Welcome once again dear readers to another entry in our ABC of World History. Today I am taking you back to Africa to the area of Mozambique in yet another effort to make this blog less eurocentric. I really hope the importance of this area comes across because as I was doing my research I still found so many sources about Mozambique and the Swahili coast of Africa that seem to ignore anything noteworthy before the European colonialists swinging by. So today I am bringing you some details about the development of Mozambique in the middle ages and the importance of this area for the development of trade.
As you may know, the Indian ocean key for trade in Africa since ancient times, and Mozambique is an important enclave. Evidence suggests however that since the collapse of the roman empire, sea trade may have declined for people living on the east coast of Africa and this may have powered the growth of the interior of countries such as Mozambique. But changes again with the arrival of Islam into Africa in the 7th century when the Indian ocean becomes again a prime hub for the exchange of goods, people and culture. Although it has been debated for a very long time how much interaction and mingling was between the Bantu and Swahili peoples of Mozambique and surrounding areas, it seems to transpire that there was a fair interaction and integration between the Arab newcomers and the natives. Briggs and Edmunds argue that the best evidence of this is in the language. Although Islam triumphs in terms of religious conversion, Swahili became the language used overall, even if with some Arabic borrowings. Now that you have some context I would like to use the following sections to 2 different enclaves in Mozambique that highlight the importance of trade and that show how active this part of the world has been for such a long time:
We are back one again for the ABC of World history. We have now landed on D and a dice roll determined today I would talk to you about Djibouti which for those of you unaware of its location, it is a country in the Horn of Africa and bordered by Somaliland (that part of Somalia that is desperately trying to be acknowledged a its own state), Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti has had many names throughout history, been part of many states and nations, and governed by different groups, whether it was the local Somali and Afar peoples, the Islamic empires that took over the north of Africa, or the French colonists in its most recent history. However, officially as the Republic of Djibouti, it has existed since its independence granted by French authorities in 1977. It has a long history as anthologist and archaeologist agree that its strategic location would have been key for the crossing of the early homonym groups, and there is consensus that it has been consistently occupied since at least the Neolithic. I must confess that I was incredibly tempted to start talking about the wonderful archaeological remain that are found around this area or the incredible painting of giraffes in Balho, but today I decided to talk about the uncertain history of Djibouti. Because, you see, its geographical location, means that it is a perfect breeding ground for all those potential places of antiquity we are not entirely sure where they exactly were. So today I will briefly cover the potential role of Djibouti as the land of Punt and Macrobians.
The Land of Punt
The majority of the information we have regarding the so-called Land of Punt comes from the perspective of the ancient Egyptians who left records of their mysterious trading partner in this land of Punt. Where was Punt exactly? Well, its difficult to say, and the lack of consensus means that we are currently working with the space between Egypt and the red Sea all the way down to the Horn of Africa, so, you know just a few places…So where do the records come from? The Egyptians started mentioning gold coming form Punt since the Fourth Dynasty, and the first official expedition to this region was organised in the Fifth dynasty by Pharaoh Sahure (around 25th century BC). But it wasn’t until the reign of Hatshepsut that the most famous expedition is organised and from, we get most of the information we have to date about Punt. Her chroniclers describe the land at length even describing it as a rich area with anything imaginable littering the land, a place worthy of Gods. The descriptions of the trade good that came to the Egyptians through Punt, suggest that the Puntites were well established as a mercantile nation, as they also traded with goods from adjacent areas, suggesting they had developed a solid network. Reliefs of these trading missions by ship can still be found in Hatshepsut’s temple at Dayr al-Bahri. We even have mentions of the Puntite rulers of this time: King Parahu and Queen Ati. However after the reign of Ramses III, it seems the majority of narratives about the land of Punt become so unreal that perhaps indicate a certain level of mythification and legendary romanticism which makes us questioned what happened between these two nations or if previous records had also been exaggerated.
The Macrobian are a people that we have record of thank to Herodotus (c. 484 – 425 BC) the Greek writer and geographer. But, we need to take all we know about Macrobians with a pinch of salt as Herodotus is our main source and from the accounts themselves, these come across as sort of mythological people living in the extremities of the world known to the Greeks. He describes the Macrobians as living somewhere south of Ethiopia, which could fit with the current location of Djibouti. He presents them as tall and handsome people, excellent seafarers and living in a prosperous land, which sort of matches the imagery developed earlier by the Egyptian Pharaoes. Herodotus description of diet (milk and meat), remarks on stature and prowess resonates with the pastoral Somali tribes of the area so, it is likely that if Macrobians was a real place it could be aligned with Djibouti. Another reason to believe this is the same area than Punt and perhaps even the same people is the remark on their wealth and gold, to the point that, probably exaggerating, Herodotus remarks that even their slaves were chained in this metal. The biggest issue that we have with Herodotus Macrobians accounts is that later authors of Greece, refer back to these same people (allegedly the same Macrobians) but then placing them in further remote areas corresponding to locations in India, but this again comes mostly from one source written by Pliny the Elder.
