Shifting Away from the Sahara

The establishment of trade with Europeans along Africa’s Atlantic Coast in the late fifteenth century effectively bypassed the series of intermediaries that were essential to Saharan trade. Ships made possible the transport of more goods. Gold, ivory, and other Saharan trade staples remained important commodities, especially in the early days of coastal trade; however, the slave trade would soon dominate the Atlantic economy.

The creation of new trading centers along the West African coast slowed but did not end trans-Saharan trade. As the gold trade shifted southward, it contributed to the creation of the Asante Empire (in today’s nation of Ghana). There the legacy of the Saharan gold trading continued particularly in the systems of measure based on the mithqal (4.5 grams) that were used to weigh gold.