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Roman Expeditions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Roman Expeditions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa was explored by Roman expeditions between 19 BCE - 90 CE, most likely in an effort to locate the sources of valuable trade goods and establish routes to bring them to the seaports on the coast of North Africa, thereby minimizing disruption in trade caused by conflicts among indigenous tribes and kingdoms.

Most of these expeditions began as military campaigns, while the last one may have been initiated in the interests of trade relations, but the purpose of all of them seems to have been in the interests of expanding Roman presence in Africa and locating the source of the most valuable trade goods. Rome had established trade relationships with a number of kingdoms in Africa, most notably Meroe, whose merchants brought goods for trade from the interior to the three great Roman centers on the North African coast – Leptis Magna, Oea, and Sabratha – but the desire for even more goods, and direct access to them, prompted Roman excursions to the Sub-Saharan regions. The five expeditions were:

  • Cornelius Balbus – 19 BCE
  • Suetonius Paulinus – 41 CE
  • Septimius Flaccus – 50 CE
  • Valerius Festus – 70 CE
  • Julius Maternus – 90 CE

These expeditions brought the Romans into direct contact with tribes they had never met before, resulting in cross-cultural exchange, the import of Roman goods to Africa, and the export of African goods to the larger Mediterranean civilizations. Although late-19th/early-20th-century CE European scholars made much of the “civilizing” influence of the Romans on the “natives” of Sub-Saharan Africa, modern scholarship makes clear the people with whom the Romans interacted already had highly developed civilizations and rich cultural heritage. The cultural impact of the Roman expeditions on the Sub-Saharan cultures, in fact, is still debated among scholars.

Berber, Carthaginian, & Roman Trade

Trade among the different kingdoms and tribes of Africa was already well established by the time the Phoenicians founded Carthage c. 814 BCE. The overland trade routes, connections, and seaports had been used by African merchants for centuries and, once the Carthaginians gained a foothold in North Africa, contributed to the wealth, prestige, and power of their central city and others in the region. Trade centers were already established on the North African coast by the semi-nomadic or nomadic Berber tribes of the region who traded with each other and may have exported goods elsewhere. These are thought to have been modest sites which the Carthaginians then took over and developed. How and with whom the Berbers may have traded outside of Africa is unclear, but it is certain that such trade was established since the Carthaginians simply took over the earlier Berber business contacts. Scholars R. Oliver and J. D. Fage comment:

Since the Phoenicians were quick to develop any opportunities of trade which came their way, and since their mercantile skill was backed by advanced agricultural techniques, even the smallest coastal settlement tended to become a local metropolis where Berber tribesmen could gain some knowledge of a more ordered and settled mode of living. (54)

The Carthaginians were interested in “civilizing” the Berbers by introducing them to urban life and culture and it seems they achieved their goal as Berber merchants became a staple of trade in the major Carthaginian cities of North Africa. After the fall of Carthage to Rome following the First Punic War (264-241 BCE), Rome became the Mediterranean superpower and replaced Carthage, taking their North African trade centers and transforming them into the region known as Regio Tripolitania (“region of the three cities”) referring to Leptis Magna, Oea (modern Tripoli), and Sabratha.

After 30 BCE, following the death of Cleopatra VII (l. 69-30 BCE), Rome took Egypt and added it to its North African holdings. Roman Egypt then became the empire's “breadbasket” whose grain supply to Rome was supplemented through trade at the cities of Regio Tripolitania. Scholar John Reader comments on the Roman's dependence on North African trade (the designation "corn" in this passage should be understood as "grain", not as North American maize):

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At this time, Rome had a population of close to 1 million people…Such large urban communities require a large food supply and must have access to an extensive agricultural system, especially grain crops, which are highly productive, relatively easy to transport and store for future use…Rome and its immediate environs consumed 320,000 tons of corn each year – nearly 1,000 tons each day – more than 60 percent of which (200,000 tons) came by sea from Rome's North African colonies, and a further 100,000 tons from the cornfields of Egypt alone. Rome's huge and unremitting demand for grain was serviced by a minimum of 800 sailings across the Mediterranean each year, in ships with a capacity of up to 1,000 tons and more. (201-202)

Rome had established trade relations with the Kingdom of Kush following the Meroitic Wars (27-22 BCE), after which Augustus Caesar (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE) entered into an agreement with one of the greatest Candaces of Meroe (Queens of Kush), Amanirenas (r. c. 40-10 BCE) and Meroitic goods found their way up through overland routes to the seaports on the coast. From West Africa, other traders also brought their items toward Regio Tripolitania, but these trade routes were often disrupted by conflicts between kingdoms or different tribes.

It has been suggested that one of the tribes involved in this region's trade were the Garamantes, though this claim has been challenged. Whether the Garamantes were directly involved in trade coming from West Africa is actually irrelevant, however, because it is certain they did something - possibly interrupting trade through raids on caravans - which sparked a response from Rome leading to the first of the Roman expeditions.

Expeditions

Cornelius Balbus – 19 BCE

Roman coins & other artifacts have been found in the region supporting the claim that Balbus' men crossed the mountains & explored the region.

Lucius Cornelius Balbus (l. 1st century BCE) was Proconsul of Africa in c. 19 BCE when he was ordered by Augustus Caesar to put down the Garamantes who were, in some way, interfering with Roman interests in the Fezzan region of Libya. Balbus led 10,000 legionaries from Sabratha against the Berber tribe and conquered them. Afterwards, and perhaps on his own initiative or on orders, Balbus then sent a number of his men onwards to explore the “land of the lions” which lay on the other side of the Hoggar Mountains in the central Sahara region. Balbus' men returned with the report of a large body of water now thought to be the Niger River and Roman coins and other artifacts have been found in the region supporting the claim that Balbus' men crossed the mountains and explored the region.

This evidence has been challenged, however, by Professor Timothy Insoll, among others, on the grounds that Balbus was only proconsul for a year and would have had little time to conduct the campaign against the Garamantes and extend his stay in the region to explore further (Insoll, 211). Insoll further claims that there is no evidence for a Roman presence in the area said to have been explored at this time.

Pliny the Elder (l. 23-79 CE), however, who details the Balbus expedition in his Natural History, suggests that it was the report of Balbus' men that enabled the revision of the Roman map of Africa by Agrippa, making it more accurate (Natural History, VI.209). Roman artifacts have, in fact, been found in the region dating to about the time of Balbus' expedition but the passage in Pliny clearly refers to Balbus' campaign against the Garamantes, not any further explorations. Even so, it is likely that Pliny's account of Balbus' expedition is accurate, given the physical evidence and later expeditions which seem to have had some knowledge of this first one.

Suetonius Paulinus – 41 CE

Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (l. 1st century CE) was appointed governor of Mauretania in 41 CE, shortly after the Berber freeman Aedemon launched his revolt (c. 40-44 CE) which became a widespread rebellion of Berbers against Roman occupation. Paulinus, along with the general Gnaeus Hosidius Geta (l. 20 - c. 95 CE) would eventually put down the rebellion with great loss of life among the Berbers and destruction, or partial destruction, of a number of cities.

In the course of this campaign, in 41 CE, Paulinus led his men over the Atlas Mountains in southern Mauretania. He reached the summit of the mountains after a ten-day march and, according to Pliny (V.14) then traveled a significant distance down through the plains to explore along a river referenced as Ger and then the area around the Daras River (modern Senegal River). Evidence for Roman presence in this region comes from artifacts and coins discovered there, many in and around the city of Akjoujt.

Pliny claims that Paulinus found a large quantity of the plant known as euphorbia growing in the region, earlier identified by King Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania (r. 30-25 BCE) as a potent laxative, but few other details are given of the expedition. Paulinus would later become famous as the general who put down the revolt of Boudicca in Britain in 60/61 CE, a victory which then eclipsed whatever he may have reported on his African expedition.

Septimius Flaccus – 50 CE

In 50 CE, one Septimius Flaccus led an expedition from Leptis Magna against a “rebellious tribe” which was disrupting trade in the region controlled by the Garamantes (and so were most likely the Garamantes, but this is unclear). Who Flaccus was is equally unclear as he is not identified with any legion and no earlier mention is made of him. Some scholars have suggested that the geographer Ptolemy (l. 100-166 CE), who wrote the account of Flaccus' expedition based on an earlier source (Marinus of Tyre, writing 107-115 CE), got his name wrong or may have omitted information he felt was unnecessary. Flaccus must have had some military background, however, in order to command a force and lead them successfully against whatever group of people was causing the problem in the southern regions.

