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Trans-Saharan trade

Trans-Saharan trade

Overview
Trans-Saharan trade requires travel across the Sahara
Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

 to reach sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

. While existing from prehistoric times, the peak of trade extended from the 8th century until the late 16th century.


The Sahara once had a very different environment. In Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 and Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

, from at least 7000 BC, there was pastoralism
Pastoralism
Pastoralism or pastoral farming is the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. It may have a mobile aspect, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and...

, herding of sheep and goats, large settlements and pottery. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4000 to 3500 BCE.
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Encyclopedia
Trans-Saharan trade requires travel across the Sahara
Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

 to reach sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

. While existing from prehistoric times, the peak of trade extended from the 8th century until the late 16th century.

Increasing desertification and economic incentive



The Sahara once had a very different environment. In Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 and Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

, from at least 7000 BC, there was pastoralism
Pastoralism
Pastoralism or pastoral farming is the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. It may have a mobile aspect, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and...

, herding of sheep and goats, large settlements and pottery. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4000 to 3500 BCE. Remarkable rock paintings (dated 3500 to 2500 BC) in currently very dry places portray vegetation and animal presence rather different from modern expectations.

The Sahara is a hostile expanse that separates the Mediterranean economy from the economy of the Niger basin
Niger River
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about . Its drainage basin is in area. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea...

. Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

 pointed out, such a zone, like the Atlantic Ocean, is only worth crossing in exceptional circumstances, when the gain outweighs the loss. However, unlike the Atlantic, the Sahara has always been home to groups of people practising trade on a local basis.

Trade in Islamic times was conducted by caravan
Camel train
A camel train is a series of camels carrying goods or passengers in a group as part of a regular or semi-regular service between two points. Although they rarely travelled faster than the walking speed of a man, camels' ability to handle harsh conditions made camel trains a vital part of...

s of camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s. These camels would be fattened for a number of months on the plains of either the Maghreb
Maghreb
The Maghreb is the region of Northwest Africa, west of Egypt. It includes five countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara...

 or the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

 before being assembled into a caravan. According to Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

, the explorer who accompanied one of the caravans, the average size per caravan was a 1,000 camels; some caravans were as large as 12,000.

The caravans would be guided by highly paid Berbers
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage from their fellow desert nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

s.

The survival of a caravan was precarious and would rely on careful coordination. Runners would be sent ahead to oases
Oasis
In geography, an oasis or cienega is an isolated area of vegetation in a desert, typically surrounding a spring or similar water source...

 so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not carry enough with them to make the full journey.

Early Trans-Saharan trade



Prehistoric trade spanned the northeastern corner of the Sahara in the Naqada
Naqada
Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile in the Egyptian governorate of Qena. It was known in Ancient Egypt as Nubt and in classical antiquity as Ombos. Its name derives from ancient Egyptian nub, meaning gold, on account of the proximity of gold mines in the Eastern Desert.Naqada comprises...

n era. Predynastic Egypt
Predynastic Egypt
The Prehistory of Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in ca. 3100 BC, starting with King Menes/Narmer....

ians in the Naqada I period
Naqada
Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile in the Egyptian governorate of Qena. It was known in Ancient Egypt as Nubt and in classical antiquity as Ombos. Its name derives from ancient Egyptian nub, meaning gold, on account of the proximity of gold mines in the Eastern Desert.Naqada comprises...

 traded with Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

 to the south, the oases of the western desert
Western Desert
Western Desert may refer to:* Libyan Desert, located in the northern and eastern part of the Sahara Desert. It occupies Egypt west of the Nile , eastern Libya and northwestern Sudan alongside the Nubian Desert.* Western Desert cultural bloc or just Western Desert is a cultural region in...

 to the west, and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean to the east. They also imported obsidian
Obsidian
Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock.It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth...

 from Ethiopia
History of Ethiopia
This article covers the prehistory and history of Ethiopia.-Prehistory:Lucy, discovered in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar region, is considered the world's second-oldest, but most complete and best preserved, adult Australopithecine fossil...

 to shape blades and other objects.