As you can see there is a lot of uncertainty around these areas, and I wish I Could clarify these things a little more for you, however the research on these areas is pretty lacking. In fact there aren’t many sources available in English that talk a bit more in depth about the history of Djibouti and the states prior to its formation that make this such a rich historical land. As usual, eurocentric historical ideas take us away from reachign a better udnerstanding of the world as a whole. So I really hope if nothing else, that this series of ABC World History inspires some of you to go look further south than Gibraltar.
Continuing with our ABC of world history, today as part of our third entry in this yearlong enterprise we invite you to come with us to the beautiful archipelago of Cabo Verde. If you’re an Anglophone, I must warn you that you may still be referring to this country by Cape Verde, and if that’s the case, you really should stop, as the government officially changed the name for all purposes as of 2013. (It seems there was a need there to reflect the Portuguese inheritance of the country and the common use of the English terms in a global sphere didn’t really stick). The name Cape Verde came from Cap-Vert which was the closest landmass to the archipelago: a peninsula on the western coast of Senegal. At this stage, you may be wondering exactly where this place is I am talking about and what I will be discussing today. Well, let’s not rush things but, here is the deal.
Returning to our lost Cities series, today we jump back to the African continent, but this time we are going to the north of the Sahara to talk about the formidable city of Timgad. Also known as Thamugas or Thamugadi in old Berber, this settlement dates to Roman times. Located on the northern slope of the Aurès Mountains – the east side of the Atlas system – Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi, as Trajan named it, was literally built out of scratch in the year 100AD at a very important crossroad in the Roman province of Numidia; modern day Algeria. According to the volume Archaeology: The Essential Guide to Our Human Past (ed. By Paul G. Bahn), this was originally established as a military colony for the legionary veterans from Lambaesis, corresponding most likely to the 3rd Augustan legion. Trajan gave the place such an elaborate name in honour of several of his family members most notoriously his mother, father and sister (Marcia, Marcus Ulpius, and Ulpia Marcia…). Like with many of the cities we have been looking at during this series, Timgad was once a centre of great importance, which eventually declined and remained hidden from the human eye for centuries. In this particular case, what actually stopped the city from being undisturbed and preserved since its abandonment in the 8th century, was the endless layers of sand blown straight from the Sahara and encroached by the mountains that kept Timgad from harm. According to Donald Langmead and Christine Garnaut, Timgad remained under Arab control until the annexation of Algeria by France in 1830. It was in fact a French architect, Albert Ballu, who commenced the investigations for the site leading to its eventual rediscovery in 1881. Albert was working then for the Service des Monuments Historiques de l’Algerie. Thankfully for us, Albert was a man of integrity and well learned, and advocated for the preservation of the local heritage according to the traditions of the country. Thank to his care of the site, routinary excavations were carried out all the way to the 1960s, exposing what is believed to be one of the best-preserved representations of a grid plan Roman town. In fact, Langmead and Garnaut state that the city became a key source already back in the day for the development of city plans in early modern society, therefore having a direct impact in architectural development and urban planning. It is very likely that this very knowledge, given Albert’s background, is what allowed him to search for the city and recover it from oblivion. Thankfully for Timgad, unlike many of the other sites we have explored so far, the UNESCO recognised its importance very early on, and has been under their listed of protected monuments since 1982. The Algerian government worked closely with the site too to ensure that no modern buildings would cover the ruins either.
