Empires in Africa

What impact did the geographical barriers have on the spread of culture and trade?

Sahara were linked rather than divided the peoples who inhabit it and has served as an avenue for migration and conquest. Mauritania lying next to the Atlantic coast at the western edge of the desert has received and assimilated into its complex society many waves of these migrants and conquerors. Berbers moved south to Mauritania beginning in the third century A.D. Followed by Arabs in the eighth century subjugating and assimilating Mauritania's original inhabitants. From the eighth through the fifteenth century, black kingdoms of the western Sudan.

The divisive  of the various groups within Mauritanian society have always worked against the development of Mauritanian unity. Both the Sanhadja Confederation were at its height from the eighth to the tenth century and the Almoravid Empire from the eleventh to the twelfth century were weakened by internecine warfare and both succumbed to further invasions from the Ghana Empire and the Almohad Empire respectively.

The one external influence that tended to unify the country was Islam. The Islamization of Mauritania was a gradual process that spanned more than 500 years. Beginning slowly through contacts with Berber and Arab merchants engaged in the important caravan trades and rapidly advancing through the Almoravid conquests. Islamization did not take firm hold until the arrival of Yemeni Arabs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and was not complete until several centuries later. Gradual Islamization was accompanied by a process of arabization as well During which the Berber masters of Mauritania lost power and became vassals of their Arab conquerors.

Of the numerous empires that developed and disappeared on the African continent, Mali was one of the first south of the Sahara to capture the attention of both the Islamic and European worlds. Mali also illustrates the range and diversity of historical sources, written and nonwritten, that may be brought to bear on the reconstruction of empires. Mali is an example of an empire that used culture, ideology, and language (Mande) to dominate an expanding territory. The grassland and semiarid region included virtually all of what was known as the savanna, or “Sudan,” and the Sahel, from the Sahara’s edge to the forest’s edge in West Africa. The empire’s manipulation of technology (iron and horses) and ecology (beneficial climatic shifts) emphasizes two of the possible means by which smaller polities may be integrated into the structure of a larger empire. At its height in the fourteenth century C.E. the Mali Empire covered an area greater than 24,000 square kilometers (9000 square miles), and it influenced, through trade connections, an even larger portion of West Africa for several centuries.

Mali was not the first empire to occupy the large grasslands region of West Africa that straddled the Sahara, the semiarid edge of the desert known as the “Sahel” (literally the “shore” of the great ocean of sand, in Arabic) and the inland delta of the Niger River. According to oral traditions, the first state in that area was known as Ghana by the sixth century C.E. These traditions suggest that the political unity of ancient Ghana was based on its control of the very lucrative gold trade of the western Sudan and Sahara. Two of the three major sources of gold, Bambuk and Bure, were situated within reach of the Senegambia region, between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers and the inland Niger delta.

What impact did the geographical barriers have on the spread of culture and trade?

How did the deserts have an impact on the spread of culture and trade in Africa?

The deserts had an impact because there was not very much trade because it was so hard.

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