The overland route through the Wadi Hammamat
Wadi Hammamat
' is a dry river bed in Egypt's Eastern Desert, about halfway between Qusier and Qena. It was a major mining region and trade route east from the Nile Valley in ancient times, and three thousand years of rock carvings and graffiti make it a major scientific and tourist site today.-Trade...

 from the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 to the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

 was known as early as predynastic
Predynastic Egypt
The Prehistory of Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in ca. 3100 BC, starting with King Menes/Narmer....

 times; drawings depicting Egyptian reed boat
Reed boat
Reed boats and rafts, along with dugout canoes and other rafts, are among the oldest known types of boats. Often used as traditional fishing boats, they are still used in a few places around the world, though they have generally been replaced with planked boats. Reed boats can be distinguished from...

s have been found along the path dating to 4000 BC. Ancient cities
City
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.For example, in the U.S...

 dating to the First Dynasty of Egypt
First dynasty of Egypt
The first dynasty of Ancient Egypt is often combined with the Dynasty II under the group title, Early Dynastic Period of Egypt...

 arose along both its Nile and Red Sea junctions, testifying to the route's ancient popularity. It became a major route from Thebes
Thebes, Egypt
Thebes is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile within the modern city of Luxor. The Theban Necropolis is situated nearby on the west bank of the Nile.-History:...

 to the Red Sea port
Red Sea - Exodus station
The Red Sea station is an unverified station claimed to be near the Red Sea. It is stated in the Book of Exodus that the Israelites encamped at the Red Sea following their stay at Elim....

 of Elim
Elim (Bible)
Elim was one of the places where the Israelites camped following their Exodus from Egypt. It is referenced in Exodus 15.27 and Numbers 33.9 as a place where "there were twelve wells of water, and seventy date palms," and that the Israelites "camped there near the water".From the information that...

, where travelers then moved on to either Asia, Arabia or the Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

. Records exist documenting knowledge of the route among Senusret I
Senusret I
Senusret I was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1971 BC to 1926 BC, and was one of the most powerful kings of this Dynasty. He was the son of Amenemhat I and his wife Nefertitanen. His wife and sister was Neferu. She was also the mother of the successor Amenemhat II...

, Seti, Ramesses IV
Ramesses IV
Heqamaatre Ramesses IV was the third pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. His name prior to assuming the crown was Amonhirkhopshef...

 and also, later, the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, especially for mining.

The Darb el-Arbain
Kharga Oasis
El-Kharga , also known as Al-Kharijah, is the southernmost of Egypt's five western oases. It is located in the Libyan Desert, about 200 km to the west of the Nile valley, and is some 150 km long. It is located in and is the capital of New Valley Governorate...

 trade route, passing through Kharga in the south and Asyut
Asyut
Asyut is the capital of the modern Asyut Governorate in Egypt; the ancient city of the same name is situated nearby. The modern city is located at , while the ancient city is at .- Etymology :...

 in the north, was used from as early as the Old Kingdom for the transport and trade of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, spice
Spice
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours...

s, wheat
Wheat
Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

, animals and plants. Later, Ancient Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

s would protect the route by lining it with varied forts and small outposts, some guarding large settlements complete with cultivation. Described by Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 as a road "traversed ... in forty days", it became by his time an important land route facilitating trade between Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

 and Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and subsequently became known as the Forty Days Road. From Kobbei
Kobbei
Kobbei is a former town in North Darfur of western Sudan, west of Al-Fashir. It is now deserted. At its peak in the 19th century it was a thriving town, the largest in Darfur, with a population of up to 8,000...

, 25 miles north of al-Fashir
Al-Fashir
Al Fashir or Al-Fashir is the capital city of North Darfur, Sudan. It is a large town in the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan, 120 miles northeast of Nyala, Sudan....

, the route passed through the desert to Bir Natrum, another oasis and salt mine, to Wadi Howar
Wadi Howar
Wadi Howar is a wadi in Sudan and Chad. It travels approximately 400 kilometres in a northeasterly direction from the Ouaddaï highlands in Chad across the North Darfur state of Sudan, before losing itself in the Libyan Desert...

 before proceeding to Egypt. The Darb el-Arbain
Kharga Oasis
El-Kharga , also known as Al-Kharijah, is the southernmost of Egypt's five western oases. It is located in the Libyan Desert, about 200 km to the west of the Nile valley, and is some 150 km long. It is located in and is the capital of New Valley Governorate...

 trade route was the easternmost of the central routes.