So what do we know about Timgad? In order to understand the reason why the place was created, we can make use of the toponomy and the geographical location to see why this area of Numidia was so important for Rome. The words Thamugas/Thamugadi refer to a peak or summit in the Berber language. Considering its location right off the Aures and the Atlas, this probably makes more sense. The Berbers were the original population of this area, and they lived in the mountains as their natural refuge, which is where the Romans would have got the last bit of the name of the settlement. Numidia was known as the granary of Rome, and the area surrounding Timgad at the time of its creation would have been that of a savannah grassland. Several olive presses have been found in the site as well as the nearby area, and there is evidence for an aqueduct that would have carried water for 3 miles. Therefore, as you can see this was killing 2 birds with one stone: cover your basic military threat and farm the land. Interestingly, and despite the threat of the natives, the city was walled but no fortified. The design of the grid plan suggest it was originally intended to host around 15000 people. However, this was outgrown quickly as the city prospered, leaving its perfect orthogonal shape based on the cardo and decumanus behind, and incorporating suburbs for the new inhabitants. This expansion corresponds with the Severan period, when the vast majority of the public buildings of the settlements were commissioned. According to Bahns book by the end of the 2nd century, Timgad already counted with a great public market and a theatre capable of sitting around 3500 people – which by the way is still in use these days for public functions! The total remains of the buildings erected by the state go up to 20, including a curia, thermae, basilica, and a temple dedicated to Jupiter which is roughly the same dimensions than the pantheon in Rome. There is also the famous Arch of Trajan, also known at the Timgad arch, which is a wonderful triumphal arch that got restored to its former glory in 1900. However, one of the buildings that has interested many scholars is the library gifted by Marcus Julius Quintianus Flavius Rogatianus (as stated clearly on the building site itself), which cost 400 000 sesterces. Although no evidence remains from the examples that this library may have contained, the size and distribution of it suggest it had a capacity for at least 3000 rolls. All the building mentioned above and found in the settlement are made from stone and there are clear since of frequent upgrade throughout Roman rule. Furthermore, investigations carried out by Katherine Dunbabi suggest that during the 2nd and early 3rd century Timgad was also an important centre for the production of mosaics. She has identified remarkable work in geometric pavement patterns, as well as finds amounting to 40 pieces contained luxuriously decorated vegetation motives. Finally, another other reasons why Timgad became a renown city was due to its function as a religious centre, which came a bit later in the 4th century. A famous and respected bishopric, the people of Timgad unfortunately carried the enemy within! Some religious disturbances arose in Numidia due to the practice of Donatism. This is a branch of the early Roman church that developed in North Africa as part of the schisms caused by the Church of Carthage and that advocated for a more rigorous and virtuous dogma. The name comes from a Christian Berber bishop who popularised the practice, Donatus Magnus, and who believed the church and clergy should a place for saints and good actions, with no room for sins and sinners. As it stands, Timgad’s role in the spread of this dogma was vital. Standing on a cross road connecting 6 of the most important ‘viae’ in the area, and with ample trade, Donatism flourished where others may have failed.
Once again you may be thinking, okay, so what happened here for the city to end up abandoned and in ruins? Timgad just suffered the fate of the rest of the empire. The 5th century becomes really tricky for Rome trying to fend off the Germanic groups that had been infiltrating the borders for centuries due to lazy and poor management. The Vandals were a greatly mobile group and very quickly they made their way down from the Iberian Peninsula into the north of Africa, resulting in the sacking of several settlements – Thamugadi included. The area was deprived of the means for preservation and decline followed. There was a brief period of resurgent around 535 after the arrival of the Byzantine general Solomon. He came with the intention to occupy the settlement, but he found it empty, so an attempt to recolonise the area took place, with the Byzantine troops building a citadel towards the southeast of the city, repurposing some of the original construction materials from the site. Nevertheless, our good old friends the Berbers gave Solomon and his friends hell throughout the 6th and 7th centuries which led once again to the stagnation of the settlement with the eventual downfall taking place in the 8th century at the hands of the Arabs. There wasn’t much for them to ransack at this stage, so the place was essentially left to rot and be buried by sand.
*references mentioned in text:
Donald Langmead, Christine Garnaut Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats (Michigan, 2001). Katherine m. D. Dunbabi, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World (Cambridge, 1999).
series of Lost Cities (https://nuhistory.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/lost-cities-xanadu/ for the first one) today I would like you to take you on a trip to the east
coast of Africa. I know we don’t tend to go there much in this blog, so I
thought this was a perfect opportunity to pay a visit. Where are we off to, you
will be wondering? Well, today we are having a look at the ruins of the city of
Gedi – or Gede depending on the spelling. This town is of medieval origin and seems
to belong to the Swahili cultures of the area, however as the middle ages developed
the influence of the Arabic expansion in Africa becomes apparent. Why am I referring
to Gedi as a lost city? There are a few reasons. The first one ans perhaps most
obvious is that, like with Xanadu, the settlement in currently in ruins. And
this leads us to point 2: Gedi was abandoned by the locals, and we are still a
bit unsure as to why exactly, particularly considering this seems to have been
a remarkable settlement. Amongst the archaeological find we have Ming pottery, Venetian
glass and even what seemingly is a flushing toilet! Another reason why I count
Gedi into this list, is because there is virtually no record of it in the
historical sources. Considering the heavy influence of the Portuguese during
the Age of Discovery in these area, it is interesting to know they didn’t
really acknowledge this place…Yet the archaeology seems rather clear: Gedi was
a mighty town.
