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.
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