The westernmost of the three central routes was the Ghadames Road, which ran from the Niger River
Niger River
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about . Its drainage basin is in area. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea...

 at Gao
Gao
Gao is a town in eastern Mali on the River Niger lying ESE of Timbuktu. Situated on the left bank of the river at the junction with the Tilemsi valley, it is the capital of the Gao Region and had a population of 86,663 in 2009....

 north to Ghat and Ghadames
Ghadames
Ghadames or Ghadamis is an oasis town in the Nalut District of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya.-Geography:Ghadames lies roughly to the southwest of Tripoli, near the borders with Algeria and Tunisia. Ghadames borders Illizi Province, Algeria and Tataouine Governorate, Tunisia.The oasis...

 before terminating at Tripoli. Next was the easiest of the three routes: the Garamantean Road, named after the former rulers of the land it passed through and also called the Bilma Trail. The Garamantean Road passed south of the desert near Murzuk
Murzuk
Murzuk is an oasis town and the capital of the Murzuq District in the Fezzan region of southwest Libya. Murzuk lies on the northern edge of the Murzuq Desert, a desert of ergs or great sand dunes, and section of the Sahara Desert.-History:...

 before turning north to pass between the Alhaggar
Ahaggar Mountains
The Ahaggar Mountains , also known as the Hoggar, are a highland region in central Sahara, or southern Algeria, along the Tropic of Cancer. They are located about 1,500 km  south of the capital, Algiers and just west of Tamanghasset. The region is largely rocky desert with an average...

 and Tibesti Mountains
Tibesti Mountains
The Tibesti Mountains are a range of inactive volcanoes located on the northern edge of the Chad Basin in the Borkou- and Tibesti Region of northern Chad. The massif is one of the most prominent features of the Central-Sahara desert and covers an area of approximately 100,000 km². The northern...

 before reaching the oasis at Kawar. From Kawar, caravans would pass over the great sand dunes of Bilma
Bilma
Bilma is an oasis town in north east Niger with a population of around 2,500 people. It lies protected from the desert dunes under the Kaouar Cliffs and is the largest town along the Kaouar escarpment...

, where rock salt
Halite
Halite , commonly known as rock salt, is the mineral form of sodium chloride . Halite forms isometric crystals. The mineral is typically colorless or white, but may also be light blue, dark blue, purple, pink, red, orange, yellow or gray depending on the amount and type of impurities...

 was mined in great quantities for trade, before reaching the savanna north of Lake Chad
Lake Chad
Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, whose size has varied over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998; yet it also states that "the 2007 ...

. This was the shortest of the routes, and the primary exchanges were slaves and ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 from the south for salt.

The western routes were the Walata
Oualata
Oualata or Walata is a small oasis town in south east Mauritania that was important in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the southern terminus of a trans-Saharan trade route...

 Road, from the Sénégal River
Sénégal River
The Sénégal River is a long river in West Africa that forms the border between Senegal and Mauritania.The Sénégal's headwaters are the Semefé and Bafing rivers which both originate in Guinea; they form a small part of the Guinean-Malian border before coming together at Bafoulabé in Mali...

, and the Taghaza
Taghaza
Taghaza is an abandoned salt-mining centre located in a salt pan in the desert region of northern Mali. It was an important source of rock salt for West Africa up to the end of the 17th century when it was abandoned and replaced by Taoudenni. Salt from the mines formed an important part of the...

 Trail, from the Mali River
Mali River
The Mali River is a river that originates in northern Burma. It flows approximately 320 km, when it meets with the N'Mai River and forms the Ayeyarwady River. Construction of the Myitsone Dam has begun at this confluence....

, which had their northern termini at the great trading center of Sijilmasa
Sijilmasa
Sijilmasa was a medieval trade entrepôt at the northern edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The ruins of the town lie along the River Ziz in the Tafilalt oasis near the town of Rissani...

, situated in Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 just north of the desert. The growth of the city of Aoudaghost
Aoudaghost
Aoudaghost was an important oasis town at the southern end of a trans-Saharan caravan route that is mentioned in a number of early Arabic manuscripts...