So, where abouts exactly is what remains of Gedi? The location is in the Eastern coast of Kenya, in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, and nearby the towns of Watamu and Malindi. The ruins excavated originally rediscovered in the 1920s, and it quickly became one of the most thoroughly excavated Swahili sites in the stretch that goes from southern Somalia to the Kenya-Tanzania border – there are 116 in total. Thankfully, it was made into a historic monument in 1927, and the status was elevated to that of a protected monument in 1929 following the looting of Chinese porcelain found in the site. Nonetheless, and technically speaking, the location of Gedi had been known to non-African people since the 19th century. The British Sir John Kirk – explorer and companion of the renown Dr Livingstone, went to the site during his visit from Zanzibar. The first proper excavations were carried out in the 1940s under supervision of archaeologist James Kirkman, and were concentrated on the core buildings. This also led to the proclamation of the forest around it as a national park in 1948. The excavations around the mosque took precedence for the decades that followed, becoming this the key feature of research papers published on the subject, and hence enhancing the Arab influence in the area. As an example, the paper:
“The Arab City of Gedi, The Great Mosque, Architecture and Finds” relates the vast majority of the information known about this building and the city itself. The author was, of course, Kirkman himself. Although seemingly forgotten and unknown to the colonist of the area, Gedi was known to the Mijikenda people, particularly the Giriama tribe one of the largest communities amongst the Mijikenda) who revere the site as a sacred place. This culture believe strongly in spirits and the otherworldly; despite the Islamic influence in the area, they still think there is a connection between Gedi and the spiritual world.
material culture of the site, we have a fair amount of stuff left. There is
blatant evidence that Gedi was a walled town, with an inner and outer wall
comprising an area of 45 acres. The walls alongside with the majority of the
buildings here were made from coral stones extracted from the Indian ocean.
They all seem to be one storey of height and there is a plurality of buildings,
not just houses. Amongst these feature the already mentioned mosque, as well as
a palace. Due to its location and growth, Gedi has been understood to be a
trading centre, particularly with routes and commerce in the Indian Ocean. The
period of occupation for the site has been dated thanks to carbon analysis of
the remains and finds to the 11th century, and it seems the city was already
abandoned by the to abandoned by the 17th. However, there are evidence of
settlement in the vicinity of Gedi since the 6th century by different tribes
and Swahili people. The estimated population of the city at its peak is of 2500,
so perhaps not the greatest number one could think of but given the location it
was certainly an important settlement. Gedi prospered and increased numbers until
the early stages of the 16th century thanks to trade. And here comes the issue,
you see, because it is likely that the most easily explained for the
depopulation of the town had to do with its commercial nature. By the 16th
century, the presence of Portuguese merchants in the area was extensive, and it
is known that their monopolisation of trade led to the general decline of the
local activities. Perhaps Gedi was one of the affected towns along the
coastline as more and more Portuguese colonists established themselves a little
further north. In addition, the Tanzania-Kenya border has traditionally been an
area of conflict. There are mentions of raids from Somalia, and the evidence
suggest the Galla people – or more commonly known these days as the Oromo – from Ethiopia seem to have also been a likely
contender for the depopulation of Gedi, which is a theory supported by Aylward
Shorter in his study of the East African
Currently, the site remains under the care of the National Museums of Kenya, and it is open to the public for touristic visits. However, the archaeological work is still ongoing. In fact, since the 90s, the investigations on Gedi have grown in interest and depth. The current works are attempting to understand the settlement beyond the narrow frame of its Arabic development and the mosque itself. Works by Stephane Pradines and Lynn Koplin have focused on other buildings found in the site which are seemingly mud thatched properties built between the inner and outer walls. This is helping reshape the history of the site as a socio-political body with an important urban development and not just a religious site of one kind or another.Another item of investigation and that comments on the economic importance of the settlement is the abundance of cowry shells. It has been speculated that, perhaps these were a form of currency amongst the people of Gedi, which would make sense considering the evidence for these shells been used as legal tender indifferent areas of Africa throughout history.
However, as you
can see there is still a lot of work to be done in Gedi as a whole. As usual,
African cultures seem to be right at the bottom of the list of things to be
investigated, and that needs to change. Hopefully as the years come by I may be
able to revisit this post with bran new and up to date information on the site
and see that wonderful remains from the middle ages all over the world are
taken proper care of.
The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014. Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit. Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.
I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.
The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.
Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries. 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families. 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them. At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War. These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.
Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies. This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.
The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism. This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.
The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.
It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.
Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.
As this month is African History month, I decided to take my historical specialty; warfare, and see how it worked in Africa. While there is plenty of information out there, warfare in Africa isn’t a generally well known topic, at least outside of Egypt, Carthage, and post-colonial periods. So my goal is to take a look at some key points of precolonial, sub-Saharan African warfare, and the weapons, tactics and fortifications used. Here we will discover some interesting similarities to Classical and Medieval European warfare.