According to Ptolemy, these people had conducted a series of raids on Leptis Magna, disrupting trade and disturbing the peace, and Flaccus marched into Garamantes territory and subdued them. He then traveled on over the Tibesti Mountains and into the land known as Agisymba which was north of a great body of water known as “the lake of the hippopotamus and rhinoceros” which has been identified as Lake Chad. Flaccus' expedition is the first one known to have interacted with the populace of this region at any length, but no details are available on what this contact consisted of. Scholars agree that Agisymba was to the north of Lake Chad but, as that lake was much larger at that time, precisely where it was, how large the region, and who lived there is unknown. It is assumed it was controlled by the Garamantes.

Valerius Festus – 70 CE

Gaius Valerius Festus (dates unknown except for 70 CE) was the commanding general of Legio III Augustus and led them against the Garamantes in 70 CE. Festus (according to the historian Tacitus, l. 56-117 CE) marched against the Garamantes, defeated them, and then followed Balbus' earlier course to explore the region down to the Niger River. Festus declared for Vespasian as emperor in 69 CE, the Year of Four Emperors (when four emperors of Rome ruled in quick succession, ending with Vespasian, r. 69-79 CE), and already had command of the legion in Africa. There is no documentation of a command from Vespasian, but as one of the emperor's supporters, Festus would have been given leave to continue on after subduing the tribe or, perhaps, he simply moved on through his own initiative to resolve problems in trade.

It was probably Festus, not Flaccus, who left a garrison of legionaries from Legio III Augustus in the region.

Scholar Raffael Joorde notes that the Garamantes remained unconquered at the time Tacitus was writing his Histories (c. 109 CE) and so, whatever the nature of the conflict was, it seems to have concluded with either a peace treaty along the lines of what Balbus contracted after his campaign or else Festus' initiative was only against tribes in the region of the Garamantes or a criminal element whose suppression the Garamantian king would have approved of since it seems Festus had the support of the king in his further travels which finally brought him to the city of Timbuktu in the region of Mali. It was probably Festus, not Flaccus (as is often cited), who left a garrison of legionaries from Legio III Augustus in the region.

Julius Maternus – 90 CE

However Festus concluded business with the Garamantes, they seem to have been on friendly terms with Rome twenty years later when one Julius Maternus led an expedition into their territories. As Joorde notes, the problem with sources regarding this expedition is that it is unclear who Maternus was and what position – diplomat, merchant, or military commander – he held. There is no mention of Maternus before or after his expedition and details of the excursion itself seem to support any of the three possibilities.

Maternus traveled in the company of the Garamantian king and so, as a diplomat, could have been forging better political relations; as a merchant, forging better trade relations; as a general, helping the king to put down rebellious subjects - which would have benefited them both. Whoever he was, and whatever position he held, Maternus' success seems to have been based on the reports of the expeditions which went before him. Like Flaccus, he crossed – or at least traveled along - the Tibesti Mountains and explored Agisymba and, like Festus and Balbus, explored the region around the Niger River.

Ptolemy suggests that Maternus' expedition was solely for profit and presents him as a merchant interested in goods from the interior which could be had without the “middlemen” of the Garamantes or other traders bringing goods to Regio Tripolitania. If this is the case, it is essentially little different from what seems to have been the goal of the earlier expeditions: to find sources of gold and other precious trade goods which could be had by the Romans without bothering with the indigenous merchants and their various conflicts.

Conclusion

There were also Roman maritime excursions planned, and possibly implemented, but shipping between Rome and Sub-Saharan Africa was not as lucrative and was not thought worth the risk. The 1st century CE maritime handbook Periplus Maris Erythraei (A Circumnavigation of the Erythraean Sea) disparages the value of sea-trade with the region and suggests there is more money to be made elsewhere. John Reader comments:

In a work of approximately 7,000 words, the author of the Periplus devotes just four paragraphs, 450 words, to the vast region that lay beyond the Horn of Africa. A number of landmarks are listed, a few harbors, and just one port of trade – Rhapta – which is believed to have been in the vicinity of present-day Dar es Salaam, though no evidence of the port has ever been found. This lack of interest in Africa [for maritime trade] was probably due to the fact that a return voyage to the East African coast could not be equipped and completed within less than two years. (203)

Sea voyages between Rome and North Africa, conversely, could be completed in less than a month and so were much more lucrative and, further, safer for both investors and crew. Although there is no defining document explicitly stating why the overland expeditions were launched, it is reasonable to conclude – based on the nature of the military campaigns and the Roman dependence on African goods – that their purpose was to further Rome's hold on valuable goods and establish trade routes directly to the interior of Africa without involving any actual Africans in the transactions. Sea routes were no doubt explored for this very same purpose.

No Roman traders, bringing items up from the interior to Regio Tripolitania, are ever mentioned so what these expeditions finally accomplished – if this even was their purpose – is unknown. It seems clear, however, that Romans interacted to a significant degree with the populace – as suggested not only by the ancient reports but the physical evidence in the region – even though the depth and significance of this contact are still debated.


Researchomnia

There are growing evidences that in the centuries of the Roman empire there was a huge trade between the western sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean region. I have written an article about this commerce in en. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romans_in_Sub-Saharan_Africa

Indeed there were a group of military and commercial expeditions by the Romans across the Sahara Desert, into the interior of western Africa (and its coast). They were made by the Roman Empire between the first and the fourth century AD. One of the main reasons of the explorations, according to academics like Jonathan Roth, was to procure gold and spices.

Roman objects are found in the Sahara, and, significantly, along the western "caravan" route. This route went from Leptis Magna & Sabratha toward the Gadames oasis and the actual Fezzan region (then controlled by the Garamantes) and finally reached the Ahaggar mountains and the Timbouctou/Gao region in the Niger river.

Indeed numerous Roman artifacts have been found at the Garamantes’ capital of Germa in the Fezzan of Libya. There is evidence of Roman style irrigation being introduced and for at least some Garamantes adopting a sedentary and a town, if not urban, lifestyle. Most striking is the large Roman-syle mausoleum found there, evidence either of Roman presence or of Romanization of the elite. Between Germa and Ghat in the Hoggar mountains have been found Roman ceramics, glass, jewelry and coins dating from the 1st to the 4th centuries.

Farther down the route, at the oasis of Abelessa, is the site known locally as the Palace of Tin Hinan. There is a charming local legend about it, but it seems to have been a fortress, in one room of which was found the skeletal remains of a woman, along with a number of Late Roman objects, including a lamp, a golden bracelet and a 4th century coin. Finally, there was a cache of Roman coins found at Timissao only 600 kilometers from the Niger.

Additionally it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in actual Burkina Faso there it is a place -near the border with Niger (and Gao)- where in 1975 has been discovered the so called Bura culture: Kissih (also named "Kissi"). This culture existed since the late first century (when the Festus expedition was done) and produced a variety of distinctive artifacts made of clay, iron and stone. Christopher Kelly claims that analysis of copper-based objects found at Kissih in northern Burkina Faso (and belonging to the Bura culture) suggests that material of them is derived from ores in the north Africa Mediterranean area under Roman control: this fact shows highly probable Roman merchants presence in Burkina Faso (read: http://www.academia.edu/3596759/Contacts_Between_West_Africa_and_Roman_North_Africa_Archaeometallurgical_Results_from_Kissi_Northeastern_Burkina_Faso )

Furthermore it is possible that the Kissih area could have been reached by Roman merchants through another route that was near the Atlantic ocean, going down from Volubilis in Mauretania to the Senegal river (where have been discovered some Roman coins). And in this case we cannot exclude the maritime trade route that has been proved to exist from Sala colonia (near actual Rabat) toward Essoura and Mogador island (in the Rio de Oro region of southern Morocco): ships of Roman merchants -even if with difficulties- could have reached the Dakar region and the mouth of the Senegal river.

Of course there are many books and articles written about this trade: the following is an interesting research related to this trade, written by Sonja Magnavita ("Premiers contacts. La recherche des traces de commerce ancien entre l’Afrique de l'Ouest et le reste du monde").

Ancient trade connections between West Africa and the Roman empire, by Sonja Magnavita

Before the first Arab textual sources appeared towards the end of the first millennium AD, virtually nothing tangible was reported on the regions beyond the southern fringes of the Sahara. When Arabo-Islamic armies conquered North Africa in the 7th𔃆th century AD, accompanying merchants accessed the roads to the West African Sahel region soon thereafter. Over the subsequent centuries the organised Trans-Saharan trade developed quickly and reached a first peak in the early second millennium AD. Coming back to Antiquity, we shall pose the question as to whether trans-Saharan trade contacts prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa, yet not unambiguously traceable by written sources, are detectable archaeologically. Making no claim to be complete, this brief paper provides an insight into the current state of our knowledge on what can be called the ‘archaeology of first contact’ between people living on both sides of the Sahara. First we will discuss the still meagre but growing evidence available on this matter for the southern fringes of the desert and then take a look at the results of research carried out to the north. The paper concludes by tackling the long-standing discussion on a possible pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade in gold and introducing the initial results of new research on this subject.