, founded in the 5th century BCE, was stimulated by its position at the southern end of a trans Saharan trade route.

To the east, three ancient routes connected the south to the Mediterranean. The herdsmen of the Fezzan
Fezzan
Fezzan is a south western region of modern Libya. It is largely desert but broken by mountains, uplands, and dry river valleys in the north, where oases enable ancient towns and villages to survive deep in the otherwise inhospitable Sahara.-Name:...

 of Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

, known as the Garamantes
Garamantes
The Garamantes were a Saharan people who used an elaborate underground irrigation system, and founded a prosperous Berber kingdom in the Fezzan area of modern-day Libya, in the Sahara desert. They were a local power in the Sahara between 500 BC and 700 AD.There is little textual information about...

, controlled these routes as early as 1500 BC. From their capital of Germa
Germa
Germa, known in ancient times as Garama, is an archaeological site in Libya and was the capital of the Garamantes.The Garamantes were a Berber people living in the Fezzan in the northeastern Sahara, originating from the Sahara's Tibesti region. Garamantian power climaxed during the 2nd and the 3rd...

 in the Wadi Ajal, the Garamantean Empire raided north to the sea and south into the Sahel. By the 4th century BC, the independent city-states of Phoenecia had expanded their control to the territory and routes once held by the Garamantes. Shillington states that existing contact with the Mediterranean received added incentive with the growth of the port city of Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. Founded c. 800 BCE, Carthage became one terminus for West African gold, ivory, and slaves. West Africa received salt, cloth, beads, and metal goods. Shillington proceeds to identify this trade route as the source for West African iron smelting. Trade continued into Roman times. Although there are Classical references to direct travel from the Mediterranean to West Africa (Daniels, p. 22f), most of this trade was conducted through middlemen, inhabiting the area and aware of passages through the drying lands. The Legio III Augusta
Legio III Augusta
Legio tertia Augusta was raised in the year 43 BCE most likely by the consul Gaius Vibius Pansa and the emperor Augustus who served the Roman Empire in North Africa until at least the late 4th century CE. It is possible that it fought in the battle of Philippi against the murderers of Caesar...

 subsequently secured these routes on behalf of Rome
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 by the 1st century AD, safeguarding the southern border of the empire for two and half centuries.

Introduction of the camel



Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 had spoken of the Garamantes
Garamantes
The Garamantes were a Saharan people who used an elaborate underground irrigation system, and founded a prosperous Berber kingdom in the Fezzan area of modern-day Libya, in the Sahara desert. They were a local power in the Sahara between 500 BC and 700 AD.There is little textual information about...

 hunting the Ethiopian Troglodytes with their chariots; this account was associated with depictions of horses drawing chariot
Chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...

s in contemporary cave art in southern Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 and the Fezzan
Fezzan
Fezzan is a south western region of modern Libya. It is largely desert but broken by mountains, uplands, and dry river valleys in the north, where oases enable ancient towns and villages to survive deep in the otherwise inhospitable Sahara.-Name:...

, giving origin to a theory that the Garamantes, or some other Saran people, had created chariot routes to provide Rome and Carthage with gold and ivory. However, it has been argued that no horse skeletons have been found dating from this early period in the region, and chariots would have been unlikely vehicles for trading purposes due to their small capacity.

The earliest evidence for domesticated camels in the region dates from the 3rd century. Used by the Berber people
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

, they enabled more regular contact across the entire width of the Sahara, but regular trade routes did not develop until the beginnings of the Islamic conversion of West Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries. Two main trade routes developed. The first ran through the western desert from modern Morocco to the Niger Bend
Niger River
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about . Its drainage basin is in area. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea...

, the second from modern Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

 to the Lake Chad
Lake Chad
Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, whose size has varied over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998; yet it also states that "the 2007 ...

 area. These stretches were relatively short and had the essential network of occasional oases that established the routing as inexorably as pins in a map. Further east of the Fezzan with its trade route through the valley of Kaouar to Lake Chad, Libya was impassable due to its lack of oases and fierce sandstorms. A route from the Niger Bend to Egypt was abandoned in the 10th century due to its dangers.

Trans-Saharan trade in the Middle Ages


The rise of the Ghana Empire
Ghana Empire
The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, and Western Mali. Complex societies had existed in the region since about 1500 BCE, and around Ghana's core region since about 300 CE...

