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River Valley Civilizations
Timbuktu- Hunter, Hickey, Rus
Although it is not so widely known today, Timbuktu was arguably the most important and influential city in Western Africa during the postclassical era. During Timbuktu’s high point in history, its political, social, and economic influence not only spread throughout the Mali Empire and west Africa, but also reached the Mediterranean as well as the Middle East. The politics, economy, and culture of Timbuktu were connected on so many levels. It is truly impossible to discuss the economy and culture of Timbuktu without discussing the political influence of its leaders. During the postclassical era in the early 1300s, Timbuktu became a key city in the gold and salt trade throughout Africa because of its situation along the Niger River. Also, from the political influence of the leader Mansa Musa, Timbuktu began to play a leading role in promoting education as well as Muslim ideas throughout Africa, and even the world.
The Government of the Empire of Mali and its Influence on Timbuktu
When Timbuktu reached its zenith in wealth and knowledge, it was part of the Mali Empire. The legendary king, Sundiata, rebelled against the existing Empire of Ghana, and established the Mali, which lasted from the early thirteenth century to the late fifteenth century. Under the Mali leader Mansa Musa’s rule, Timbuktu became a very influential city-state
a city-state or a capital city?
in west Africa.
Sundiata was part of the Keita clan, a royal and wealthy family that ruled Mali throughout it’s existence. Sundiata was the first of the leaders of the Mali Empire. These leaders from Sundiata’s royal family eventually bore the title of Mansa which means “emperor” or “king of kings.” These emperors ruled over the Mali Empire playing the role of monarch. The Mali Empire was divided into provinces; the boundaries were usually based on conquered territories. The conquered territories that became provinces were sometimes left as vassel states, in which the local king or leader remained in control of the kingdom. To keep the local leaders’ loyalty, the king would send representatives to supervise the vassel kings. Although there were vassel kings, the Mansa, or emperor, did play a significant role in the empire. The emperor had a lot of control over trade. On key imports such as salt, taxes were implemented, and the king had monopolistic control over some key trade items.
The most important and influential leader of the Mali Empire was Mansa Musa, who ruled from about 1307-1332 C.E. Musa played a key role in the expansion of the Mali Empire. His rule almost reached the Atlantic Ocean near Gambia and Senegal. Mansa’s power reached far south into Africa. He had indirect control over Bure. Bure was a significant region for gold exports, and when a leader imposed direct rule on the region, the value of its gold decreased. To keep the value of gold high, Musa, had minimal rule over this area
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. He maintained authority over Gao and the province of Muli downstream along the Niger River in the east. This helped with trade, giving the Mali Empire even more important ports along the river.
Musa was not only a political leader, but a very important Muslim leader as well. Musa first earned his name from his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. One of the Five Pillars of Islam states that any Muslim must complete the hajj or a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. Musa didn’t take this trip on his own; he brought with him over sixty thousand men, as well as about fifteen thousand slaves, and he sponsored the entire trip. As well as the vast numbers of people, Musa also displayed Mali’s and Timbuktu’s wealth on the trip. Multiple tons of gold as well as hundreds of camels accompanied the thousands of people making the trip across Africa. This train of wealth and knowledge affected many countries in north Africa, especially Egypt. The pilgrimage introduced huge amounts of gold to Cairo. This caused the value of gold to decrease for almost a decade because its supply increased dramatically. Musa also caused some inflation on products. He built many Muslim mosques, which promoted Islam. Some say he built one mosque a week. By the time Mansa Musa was ready to come home, he had spent so much money that he actually had to take loans from Egyptian merchants at very high interest. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca was significant in that it demonstrated the wealth of the Mali Empire as well as promoted Islam throughout north Africa. The pilgrimage put Mali as well as Timbuktu on the map.
Timbuktu reached its zenith of wealth as well as social influence and knowledge under the leadership of Mansa Musa. Musa built and re-established three universities or madrasas in Timbuktu, the most famous being the University of Sankore. These universities were important in that they promoted Islam. Muslim scholars from as far away as Mediterranean and the Middle east flocked to Timbuktu to gain further education. The universities were staffed with the top professors and experts in a particular field. Musa also built many libraries as well as many mosques, the most famous being the Djinguereber Mosque, which still stands today. During his rule over the city-state, Musa also transformed Timbuktu into one of the most important cities in the gold and salt trade of Africa. Its economy boomed under Mansa Musa. As it can be seen, Mansa Musa was one of the most important leaders of the royal family that ruled over Mali because of his significant cultural, religious, and economic influence.
The Effect of the Silk Routes on Timbuktu’s Economy
As the Silk Routes continued to flourish during the time period of 600-1450 CE, the western African city, Timbuktu, had constant economic growth that benefited the Mali Empire. Timbuktu is a city located in Western Africa, directly on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. The city of Timbuktu was also involved in the Islamic world. Timbuktu was founded in 1100 CE by the Tuareg nomads. Timbuktu would eventually become a significant economic powerhouse for the empire of Mali and act as a center for the expansion and exchange of the Islamic religion. Timbuktu started off their civilization independently and successfully.
