Meroe and Aksum: Trade Entrepots

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After the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and the subsequent loss of the Meroe and Aksum as commercial entrepots, a void fell over trade in the Indian Ocean that would persist until 750 AD, which signaled the beginning of Muslim dominance in the area. Initially confined to the Persian Gulf, Muslims began to expand their circle of influence to the eastern coast of Africa. Like Meroe and Aksum, the eastern coast of Africa provided a pipeline to the interior luxuries of the continent, as well as to those of the Indian Ocean. However, unlike Meroe and Aksum, the sheer length of the coast allowed for it be more versatile in what it could produce and how it could sustain its civilization. As a result of this, the coast prospered in trade, but it also experienced a transformation into a powerful area of city-states. This process of urbanization and state-formation, coupled with the significance of Muslim influence over such, is discussed at length by Graham Connah in African Civilizations: An Archaeological Perspective. Throughout history, the eastern coast of Africa has played a significant role in trade. With trade confined to the Indian Ocean and the western interior of Africa, inhabitants of the eastern coast received attention from Europe because it enabled Europeans to access the goods of distant lands with relative ease. The coast is referenced in relation to trade as early as 100 AD, in a Greek handbook meant to aid Greek traders through the market-towns of the region, known as The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Although largely constituted of mixed farming communities, the market-towns which are discussed in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea also dealt with the exchange of ivory, tortoise shell, and coconut oil for iron tools and weapons between themselves and that of Arabia. The market-towns of 100 A.D. were later transformed by the addition of Shi'ite refuges to the northern half of the coast, who brought with them the Islamic religion. The...
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