Trade Routes

The trade routes of Ancient Africa played an important role in the economy of many African Empires.

What did they trade?

Gold and salt were the main items traded. The gold mines of West Africa provided great wealth to empires such as Ghana and Mali. Other commonly traded items were ivory, kola nuts, cloth, slaves, metal goods, and beads.

As trade developed across Africa, major cities developed as centers for trade.

Routes Across the Sahara Desert

The major trade routes crossed the Sahara Desert between Western/Central Africa to the port cities along the Mediterranean Sea. The goods were then shipped to far away markets like Europe, the Middle East, and India.

The Camel Caravans

With the use of camels, trade routes began to form between cities across the Sahara Desert. The camels were the main mode of transportation used to carry goods and people. Sometimes slaves carried goods as well. Traders traveled in groups called caravans, which provided protection from bandits. A large caravan might have over 10,000 camels.

Without the camel, there would not have been trade across the Sahara. Camels are adapted to survive long periods without water and to withstand the heat of the day and the cold of night in the desert.


African trade grew after the Arabs conquered North Africa. Islamic traders arrived and began to trade for gold and slaves from Western Africa. These traders spread the religion of Islam throughout Western Africa. The trade routes remained an important part of the African economy until the 1500s.

Source: Trade Routes
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