Institute of Archaeology



Conquest, Ecology and Economy in Islamic North Africa: The Example of the Central Medjerda Valley

The Muslim conquest of North Africa and subsequent regime changes resulted in widespread changes in urbanism, agriculture and regional economies which are fundamental to understanding the development of North African society, united under Islam. Recent synthetic studies challenge what has long been the textbook understanding of the collapse of Roman rule and the impact of the Muslim conquests in North Africa, in which the eighth and ninth centuries have often been seen as a dark age. Ongoing excavations at the important, neighbouring urban centres of Simitthus (Chimtou) and Bulla Regia (Hammam Darraji) in NW Tunisia have highlighted the complexity of urban trajectories, technological innovation and environmental change in the medieval period.

This project will build on these findings, addressing a fundamental gap in our understanding of cultural, economic and landscape transformations in medieval North Africa. Moving beyond the simple question of urban continuity or collapse in late antiquity and the early medieval period, it will investigate the extent to which the Muslim conquests and subsequent regime change represented a force of economic and social transformation.

This will be assessed by tracking long-term changes in settlement patterns, landscape use, patterns of exploitation and technology in the central Medjerda valley, the famed granary of Roman and Islamic Africa. This project will ultimately result in both a fundamental advance of our understanding of Islamic North Africa and a new interpretative framework which can be applied to other regions of the Islamic world.

Related outputs

  • Fenwick, C. (2020), Early Islamic North Africa: A New Perspective. London.
  • Fenwick, C. (2020), ‘The Umayyads and North Africa: Imperial Rule and Frontier Society’, in A. Marsham (ed.), The Umayyad World. London.
  • Fenwick, C. (2020), ‘The Fate of the Classical Cities of Ifrīqiya in the Early Middle Ages’ in R. Bockmann, A. Leone & P. von Rummel (eds.) Africa-Ifrīqya: Cultures of Transition in North Africa between Late Antiquity and Early Medieval. Rome: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (Palilia Series 34).
  • Fenwick, C. (2018), 'Early medieval urbanism in Ifrīqiya and the emergence of the Islamic city’ in S. Panzram and L. Callegarin (eds), Entre civitas y madīna. El mundo de las ciudades en la península ibérica y en el norte de África (ss. IV-IX), Madrid: Casa de Velázquez: 283-304.
  • Anderson, G., Fenwick, C. and Rosser-Owen, M. (eds.) (2017). The Aghlabids and Their Neighbors: Art and Material Culture in Ninth-century North Africa. Leiden.
  • Fenwick, C. (2013), ‘From Africa to Ifrīqiya: Settlement and Society in Early Medieval North Africa (650–800)’, Al-Masāq 25: 9-33.


  • AHRC-DFG Joint German-UK Project Proposals in the Humanities, incl. Law and Linguistics