To begin with, it is important to consider some of the unique environmental factors that affect the nature of warfare in most parts of Africa. Large parts of the continent lack the advantages other continents have in facilitating the spread of ideas, materials and technology. In other continents such as Europe the ability to leverage resources like the mass requisitioning or availability of grain supplies were critical for the deployment of large armies over an extended period. The environment determined the type of military deployed by African states and the environment especially in the Saharan region and southwards hindered development of certain economic and technological advances critical to large scale military operations. The barriers to military advancement include: The tsetse fly disease belt, which decimates horses, people and load-bearing animals. Lack of navigable rivers and good natural harbors, hindering movement of technology, men and material. And poor soils that cannot produce grains such as wheat or rice in significant quantities; the staples of the mass armies of Europe and Asia. All of these factors impact huge swathes of Africa, with severe effects on military systems and the numbers available for battle.
The civilizations of Western and Central tropical Africa suffered comparative isolation in comparison to areas open to the wider trade of the Sahara and Mediterranean. Nevertheless, several strong kingdoms and peoples like the Yoruba, Nupe, Wolof, Hausa, and Ndongo emerged that were to demonstrate continued evolution in African warfare. In these heavily forested regions, it was the foot soldier that dominated the battlefield. With armies consisting largely of levies, as a standing army could not be sustained in most cases. There were however, usually a small number of permanent professional warriors, usually some form of royal guard, around which the rest of the army was based. These were usually heavy, shield-bearing infantry, armed with spears most commonly, although swords, axes, and clubs would have been present. The general purpose levies were drawn upon in a more localized manner and were expected to supply their own weapons and rations when mustered for combat. They were generally mobilized when war was imminent and demobilized once over. Logistics was not highly organized, and most armies ultimately lived off the land. Success often hinged on the ability of the defenders or attackers to sustain themselves in the field.
For these types of army, and example of the basic deployment for battle comes from the Fulani, which consisted of groups of select spearmen that entered battle first, supported by archers in the rear, and in reserve would be a general purpose force readed their troops into compact columns, easy to maneuver on the march and remaining somewhat together when spread out for combat. Like the Fulani, the Fante also sent spearmen first into battle, with archers supporting. A general charge by warriors further back under their commanders, then ensued, with sword, club and axe. In both of these cases, leaders seem to have had little control over troop movement once the fray was joined. By contrast, the forces of some other states were better organized. In the Angola region, troops were divided into companies and regiments, each with their own unique insignia. Designated field commanders controlled troop movement with signals from drums, bells and elephant tusk horns. Unlike the Fante or Fulani, archers usually opened a battle with only a very limited volley of arrows. The main force was still the unit of spearmen. Deployment was staggered, so that initial fighting waves fell back on command when tired, and fresh contingents moved up from the rear to take their place.
These armies were mostly armed with the spear, and the warrior wielding the spear and shield was the most important part of any force on the battlefield. Spears were less strong than those evolved later in southern Africa under the Zulu, but they still doubled as both throwing and thrusting implements. The shields used varied in shape and size based on the region and period, but for the most part were either circular or oval in shape, and were mostly made from some form of hide, or fairly often of wicker.
Swords took various forms also, and one example is the ida, a sword used by the yoruba people, which is a straight, usually double-edged iron sword with a broad head, leaving most of the balance towards the tip of the weapon, making it quite powerful in the cut. The bow and arrow found wide use, with relatively weak bow strength being offset by the use of poisoned arrows in many areas. Bow draw weight is said to have been around 40 pounds in most cases, although there are exceptions, such as some being up to 130 pounds in kenya, with large bows resembling European longbows. Some people, such as the Marka, used short, 1ft long, light arrows, tipped with poison and lacking fletchings, with a large volley of arrows intended to make up for poorer accuracy.
Defensive works were of an important part of warfare for these tropical militaries. In the Kongo region they often consisted of a type of field fortification, with trenches and low earthen embankments. These fortifications incidentally generally held up much better against European cannon than taller, more imposing structures, as they were very similar to modern trenches designed for such a purpose. In 15th century Benin, the works were more impressive. The walls of the city-state are described as the world’s second longest man-made structure, and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earthwork in the world. Strong citadels were also built other in areas of Africa. Yorubaland for example had several sites surrounded by the same fully encompassing earthworks and ramparts seen elsewhere, and were situated in positions that improved defensive potential such as hills and ridges. Yoruba fortifications were often protected with a double wall of trenches and ramparts, and in the Congo forests concealed ditches and paths, in addition to the main walls, which were often lined with rows of sharpened stakes. Inner defenses were laid out to dampen a successful breach with a maze of defensive walls allowing for entrapment and crossfire on enemy forces.