Up to the 1990s, scholars practising the still comparatively young discipline of African archaeology concluded that pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade enterprises that might have been of any economic importance were either non-existent or did not leave visible traces in the West African Sahel. In 1996, the discovery of the Iron Age cemeteries of Kissih in Burkina Faso again brought to mind the prospect that the general lack of archaeological evidence for a pre-Arab trans-Saharan commerce is more probably a by-product of research deficit than a matter of fact. Excavations at these sites revealed that a number of valuable goods from various parts of Africa and the wider world were finding their way into the West African Sahel earlier and, more importantly, on a larger scale than previously thought. All in all, thousands of beads made of different materials, more than a thousand of them being of glass, as well as brass jewellery and cowries were found among other goods brought to the Sahel from far distant regions. While the cowries were identified as Cypraea moneta, deriving most likely from the Indian Ocean, the origin of the glass used to manufacture most of the glass beads was chemically traced to the Middle East and some of the tested copper alloys to regions along the Mediterranean Sea, possibly including Carthage. Other objects of likely northern origin found at Kissih include the first known West African swords as well as curved daggers and wool textiles, most of these dated to pre-8th century AD contexts.

Even though only some of these luxuries could be unquestionably dated to a period before the Arab conquest of North Africa, they nevertheless document that initial encounters involving the exchange of valuable items between the West African Sahel and the wider world were not initiated by merchants who came into North Africa along with the Arab armies. Rather, they prove that a flow of luxury objects reached the Sahel from beyond the Sahara throughout the first millennium AD, thus encompassing not only the early Islamic period but also (late) Roman and Byzantine times. Due to the large number of metallic artefacts in some graves, organic materials such as fragments of woollen textiles, leather, basketry and wood were prevented from total annihilation and so yielded the rare opportunity of being able to directly C14-date non-charred organic material. Whilst most of the dated graves belong to the 2nd to 7th centuries AD, excavations in settlement contexts at Kissih proved that the spot was occupied by a sedentary iron-using community between the ca.لth century BC and the 12th󈝹th century AD. Evidently, imported objects were then so valuable that they only rarely came to light in the course of the investigations at settlement areas throughout contexts of the first millennium AD, they were merely found at richly appointed graves. In fact, the first few glass beads from settlement areas merely date to post-9th century AD contexts. By then, the Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade was in full bloom and the value of the formerly very precious trade goods, like Middle Eastern glass, had presumably already dropped.

Other West African locations where evidence for pre-Arabic long-distance contacts was found in secure archaeological contexts are fairly rare. A few isolated glass beads of non-West African origin were also excavated in Djenné-Jeno, Mali. One of these likely derived from Asia (India to East Asia), and dates to sometime in the period 3rd century BC-1st century AD. Two others have a distant, but not securely determinable origin. They came from somewhere in the greater Mediterranean-Near East region and date to between the 4th and 9th century AD. Though present at the later location in much lower numbers than in Kissih, the Djenné-Jeno discoveries nevertheless provide evidence for probably sporadic, incidental contacts between North and West Africa during the first millennium AD. That in a given moment those early contacts might have ceased being merely indirect or occasional, ‘down-the-line’ exchanges of goods through the desert is supported by the discovery in West Africa of the means of transportation that later on enabled the Arab-driven long-distance trade to flourish: pack animals. As indicated by the dated remains of donkey (1st and 3rd century AD) and dromedary (3rd to 4th century AD) from the Middle Senegal River sites of Siouré and Cubalel, close to the Mauritanian border, the shift to economically more significant, direct exchanges through the desert became at least technically possible from then on.

In addition to these locations, there are a number of West African archaeological sites or finds related to long-distance connections, but their insecure dating or context make them less valuable for the scope of the present discussion. Two examples of such evidence come from the Niger Republic: the necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka and the statuette from Zangon Dán Makéri. The famous necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka in Southwest Niger is approximately dated both via C14 on charcoal and geological surveying to between the 3rd and 13th or 3rd and 10th󈝷th centuries AD. It revealed anthropomorphic and zoomorphic terracotta figurines connected with inhumations, many of which were accompanied by grave goods such as copper-alloy jewellery, iron weapons and beads. Among the latter are also numerous glass beads. The depiction of horses and the presence of glass and copper-based objects at the site clearly indicate links to North Africa however, their exact age could not be ascertained yet. New, reliable absolute dates are indeed urgently needed. Work on this is currently being undertaken by the author, as datable organic fibres (mainly of woven textiles) were found adhering to some metal grave goods during an inspection of finds excavated by the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, Niamey, in the 1990s. Beyond that, chemical analyses of copper and glass from dated contexts might help to trace the origin of some of the selected objects. This research is at its beginnings and results will be published in due time.

The intriguing Janus bronze statuette found at Zangon Dan Makéri in southern Niger is another artefact found south of the Sahara which potentially may have derived from pre-Arab cross-desert contacts. Stylistically dated to 2nd century AD Roman North Africa, the circumstances of its discovery remain obscure. Without any knowledge of the archaeological context it derives from, it is not possible to conclude on whether it was really brought to the Sahel in Roman times, in the course of the medieval, Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade or even later. Indeed, the same is true for the sporadic Roman coin finds made here and there in the Sahara and in sub-Saharan Africa. Bare of any archaeological context, they are today not much more than amazing curiosities. To date, no Roman coin has ever been excavated at a West African sub-Saharan archaeological site.

It is without dispute that there was a flow of trade goods from Roman North Africa into Garamantian territory, and vice versa. But is there secure archaeological evidence in the Sahara or north of it for pre-Arab Trans-Saharan trade too, i.e., trade goods from sub-Saharan Africa transported across the Sahara to North Africa? The Garamantes have been often cited as having played the role of middlemen in a very old and organised trade between northern and inner Africa. A number of archaeologists working in the Fezzan and on its southern boundaries have indeed openly advocated, or at least uncritically agreed on, the existence of Garamantian long-distance trade between both sides of the Sahara. However, looking closely at the archaeological evidence on which the alleged trade contacts between the Garamantian core territory in southwest Libya and the sub-Saharan region is based, it becomes clear how fragile the arguments in favour of such an ancient connection presently are.

In fact, and to start with, there is so far no hard and verifiable evidence of items of West African origin traded into Garamantian territory. Beyond the insecure interpretation of classical documents, much of the archaeological evidence, upon which the hypothesises around a putative Garamantian long-distance trade rests, refers to the sites of the Wadi Tanezzuft in southwestern Fezzan. Due to its fortified character and location on an ancient commercial route used in medieval times, the excavators considered the citadel of Aghram Nadharif to be a kind of gate that funnelled and controlled the flow of goods coming from the south. Archaeological finds that could have substantiated this line of reasoning were, however, not retrieved from the excavations carried out at that location. Accordingly, the relation of Aghram Nadharif and of the Garamantes with a trans-Saharan trade still remains unproven.

In spite of this, it is worth mentioning that the presence in the Wadi Tanezzuft Garamantian sites of roulette-impressed pottery shards has been seen as evidence for such contacts. Roulette impression indeed appears as the main decoration for pottery in the region from the Final Pastoral Phase onwards, i.e., the early first millennium BC. The technique of decorating pottery by cord roulettes is widespread throughout West Africa, both in time and space. However, neither the geographical limits of its use nor the mechanisms of its distribution between neighbouring regions are yet fully understood, although progress has been made in more recent years. The stylistic comparison of widespread decoration techniques such as cord roulette impressions is, in my opinion, a rather weak tie for making a case for trade between the Garamantes’ territory and the Sahel. Petrographical and chemical analysis of the cord roulette-impressed pottery matrix, on the other hand, is a logical step forward to verify the hypothesis that the Garamantes were trading with the far-distant south. The results of such analyses on material from Aghram Nadharif, however, do not support this hypothesis as they show that the relevant pottery was made from local clay. The same is true for some shards decorated with red and white paint, which M. Liverani seeks to link with those from the Inland Niger Delta and Djenné Jeno as well as with the Chad Basin, while M. C. Gatto rather explores connections between the painted cross-hatched motifs and similar motifs in the Borkou area. The fact that no pottery with truly Sahelian origin was found in the tested assemblage is explained by a trade with the south that neither involved pottery nor goods transported in pottery containers. Nevertheless, Liverani argues that frequent contacts with the Sahel triggered the use of these pottery decorations among the Garamantians in the first centuries AD. Gatto, on the other hand, rather suggests that female potters originating from the Sahel intermarried with Garamantians and kept their pottery traditions over generations. In principle, these possibilities cannot be fully dismissed without further substantial work on the diffusion of the cord roulette technique into Saharan Africa. However, it is important to note that decoration may be also in this case much less significant than pottery-making techniques for tracing back the origins of the people who made them. In this respect, the main shaping technique used at Aghram Nadharif – moulding/pinching and coiling – is not a common technique among the Sahelian pottery traditions claimed to relate to the Garamantians (Niger Bend, Lake Chad region). In most parts of those territories, the prevailing techniques during the time concerned (ca.𧋴 BC onwards) were variants of forming the body of a vessel over a convex or, more widespread, concave mould or form, often in combination with coiling of the upper vessel/rim part. M. Liverani assumes that, instead of pottery, mainly archaeologically invisible merchandise was traded between the Sahel, the Garamantian territory and beyond. These are thought to have consisted, as in medieval times, of salt, slaves and gold.

