The military history of the European conquest of Africa in the nineteenth century

begins north of the Sahara, in Algeria, long before the onset of the Scramble. The long

and brutal campaign by France to “pacify” Algeria from 1830 to 1847 saw the emergence

for the first time of many of the features we associate with the European wars of

conquest and with the resistance they met from indigenous peoples. To begin with, it

was in Algeria during this time that some of the best known institutional symbols and

most enduring imagery of European colonial warfare first took shape. In the 1830s the

French government took the first steps toward creating a separate force, the Armée

d’Afrique, to fight its wars in North Africa. Eventually garrisoned permanently in Algeria,

the Armée d’Afrique would include some of the more colourful units in colonial military

history: the Zouaves, European infantry decked out in the baggy pants and embroidered

tunics of the Berber peoples of the Algerian mountains; the Spahis, Arab cavalry in

flowing burnooses; and the Turcos, the Algerian light infantry who would go on to serve

with such distinction in both world wars and in Indochina. The other famous military

unit created during this time was, of course, the French Foreign Legion, formed in

1831 to siphon off the less desirable elements among France’s large foreign population.