivance of Rome. In a war which soon followed he was successful; the remonstrances of Carthage with Rome on the behaviour of her ally were answered by the appointment of Scipio as arbitrator; but, as though intentionally on the part of Rome, no definite settlement was arrived at, and thus the relations between Massinissa and the Carthaginians continued strained. Rome, it is certain, deliberately favoured her ally's unjust claims with the view of keeping Carthage weak, and Massinissa on his part was cunning enough to retain the friendship of the Roman people by helping them with liberal supplies in their wars against Perseus of Macedon and Antiochus. As soon as Carthage seemed to be recovering herself, and some of Massinissa's partisans were driven from the city into exile, his policy was to excite the fears of Rome, till at last in 149 war was declared the Third Punic War, which ended in the final overthrow of Carthage. The king took some part in the negotiations which preceded the war, but died soon after its commencement in the ninetieth year of his age and the sixtieth of his reign.
Massinissa was an able ruler and a decided benefactor to Numidia. He converted a plundering tribe into a settled and civilized population, and out of robbers and marauders made efficient and disciplined soldiers. To his sons he bequeathed a well-stored treasury, a formidable army, and even a fleet. Cirta (q.v.), his capital, became a famous centre of Phoenician civilization. In fact Massinissa changed for the better the whole aspect of a great part of northern Africa. He had much of the Arab nature, was singularly temperate, and equal to any amount of fatigue. His fidelity to Rome was merely that of temporary expediency. He espoused now one side, and now the other, but on the whole supported Rome, so that orators and historians could speak of him as " a most faithful ally of the Roman people."
See Livy xxiy. 49, xxviii. II, 35, 42, xxix. 27, xxx. 3, 12, 28, 37, xlii. 23, 29, xliii. 3; Polybius iii. 5, ix. 42, xiv. I, xxxii. 2, xxxvii. 3; Appian, Hisp. 37, Punica, ll, 27, 105; Justin xxxiii. I ; A. H. J. Greenidge, Hist, of Rome (London, 1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)