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History >> Ancient Africa

Ancient Africa

Trade Routes

The trade routes of Ancient Africa played an important role in the economy of many African Empires. Goods from Western and Central Africa were traded across trade routes to faraway places like Europe, the Middle East, and India.

What did they trade?

The main items traded were gold and salt. The gold mines of West Africa provided great wealth to West African Empires such as Ghana and Mali. Other items that were commonly traded included ivory, kola nuts, cloth, slaves, metal goods, and beads.

Major Trade Cities

As trade developed across Africa, major cities developed as centers for trade. In Western Africa the major trade centers were cities such as Timbuktu, Gao, Agadez, Sijilmasas, and Djenne. Along the coast of North Africa sea port cities developed such as Marrakesh, Tunis, and Cairo. The port city of Adulis on the Red Sea was also an important trade center.


Map of Medieval Saharan Trade by T L Miles

Routes Across the Sahara Desert

The major trade routes moved goods across the Sahara Desert between Western/Central Africa and the port trade centers along the Mediterranean Sea. One important trade route went from Timbuktu across the Sahara to Sijilmasa. Once the goods reached Sijilmasa they might be moved to many places including the port cities of Marrakesh or Tunis. Other trade routes included Gao to Tunis and Cairo to Agadez.

Caravans

Traders moved their goods across the Sahara in large groups called caravans. Camels were the main mode of transportation and were used to carry goods and people. Sometimes slaves carried goods as well. Large caravans were important because they offered protection from bandits. A typical caravan would have around 1,000 camels with some caravans having over 10,000 camels.

A caravan of camels in the desert
Caravan by Unknown
The Camel

The camel was the most important part of the caravan. Without the camel, trade across the Sahara would have been next to impossible. Camels are uniquely adapted to survive long periods without water. They also can survive large changes in body temperature allowing them to withstand the heat of the day and the cold of night in the desert.

History

Camels were first domesticated by the Berbers of North Africa around 300 CE. With the use of camels trade routes began to form between cities across the Sahara Desert. African trade reached its height, however, after the Arabs had conquered North Africa. Islamic traders entered the region and began to trade for gold and slaves from Western Africa. The trade routes remained an important part of the African economy throughout the Middle Ages until the 1500s.

Interesting Facts about the Trade Routes of Ancient Africa Take a ten question quiz about this page.

To learn more about Ancient Africa:

Civilizations
Ancient Egypt
Kingdom of Ghana
Mali Empire
Songhai Empire
Kush
Kingdom of Aksum
Central African Kingdoms
Ancient Carthage

Culture
Art in Ancient Africa
Daily Life
Griots
Islam
Traditional African Religions
Slavery in Ancient Africa
People
Boers
Cleopatra VII
Hannibal
Pharaohs
Shaka Zulu
Sundiata

Geography
Countries and Continent
Nile River
Sahara Desert
Trade Routes

Other
Timeline of Ancient Africa
Glossary and Terms


Works Cited

History >> Ancient Africa








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