, centered on what is now Mali, Senegal, and southern Mauritania
Mauritania
Mauritania is a country in the Maghreb and West Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Western Sahara in the north, by Algeria in the northeast, by Mali in the east and southeast, and by Senegal in the southwest...

, paralleled the increase in trans-Saharan trade. Mediterranean economies were short of gold but could supply salt, taken by places like the African salt mine of Taghaza
Taghaza
Taghaza is an abandoned salt-mining centre located in a salt pan in the desert region of northern Mali. It was an important source of rock salt for West Africa up to the end of the 17th century when it was abandoned and replaced by Taoudenni. Salt from the mines formed an important part of the...

, whereas West African countries like Wangara
Wangara
Wangara may refer to:*The Soninke Wangara of West Africa*Wangara, Western Australia*Wangara, Burkina Faso...

 had plenty of gold but needed salt. The trans-Saharan slave trade was also important because large numbers of Africans were sent north, generally to serve as domestic servants or slave concubines. The West African states imported highly trained slave soldiers. It has been estimated that from the 10th to the 19th century some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were transported north each year. Perhaps as many as nine million slaves were exported along the trans-Saharan caravan route. Several trade routes became established, perhaps the most important terminating in Sijilmasa
Sijilmasa
Sijilmasa was a medieval trade entrepôt at the northern edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The ruins of the town lie along the River Ziz in the Tafilalt oasis near the town of Rissani...

 and Ifriqiya
Ifriqiya
In medieval history, Ifriqiya or Ifriqiyah was the area comprising the coastal regions of what are today western Libya, Tunisia, and eastern Algeria. This area included what had been the Roman province of Africa, whose name it inherited....

 in what is now Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 to the north. There, and in other North African cities, Berber traders had increased contact with Islam, encouraging conversions, and by the 8th century, Muslims were traveling to Ghana. Many in Ghana converted to Islam, and it is likely that the Empire's trade was privileged as a result. Around 1050, Ghana captured Aoudaghost, but new goldmines around Bure reduced trade through the city, instead benefiting the Soso
Soso
Soso may refer to:* Soso, Mississippi, town in the United States* Joseph Stalin , one pseudonym Sosso, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee* Sosso, a people of West Africa, found particularly in Guinea...

, who later founded the Mali Empire
Mali Empire
The Mali Empire or Mandingo Empire or Manden Kurufa was a West African empire of the Mandinka from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I...

.
Unlike Ghana, Mali was a Muslim kingdom, and under it, the gold - salt trade continued. Other, less important trade goods were slaves, kola nut
Kola nut
Kola Nut is the nut of the kola tree, a genus of trees native to the tropical rainforests of Africa, classified in the family Malvaceae, subfamily Sterculioideae . It is related to the South American genus Theobroma, or cocoa...

s from the south and slave beads
Slave beads
Trade beads were otherwise decorative glass beads used between the 16th and 20th century as a currency to exchange for goods, services and slaves . Made to ease the passage of European explorers and then traders mainly across the African continents, the beads were made throughout Europe although...

 and cowry shells from the north (for use as currency). It was under Mali that the great cities of the Niger bend —including Gao
Gao
Gao is a town in eastern Mali on the River Niger lying ESE of Timbuktu. Situated on the left bank of the river at the junction with the Tilemsi valley, it is the capital of the Gao Region and had a population of 86,663 in 2009....

 and Djenné
Djenné
Djenné is an Urban Commune and town in the Inland Niger Delta region of central Mali. In the 2009 census the commune had a population of 32,944. Administratively it is part of the Mopti Region....

— prospered, with Timbuktu
Timbuktu
Timbuktu , formerly also spelled Timbuctoo, is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali...

 in particular becoming known across Europe for its great wealth. Important trading centers in southern West Africa developed at the transitional zone between the forest and the savanna; examples include Begho and Bono Manso (in present-day Ghana) and Bondoukou
Bondoukou
Bondoukou is a town in Bondoukou Department of Côte d'Ivoire, located in the Zanzan Region, 420 km Northeast of Abidjan...

