Today, Gus Casely-Hayford explores the Berber Kingdom of Morocco. How could an empire be built in the Sahara Desert? Tune into this episode to find out!
The Berbers turned the northwest corner of Africa into a kingdom. The Sahara Desert has one of the harshest climates in the world. It is an unlikely location for an empire. However, the Berbers did it. This empire stretched from the Sahara to Spain. This kingdom lasted for centuries. The Berbers left their mark on this stretch of desert. How did the Berber nomads create an empire in the desert?
Twenty-First century Morocco is a Muslim kingdom, ruled by a king who claims descent from Muhammad. It has a cost that runs from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The Atlas Mountains find their home in Morocco. Half the population still speaks the Berber language. The Berbers were farmers, traders, and nomads. They became Muslim and maintained their traditional Berber customs.
One man turned the Berber people into Muslims. He had studied the Koran and became a fiery preacher. Abdullah. He pulled together an alliance of tribes and was their spiritual leader. In 1054, he led an army to a trading post. This trading post was one of the most important cities in Africa. This city was called Sijilmassa and its remains are spectacular. Sijilmassa was a city of over 50,000 people. It remains to hide a more significant past. The city was wealthy and was the commercial hub of Morocco. It was in an oasis.
Africa was looking to the Sahara Desert for trade instead of the Atlantic. They traded Gold, books, and horses. Gold made the city wealthy. Sijilmassa minted gold coins and sent them all over the world. It was the envy of all empires. Only one man succeeded in taking the city. Then the army secured the sources of the gold trade. Awdaghust was taken and the Berbers had a monopoly on the gold trade.
After these two were taken, the Berbers had what they needed to take the rest of Morocco. However, there was one thing missing: water. The Berbers were excellent at finding water and building irrigation for water. Below the surface, there was a complex of tunnels that funneled water under the landscape. Water could be funneled for miles. This shows that the Berbers were more than familiar with their landscape.
The next step in spreading the Islamic message was to cross the Atlas Mountains. The mountains were dangerous and it would have been a challenge for any army to cross. Thieves were also attracted to the area. The trade routes through the Atlas Mountains were dotted with fortified houses. The merchants needed to be protected along the trade routes. The Berber army crossed over the Atlas Mountains and invaded Aghmat.
Aghmat would be the launching point for further conquest. It was based north of the Atlas Mountains and was in a green valley. At first, the history of Aghmat was lost, until archeological excavations uncovered the city. A bathhouse from this time was excavated almost intact. It was one of the biggest bathhouses in the Muslim world.
The Berbers enjoyed city life, however, they did not like where the city was located. The Atlas Mountains surrounded Aghmat. Aghmat was not a good city for defensive purposes. The Berbers would eventually move to a new, pitch their tents in an open field, and create a new city: Marrakesh. To find out more about the Berbers and Morocco continue to watch this documentary.
It was a huge misstep not to share the history of the Berbers pre-Islaam. What were the Berbers like before their conversion? This was a disappointing episode in the Lost Kingdoms of Africa series. This episode would not be one I would show to a history class.
Good morning, today we will cover the second episode of the Lost Kingdoms of Africa series. Today Gus Casely-Hayford explores the lost kingdom of Ethiopia. In 1974, the Ethiopian military rose against the king and deposed him. It brought to an end one of the world’s longest dynasties. The Ethiopians remember their empire proudly. King Menelik II fought back against any attempts to invade it and make it a colony. Gus wants to go back to ancient times to try to find the secrets of the Ethiopian empire. What will he find? What made the Ethiopians so independent?
Gus is carrying a translated copy of the book called The Glory of Kings. He wants to discover the ancient history that is behind that book. It is the most important text of Ethiopian history. This book was written in the 13th Century and made some claims about the Ethiopian Empire. The dynasty began in 950 BC and that the first emperor was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This claim gave the kingdom legitimacy, but is there any truth to it.
Gus speaks with the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For the kingdom, the church and state were tied together. His Holiness Abune Paulos talks about the history of the Ethiopian church. The Ethiopian kingdom is tied into the Judea-Christian tradition. The Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem. Menelik I brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia. If this is true, it ties the Ethiopian kingdom to the Old Testament.
Gus explores this further to connect the Ethiopian building tradition to Solomon and Sheba. He wants to go back in time and he visits historical towns. He goes to Harar, which is a Muslim city. However, it confirms his suspicions about Ethiopian history. Trade plays a big part in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian highlands were always fertile and could provide what the people needed to live. The highlands were Ethiopian storehouses.
For 2000 years, Ethiopians traded incense and coffee. It is surprising for Gus to discover the large Muslim population in Ethiopia. They played a role in Ethiopian independence. He wonders how it was possible. In the 17th Century, there was an emperor who brokered a deal between Christians and Muslims. In this deal, they would be united against any foreign invaders. The Portuguese were on the lookout for Prestor John, a mythical Christian King. The Portuguese found a Christian King, however, they were not welcomed in Ethiopia, especially after they tried to convert the population to Catholicism. Muslims and Christians united to expel the Portuguese invaders.
Gus arrives in the old capital of Ethiopia. The city was called Gondar and it was where Emperor Fasilides ruled from. With his guide, Gus visits a castle. This castle was a sign that the Emperor wanted to defend his people from invaders and keep Ethiopia’s independence. Emperor Fasilides was a visionary man and had a great deal of power. He also was not afraid of reminding the people of his link to King Solomon. He stamped the Star of David through his castle. Gus is finding it challenging to separate fact from myth. He keeps exploring the castle to see if there is anything else that would tie the dynasty back to King Solomon.
He sketches the castle. Gus muses that Emperor Fasilides might have been influenced by the outsiders he hated. There were domes on the castle which would have been inspired by those Portuguese invaders. Gus continues his discovery into Ethiopia’s history and you should continue to watch this episode to find out more about Ethiopia.
This documentary is highly recommended for a history classroom, a classroom for African studies, and an independent study student. Gus reminds me of a curious schoolboy and he is truly excited about what he discovers.
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