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A Historical Geography Of The Trans-Saharan Trade

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Chapter Summary

A strongly held misconception about the Sahara, both in popular culture and in academia, is that this desert constitutes both a physical barrier and a fundamental cultural divide between northern Africa - a constituent part of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern historical realms - and "sub-Saharan" Africa, a world apart. Trans-Saharan trade was particularly important in the medieval and early modern periods (8th to 19th century), when powerful and relatively wealthy states in Egypt, the Maghrib and across the Sahelo- Sudanic zone actively engaged with each other. Inter-tribal relations in the Sahara were often marked by low levels of violence, mostly consisting of chattel raids and disputes over control of water sources. The Arab-Islamic conquest of Egypt and North Africa, completed in the early 8th century C.E., provided the basis for a new cultural, social and political ordering of Saharan space.

Keywords: early modern period; northern Africa; Trans-Saharan trade



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