While the first two trade items mentioned by Liverani are actually relatively improbable to be recognised in the archaeological record, the third has at least a chance to do so. Indeed, whether West African gold once did reach pre-Arab North Africa is difficult, but not impossible, to verify. Already in the 1980s, T. Garrard tried to explain a peak in Carthaginian gold mint issues with the export of gold from regions south of the Sahara to North Africa. A. Gondonneau and M. F. Guerra analysed North African gold coins from different periods, including a few of the very last Byzantine ones and such from the first Arab dynasties. The chemical fingerprint of the gold coins was also compared with modern gold nuggets from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Mali. According to their analyses, the first West African gold reached North Africa in the middle of the 8th century AD. Older gold artefacts than the last coins issued by the Byzantines were not tested, nor were gold nuggets from the eastern Niger Bend. Thus, the analyses only show that native gold from Ghana, Ivory Coast (i.e., the Upper Volta or Mouhoun River gold) and Mali (the Upper Niger gold) was most likely not traded to North Africa before the 8th century AD. This fits well with the archaeological record, for no trade items from northern Africa were found in those southern regions before the 8th century AD either. Since trade items from northern Africa and the wider world were discovered at the eastern Niger Bend prior to the 8th century AD, and since native gold is found there in abundance, it would be interesting to know whether gold from that area matches chemically with pre-Arab North African gold coins.

Another interesting question is whether there is archaeological evidence for the exploitation of the eastern Niger Bend gold deposits prior to the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade. First attempts to solve the latter problem were made by J. Devisse, reporting on the middle Sirba River in Burkina Faso. However, the only known archaeological site possibly related to gold exploitation was relatively young, merely dating to the ca.㺎th󈝻th century AD. That gold from the eastern Niger Bend was possibly traded towards the north by the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade is also assumed by S. Nixon. Excavating in the medieval Saharan merchant town of Essouk/Tadmekka in eastern Mali, he discovered direct archaeological evidence for the local production of the “bald dinars”, a process later on described by the geographer al-Bakri (11th century AD). Dating to the 9th󈝶th century AD, Nixon’s finds are so far the oldest hard evidence for trade in gold on the borderland between the Sahel and the Sahara. In this respect, and as Essouk/Tadmekka is situated just to the north of the eastern Niger Bend, a contemporary and pre-9th century AD trade in gold from the gold-bearing tributaries of the Niger River such as the Sirba and Dargol has to be seriously considered.

In 2008, an archaeological site on the lower Sirba River in Niger, close to its confluence with the River Niger, was discovered by the author and colleagues, and test-pitted in the following year. Named Garbey Kourou after the adjacent village, the site consists of two near settlement mounds, located at an elevated point on the northern bank of the Sirba River. In the direct vicinity of the site, modern gold-diggers still pan gold dust from the river bed during the dry season. Two test-pits dug at each of the mounds revealed stratified material throughout the mound deposits, reaching down to depths of 1.2m and at least 2.6m. A series of radiocarbon dates indicates that the mounds were formed between the 4th and 11th centuries AD. In the second Test, a refuse pit radiocarbon-dated to the ca.لth to 6th century AD was found. Along with potshards, faunal and charred botanical remains, it also contained several fragments of clay crucibles. The crucibles were obviously discarded in the pit after having been used, but what was being melted in them has not yet been satisfactorily determined. A microscopical analysis, conducted by E. Pernicka from CEZ Mannheim, revealed the sporadic presence of copper, silver and gold flitters in the pores of the crucible walls, but none of these flitters showed traces of melting. An XRF-study is currently undertaken on a larger number of crucible fragments in order to trace the material processed in the crucibles. Since a small glass bead was likewise found in the same pit, it is obvious that, as at Kissih, the inhabitants of the Sirba valley were receiving goods from North Africa as early as the 4th to 6th century AD.

It is tempting to presume that the ancient metal workers at Garbey Kourou already mined, processed and exchanged gold from the riverbed nearby for the exotic goods from the north. In the case that such a notion can be substantiated through new finds, this would be a considerable step towards solving the long lasting discussion about an ancient gold trade between West and Roman North Africa prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa.


Roman Contact with Sub-Saharan Africa

To what extent did Rome have contact with peoples who lived south of the Sahara? Obviously the Sahara is a formidable barrier, then as now, but the Romans were also a sea-faring people. How far along the coasts of Africa did Roman ships explore? Was there any trade between Roman cities and those of Sub-Saharan Africa?

The Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator got at least as far as modern Senegal. After Rome conquered Carthage, did any of their ships follow?

Chimera

AlpinLuke

There was the passage of the Egyptian province between the Roman Empire and Sub-Saharan world. To say all for a certain period Rome exercised a certain pressure on Nubia, south of Egypt [Rome fought some local conflicts against Nubia].

Among other things, Nero sent a couple of legions south, from Meroe [next to Karthum] to discover from where the Nile river came.

It wasn't the first expedition in the Sub-Saharan Africa: Roman wanted to control the commercial ways of that region [in 19 BCE Romans went towards Ciad lake, for example]. See Seneca, De Terra Motu. 6NQ8,5.

Caldrail

To what extent did Rome have contact with peoples who lived south of the Sahara? Obviously the Sahara is a formidable barrier, then as now, but the Romans were also a sea-faring people. How far along the coasts of Africa did Roman ships explore? Was there any trade between Roman cities and those of Sub-Saharan Africa?

The Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator got at least as far as modern Senegal. After Rome conquered Carthage, did any of their ships follow?

Romans were great merchants but poor explorers, preferring to corner someone elses market if they could. As far as I know, Roman vessels did not follow or extend the voyage of Hanno. They did however make use of trade winds to reach India annually.

Sub Saharan contact would have been very limited to say the least. A couple of walls were built to impede nomadic horsemen, and a few desert expeditions were mounted either to see what was over the hill or to provide frontier security, but the Romans were acutely aware that the desert was a harsh enviroment and that water was hard to come by as you went south. Although a great deal is made of sub-saharan contact in internet discussions, it didn't amount to much away from the Nile valley and the kingdoms of the red Sea.


Pliny the elder

Another expedition, recorded by Pliny the Elder in 67, was probably intended to gather information for a possible conquest by Nero of what is now Sudan.

These are the names of places given as far as Meroë: but at the present day hardly any of them on either side of the river are in existence at all events, the prætorian troops that were sent by the Emperor Nero under the command of a tribune, for the purposes of enquiry, when, among his other wars, he was contemplating an expedition against Æthiopia, brought back word that they had met with nothing but deserts on their route. The Roman arms also penetrated into these regions in the time of the late Emperor Augustus, under the command of P. Petronius, a man of Equestrian rank, and prefect of Egypt. That general took the following cities, the only ones we now find mentioned there, in the following order Pselcis, Primis, Abuncis, Phthuris, Cambusis, Atteva, and Stadasis, where the river Nile, as it thunders down the precipices, has quite deprived the in- habitants of the power of hearing: he also sacked the town of Napata. The extreme distance to which he penetrated beyond Syene was nine hundred and seventy miles but still.

Pliny the elder, Naturalis Historia, Liber VI, XXXV, 181

But all this difference is lately determined by the Report of those Travellers whom Nero sent to Discover those Countries, who have related that it is 862 Miles from Syene in this manner : from Syene to Hiera-Sycaminon, Fifty-four Miles from thence to Tama, Seventy-five Miles from Tama to the Euonymites Country, the first of the Ethiopians, 120 to Acina, Fifty-four to Pitara, Twenty-five to Tergedum, 106 Miles. That in the midst of this Tract lieth the Island Gagandus, where they first saw the Birds called Parrots and beyond another Island called Attigula they saw Monkeys beyond Tergedum they met with the Creatures Cynocephali. From thence to Napata Eighty Miles, which is the only little Town among all the beforenamed from which to the Island Meroe is 360 Miles. They reported, moreover, that about Meroe, and not before, the Herbs appeared greener and the Woods shewed somewhat in comparison of all the way besides and they espied the Tracts of Elephants and Rhinoceroses.