Contrary to popular Western impressions, sub-Saharan Africa did produce significant cavalry forces where the environment permitted it. The savannahs of Western Africa in particular (Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Niger etc.) and its borderlands into the Sahara and Sahel saw the development of several powerful cavalry-based states that dominated the region for centuries. Where the tsetse fly was not strong, and the terrain was favorable, the mounted horseman came into his own, and emerged as the true aristocracy of the savannah. As they did further north in Carthage, Egypt and Libya, the introduction of the horse, (and to some extent the camel in desert areas) had a transformational effect on African warfare.
On suitable terrain, the fast-moving horseman was the dominant force. When infantry operated on ground less favorable to cavalry however, and deployed firearms or disciplined archery, the mounted man was not as effective. Cavalry tactics were varied based on the mix of mounted and foot troops on hand for an operation. Infantry forces were usually larger, and the typical order of battle was a mass of infantry levies armed with hide shields, arrows, bows and spears, and a higher status mounted formation. Cavalry relied heavily on missile action, usually casting javelins in one or two passes, before closing in with lances for shock action. The infantry provided a steadying force if they could mass compactly enough to stand against cavalry charges. Raiding type tactics were standard, particularly in acquiring captives for sale. Generally the savanna cavalries used a “combined arms” approach, seldom operating without supporting infantry. Military operations of the savannah empires can be illustrated by the Mossi. Men of noble birth dominated the mounted units, and commoners were relegated to auxiliary foot formations, very similar to medieval European knights and foot soldiers. The main striking power of the Mossi forces rested in the cavalry, with the typical unit made up of 10 to 15 horsemen. The Mossi emperor delegated supreme command on expeditions to a field commander, or tansoba.
Another example of an effective cavalry nation; the Mali Empire, deployed both footmen and cavalry, under two general commands. Supreme command for all forces rested with the ruler, but the two army groupings were under two assigned generals. Cavalry was the elite arm of the force and provided the stable nucleus of an army that when fully mobilized numbered around 100,000 men, spread throughout the empire.. Ninety percent of these were infantry. A cavalry force, the farai, supervised the infantry, under officers. The footmen could be either slaves or freemen, and were predominately archers. Three archers to one spearman was the general ratio of Malian formations in the 16th century. The archers generally opened a battle, softening up the enemy for cavalry charges or the advance of the spearmen. Sword and lance were the weapons of choice in the cavalry forces, sometimes tipped with poison. A large flotilla of canoes supported army movements on campaigns.
Hallet, Robin Africa to 1875, University of Michigan Press: 1970
July, Robert Pre-Colonial Africa, Charles Scribner, 1975
Osadolor, Osarhieme Benson, “The Military System of Benin Kingdom 1440–1897],” (UD), Hamburg University: 2001
Thornton, John Kelly Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500–1800, Routledge: 1999
The Library of Alexandria was not the first library, that honour belongs to those libraries in Iraq and Syria, but it is the first to capture the imagination of historians. One of the largest libraries of the ancient world, it was renowned as a centre of scholarship and part of the Musaeum of Alexandria, home of scholars such as Hero (the father of mechanics), Archimedes (the father of engineering) and Herophilus (the founder of the scientific method). Created by Alexander the Great’s successor Ptolemy I Soter, it is estimated to have held somewhere between 40,000-400,000 scrolls of papyrus at the height of its success.
To start off, I wish all a happy and prosperous new year to those who read and take an interest in our blog. My first post of 2018 will look at the enslaved Zanj peoples of East Africa and reasons as to how rebellion ensued from 869 to 883 AD. for this January’s African History month.
An African History in Mesopotamia
The term Zanj is a name of Arab origin which is loosely translated to “Land and Black” and was coined by Muslim geographers in the Medieval period. The area was in and around the region of the East African coast, now modern-day Kenya and Tanzania and settled by Black Africans of Bantu heritage. Trade was prominent in this region with the Arab world that involved lucrative goods such as ivory and gold.
The slave trade of the Zanj peoples also dominated. They were shipped and important to work on the marshlands in the surrounding area to Basra in Mesopotamia, now Iraq and sold to Wealthy Arabs to cultivate the land, primarily for sugarcane. Basra was an important port city in the region, so it was accessible to transport the produce from the land and to import slaves. These marshlands were left for some time due to flooding, wealthy Arabs saw an opportunity to implement a plantation based economy by converting the disused land for arable farming, using intensive labour. This was why the Zanj peoples were considered and that the East African coast was near the Arab world. Some Zanj peoples worked in Salt flats close to Basra. It was not just in the region of Basra that Zanj peoples were imported for slavery, some were shipped to other Arab speaking regions that bordered the Indian Ocean.