 (in present-day Côte d'Ivoire
Côte d'Ivoire
The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire or Ivory Coast is a country in West Africa. It has an area of , and borders the countries Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana; its southern boundary is along the Gulf of Guinea. The country's population was 15,366,672 in 1998 and was estimated to be...

). Western trade routes continued to be important, with Ouadane
Ouadane
Ouadane or Wadan is a small town in the desert region of central Mauritania, situated on the southern edge of the Adrar Plateau, 93 km northeast of Chinguetti. The town was a staging post in the trans-Saharan trade and for caravans transporting slabs of salt from the mines at Idjil. A...

, Oualata
Oualata
Oualata or Walata is a small oasis town in south east Mauritania that was important in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the southern terminus of a trans-Saharan trade route...

 and Chinguetti
Chinguetti
Chinguetti is a ksar or medieval trading centre in northern Mauritania, lying on the Adrar Plateau east of Atar.Founded in the 13th century, as the center of several trans-Saharan trade routes, this tiny city continues to attract a handful of visitors who admire its spare architecture, exotic...

 being the major trade centres in what is now Mauritania, while the Tuareg towns of Assodé
Assodé
Assodé was a town in the Aïr Mountains in what is now northern Niger. Founded around the eleventh century, it was long the most important Tuareg town, benefiting from trans-Saharan trade, and declining with it from the eighteenth century...

 and later Agadez
Agadez
-Sources:* Aboubacar Adamou. "Agadez et sa région. Contribution à l'étude du Sahel et du Sahara nigériens", Études nigériennes, n°44, , 358 p.* Julien Brachet. Migrations transsahariennes. Vers un désert cosmopolite et morcelé . Paris: Le Croquant, , 324 p. ISBN : 978-2-91496865-2.*. Saudi Aaramco...

 grew around a more easterly route in what is now Niger
Niger
Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

.

The eastern trans-Saharan route led to the development of the long lived Kanem-Bornu
Kanem Empire
The Kanem Empire was located in the present countries of Chad, Nigeria and Libya. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of southern Libya , eastern Niger and north-eastern Nigeria...

 empire centred on the Lake Chad area. This trade route was somewhat less efficient and only rose to great prominence when there was turmoil in the west such as during the Almohad
Almohad
The Almohad Dynasty , was a Moroccan Berber-Muslim dynasty founded in the 12th century that established a Berber state in Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains in roughly 1120.The movement was started by Ibn Tumart in the Masmuda tribe, followed by Abd al-Mu'min al-Gumi between 1130 and his...

 conquests.

Decline of trans-Saharan trade


The Portuguese journeys
Portuguese discoveries
Portuguese discoveries is the name given to the intensive maritime exploration by the Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of Africa, Asia and Brazil, in what become known as the...

 around the West African coast opened up new avenues for trade between Europe and West Africa. By the early 16th century, European trading bases, the "Factories
Factory (trading post)
Factory was the English term for the trading posts system originally established by Europeans in foreign territories, first within different states of medieval Europe, and later in their colonial possessions...

"
established on the coast since 1445, and trade with the wealthier Europeans became of prime importance to West Africa. North Africa had declined in both political and economic importance, while the Saharan crossing remained long and treacherous. However, the major blow to trans-Saharan trade was the battle of Tondibi
Battle of Tondibi
The Battle of Tondibi was the decisive confrontation in Morocco's 16th-century invasion of the Songhai Empire. Though vastly outnumbered, the Moroccan forces under Judar Pasha defeated the Songhai Askia Ishaq II, guaranteeing the Empire's downfall....

 of 1591-2. Morocco sent troops across the Sahara and attacked Timbuktu, Gao and some other important trading centres, destroying buildings and property and exiling prominent citizens. This disruption to trade led to a dramatic decline in the importance of these cities and resulting animosity reduced trade considerably.