The story of Senegal’s hated, reclusive ‘Jewish’ community

In the 15th century, the Portuguese began to sail south along the West African coast, searching for the sea route to…

A historical account from the 1700’s describes the connection between West Africans and the Israelites. This account is from an African man from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, named Oludah Equiano. He was kidnapped from Nigeria and was enslaved in Barbados and Virginia. He was somehow able to purchase his freedom and went on to become a writer and abolitionist. In his autobiography, he not only documented the horrors of slavery, but he also wrote about his culture back home during the slave trade. He detailed how his tribe practiced the same customs of the Jews in the Hebrew Bible, called the Torah.

“We practiced circumcision like the Jews, and made offerings and feasts on that occasion in the same manner as they did. Such is the imperfect sketch my memory has furnished me with of the manners and customs of a people among whom I first drew my breath. And here I cannot forbear suggesting what has long struck me very forcibly, namely, the strong analogy which even by this sketch, imperfect as it is, appears to prevail in the manners and customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews, before they reached the Land of Promise, and particularly the patriarchs while they were yet in that pastoral state which is described in Genesis — .”

“ Like the Israelites in their primitive state, our government was conducted by our chiefs or judges, our wise men and elders and the head of a family with us enjoyed a similar authority over his household with that which is ascribed to Abraham and the other patriarchs. The law of retaliation obtained almost universally with us as with them: and even their religion appeared to have shed upon us a ray of its glory, though broken and spent in its passage, or eclipsed by the cloud with which time, tradition, and ignorance might have enveloped it for we had our circumcision (a rule I believe peculiar to that people:) we had also our sacrifices and burnt-offerings, our washings and purifications, on the same occasions as they had.”

Igbo Jew in Nigeria (Courtesy: Chika Oduah)

For whatever reason a White House memo dated Tuesday, January 28, 1969, to President Nixon, former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger describes the Igbos as “the wandering Jews of West Africa-gifted, aggressive, westernized, at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by their neighbors in the federation”(Foreign relations document, volume E-5, documents on Africa 1969–1972). See White House memo here. https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/nixon/e5/55258.htm

This quote shows how the Igbo tribe has gained a national reputation for its Hebrew characteristics.

According to 17th century Arabic historical documents called, Tarikh al-Fattash and the Tarikh al-Sudan, many Hebrew communities existed through out West Africa.

The Tarikh es Soudan recorded by Abderrahman ben Abdallah es-Sadi (translated by O.Houdas) stated that a Jewish community was formed by a group of Egyptian Jews, who had travelled to the West Africa through Chad.

See also: al-Kati M., “Tarikh al-Fattash, 1600”.

The historian Leon Africanus travelled through out the south of Sahara in Africa and came across many black hebrew communities.

See Leo Africanus (al-Hassan b. al -Wazzan al-Zayyati), Della discrittione dell’Africa per Giovanni Leoni Africano, Settima Parte, in G.B. Ramusio, Delle navigationi e viaggi. Venice 1550, I, ff.78–81r.

Why is this not known? Part of it was due to religious persecution.

In 1492, the emperor, Askia Muhammed, came to power in Mali, the previously tolerant region of Timbuktu and decreed that Jews must convert to Islam or leave. Practicing Hebrew customs became illegal in Mali. In 1526, the historian Leo Africanus wrote,

The king (Askia) is a declared enemy of the Jews. He will not allow any to live in the city. If he hears it said that a Berber merchant frequents them or does business with them, he confiscates his goods.”

Today many Israelites are still living in Africa. In 2016, a French Jewish filmmaker, named Lauren Gavron,made a film called, Black Jews, The Roots of an Olive Tree. It documents Hebrew tribes in Africa. What inspired Gavron to make the film was, a book written by Edith Bruder, called, The black Jews of Africa, history, identity, religion.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, you can find ‘Judaic’ tribes in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa, Zimbabwe and even in Sao Tome and other countries,” Bruder said. Many of the black Hebrew tribes that were documented in the film, claimed that their ancestors migrated from Israel and Yemen. These West African countries that have Hebrew communities, are the same countries that African Americans were kidnapped from during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Again, the same African countries that African Americans trace their ancestry back to, contain Hebrew tribes and communities. Israelite tribes have been found in countries that are not listed above.

In his book ,The Great Roman-Jewish War: 66–70, the Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, stated over thousands of years ago,that the Israelites migrated into Africa. He writes:

“General Vaspasian and his son Caesar Titus fought against the Jews. Millions of Jews fled into Africa, among other places, fleeing from Roman persecution and starvation during the siege.”

This event would explain the beginning of the migration of Jews from Israel to West Africa. In the 1990’s, a black Hebrew tribe called the Lemba, that resides in Zimbabwe, had their DNA tested in a study done by The Center for Genetic Anthropology at University College London. The DNA test confirmed, that the Lemba, had the same DNA sequences as the Israelite priests, that many believe to be the descendants of Aaron, the older brother of Moses. The results from the study means that the Lemba tribe share the same DNA as the ancient Israelites. A DNA study done on Sephardic Jews, by Family Tree DNA, showed that the DNA sequences that are found in predominately Sub Saharan Africans and African Americans, were present during the “formation of the Ancient Israelites.”

Due to the fact that the DNA evidence links black people to Israel, is such a key point, I listed the citation at the very bottom of the article.

The black Hebrew tribes in Africa,mentioned above, are fascinating but they are anything but new.

Members of the Lemba Tribe (Photo Cred PBS Cicada Films).

For whatever reason a White House memo dated Tuesday, January 28, 1969, to President Nixon, former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger describes the Igbos as “the wandering Jews of West Africa-gifted, aggressive, westernized, at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by their neighbors in the federation”(Foreign relations document, volume E-5, documents on Africa 1969–1972). See White House memo here. https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/nixon/e5/55258.htm

This quote shows how the Igbo tribe has gained a national reputation for its Hebrew customs.


14 - Slavery in Africa

Slavery is an institution with ancient roots. It is one of many unequal social relationships that humans have created over time, and it has existed in many forms. Some societies have treated slaves as family members, allowing them to marry, inherit property, and even earn their freedom. Others have dehumanized them, terrorizing them psychologically, exploiting them sexually, and treating them as beasts of burden, often to be worked to death. Although all human societies have social inequalities, slavery is common in those in which human labor is scarce and in demand. Ancient Rome, Eastern Europe in the Medieval era, and Africa for much of its history have been societies in which there was more work to be done than people to do it.

Slavery has deep roots in Western civilization. It was firmly established in the Mediterranean world by the Greek and Roman Empires, which acquired millions of slaves in wars and raids against the peoples living in the geographic arc that spanned Europe from the Caucasus in southern Russia to Spain. To the ancients, slavery was an institution that required no justification even those guardians of ethical behavior such as the Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded it as an indispensable, normal, and acceptable feature of society. In the Roman Empire, many slaves were Slavs – from which the word slave is derived – as well as other Europeans, such as Germans, Saxons, Normans, Celts, and Gauls. The Romans enslaved some black Africans as well, although they did not appear to have associated slavery with skin color and there were numerous free Africans in their societies. Slaves were distinguished by custom and law, in which the slave was an object ( res ) – property with few rights.


AHC: A Sub-Saharan African empire with territory in Europe

Thanks for the compliment! I'll flesh it out if there's any interest.

I'm more just saying that once you butterfly the Caliphate away (though not necessarily Islam), and imagine a state as big and powerful as this ATL Aksum, then shit's going to get wacky. Maybe ::waves hands furiously:: they fall into war with the Byzantines at some later date, manage to conquer portions of Egypt, and then (again, briefly), they convince whoever is in charge of Cyprus at the time to surrender to them. It's a technicality, but again this a pretty tough AHC. No sub-Saharan power will have centuries-long domination of large swathes of Europe (unless you pull a nuclear war/pandemic/asteroid type thing out of your butt).

I think Aksum really had the potential to have been way more powerful though. Classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

ImperialxWarlord

Thanks for the compliment! I'll flesh it out if there's any interest.

I'm more just saying that once you butterfly the Caliphate away (though not necessarily Islam), and imagine a state as big and powerful as this ATL Aksum, then shit's going to get wacky. Maybe ::waves hands furiously:: they fall into war with the Byzantines at some later date, manage to conquer portions of Egypt, and then (again, briefly), they convince whoever is in charge of Cyprus at the time to surrender to them. It's a technicality, but again this a pretty tough AHC. No sub-Saharan power will have centuries-long domination of large swathes of Europe (unless you pull a nuclear war/pandemic/asteroid type thing out of your butt).

