Africa, Desert States c. 1350–1600


Map Code: Ax01920

The nomadic Bedouin followed in the wake of the Islamic conquest of North Africa, spreading from their heartlands in Syria, Jordan and Arabia. Pastoralists, they would occupy the arid steppes on the margins of arable cultivation, ranging over wide areas and trading their livestock produce for the cereals, dates and manufactured goods of their sedentary neighbours. The Saharan Bedouin specialized in camel-herding, earning an additional living from caravan traffic. At the southern end of the caravan routes, a necklace of shifting kingdoms and empires thrived from the Saharan trade with the Ottomans and their offshoots on the Mediterranean seaboard. By the 16th century, the foremost was Bornu-Kanem, centred on Lake Chad. Under Mai Idris Alooma (r. 1571–1603), the empire was prosperous and centralized, trading slaves, perfume, wax, hides and ivory for salt, muskets, glass and horses. To their west, the Songhay Empire collapsed after defeat by at Almoravid Sultan of Morocco (1591).

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