A Brief History of Morocco


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In the Classical Antiquity era, Morocco experienced waves of invaders included Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines, but with the arrival of Islam, Morocco developed independent states that kept powerful invaders at bay.

Berber Dynasties

In 702 the Berbers submitted to the armies of Islam and adopted Islam. The first Moroccan states formed during these years, but many were still ruled by outsiders, some of whom were part of the Umayyad Caliphate that controlled most of northern Africa c. 700 CE. In 1056, a Berber empire arose, however, under the Almoravid Dynasty, and for the next five hundred years, Morocco was governed by Berber dynasties: the Almoravids (from 1056), Almohads (from 1174), Marinid (from 1296), and Wattasid (from 1465).

It was during the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties that Morocco controlled much of North Africa, Spain, and Portugal. In 1238, the Almohad lost control of the Muslim portion of Spain and Portugal, known then as al-Andalus. The Marinid dynasty attempted to regain it but never succeeded.

Revival of Moroccan Power

In the mid-1500s, a powerful state again arose in Morocco, under the leadership of the Sa'adi dynasty that had taken over southern Morocco in the early 1500s. The Sa'adi defeated the Wattasid in 1554 and then succeeded in holding off incursions by both the Portuguese and Ottoman Empires. In 1603 a succession dispute led to a period of unrest that did not end until 1671 with the formation of the Awalite Dynasty, which still governs Morocco to this day. During the unrest, Portugal had again gained a foothold in Morocco but was again thrown out by the new leaders.

European Colonization

By the mid-1800s, at a time when the influence of the Ottoman Empire was in decline, France and Spain began taking a great interest in Morocco. The Algeciras Conference (1906) that followed the First Moroccan Crisis formalized France's special interest in the region (opposed by Germany), and the Treaty of Fez (1912) made Morocco a French protectorate. Spain gained authority over Ifni (to the south) and Tétouan to the north.

In the 1920s the Rif Berbers of Morocco, under the leadership of Muhammad Abd el-Krim, rebelled against French and Spanish authority. The short-lived Rif republic was crushed by a joint French/Spanish task force in 1926.


In 1953 France deposed the nationalist leader and sultan Mohammed V ibn Yusuf, but both nationalist and religious groups called for his return. France capitulated, and Mohammed V returned in 1955. On the second of March in 1956, French Morocco gained independence. Spanish Morocco, except for the two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, gained independence in April of 1956.

Mohammed V was succeeded by his son, Hasan II ibn Mohammed, upon his death in 1961. Morocco became a constitutional monarchy in 1977. When Hassan II died in 1999 he was succeeded by his thirty-five-year-old son, Mohammed VI ibn al-Hassan.

Dispute over Western Sahara

When Spain withdrew from the Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco claimed sovereignty in the north. The Spanish portions to the south, known as Western Sahara, were supposed to become independent, but Morocco occupied the region in the Green March. Initially, Morocco divided the territory with Mauritania, but when Mauritania withdrew in 1979, Morocco claimed the whole. The status of the territory is a deeply contentious issue, with many international bodies like the United Nations recognizing it as a non-self-governing territory called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.


  • Clancy-Smith, Julia Anne, North Africa, Islam, and the Mediterranean world: from the Almoravids to the Algerian War. (2001).
  • "MINURSO Background," United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. (Accessed 18 June 2015).
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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "A Brief History of Morocco." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/brief-history-of-morocco-43987. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2020, August 26). A Brief History of Morocco. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brief-history-of-morocco-43987 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "A Brief History of Morocco." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brief-history-of-morocco-43987 (accessed June 10, 2023).