I think Aksum really had the potential to have been way more powerful though. Classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That still doesn’t fix the issue of their coasts being rather far away from Iberia, or that the Iberian nations would be more than able to fight off invaders. How would invasion Malians fair against Castile?

The situation in Iberia would be far better for them if they were around and invading in the 700s. During the lifetime of the mailman empire Iberia is rapidly coming under the power of Castile so taking on them is gonna be hard.

I'm positing a colonial Mali here. A colonial power, especially if they are backed by multiple European powers, would be able to take out Castille (or Portugal) rather easily.

That's what I'm saying, and it's why they wouldn't be able to flat-out annex any land.

GuildedAgeNostalgia

So technically cheating, but Morroco was at one point de facto controlled by the Black Guard, a African slave warrior caste.

Although the nation isn't sub saharan, it's rulers/government body were.

Iron_Lord

What time period are you talking about? Usually those areas are under the control of a very powerful empires with access to very large armies and fleets. Plus they’d have to get through the modern Sudan just to get to Egypt let alone Europe.

This feels a bit impossible given that geography is working against this hypothetical empire. Not even considering the many powerful states that dominated the Mediterranean throughout the ages that would not take kindly to an incursion by the Ethiopians.

Iron_Lord

Thanks for the compliment! I'll flesh it out if there's any interest.

I'm more just saying that once you butterfly the Caliphate away (though not necessarily Islam), and imagine a state as big and powerful as this ATL Aksum, then shit's going to get wacky. Maybe ::waves hands furiously:: they fall into war with the Byzantines at some later date, manage to conquer portions of Egypt, and then (again, briefly), they convince whoever is in charge of Cyprus at the time to surrender to them. It's a technicality, but again this a pretty tough AHC. No sub-Saharan power will have centuries-long domination of large swathes of Europe (unless you pull a nuclear war/pandemic/asteroid type thing out of your butt).

I think Aksum really had the potential to have been way more powerful though. Classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

ImperialxWarlord

ImperialxWarlord

I'm positing a colonial Mali here. A colonial power, especially if they are backed by multiple European powers, would be able to take out Castille (or Portugal) rather easily.

That's what I'm saying, and it's why they wouldn't be able to flat-out annex any land.

Iron_Lord

ImperialxWarlord

Iron_Lord

1) all good, mate!
2) Forgive me lord, for I have sinned.

Seriously though, my Latin Roman history is terrible unfortunately. To much medieval!

ImperialxWarlord

1) all good, mate!
2) Forgive me lord, for I have sinned.

Seriously though, my Latin Roman history is terrible unfortunately. To much medieval!

Citrakayah

If they were able to sack Meroë iotl why weren’t they able to conquer and hold it? Did Aksum have the ability to actually hold Nubia? Nubia was not just different culturally but religiously as well, so incorporating that won’t be easy. Then we still run into the issue of Egypt and the Romans. You need them to be far far weaker than iotl to hope or conquering Egypt, seeing as how it’s arguably the most important province in the empire. You would need the empire to at least be as bad as it was upon the onset of the Arab conquest. As well as have the Sassanids be internally focused or focused on the East so it doesn’t take advantage of a crumbling Rome.

That’s why I find this idea far fetched to say the least. It required that not only is Aksum wanked but the two main empires of the region somehow be as bad as they were upon the onset of the Arab conquests. You need PODs for these things to happen. What’s a POD that could cause Aksum to be more imperialistic? Where it could take Nubia and successfully incorporate it? What’s a POD that would cause the Roman Empire to be so poorly off that it couldn’t defend its most valued province? What’s a POD that would cause the Sassanid Empire to be poorly led/unstable/focused elsewhere? So much needs to change for this to happen that I just find it plausible. The Songhai idea by @CastIron is still the one I find to be most plausible even if I still have my doubts.

ImperialxWarlord

They set up a victory monument bragging about their conquest of Meroe in Meroe. And, as far as I can tell, it didn't get promptly smashed. There might not have been direct rule, but that's strongly suggestive of Aksumite dominance of Kush the article I linked states that Meroe was, at times, an outright vassal of Axum. And it's around the timeframe that we're talking about.

I don't get how it's impossible for the empire to become unable to defend its own borders and be too bogged down fighting itself to defend against external threats. Like, you're asking what POD could make the Roman Empire so crippled that it couldn't defend itself. but it was wracked with massive civil wars. I'll admit to be a lay person who's not that familiar with Roman history, but from the descriptions I've read it seems like sheer luck that they didn't collapse.

It’s one thing to have someone be a vassal and pay homage to you and another to conquer, garrison, and integrate into your empire enough that it won’t be an issue when you go off fighting in another land. Also what article? I don’t see one in our convo?

The fact that even amidst the crisis of the third century, numerous civil wars, and invasions the empire was able to defend its borders shows how hard it would be to attack rome even when it ain’t doing all that good. It literally took the movement of entire tribes into a weakened empire to do this and even then the WRE didn’t go down without a fight. It would need to be as bad as Eastern Empire was upon the onset of the Arab conquest. Which would be damn near impossible to replicate and even then gave some pretty good attempts at retaking egypt. If Rome was really so weak that it couldn’t respond then either a more competent break away state would take Egypt or the Persians would.

Citrakayah

And yes, I'm aware of the difference between a vassal and an integral part of an empire.

And, again, I don't see why it should be regarded as unlikely in the least for Rome to continue to decline if it handles its multiple civil wars badly. Yes, they didn't get their butts kicked by the Sassanids when they were warring amongst themselves, but that's not necessarily a sign of transcendent Roman superiority. Unless you can explain why a fragmented, warring Roman empire has to rebuild its strength, then I don't see why we should regard it as unlikely for it to continue to decline.

Revachah

ImperialxWarlord

And yes, I'm aware of the difference between a vassal and an integral part of an empire.

And, again, I don't see why it should be regarded as unlikely in the least for Rome to continue to decline if it handles its multiple civil wars badly. Yes, they didn't get their butts kicked by the Sassanids when they were warring amongst themselves, but that's not necessarily a sign of transcendent Roman superiority. Unless you can explain why a fragmented, warring Roman empire has to rebuild its strength, then I don't see why we should regard it as unlikely for it to continue to decline.

Interesting article. Thankyou.

Yes, so what I’m saying is that just because you can sack a nation and force it to pay homage to you doesn’t mean you could fully annex and integrate it into your empire. Especially when they’re so different from your own nation.

Because i find it hard to see how you could (realistically) make things worse than they already were. The Romans spent 50 years fighting amongst themselves with dozens of men holding or claiming the imperial purple. All the while they faced raids and invasions on all fronts, dealt with a shattered economy, and suffered from a plague (iirc). The fact that despite all that they were still able to maintain their borders is very impressive. As I said, even with shitfest that was the late sixth and early seventh century the Eastern Empire was still able to mount an attempted reconquest of Egypt after losing it to the Arabs. Even if the crisis lasts longer I don’t think it would go on forever or cause the empire to fracture in such a way that Axxum can take the most important province in the empire. Eventually someone gains power and cleans house like Diocletian and Constantine, allowing for the empire to take a breather. Most of the civil wars in the Roman Empire weren’t fighting people trying to break away, they all wanted to be the emperor of Rome. which includes Egypt. So breaking up the empire is going to be hard. And even if Rome does fracture that doesn’t mean Egypt will be a sitting duck, or that the Sassanids would just leave it alone. You need so much to go wrong for Rome/Persia and for so much to go right for Axxum that it borders on ASB. You can’t just handwave and make the empire collapse and not have Persians or a break away state scoop up Egypt. Or have Axxum grow in power, conquer Nubia sucessfully, somehow take Egypt, then cross the Mediterranean and take some islands when they don’t have a navy there and don’t have home field advantage or experience there.


AHC: A Sub-Saharan African empire with territory in Europe

But it is incredibly improbable seeing as how geography and logistics are not on their side.

A lot of the names being thrown around as kingdoms that could possibly do it mostly landlocked, would need to cross the sahara, and would have to take on other powerful states before even getting to Europe. Let alone conquering even a bit of It. After all it doesn’t matter if they do expand to the coast if they don’t have the power to beat the local European realms.

And damn near everytime they get mentioned it’s “wanked x empire” as if that evidence. Or putting out several ridiculous PODs needed to maybe strengthen these sub Saharan realms while also weakening Europe.

I just made a suggestion above. (#36)

It's not ASB, and it doesn't require a ridiculous POD.

