Long Distance Trade Routes and Development of Centralized States in Sahel

Long-distance trade routes and the development of centralized states in the Sahel are directly related. Describe this relationship and the resulting development of forced labor systems.

In the Sahel region, the routes used by long-distance merchants were defined by the development of distinct centralized states. The lucrative nature of the businesses that the merchants engaged in motivated the communities along the routes to organize themselves into states to control the trade according to Bovill (1995) and Gibb and Beckingham (1994). As well, the growth of the states was persuaded by the merchants’ need for protection along the routes. Notably, some of the merchants and their home countries attempted to provide the protection via the lining of the routes with diverse outposts and forts. Over time, the states and their subjects expanded their involvement in the trade by supplying items that were of significance to the merchants, especially slaves to help move merchandise across the hostile desert according to Bovill (1995).

Notably, some of the states grew stronger over time, bolstering their control over the trade happening over the routes. They become stronger and stronger by raiding the neighboring states. For instance, the Garamate state, which controlled three early routes linking the Mediterranean region to the south, was attacked by Phoenician states in 400 BC (Daniels, 1970). The Phoenician states were keen on expanding the benefits they drew from the trade, mainly in terms of taxes. Notably, the states’ wealth came from regulating the trade by way of taxation and supplying of significant trade items like slaves (Gibb & Beckingham, 1994).


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