African HistoryENGLISH


Trans-Saharan Trade routes. Source :

Trans-Saharan Trade was a long distance trade carried out across the north Africa to the Sub-Saharan African States especially Western Africa between about 8th century onwards to about the 17th century. However, a minor trade continued across between the regions until the end of 19th century when the European states nearly occupied all of Africa.

As result of the Trans-Saharan Trade a very good relationship was made between the north Africa and the Sub-Saharan states of west Africa. Because, people came to understand each other and led to the sharing of ideas and cultures. Also, diplomatic relations developed in which different states exchange emissaries for the purpose of consolidating trade relationship.


Trans-Saharan Trade has began a very long time ago. The history of the trade can be traced back to as far back as to around 3th century BCE. Around the time there were great states or cities such as Phoenicia or Carthage. Therefore, traders were encouraged to commercial activities.

During the time, the north Africans were in need of gold and ivory which were only found in the Sub-Saharan regions of west Africa. While on the other hand, the west Africans needs salt which was only found in the north Africa. These clash of needs necessitated the beginning of trade across the Sahara for the purpose of obtaining the aforementioned items.

However, the Trans-Saharan Trade did not became significant and expanded until the the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 8th century AD. After the conquest, the Trans-Saharan Trade became consolidated and shaped the lives of people especially in the Western and the Central Sudan until the end of the trade around the end of the 17th century.

Nature of the Trade

The Trans-Saharan Trade has been a trade which passed through the Saharan desert from the North African states to the Sub-Saharan African states of West Africa mostly by camels or sometimes horses. Camel became a very important means of transport especially due to its capacity and endurance of carrying a huge loads of items and travelled to a very long distance.

Initially, the basis of the Trade was the exchange of gold to salt. Because, in West Africa there was an abundant gold, while in the North Africa there was an abundant deposit of salt. Therefore, the people between these region opened up a trade based on exchange of salt for gold. Gradually, the Trans-Saharan Trade expanded and different goods or items became into the trade. For example, items such as copper, silks, metalwares, cowrie shells, horses, and others were bought by the West Africans. While, North Africans purchased ivory and kola nuts.

Trade routes

During the Trans-Saharan Trade, different routes were developed that linked different important commercial centers. There were about more than five important routes as follows :

  1. Tripoli to Murzuk to the Borno
  2. Tripoli to Ghadames to Ghat to Air to Agades to Kano or to Takedda
  3. Tripoli to Ghadames to Ghat to Tadamekket to Timbuktu
  4. Constantine to Taodeni to to Arawan to Timbuktu
  5. Tlemcen to Tabelbert to Taodeni to Taodeni to Arawan to Timbuktu
  6. Marrakesh to Sijilmasa to Taghaza to Taodeni to Arawan to Timbuktu
  7. Marrakesh to Wadan to Audaghost to Walata

Rise of important cities as a commercial centers

Trans-Saharan Trade has been an important trade that impacted the lives of both the Arabs or Berbers of North Africa and that of the Negroes of West Africa. One of the important impact of the Trade was the rise of cities.

In the North, cities such as Tripoli, Marrakesh, Fez, have developed into an important centers as well as cities.

In West Africa, cities such as Timbuktu, Gao, and Kano have became centers and cities with considerable importance.

Deline of the Trans-Saharan Trade

By 1500 the Trans-Saharan Trade have reached its peak. Gradually, the Trade began to losts importance as a result of the opening up of the European trade with the coastal states of West Africa.

However, less important trade continued until around the total colonization of Africa around the end of 19th century.

Ahmad Abdullahi, BA History

My name is Ahmad Abdullahi, I was born on 10th March, 1994 in Garun-Danga Town, Gabasawa L.G., Kano State. I attended FCE Demonstration Primary School from 2002 to 2007, FCE Staff Secondary School from 2007 to 2013, and Northwest University, Kano from 2013 to 2017, where I obtained bachelor degree in History.

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