WilliamOfOckham

Xerex

I just made a suggestion above. (#36)

It's not ASB, and it doesn't require a ridiculous POD.

CastIron

I'm thinking of a reverse Moroccan Invasion of Songhai. Songhai take an interest in controlling the other end of the Trans-Saharan trade route and send armies north to conquer OTL Morocco and are successful (for Songhai I guess they would have to effectively integrate gunpower, which AFAIK was the reason the Moroccans were successful OTL, unsure about the other two), and from there grab some land in southern Iberia (Gibraltar/Granada).

However, this empire would be highly unstable at best, as it would encounter the same problems the Moroccans did OTL - rebellion in the hinterlands, successor states waging war on the fringes, and the fact that Trans-Atlantic Trade (even discounting New World) is going to out-compete Trans-Saharan. Europeans gotta have those spices and West Africa/North Africa isn't really a good spot to grow them.

An idea - since the alt!Songhai are strong enough to mount this expedition in the first place and be so successful, they may to keep abreast of military technology, especially gunpower weaponry. While an empire as overextended as one that straddles the Sahara will be highly likely to fragment ASAP, the use of gunpowder weapons would undoubtedly prove vital to both the alt!Songhai and their successor states, perhaps to the point where they achieve some parity with Europe through trade and osmosis of knowledge. Maybe those contacts will prove reliable enough that if/when Europe tries to colonize Africa, there will end up being more independent states than just Liberia and Ethiopia once the alt-Scramble concludes, if it's not butterflied.

ImperialxWarlord

I just made a suggestion above. (#36)

It's not ASB, and it doesn't require a ridiculous POD.

Yes, and it was ridiculous tbh. It required Europe to implode into a nuclear war. If that’s not a ridiculous POD then I don’t I wow what is. What few suggestions I’ve seen don’t really seem to consider the issues these hypothetical wanked empires would have with logistics and the geographical situation theyre in, let alone the fact places like Iberia or the Greek islands aren’t just gonna role over and die. Or the fact that their needs to be a desire to actually want to do this, as I imagine any half way competent ruler in these empires would see how impossible it would be to maintain these conquests.

@CastIron has posted the only one that sounds plausible, although it would still require the Songhai to form a decent army and give them good guns. Then deal with a united Spain that’s doing pretty alright at the moment.

ImperialxWarlord

The Malian Empire’s coast is a bit far away from southern Iberia. So they’d have to go a fair bit to reach Iberia. Or they’d have go around conquering other nations to get closer. Then they’d need to fight the local Muslim and Christian nations, who wouldn’t be too happy about being attacked.

Also how do the weapons and armor of each side compare to each other? Who’s got the advantage here? I don’t really know what the various sub Saharan nations are using.

CastIron

The Malian Empire’s coast is a bit far away from southern Iberia. So they’d have to go a fair bit to reach Iberia. Or they’d have go around conquering other nations to get closer. Then they’d need to fight the local Muslim and Christian nations, who wouldn’t be too happy about being attacked.

Also how do the weapons and armor of each side compare to each other? Who’s got the advantage here? I don’t really know what the various sub Saharan nations are using.

I was more talking in the context of a colonial Mali. The addition of silver and gold to the already rather rich Mali establishment would make it able to fund some really wacky shit.

I meant 700s in the context of annexation- yes, Al-Andalus had managed to gain massive amounts of influence over Iberia, that was basically the entire point- Iberia in the 1400s was a lot less volatile than before Muslim conquest.

ImperialxWarlord

I was more talking in the context of a colonial Mali. The addition of silver and gold to the already rather rich Mali establishment would make it able to fund some really wacky shit.

I meant 700s in the context of annexation- yes, Al-Andalus had managed to gain massive amounts of influence over Iberia, that was basically the entire point- Iberia in the 1400s was a lot less volatile than before Muslim conquest.

Obviously money doesn't do everything, but there's a wealth of resources in the region that make it very easy to build up a navy, and it's not entirely as if you need to have the Malians literally invade Ibreia the day after discovering the Americas.

Yes, I'm fully aware that Mali did not exist in the 700s. My point is that the situation in Iberia was not the same as it was in the 700s, which is why I do not believe that Mali could not directly annex Iberia.

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Citrakayah

So presume that an empire that starts in Ethiopia manages to incorporate Nubia. They are right next to each other, after all, and Aksum actually did manage to sack Meroe. If we presume that the Roman Empire starts to fall apart around the same time (mid-4th century, ie the time when Constantine was reorganizing it), and that someone incompetent comes to the Sassanid throne, then perhaps they could end up in the position to pick up some of the Northern African provinces. Hell, depending on how developments relating to Christianity play out, they might have a chance at co-opting Egypt (Aksum was officially Christian, and it's my understanding that there was a heavy Christian presence on Egypt by that time).

If they can do that, and incorporate Egypt well enough to use it as a staging point for military operations, then practically, they should be in a pretty similar logistical situation to a North African state, as I see it. The logistical capabilities of an empire aren't only determined by where the imperial core is.

And at that point, you have a rising sub-Saharan African power while the Roman Empire is falling apart. The main problem is the Sassanids--if their leader is not militarily talented, can they handle their military campaigns against the various Hunnic peoples badly enough that they get bogged down and are unable to take Egypt or much of the eastern half of the Roman Empire?

ImperialxWarlord

So presume that an empire that starts in Ethiopia manages to incorporate Nubia. They are right next to each other, after all, and Aksum actually did manage to sack Meroe. If we presume that the Roman Empire starts to fall apart around the same time (mid-4th century, ie the time when Constantine was reorganizing it), and that someone incompetent comes to the Sassanid throne, then perhaps they could end up in the position to pick up some of the Northern African provinces. Hell, depending on how developments relating to Christianity play out, they might have a chance at co-opting Egypt (Aksum was officially Christian, and it's my understanding that there was a heavy Christian presence on Egypt by that time).

If they can do that, and incorporate Egypt well enough to use it as a staging point for military operations, then practically, they should be in a pretty similar logistical situation to a North African state, as I see it.

And at that point, you have a rising sub-Saharan African power while the Roman Empire is falling apart. The main problem is the Sassanids--if their leader is not militarily talented, can they handle their military campaigns against the various Hunnic peoples badly enough that they get bogged down and are unable to take Egypt or much of the eastern half of the Roman Empire?

Citrakayah

Large empires usually emerge due to unlikely circumstances. The question isn't only "Does this require luck?" It's "Does it require more than the Arabs had when conquering the Byzantines and Sassanids, or the Romans had when forging their empire, or the Spanish had when conquering the Aztecs and the Inca?" How many would-be empires litter the dustbin of history?

I don't see how any of what I listed is too improbable. Aksum really did smash Nubia badly. The Roman Empire had just gone through a four-way civil war, and was being reorganized by a reformist emperor--that seems to be a situation ripe for instability. The Sassanids, I admit, have what seems to be the most unlikely intervention--but at the time, even under an admired king, they were losing territory to the Huns.

Is it a likely scenario? Maybe not. It's definitely not a particularly well developed one. But I don't see how it's innately more improbable than many of the things that did actually happen in history.

GaBeRock

ImperialxWarlord

So presume that an empire that starts in Ethiopia manages to incorporate Nubia. They are right next to each other, after all, and Aksum actually did manage to sack Meroe. If we presume that the Roman Empire starts to fall apart around the same time (mid-4th century, ie the time when Constantine was reorganizing it), and that someone incompetent comes to the Sassanid throne, then perhaps they could end up in the position to pick up some of the Northern African provinces. Hell, depending on how developments relating to Christianity play out, they might have a chance at co-opting Egypt (Aksum was officially Christian, and it's my understanding that there was a heavy Christian presence on Egypt by that time).

If they can do that, and incorporate Egypt well enough to use it as a staging point for military operations, then practically, they should be in a pretty similar logistical situation to a North African state, as I see it. The logistical capabilities of an empire aren't only determined by where the imperial core is.

And at that point, you have a rising sub-Saharan African power while the Roman Empire is falling apart. The main problem is the Sassanids--if their leader is not militarily talented, can they handle their military campaigns against the various Hunnic peoples badly enough that they get bogged down and are unable to take Egypt or much of the eastern half of the Roman Empire?

If they were able to sack Meroë iotl why weren’t they able to conquer and hold it? Did Aksum have the ability to actually hold Nubia? Nubia was not just different culturally but religiously as well, so incorporating that won’t be easy. Then we still run into the issue of Egypt and the Romans. You need them to be far far weaker than iotl to hope or conquering Egypt, seeing as how it’s arguably the most important province in the empire. You would need the empire to at least be as bad as it was upon the onset of the Arab conquest. As well as have the Sassanids be internally focused or focused on the East so it doesn’t take advantage of a crumbling Rome.