Although much reduced, trans-Saharan trade continued. But trade routes to the West African coast became increasingly easy, particularly after the French invasion of the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

 in the 1890s and subsequent construction of railways to the interior. A railway line from Dakar
Dakar
Dakar is the capital city and largest city of Senegal. It is located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula on the Atlantic coast and is the westernmost city on the African mainland...

 to Algiers
Algiers
' is the capital and largest city of Algeria. According to the 1998 census, the population of the city proper was 1,519,570 and that of the urban agglomeration was 2,135,630. In 2009, the population was about 3,500,000...

 via the Niger bend was planned but never constructed. With the independence of nations in the region in the 1960s, the north–south routes were severed by national boundaries. National governments were hostile to Tuareg nationalism and so made few efforts to maintain or support trans-Saharan trade, and the Tuareg Rebellion
Tuareg Rebellion
The Tuareg Rebellion was an uprising by various Tuareg groups in Niger and Mali with the aim of achieving autonomy or forming their own nation-state. The insurgency occurred in a period following the regional famine of the 1980s and subsequent refugee crisis, and a time of generalised political...

 of the 1990s and Algerian Civil War
Algerian Civil War
The Algerian Civil War was an armed conflict between the Algerian government and various Islamist rebel groups which began in 1991. It is estimated to have cost between 150,000 and 200,000 lives, in a population of about 25,010,000 in 1990 and 31,193,917 in 2000.More than 70 journalists were...

 further disrupted routes, with many roads closed.


Traditional caravan routes are largely void of camels, but the shorter Azalai
Azalai
The Azalai is a semi annual salt caravan route practiced by Tuareg traders in the Sahara desert, or the act of traveling with a caravan along that route.- History :...

 routes from Agadez
Agadez
-Sources:* Aboubacar Adamou. "Agadez et sa région. Contribution à l'étude du Sahel et du Sahara nigériens", Études nigériennes, n°44, , 358 p.* Julien Brachet. Migrations transsahariennes. Vers un désert cosmopolite et morcelé . Paris: Le Croquant, , 324 p. ISBN : 978-2-91496865-2.*. Saudi Aaramco...

 to Bilma
Bilma
Bilma is an oasis town in north east Niger with a population of around 2,500 people. It lies protected from the desert dunes under the Kaouar Cliffs and is the largest town along the Kaouar escarpment...

 and Timbuktu
Timbuktu
Timbuktu , formerly also spelled Timbuctoo, is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali...

 to Taoudenni
Taoudenni
Taoudenni is a remote salt mining center in the desert region of northern Mali, north of Timbuktu. The salt is dug by hand from the bed of an ancient salt lake, cut into slabs and transported either by truck or by camel to Timbuktu. The camel caravans from Taoudenni are some of the last that...

 are still regularly - if lightly - used. Some members of the Tuareg still use the traditional trade routes, often traveling 1,500 miles and six months out of every year by camel across the Sahara trading in salt carried from the desert interior to communities on the desert edges.

The future of trans-Saharan trade


The African Union
African Union
The African Union is a union consisting of 54 African states. The only all-African state not in the AU is Morocco. Established on 9 July 2002, the AU was formed as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity...

 and African Development Bank
African Development Bank
The African Development Bank Group is a development bank established in 1964 with the intention of promoting economic and social development in Africa...

 support the Trans-Sahara Highway
Trans-Sahara Highway
The Trans-Sahara Highway is a transnational highway project to pave, improve and ease border formalities on an existing trade route across the Sahara Desert...

 from Algiers
Algiers
' is the capital and largest city of Algeria. According to the 1998 census, the population of the city proper was 1,519,570 and that of the urban agglomeration was 2,135,630. In 2009, the population was about 3,500,000...

 to Lagos
Lagos
Lagos is a port and the most populous conurbation in Nigeria. With a population of 7,937,932, it is currently the third most populous city in Africa after Cairo and Kinshasa, and currently estimated to be the second fastest growing city in Africa...

 via Tamanrasset which aims to stimulate trans-Saharan trade. The route is paved except for a 200 km section in northern Niger, but border restrictions still hamper traffic. Only a few truck
Truck
A truck or lorry is a motor vehicle designed to transport cargo. Trucks vary greatly in size, power, and configuration, with the smallest being mechanically similar to an automobile...

s carry trans-Saharan trade, particularly fuel
Fuel
Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

 and salt. Three other highways across the Sahara are proposed: for further details see Trans-African Highways
Trans-African Highway network
The Trans-African Highway network comprises transcontinental road projects in Africa being developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa , the African Development Bank , and the African Union in conjunction with regional international communities...

.

Further reading