As this civilization continued to succeed, their economy began to strive. With the constant expansion of Timbuktu’s civilization and economy, the Mali Empire noticed the upcoming civilization and joined Timbuktu with the already established Mali Empire. Once Timbuktu was incorporated with the Mali Empire, Timbuktu became the main focus point of both salt and gold trade within Africa in the 14th century. Many different cities began to send merchants to Timbuktu to gather gold, ivory, salt, and slaves in exchange for cloth and horses. The majority of Timbuktu’s profit came from their position on the Saharan trade routes. Timbuktu’s location was extremely important to their economic success. Timbuktu was located right along many popular trade routes that merchants persistently traveled on. These trade routes consisted of the exchange of Timbuktu’s major exports, gold and salt. Salt was traded along the Trans- Saharan trade routes and gold came from southern Africa, who was always in touch with Timbuktu’s civilization. Another great advantage Timbuktu had over most empires worldwide was their geological position. It is located precisely where the Niger River flows northward, up into the southern edge of the Sahara desert. This location was an extreme benefit to this Western African empire because gold was transported from the south, which worked well with the northward flow of the Niger River. Timbuktu was a major port, with all ships transferring goods from caravans. The caravans usually would leave with gold, ivory, or salt. The ships came from the Islamic north all the way to boats on the Niger River. Also, Timbuktu had a natural meeting point of Songhai, Wangara, Tuareg and Arabs. The meeting point enhanced communication and increased the popularity of the gold and salt trade. Since gold trade was significantly large coming from the Mediterranean area, the great prosperity of Timbuktu seemed very attractive to Muslim scholars and Muslim merchants. Timbuktu gained so much popularity and prosperity in such little time because of the high demand for the two products salt and gold. The geological position of Timbuktu increased communication and the economic benefit of the civilization.
Timbuktu’s main economic success came from the exportation of gold and salt. Since Timbuktu possessed these items and demand was extremely high, Timbuktu experienced extreme wealth and a very prosperous economic life in the society.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. (20009, July 6). Timbuktu. In
January/February, 2010, from Encyclopaedia Britannica database.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Basil, D., & Microsoft Encarta. (n.d.). Timbuktu and
The Rise of Timbuktu. In Timbuktu (sec. 1-2). Retrieved February/March,
2010, from Microsoft Encarta 1994 database.
Timbuktu Educational Foundation. (n.d.). History of Timbuktu. In Timbuktu
[Educational Foundation]. Retrieved from Timbuktu Educational Foundation
Sorry this was the most I could do. I put more information in, and its 1 full page and a little way into the second page.
In the classical era, economical wealth in a city often led to the rise and growth of social complexities, such as class hierarchy and religions. The wealth of a city or empire also gave way for bureaucracies to develop, since they were often expensive to build and maintain. The trading city of Timbuktu was no exception. Since it prospered economically it was also able to prosper socially. Timbuktu was not only a city of wealth, but of vast knowledge as well. The African trading city was a center for Islamic teachings. A majority of the traders that traveled to Timbuktu were Arab's, and most of the merchants stayed in the cities for a couple of years while trading. As a result when a lot of them settled there, drawn to the city's wealth and prosperity, they began to form a large community of Muslims. Therefore it is no surprise that the main religion of Timbuktu was Islam. By the 12th century the city held some of the most prestigious universities of the time period, such as the Sankore Madrasah
Jingaray Ber University and Sidi Yahya University. The Sankore Madrasah, one of the more well-known universities, was built in 1327 under the reign of the Mali King Mansa Kankou Musa. The university held the largest collection of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. Books were written in Timbuktu, and also imported there to be copied and placed in the enormous public libraries. Jingaray Ber University was also another famous university of Timbuktu. The Islamic school was built in 1325 and is about seven hundred years old. These three universities were the three great
which are places of worship for Muslims. King Mansa Musa also built the city's most beautiful mosaic called Jengerebir, which became the centerpiece for the city. This was the golden age of Africa. A series of intricate bureaucracies were also created. A general by the name of Sonni Ali Ber came into power as a king of the Songhai Empire and gained control of Timbuktu. Sonni had great plans for the trading city. He developed many new bureaucracies such as the army administration, agriculture, irrigation techniques and tax controls.
Because Timbuktu was a trading city, the ethnicity of the people varied. Often times they were merchants that had settled in the city. Most of the population spoke Arabic and were united in the fact that most were of Muslim faith. The merchants from Djenne were mostly Marka, Wangara, Sarakole and Mandikapeople. These African merchants were some the first settlers of Timbuktu.
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