Saraha is the largest desert in the world, is about 3.5milion square miles of sand, rocks, mountain and plateaus stretching from the Nile River to the Atlantic ocean.

The TRANS-SAHARA trade with the Berbers.

The ship of desert (camels) with the Berbers.

From 1200 to 1450s, an extensive Sahara trading system reached at its peak. The caravan and merchants transport goods from one shore (Arabic discription for Sahel) of the desert to the others of which the Berbers serve as the middlemen.

At it most basic, the development of extensive Trans Sahara trade route required goods of significant value.

Some Berbers who are pastoralist leads to the flow and growth of trades in Sahara deserts. Livestock most especially what they describe as ship of deserts -camel, were used by the caravan.

The camel helps in transportation of goods between the merchant and the caravans. The horses were not in used because of the condition of the deserts. The Berber who lived at the edge of deserts, rent the caravans to reached their destination.

It was common for caravans crossing the Sahara with 5,000 to 10,000 camels.

Timbuktu, in Mali Empire of west Africa, started out as caravanserai or pitstops for caravans before it grew into center of learning and commerce.

The land of gold.

The western Sudan or the west Africa which has its outstanding significant in Sahara trades due to the flow of gold’s were the Ghana, Mali and Songhai.

Many goods travelled along these trade networks, but it was the gold of west Africa and the salt of Sahara that drove the trade. Salt was necessary in human life, but it was short in supply in west Africa. Berbers tribes control several salts mines, which allowed them to buy high value goods like gold from merchant in west Africa cities. The purchase on enslaved people were involved.  From cities, goods and enslaved enslaved people were taken to Mediterranean and on to Egypt. The Trans-Saraha reached their peak from the twelfth to fifteen centuries.

The region of West Africa, south of the Sahara was home to powerful empires and large cities. Here, along the flood plains of Niger Rivers, agriculture societies like the Mali(1235-1670) and Songhai (1430-1591) empires.

These empires depends on trade across the desert to exchange their gold for salt and luxuries from Mediterranean. The emperor of Mali and Songhai strictly controlled the movement merchants across their land.

The Arrival of Islam

Powerful Islamic empires and the Muslim merchants in the north, united much Afro-Eurasia into one trading system. As West Africans converted to Islam, trade expanded into Sahara.

Arab merchants made there way through desert to trade with West Africa, of which in turns the West African travelled north where many were enslaved, made journey voluntarily and many even travel on pilgrimage to mecca.

Caravans and merchants carried abundant wealth, goods and people across the Sahara. But perhaps, the most important thing they carried weighed nothing at all: Islam. Islam was the most important factors in the expansion of trans-sahara trade.

After the Arab conquest of the seventh century. The Berbers converted to Islam. As trade expanded, many West Africa merchant converted as well. Arabic were common language and value system, making it easier for trading to trust each other, record their transaction and effective communication among themselves.

In West Africa, Islam went as far to developed the urban center through religious elites. Most converts lived in cities and were merchants or members of the ruling class. Since most of the population was not urban, local religious remained more important long after the arrival of Islam.

New Route

The combination of Islam, increased trade and cultural exchange, created a Golden age for the empire of west Africa, allowing cities to florish.

Trade allowed travellers and scholars to move around the world, exchanging knowledge, example Mansa Musa, the rulaer in Mali, made the Hajj to mecca in 1320s. He travelled with thousands of camel and servants, carrying a fortune in gold. He spent so lavishly that he destabilized the Egyptian economy. His displays of wealth helped createdmyths that west Africa was a land where gold grew like plants in the ground.

European began exploring the West Africa coast partly due to such myths. They even established new sea lane bypassing the Sahara routes. But large caravans continued to cross the desert right up until the early twentieth century.

Impact of Trans-sahara trade

1. It turned the Sahara one of the world’s most formidable barrier to communication.

2. It was the first major link with the European before the exploration in the fifteenth century. The gold of West Africa was very important which fully leads to participation of Arabs and Berbers.

3. It brought new idea and civilization most especially ideas. Eg Arabic was brought and introduced by Arab as common language and value syi, making flow of record transaction, trading with trust and communication.

Trans-sahara desert involving the caravans.


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