African Influence On Medieval Europe
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||African Influence On Medieval Europe
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African Influence on Medieval Europe
"Turned inward upon itself, cut off from the Mediterranean Basin by the Sahara desert and from Europe for hundreds of years by the barrier of Islam, and in more recent centuries isolated by the system of the Triangular Trade, Black Africa was an unknown land until the end of the nineteenth century."
This picture of Africa is common through out the western world. The prevalent stereotype is that Africa, also known as the 'Dark Continent', was unexplored and unknown to Europeans prior to colonialism. This myth is so imbedded into modern thought that one rarely bothers to question its validity. Yet, by observing both African and European history, one uncovers a completely different story.
All through out the continent of Europe, there are representations of African influence. Medieval European art reflects both positive and negative images of Africans. Evidence of trade across the Sahara is abundant. Still it is implied that Africa had no associations with Europe or Asia. In this essay I hope to demonstrate that Africa was not closed off, remote, or unknown to early Europeans; and to try to understand why such misconceptions exist.
The Sahara Desert, was indeed a formidable barrier to traverse. Yet ambitious merchants crossed this ocean of sand to ship their precious cargo to various Mediterranean and European ports. Numerous trade routes intersected the desert, by which African tradesmen's conveyed their merchandise, which was primarily salt and gold.
Salt was an extremely valuable commodity. In the eleventh through nineteenth centuries, explorers used salt as a way to preserve food, and it was necessary for survival in warm climates, where much salt was lost due to perspiration. Salt deposits were found along the coasts, and inland areas, and where then shipped by camel caravans across the Sahara. Salt was such an important commodity that it was sometimes used as currency (the term 'salary' is derived from the practice of paying wages with salt).
The gold trade was the other principal motivation for merchants to brave the harsh Saharan climate. Gold was found primarily in West Africa prior to 1350 AD. Muslim traders would transport the gold and trade it to the Europeans and Chinese in return for luxury goods, like silk and porcelain.
Various cities emerged in the Sahara Desert, to accommodate merchants with water, fresh mounts, food, and other such things to make trading across difficult terrain, easi
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