The struggle of the Zanj peoples
The lives of the Zanj peoples were harsh and miserable with many accounts indicating punitive treatment from their masters. The living and working conditions is a major factor that contributed to the Zanj rebellion, but it was not necessarily the only standing factor.
Anarchy of Samarra (861-870 AD.)
The ruling Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate was heavily marred and weakened by internal discord relating to the Caliphate’s succession and struggle inevitably ensued. This period was known as the Anarchy of Samarra, seeing as court was held at Samarra at this time. The succession of the Caliph’s was violent seeing as they were killed, disposed, exiled or overthrown. This anarchy allowed rebels to implement their own policies of governance that replaced the existing system. This greatly affected taxation from provinces, the central government would otherwise have had and in turn created a loss. With less revenue from taxation it meant there was less money to pay for resources should external or internal conflict ensue. This, in a way swayed attention from the Zanj slave trade as it meant there was no ruling stability in the Caliphate and it greatly affected the prestige of the central government. As a result, it perhaps allowed a chance for rebellion.
The role of Ali Ibn Muhammed
So how did Ali Ibn Muhammed attract support from the Zanj peoples in Mesopotamia? As explored previously, the Zanj peoples clearly lived and worked in terrible conditions and that at the time of the Anarchy of Samarra it weakened the ruling system and as such it appears as if the last factor discussed in the form of Ali Ibn Muhammed ties together the previous two factors contributing to the rebellion.
Ali Ibn Muhammed did benefit from hearing the news concerning warring factions, particularly in Basra. Ali Ibn Muhammed eventually seized the opportunity to gain Zanj support in return for their liberation because of this, although initially he struggled to gain support. Some accounts note him as enquiring about their living and working conditions cultivating the land. To some Zanj, this appeared to be the opportunity for freedom, a life free from slavery. He managed to recruit a sizeable amount of Zanj slaves who were willing to rebel for the cause, along side other ethnic groups unhappy with the regime.
Original was posted on- 12/04/2015 by lauraljpotter
Original title- A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa
The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the nineteenth century after the abolition of slavery. , as the next form of cheapest labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India. The British adapted the Hindu caste system that was already in place in India since Ancient times and they continued to do so in the nineteenth century. The system was as follows; Brahmins (Priests) remained at the top of the caste system, Khsatriyas (Warriors) were next, Vaishyas (Merchants/Landowners) followed them, Shudras (Servants/labourers) were of a lower caste and lastly the Untouchables (those who killed cattle for a living/eating the flesh of cattle) were considered to be out of caste and subordinate to all. The Indian labourers that were employed to build the railway would have been a lower caste.
As well as Indians migrating to Kenya and Uganda, those countries are often studied when analysing the Indian diaspora, other Indians migrated to other surrounding countries such as; Tanzania and Mozambique. These Indian Diasporas have not been studied as much and in some cases until recently. As a result we have less information about them. However, with the limited information we have it is still informative nonetheless. We will start with Tanzania. As with Kenya and Uganda, many Indians settled in India, those who came were mainly from the Gujarat region and were traders. Many Indians who settled in Tanzania were mainly found in the large port city, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar in particular was home to many Parsis. Parsis were originally from Persia that migrated to Gujarat and Sindh (now in Pakistan) and practice the Zoroastrian faith. Many of them worked as merchants and for the colonial government as civil servants. The father of Freddie Mercury, Bomi Bulsara worked as a Cashier for the Colonial Office in Zanzibar and the family lived there. After decolonisation there was an anti-Indian sentiment in Tanzania and many left the country for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Some went back to India and Pakistan. The situation was no different in Zanzibar. After the 1964 revelation, which was to destabilise the power the Arab/Asian ruling class many Africans were unhappy by this inequality and felt they were unfairly represented politically. As a result many of the Indian diaspora, namely Parsis fled to other areas in the Commonwealth with many settling in the UK.
The countries that have been covered so far were in the British Empire. There was a sizable Indian diaspora in Mozambique. Mozambique was not part of the British Empire but it was part of the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer noted how he spotted Hindu traders off the East coast of Africa. Many Indians took advantage of the trade route between East Africa and India for centuries. Some from the Vaishya caste settled in Mozambique during the nineteenth century. Muslim traders were also present in Mozambique and were involved in trade that included; ivory and selling cashew nuts that proved to be lucrative. Beforehand some traders were involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until it was outlawed. Some of the Indian Diaspora from South Africa continued to move up north towards Mozambique. Mozambique must have been considered a good place for the Indian diaspora and for their trade to prosper. So what went wrong?