That’s why I find this idea far fetched to say the least. It required that not only is Aksum wanked but the two main empires of the region somehow be as bad as they were upon the onset of the Arab conquests. You need PODs for these things to happen. What’s a POD that could cause Aksum to be more imperialistic? Where it could take Nubia and successfully incorporate it? What’s a POD that would cause the Roman Empire to be so poorly off that it couldn’t defend its most valued province? What’s a POD that would cause the Sassanid Empire to be poorly led/unstable/focused elsewhere? So much needs to change for this to happen that I just find it plausible. The Songhai idea by @CastIron is still the one I find to be most plausible even if I still have my doubts.

ImperialxWarlord

Obviously money doesn't do everything, but there's a wealth of resources in the region that make it very easy to build up a navy, and it's not entirely as if you need to have the Malians literally invade Ibreia the day after discovering the Americas.

Yes, I'm fully aware that Mali did not exist in the 700s. My point is that the situation in Iberia was not the same as it was in the 700s, which is why I do not believe that Mali could not directly annex Iberia.

That still doesn’t fix the issue of their coasts being rather far away from Iberia, or that the Iberian nations would be more than able to fight off invaders. How would invasion Malians fair against Castile?

The situation in Iberia would be far better for them if they were around and invading in the 700s. During the lifetime of the mailman empire Iberia is rapidly coming under the power of Castile so taking on them is gonna be hard.

Dcharleos

If they were able to sack Meroë iotl why weren’t they able to conquer and hold it? Did Aksum have the ability to actually hold Nubia? Nubia was not just different culturally but religiously as well, so incorporating that won’t be easy. Then we still run into the issue of Egypt and the Romans. You need them to be far far weaker than iotl to hope or conquering Egypt, seeing as how it’s arguably the most important province in the empire. You would need the empire to at least be as bad as it was upon the onset of the Arab conquest. As well as have the Sassanids be internally focused or focused on the East so it doesn’t take advantage of a crumbling Rome.

That’s why I find this idea far fetched to say the least. It required that not only is Aksum wanked but the two main empires of the region somehow be as bad as they were upon the onset of the Arab conquests. You need PODs for these things to happen. What’s a POD that could cause Aksum to be more imperialistic? Where it could take Nubia and successfully incorporate it? What’s a POD that would cause the Roman Empire to be so poorly off that it couldn’t defend its most valued province? What’s a POD that would cause the Sassanid Empire to be poorly led/unstable/focused elsewhere? So much needs to change for this to happen that I just find it plausible. The Songhai idea by @CastIron is still the one I find to be most plausible even if I still have my doubts.

This is a pretty interesting discussion.

I do think that the Kingdom of Aksum is the best candidate to satisfy the AHC, but I'd like to propose an alternative PoD.

There are a lot of problems getting a sub-Saharan state all the way to Europe, but it's mostly a question of distance. To get to Europe from anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, you've got to go by land or by sea. Back then, that means by horse, camel, or by boat. Historically, sub-Saharan Africa lagged in terms of naval technology. A smooth coastline and unfavorable currents undoubtedly have a lot to do with it. Historically, sub-Saharan Africa is also not the best place to raise horses, so the cavalry tradition in those states was usually not quite as robust as it was in other places (and to boot, camels are not native to Africa). Those are two big issues, and only in the Kingdom of Aksum does it seem that you might be able to surmount them.

That's because OTL, the Kingdom of Aksum actually did conquer Yemen at one point, set up a vassal state with an Aksumite viceroy in charge, and managed to hold onto it for about fifty years, when IIRC, the Sassanids allied with a rebellious Aksumite and chased the ruling Aksumites out. So my PoD for this would be that the Aksumites manage to hold onto Yemen. Preferably, they do this without having to fight off the Sassanids at all.

If they control both sides of the mouth of the Red Sea, that gives them the ability to raise revenue and gives them motive, means, and opportunity to focus on the development of naval technology. Furthermore, territory on the Arabian peninsula will give them access to camels and some of the best horses in the world, which might allow them to develop a more robust cavalry tradition.

Also, that means that when Muhammed comes around, there's a powerful Christian Kingdom on the Arabian peninsula. ITTL, does Muhammed send some of his followers to the Kingdom to escape persecution, as he did OTL? For the sake of this AHC, let's say he doesn't. So things don't get too wonky, let's say that Muhammed still takes the Hijra to Medina on schedule, but his numbers aren't bolstered by the inclusion of the Aksumite colonists. If Muhammed still manages to subdue the tribes around Medina, he's still sandwiched between the Sassanids and the Aksumites, neither of whom has tired themselves out by fighting amongst themselves.

Now, even if the Sassanids don't overextend themselves fighting in southern Arabia, by the early 600s, they're still locked in a death embrace with the Byzantines. So Muhammed looks to the north and south from his position in Mecca, decides against going south (where the Aksumites are strong), and instead swings east toward Oman, and then north to Mesopotamia. This brings him and the righteous Caliphs in conflict with the Sassanids earlier. The Sassanids, though still weakened, are slightly stronger than OTL, and manage to blunt some of the Caliphate's furious momentum.

Things will get wackier from here.

If the Caliphate can be confined to the northern half of Arabia and Mesopotamia, they'll turn toward the Holy Land soon enough. Then maybe you can get the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Constantinople to call for some kind of proto-crusade to quash them. (Maybe.) Anyway, the Caliphate is in a very unenviable strategic position, with enemies on three sides. If you posit a Byzantine-Aksumite victory, then the Aksumites could end up with dominion over the whole of the Arabian peninsula. At that point, Aksum would such a big, powerful empire that it's conceivable to imagine them briefly projecting power as far north as Cyprus, though it's hard to see them holding it for any length of time.


Africa 1914 CE

The European powers have divided almost the whole of Africa up between them.

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What is happening in Africa in 1914CE

The Scramble for Africa

In the latter part of the 19 th century, European interest in Africa grew. With the discovery of quinine, giving Europeans resistance to malaria and therefore opening up the interior of sub-Saharan Africa to them, the continent suddenly became a potential sphere for commercial and colonial expansion. Britain and France, with their already-existing toe-holds in Africa, led the way in sending expeditions of exploration and conquest into the continent. Other European countries were soon following suit, and the last two decades of the 19 th century saw what modern historians call the “Scramble for Africa”. The inevitable tensions which resulted from overlapping ambitions led to European diplomats carving Africa up into “spheres of influence”, within which each power could do almost what it liked.

The British took the lion’s share, with the French close on their heels, but other powers came in too – Italy, Belgium (or rather, the king of the Belgians, who took the Congo as his personal estate), and the Germans.

The Boer War

In South Africa, British attempts to bring the Boer homelands more under their control eventually led to full-scale war (the Boer War 1899-1902). The British were only able to subdue the Boers with greatest of difficulty. The Boer republics were incorporated into the British-ruled Union of South Africa.


16 - The Asian slave trade

Unlike the Atlantic slave trade, the transportation of slaves from Africa to Asia and the Mediterranean was of great antiquity. The earliest evidence of the trade comes from a carving in stone from 2900 bce at the Second Cataract depicting a boat on the Nile packed with Nubian captives for enslavement in Egypt. Over the next five thousand years, slaves captured in war and raids or purchased in the market were marched down the Nile, across the Sahara Desert to the Mediterranean, or transported over the Red Sea and from the East African coast to Asia. The dynastic Egyptians also took slaves from the Red Sea region and the Horn of Africa, known to them as Punt. Phoenician settlers along the North African littoral enslaved the peoples of the immediate hinterland. The Greek and the Roman rulers of Egypt continued the practice of raids into Nubia, and sent military expeditions from their cities along the southern Mediterranean shore, which returned with slaves from the Fezzan and the highlands of the Sahara. African slaves, like those from Europe, were used in the households, fields, mines, and armies of Mediterranean and Asian empires, but Africans were only a modest portion of the Roman slave community because the abundant supply of slaves from Asia Minor and Europe was more than adequate for the economic and military needs of the empire. Not surprisingly, African slaves were more numerous in the Roman cities of the Mediterranean littoral.

There can be no precise estimate of the number of slaves exported from Africa to the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean before the arrival of the Arabs in Africa during the seventh century. Between 800 and 1600, the quantity of evidence for the estimated volume of slaves improves slightly. Until the seventeenth century, the evidence is derived mostly from accounts of travelers and descriptions of slave markets in the commercial towns of North Africa, from which only maximum and minimum numbers at best can be extrapolated, given the paucity of direct data. There is, however, a considerable amount of indirect evidence from accounts of the trade, and evidence of strong demand for slaves for military service, from which general estimates of the Asian slave trade can be proposed.