Many ancient cultures across the world depended on trade routes to keep their economy moving. In particular, the trade routes of China and Ancient Africa played an important role in the development of their empires.
While China had the Silk Road, Africa had the Trans-Saharan Route, which was used to transport items (usually gold and salt) from Western and Central Africa to more distant African countries, and later to faraway places like Europe and Asia.
The Trans-Saharan Route was used primarily until around 1500 AD, or when the Middle Ages began.
The major trade routes of Africa moved valuable goods across the Sahara Desert between Western Africa and the port cities built along the northern coast of the continent.
Because the east of Africa was less developed, it wasn’t as important for trade, but records suggest that some West-East trade was carried out by crossing the Sahara. Traders moved across the desert in large parties (groups) called caravans.
Their main mode of transport was an animal called a camel, which was used to move both people and objects.
Large caravans were common because they offered protection from bandits; a normal caravan had about 1,000 camels, but some had over ten times that number.
The camel was, without a doubt, the most important part of the caravan, and was practically the only way to navigate the trade routes of Africa. This is because camels are well-suited to surviving desert conditions.
They can go long periods without water by storing it in a hump on their back, and can also cope with rapid changes in body temperature such as those found in the desert between the day and night.
Camels also have two sets of eyelids to let them navigate sandstorms, which was invaluable for traders. If camels were not available, slaves would be brought in the caravan to carry goods as well.
Caravans usually traveled at a rate of about 3 miles per hour, and it would take up to 40 days for a single caravan to cross the desert.
The “barter” system of commerce was common in Africa, where goods would be traded for other goods, but the West African countries also had a money system that they used for trade.
Gold dust was the currency used. The “Akan” people mined gold for this purpose and used it for trade both locally and internationally.
This concept is similar to the system of money used by Muslim traders in North Africa, which is probably where they got it from.
The gold mines of West Africa supplied the empires of Africa (the Ancient Egyptians, for instance, and the Kingdom of Mali) with a steady supply of wealth, and enabled trade.
Aside from the gold trade, though, other items which were exchanged or bartered included ivory (the material an elephant’s tusk is made of,) cloth, slaves, metal, and bead jewelry.
As trade flourished, cities developed whose economies centered around it. In Western Africa, major trade centers like Timbuktu, Gao and Djenne developed; along the coast of Northern Africa, seaports developed to enable trade with Europe, such as Cairo and Tunis.
Through the travels of Muslim traders, the religion of Islam was spread throughout Western Africa. The religion of Islam was spread throughout Western Africa through Muslim traders.
The implementation of Islamic law helped to lower crime rates on the trade routes, and also helped to develop the common language of Arabic.
This encouraged trade between the different parts of Africa. The Muslim traders who settled in West Africa were known as the “Dyula,” and were high in the African hierarchy.
Their importance in the economy contributed greatly to the spread of Islam in Africa, which is one of the most widespread religions in the continent even to this day.
Facts about the Trade Routes of Africa:
- The main trade route of Africa was the track across the Saharan Desert – the Trans-Saharan Route, nowadays called the Trans-Saharan Highway.
- This route was used to move valuable goods between Western Africa and the port cities built along the northern coast of the continent.
- Traders moved across the desert in large parties (groups) called caravans.
- The main way they moved through the desert was by camel.
- Camels are a species of animal who are uniquely suited to desert life and made excellent transport for traders and their wares.
- Caravans usually traveled at a rate of about 3 miles per hour, and it would take up to 40 days for a single caravan to cross the desert.
- The “barter” system of commerce was common in Africa, but there was also a money system used.
- The gold mines of West Africa supplied the empires of Africa (the Ancient Egyptians, for instance, and the Kingdom of Mali) with a steady supply of wealth, and enabled trade. Ivory was another valuable material used for trade.
- What did the main trade route of Africa cut across/where was it located?
– It cut across the Sahara Desert/was located along the Sahara Desert.
- Name a port city of Africa.
- What was the name given to the large groups of traders who would transport goods across Africa?
- What animal did they use primarily for transport and for their strength?
– The camel.
- Until what century did this trade route remain an important fixture of Africa?
– The sixteenth century/the 1500s.
- Back to – Ancient Africa