Trade Route Thematic Essay: Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Category: Economics, Trade,
  • Words: 1167 Pages: 5
  • Published: 13 August 2020
  • Copied: 165

Trans-Saharan trade was uniquely crucial during the Postclassical are in trade. The region's ability to maintain large amounts of connections stemmed from their tolerance of religion and assimilation into Islam. People in society were educated, literate, and aided their own economy and government. Africa’s riches was known in the mediterranean and its exports also forwarded economies with the use of their metals as currency. Luxuries used in Asia and even Europe were supplied by African material. Overall, Trans-African exports brought the region worth, that was eventually known throughout the mediterranean and beyond.

Africa’s 4,000-mile-long Trans Saharan trade route passed all through North African Countries, the Indian Ocean, Asia, even Europe, beginning in the 9th century, it carried on for centuries to come. 

The emergence of Islam also introduced new ideas, technologies, and growth to the region. As one would pass through the region there are mosques put into place by Mansa Musa. Musa of Mali had completed a pilgrimage to Mecca and showed the rest of the empires his lands wealth, and in that journey, he got eager to promote the Islamic religion in Mali himself. Upon his return he ordered the construction of mosques and Quranic schools. “Trans-Saharan Trade and the West African Discovery of the Mediterranean World states “For the rulers, the conversion offered several political advantages… Secondly, Islam provided them effective means to increase their power. 

Literacy enabled the government of large empires, and Islam could be used as unifying cult within the multiethnic and multi religious states.” (Masonen 1) Islam is also very simple to convert into, it does not require any sort of special actions to occur, one only must do simple prayer. Assimilation into Islam facilitated Africa's tropics economic and political growth through the enforcement of education, unlike other countries at the time, and it was made readily available to most everyone including women. Before the addition of Islam, Africans had believed that magical, mystical powers controlled the elites and gave them powers. Furthermore, the trade route in Sub-Saharan Africa grew and made more connections after the conversion to Islam, improving the economy as well. 

Trade cities eventually began popping up on the coasts. The Earth and Its Peoples goes on to inform on the Trans- Saharan trade by stating, “The Indian Ocean network and later trade across the Sahara provided sub-Saharan Africa, the portion of Africa south of the Sahara, with a few external contacts. The most important African network of cultural exchange from 300 B.C.E. to 1100 C.E. ... These migrations and exchanges put in place enduring characteristics of African culture.” (Bulliet, et al. 185). The trade route was vital for not only Africa’s history, but also its civilizations and building of its societies. 

Exchanges, however, were not only the exported materials, but also language, religion, and cultural ideas from the outside, setting the bases for African culture, and the already set in ideas in Africa was spread to locations on the route such as Europe and Asia. The trade route not only introduced a refined culture, but it built connections that helped economic growth and predominantly in the coastal cities that facilitated trade with the Indian ocean.

Trade Exports in the Mediterranean Region

Traded exports were valuable to empires in the Mediterranean region; consequently, the Sub-Saharan region prospered in revenue. Slaves and gold were the most significant exports the route could offer to the Asian and European world. The Indian Ocean saw large loads of slaves from Africa. Robert Collin’s “The African Slave Trade to Asia and the Indian Ocean Islands,” states, “The estimate of the number of slaves, 4,670,000, exported across the Sahara… there was a demonstrable demand for slaves from sub-Saharan Africa that resulted in continuous contact between the Muslim merchants, who organized the trans-Saharan slave trade... The presence of Muslim traders had a profound influence at the courts of African kings...” 

The millions of slaves that were sent to the outside world ranged from maintaining agriculture to being used as soldiers in wars. Slaves were almost necessary for life for the elite, and since there were so many in demand, their values dropped and at one point gold was worth more than a person. Rulings were benefited and gained new information and approaches in credit to the Muslim merchants along the route. Owning a slave represented a role in society because one owned someone who worked all day and would do anything under their possessors’ commands. 

Africa also supplied those buying the slaves with who they wanted; for example, if they wanted a male or female. Article “Sub-Saharan Africa Post Classical States and Societies,” quotes, “Slaves were an important source of wealth as one could thereby increase one’s agricultural production... With the expansion of trade in the Indian Ocean basin, trade in slaves soon became prominent…” In many countries during the Postclassical era, one must have been born into their rank, but thanks to the Sub-Saharan trade people could move up themselves. Agriculture and food sources would have caused a decline in population along the west if slaves were not those managing them. Furthermore, Gold was an abundance in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereas it was limited and only for the elites when being in other regions. 


The gold proved Africa’s fortune for it was used as currency in surrounding countries. According to the same article, the use of gold made countries in Africa prosper in wealth and ruler Mansa Musa even took so much gold to Mecca that for him it was only worth 25 cents. Tons of gold allowed him to construct mosques in the holy Islamic site. The trade route, at some point, would be able to mine thousands of pounds of gold. Sub-Saharan Africa gave regions the power to prosper with their exports.

Ultimately, the importance of the Sub-Saharan trade route was expressed in the need for its exports and the connections built from assimilation into Islam. Africa’s wealth aided its growth in the Postclassical era and the advancement of countries that were trade partners’ economy as well. The relations with the outside world granted merchants to be educated and literate, unlike other parts of the world at that time that only rich or elite people were those that could read and write.


Rouge, David. “FEATURE-Saharan salt caravans ply ancient route.” Reuters. 21 February 

2007. <>. Accessed 21 September 2019.

Rouge’s article includes a first person perspective on the Postclassical era in Trans-Saharan Africa. The writing also informs readers on the weather and domesticated animals used in labor throughout the year.


“Sub-Saharan Africa Post Classical States and Societies.” Historydoctor.


ubsaharan_africa_post_classical_Societies.htm>. Accessed 21 September 2019.

This article informs readers on the African societies and its economy. Trans- Saharan is discussed in this article and the varying exported items and their uses around the Asain world, and even the importance of Slaves.


Mosonen, Pekka. “Trans-Saharan Trade and the West African Discovery of the Mediterranean World.” University of Tampere. 22 June 1995.

<>. Accessed 22 September 2019.

This article informs on the encounters with Africa and the outside world and the built in connections with the surrounding countries. These connections led to the abundance of exports and growth of the economy.


Bullet, Richard W., et al. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

The textbook gave in-detail information in the Sub-Saharan Africa trade route. It gave all the contextualization as well.


Collins, Robert O. “The African Slave Trade to Asia and the Indian Ocean Islands.” African and Asian Studies. Vol. 5. Issue 3. 2006. P.325-346. Advanced Placement Source. Accessed 22 September.

Collin’s article discusses all the different trade routes in Africa and Asia. It used numbers and statistical proof to show how big the routes were.



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