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08 December 2005

Trans-Saharan Trade and the West African Discovery of the Mediterranean World

http://www.smi.uib.no/paj/Masonen.html
Pekka Masonen, University of Tampere
The third Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: Ethnic encounter and culture change
Joensuu, Finland, 19-22 June 1995

...regular and intensive trade across the desert was organized quite soon after the Arabs had consolided their power in Northern Africa: both the major northern terminals of the trans-Saharan routes, Sijilmasa and Tahert, were founded in mid-8th century AD. However, the trade could succeed only because it managed to join up with the internal West African commercial network. By the arrival of first North African traders, perhaps in the early 8th century, the peoples of the savanna had already established large states, like Ghana and Gao, and cities, like Jenne which had some twenty thousand inhabitants. But new cities were also born at the desert edge, like Awdaghust, Kumbi Saleh and Tadamakka, and their destiny was tied closely with the continuity of the long distance trade: when the caravan routes later changed and the volume of trade declined, these towns, too, were soon abandoned. There were three basic routes across the Sahara: the "western", leading from Sijilmasa to Awdaghust; the "central", and the most important, leading from Ifriqiya to the Niger bend; and the "Egyptian", leading from Egypt to the Niger bend via Siwa and Kufra, which was, however, abandoned in the 10th century as it was too dangerous...


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