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Unformatted text preview: -1-The Roman Army in Tripolitana and Gold Trade with Sub-Saharan AfricaJonathan RothSan Jose State UniversityPresented atAPA Annual Convention, New OrleansJanuary 5, 2002The trans-Saharan gold trade reached its height in the 15thand 16thcenturies, by which time an average of 100 pounds of gold a year was passing through North Africa to Europe alone.1The caravan route was still quite active in the 19thcentury, and one can see the many routes available. This paper, however, deals only with the eastern “Fezzan” route, the easiest and probably the earliest route into the interior.2This began at the coastal cities Tripolitana, ran to the city of Cydamus (modern Ghadames) and then to Germa, the capital of the Garamantes (which later became the Muslim town of Zawila). From here it turned towards the mountainous Hoggar region, passing through Ghat, then across to Abelessa, to the Adrar of the Iforas and the city of Tadmekka or es-Souk, and then to Gao on the Niger.As late as the 1960s, it was almost universally held that there was a gold trade between West Africa and the Mediterranean as early the first millennium B.C. This trade was thought to be carried out both across the Sahara and by sea. There were descriptions in Herodotus and in the so-called Periplus of Hanno of this trade, from which descriptions, incidentally, the word “gorilla” is derived. Rock paintings found in the Sahara showed horse-drawn chariots, seen as the vehicles for the overland trade. The Garamantes, the inhabitants of the Fezzan during this period, were seen as the middlemen 1R.W. Boyle, Gold: History and Genesis of Deposits, New York, 1987.2Bovill, E.W., The Golden Trade of the Moors, London, 1968, 20-21.-2-in this trade.3This view, however, began to change in the 1960s.4It was pointed out that there were serious problems with the accounts of sea-borne trade, including the fact that Phoenician ships could not have been able to sail much south of the Canary Islands. In addition, the Saharan chariots were not suitable for carrying trade goods, and it was argued that trans-Saharan travel would not have been practical until the introduction of the camel into North Africa. Finally, there was the lack of any mention of African gold in Strabo or Pliny, who discuss the sources of Roman gold outside the empire. Indeed, Pliny explicity says that the only mineral imported from the land of the Garamantes was an enigmatic stone called the carbunculus. The arguments against a pre-Islamic gold trade were persuasively put forth by John Swanson in his 1975 article, “The Myth of the Trans-Saharan Trade During the Roman Era.”5While one still reads of the pre-Islamic gold trade in some sources, virtually all scholars have accepted this view. For example, in a study published this year on the impact of the Roman army on the North African economy, the possibility of trans-Saharan trade was not even mentioned....
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