Bordered by Morocco, it lies along the boundary between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of nine populated Spanish territories in Africa and, along with Melilla, one of two populated Spanish territories on mainland Africa. It was part of the province of Cádiz until 14 March 1995. On that date, Statutes of Autonomy were passed for both Ceuta and Melilla.
Ceuta, like Melilla and the Canary Islands, was classified as a free port before Spain joined the European Union. Its population consists of Christians, Muslims, and small minorities of Sephardic Jews and ethnic Sindhis from modern-day Pakistan.
After Carthage‘s destruction in the Punic Wars, most of northwest Africa was left to the Roman client states of Numidia and—around Abyla—Mauretania. Punic culture continued to thrive in what the Romans knew as “Septem”. After the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BC, Caesar and his heirs began annexing north Africa directly as Roman provinces but, as late as Augustus, most of Septem’s Berber residents continued to speak and write in Punic.
Caligula assassinated the Mauretanian king Ptolemy in AD 40 and seized his kingdom, which Claudius organized in AD 42, placing Septem in the province of Tingitana and raising it to the level of a colony. It subsequently romanized and thrived into the late 3rd century, trading heavily with Roman Spain and becoming well known for its salted fish. Roads connected it overland with Tingis (Tangiers) and Volubilis. Under Theodosius I in the late 4th century, Septem still had 10,000 inhabitants, nearly all Christian citizens speaking Latin and African Romance.
Vandals, probably invited by Count Boniface as protection against the empress dowager, crossed the strait near Tingis around 425 and swiftly overran Roman North Africa. Their king Gaiseric focused his attention on the rich lands around Carthage; although the Romans eventually accepted his conquests and he continued to raid them anyway, he soon lost control of Tingis and Septem in a series of Berber revolts. When Justinian decided to reconquer the Vandal lands, his victorious general Belisarius continued along the coast, making Septem an outpost of the Byzantine Empire around 533. Unlike the Roman administration, however, the Byzantines did not push far into hinterland and made the more defensible Septem their regional capital in place of Tingis.
Epidemics, less capable successors and overstretched supply lines forced a retrenchment and left Septem isolated. It is likely that its count (comes) was obliged to pay homage to the Visigoth Kingdom in Spain in the early 7th century. There are no reliable contemporary accounts of the end of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb around 710. Instead, the rapid Muslim conquest of Spain produced romances concerning Count Julian of Septem and his betrayal of Christendom in revenge for the dishonor that befell his daughter at King Roderick‘s court. Allegedly with Julian’s encouragement and instructions, the Berber convert and freedman Tariq ibn Ziyad took his garrison from Tangiers across the strait and overran the Spanish so swiftly that both he and his master Musa bin Nusayr fell afoul of a jealous caliph, who stripped them of their wealth and titles.