Rome's first province in northwest Africa was established by the Roman Republic in 146 BC, following its defeat of Carthage in the Third Punic War. Africa Proconsularis or Africa Vetus (Old Africa), was governed by a proconsul.
It is possible that the name "Africa" comes from the Berber word "afer" or "ifri" that designated a tribe.
Utica was formed as the administrative capital. The remaining territory was left in the domain of the Berber Numidian client king Massinissa. At this time, the Roman policy in Africa was simply to prevent another great power from rising on the far side of Sicily.
In 118 BC, the Numidian prince Jugurtha attempted to reunify the smaller kingdoms. However, upon his death, much of Jugurtha's territory was placed in the control of the Berber Mauretanian client king Bocchus; and, by that time, the romanisation of Africa was firmly rooted. In 27 BC, when the Republic had transformed into an Empire, the province of Africa began its Imperial occupation under Roman rule.
Several political and provincial reforms were implemented by Augustus and later by Caligula, but Claudius finalized the territorial divisions into official Roman provinces. Africa was a senatorial province. After Diocletian's administrative reforms, it was split into Africa Zeugitana (which retained the name Africa Proconsularis, as it was governed by a proconsul) in the north; Africa Byzacena to its adjacent south (corresponding to eastern Tunisia), and Africa Tripolitania to its adjacent south (corresponding to southern Tunisia and northwest Libya). All of which were part of the Dioecesis Africae.
The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until the Germanic migrations of the 5th century. The Vandals crossed into Northwest Africa from Spain in 429 and overran the area by 439 and founded their own kingdom, including Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics. The Vandals controlled the country as a warrior-elite but faced strong resistance from the native Berbers. The Vandals also persecuted Catholic Berbers, as the Vandals were adherents of Arianism (the semi-trinitarian doctrines of Arius, a priest of Egypt). Towards the end of the 5th century, the Vandal state fell into decline, abandoning most of the interior territories to the Mauri and other Berber tribes of the region.
In AD 533, Emperor Justinian, using a Vandal dynastic dispute as pretext, sent an army under the general Belisarius to recover Africa. In a short campaign, Belisarius defeated the Vandals, entered Carthage in triumph and re-established Roman rule over the province. The restored Roman administration was successful in fending off the attacks of the Amazigh desert tribes, and by means of an extensive fortification network managed to extend its rule once again to the interior.
The northwest African provinces, together with the Roman possessions in Spain, were grouped into the Exarchate of Africa by Emperor Maurice. The exarchate prospered, and from it resulted the overthrow of the emperor Phocas by Heraclius in 610. Heraclius briefly considered moving the imperial capital from Constantinople to Carthage.
After 640, the exarchate managed to stave off the Muslim Conquest, but in 698, a Muslim army from Egypt sacked Carthage and conquered the exarchate, ending Roman and Christian rule in Northwest Africa.