Firstly, in the late nineteenth century there was an outbreak of plague in Mozambique and the Indian community was blamed for it. As a result, Indian migration to Mozambique as well as Asian migration in general was heavily restricted. This restriction was imposed from 1899 until 1907. However, it was still financially difficult for Indians who wanted to settle in Mozambique, the restriction was still in “force” in all but name.
Later on in the twentieth century, things took a worse turn for Indians in Mozambique after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961. Prior to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese territory. The Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveria Salazar placed Indians in Mozambique in concentration camps and froze their bank accounts. The Portuguese claimed this was to protect them. However, another reason was that they had hoped for the Portuguese prisoners captured in Goa would be released. From the 1970s the decolonisation of Mozambique occurred. During this time many Indians left the country. Most of the Indians were of adherents of Ismailism, a branch of the Shia sect of Islam. However, unlike the Indian diaspora in other East African nations they were not forced out by those from inside the said countries they adopted as their new home. The Ismaili Indians were told to leave by an outside source, Aga Khan IV, an Imam. The case with East Africa being, they were told or made feel to leave from inside the country.
Not only did Indians migrate to East Africa, many had migrated to South Africa. Before the abolishment of slavery and arrival of the British, Dutch traders had acquired Indian slaves from the Mughal Empire and settled them in the Cape. The Mughal Empire ruled most of India apart from the southern tips. These Indian slaves were from Bengal, today the territory is in the Republic of India and Bangladesh during the 1600s. Interestingly enough they were never classed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Asian’ by Dutch Traders. They were called, ‘Cape Malay’ or ‘Cape Coloured’. However, there was no substantial rise in the Indian Diaspora until the British arrived at the Cape. Many Indians were transported to Natal Colony, today part of South Africa to work as indentured labourers, like what has been discussed previously in the post about Indians migrating to East Africa. They came to work on sugar, tea and cotton plantations that were introduced in Natal colony as the land was deemed appropriate for this type of cultivation to flourish. Again, due to a lack of indigenous labour, labour had to be imported from another Colonial hold, India. Over five decades c. 150,000 indentured labourers were imported from Tamil speaking areas, Hindi speaking areas and Telugu speaking areas. In terms of religion many of them identified as Hindu or Christian. There was a smaller Muslim population too. Colonial officials felt indentured labourers were a better choice than African workers because many of them were economically self-sufficient or that the British felt their working practices were not suitable for a growing economy based on a large supply and demand.
As with the Indian diaspora in East Africa some decided to remain in South Africa after their service. Many established themselves rather quickly in industry. These included; agriculture, the railways, fishing and clerks. Others established themselves as traders, but these Indian traders arrived after the indentured labourers. The main difference here was these traders paid for themselves in search of a new life in South Africa, whereas those in indentured labour could not afford this. Their payment was considered to be labour. These traders were mainly Muslim or Hindu Indians from the Gujarat region and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of large numbers settling in Durban, not all of these migrants settled there. Some migrants moved inland towards Johannesburg, establishing trading posts. Much to the dismay of white and even African tradesmen there was some conflict because there were more Indian tradesmen than white and African tradesmen.
Many Indian migrants faced discrimination in South Africa throughout the years, but unlike Uganda they were not forced to leave and unlike Kenya they didn’t feel as if they had to choose between British citizenship and Kenyan citizenship in Post-Colonial times. However, Indian South Africans were far from being free citizens in their new home. Indian migrants suffered from early discrimination in the colonies of; Natal, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some colonies treated Indians more harshly than others. For example in the late 1800s in the Orange Free State, a Boer held territory, Indians were banned from living there. Generally Indians were restricted from certain areas and professions in the other states. For example in the Transvaal, Indians were banned from working in the mining industry and they were not allowed to walk on pavements. In Natal voting rights for Indians were restricted. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi stated he received racial discrimination when he resided in the country as a Lawyer. In Cape Colony although racial discrimination occurred, it was not as bad in other colonies where they were banned entirely or that there voting rights were restricted. In actual fact Cape Colony proved to be the most lenient towards Indian migrants as they were allowed to vote, own property and prosper in trade.
During Apartheid, effective from 1948 until 1991 the population of South Africa was segregated according to the colour of their skin. People who were not considered to be white were racially discriminated. Indians living in South Africa at the time were not considered to be white, they were often classed as coloured and in some cases black. They suffered racial segregation just as much as the native population. Discrimination occurred in everyday life in South Africa. This included public facilities, employment opportunities, education and events.
The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and although many have left African countries, some migrated back to Africa after the troubles of expulsion or discrimination. Today there are c. 40,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique, c.50,000 in Uganda, c.70,000 Tanzania, c.110,000 in Kenya and c.1,300,000 in South Africa.