The Ghana Empire flourished between AD 300 and 1200; it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History around 1000 AD. It was one of the richest empires in Africa at its height between AD 750 and 1000. The Empire, also known as Wagadou, was located in the western part of the Sahel region. It was also the largest and most powerful empire in the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The modern countries of Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso occupy the former territories of the Ghana Empire.
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The Sahel region seemed incapable of sustaining life at first glance. Thanks to the Senegal, Gambia, and Niger rivers, people had inhabited this region for thousands of years. The first settlers of the Ghana Empire were hunter-gatherers who settled in to farm the land. The small settlement grew into a village where the people made a living by planting crops, mining, and trading with other tribes. The tiny village grew into a kingdom ruled by their king or as they called it, the ghana in the local Soninke language.
Gold Trade in the Ghana Empire
The Ghana Empire first appeared on the records of learned men such as al-Khwarizmi and al-Fazari who called it “the land of gold.” The most important source of information on the Ghana Empire was the historian al-Bakri who visited its capital, Koumbi Saleh. In his records of the Ghana royal court, al-Bakri told his audience that the king wore many gold jewelry. This was not strange at all since he kept the finest gold nuggets while the common people only kept gold dust.
The abundance of gold in the Ghana Empire was the reason behind their wealth. It also fueled the gold and salt trade that thrived in the region during the Medieval Period. Berber merchants were the Ghana Empire’s best trading partners as they brought in salt that was important to the Sahel region. Salt was such a prized product for its people that they taxed a donkey-load of salt at one dinar when it entered the empire. Another two dinars were required each time it was sent out of the empire. The Ghana Empire traded with the Berbers for hundreds of years. But they sometimes fought because the Berbers liked to raid even the people they traded with.
Picture By Luxo – Image:BlankMap-World gray.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Cohen, Robert Z. Discovering the Empire of Ghana. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing, 2014.
Conrad, David C. Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. New York: Chelsea House, 2010.
Fage, J. D., ed. The Cambridge History of Africa:. The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521215923.
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