Trans-Sahara Trade Routes Illustration

Ancient African Kingdoms
Trade Routes

Desert Route, The Trans-Sahara Trade Route: Camels and camel trains opened trade between west and east Africa. Crossing the Sahara Desert was never easy. But camels made it possible. Camels were nicknamed the ships of the desert. Camels can carry a great deal of weight. They go without water for a long time. They can keep their footing in sand. They can move quite rapidly. It did not take long before towns sprang up wherever there was an oasis. Routes, of course, followed the these scattered patches of green.

Sea Route, Trade By Sea: In the late 1400s, Portugal tried to find a way around Africa by sea. Travel by ship might be far less dangerous while at sea, but there were few natural harbors along the African coastline to safely anchor a ship. They were successful. The southern tip of Africa was named The Cape of Good Hope. Vasco da Gama, a famous Portuguese explorer, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and continued on to India.

You can imagine the excitement!  The Portuguese no longer needed to stop and trade with the once powerful African kingdoms for gold, gems, and spices. Traders could simply sail directly to India for silk, gold, gems, spices, and other wonderful goods - more goods and better goods for far less trouble and danger. The discovery of a shortcut to India marked the beginning of the end of many of the once powerful African kingdoms.

Cities like the once flourishing Timbuktu felt the heat. When the Portuguese showed their own traders and others that it was easier to sail around the coast of Africa than travel overland, Timbuktu began to decline in influence. The city, without its former wealth and importance to protect it, was leveled at the end of the 1500ís by another war with Morocco.  Timbuktu was not the only African city to be affected. Once the African kingdoms lost their trade exclusives, they too began to decline in power. 

The Sahara Desert

Mansa Musa

Henry the Navigator

African Kingdoms