Roman Trade with Africa DOCUMENTARY
Historical Documentaries

Roman Trade with Africa DOCUMENTARY

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We are continuing our new animated historical documentary series on the Roman trade and economy with a video on the trade with Africa. Previously we have covered the Roman trade with India and the importance of Egypt

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The video was made by our friend Cogito while the script was researched and written by Matt Hollis

This video was narrated by Officially Devin (

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Adrian Goldsworthy – Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor
Raoul McLaughlin – The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India
Raoul McLaughlin – Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China
Alan K. Bowman and Dominic Rathbone – Cities and Administration in Roman Egypt
Adrian Goldsworthy – Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World

Production Music courtesy of Epidemic Sound:

#Documentary #Rome #RomanEmpire

in our previous videos on the ancient economy and trade of the Roman world and beyond we discussed the importance of Egypt and its Red Sea trade and the various plentiful goods which flowed into the empire from foreign lands unknown to the regular Roman citizen it is commonly thought that Roman influence ended in Egypt but there were economic and political connections between Romans and Africans far far to the south join us as we follow the ancient Roman sailors and pioneers down the coast of East Africa and explore the goods and peoples of this region a big shout-out to one of our longtime sponsors the great courses plus they've been supporting us since we were a small Channel and we can't recommend them enough if you don't know what the great courses plus is it's a subscription on-demand video service that has lectures from top professors all over the world there are over 11,000 lectures on any subject and over 70 courses on history we recently watched a course called red dawn Americans and the Bolshevik Revolution which talks about the events of the Bolsheviks taking over the Russian government it was a really interesting course that we highly recommend to our subscribers to watch this course and help support our channel go to the great courses slash kings and Generals or click the link in the description below ever since the 15th century bc reign of Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut during the New Kingdom ancient Egyptians had used the Red Sea to bypass their southern neighbors in Nubia and deal directly with those even further south in trade and commerce over a millennium later this was also the route that the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used to stage elephant hunting expeditions down the east coast of Africa subsequently the Romans inherited these ancient lanes of Commerce with the transport of goods by sea being almost 30 times cheaper than land haulage it was clear that the Red Sea routes would be the most beneficial artery through which the myriad room and merchants could make contact with the profitable and relatively untapped markets of sub-saharan Africa moreover cargo vessels taking part in this trade did not need to be especially large in order to make a profit as a significant portion of the local produce was light and relatively easy to transport an example being Somali and mer the weather made it possible to set sail down the African East Coast at any time from January to September but most captains chose the latter end two months after their counterparts had set sail for India using the monsoon winds as we follow a Roman merchant vessel on their southerly course the first truly familiar settlement which they would encounter was the trading station known as Tala mais Theron Tala mice of the Hunts founded by ptolemy ii philadelphus as one of his many hunting stations it is said that a Greek general named Yuma DS first established this outpost by cordoning off a rare stretch of fertile land and first he was attacked by the natives however he answered with generosity and kindness and they eventually began to engage in friendly relations this is where we encounter our first large sub-saharan state the kingdom of Aksum located roughly in modern-day Ethiopia at the dawn of the 1st century AD it was Aksum that held sovereignty over Theron while this kingdom was a primarily inland one at this time it also had a primary maritime trading post at a town called a doulas 340 miles or five days sail south of Theron there were legends that it was founded by slaves freed from Egypt but in reality it was probably another formerly Ptolemaic hunting station which had blossomed into a vibrant trading center similar to Theron in the Augustine era native Africans would bring large amounts of ivory rhinoceros horn hippopotamus hides tortoise shells slaves and other marketable goods to the site for sale the Romans first set up their main Enclave on a small land mass near the bay known as the Doris Island named after the Greek captains who had discovered them however it quickly proved vulnerable to being overrun during plundering raids by native tribes the fact that these raids did not immediately discourage commerce gives further credence to the idea that the potential profits were worth the risk nevertheless the Roman response was to move their operations 20 miles offshore to an island named or ene this outpost could only be reached by boat and was therefore far better shielded from raids or ene and a duelist housed year round Roman inhabitants and temporary merchants during the first century AD ancient texts and records tell us that one of the main products shipped from a duelist was turtle shell brought to the trading post by the so called if via Fagin natives or fish eaters from the nearby coastline turtle and tortoise shells were lucrative prime exports from Aksum due to the increasing Roman desire to possess expensive craft items made from this exotic material in the Republican period senior magistrates of the state would conduct state business whilst seated on lavishly decorated chairs known as Kuril seats this trend had widened in scope by the Imperial dawn of the 1st century AD and the practice of fitting one's home with lavish ornaments as well as ivory and turtle shell furnishings had spread among the wealthy poet marshal for example wrote about a certain wealthy acquaintance named mo eNOS who had purchased a property for the price of one hundred thousand sister seas then he decorated it so richly that upon selling the property he demanded two hundred thousand as the sale price showing us the value that expensive adornments could have examples of such decoration might have included door posts inlaid with beautiful tortoiseshell and ornamental furniture embellished with bright turtle shell veneers according to the sources the price of turtle shells was six denarii per pound Aksum also had a tightly state-controlled ivory trade which was a main source of revenue for the kingdom it sent the valuable products to a do list for an Ethiopian city known as Colo a described as the first trading station for ivory three days travel inland from the coastal trading centre five days further inland from this was the capital of the kingdom of Aksum the city of Aksum itself labeled as a metropolis by our primary sources it stood on the Fertile highlands of northern Ethiopia in a region commonly grazed by herds of forest elephants and white rhino it was from this urban center that the Ethiopian King Zhou Scalise controlled the valuable ivory traffic which probably entered the Treasury initially as taxes from subject communities tribute from vassals or as income from Royal hunts throughout the kingdom royal agents controlled the bulk of ivory stocks and most of the valuable exchange goods sent into Aksum were ultimately destined for the king King Zhou Scalise was on good terms with the various room and merchants and diplomats who visited the Royal Court but was apparently a notoriously hard bargainer when it came to making deals with them sources state that Zhou Scalise is astute about his possessions and in his dealings with us he is always holding out but in all other respects he is a fine person and he is well versed in Greek reading and writing the goods which he was expertly bartering for included gold and silver tableware from the empire fashioned in the Aksumite manner this was important to the locals due to the fact that communal feasting and drinking was a common social tradition and therefore expensive tableware was a status symbol the Aksumite ruler also accepted batches of heavy roman cloaks as well as Indian iron and steel produced using eastern techniques unknown to Roman metal workers ivory was also a much demanded product far to the north in the Roman Empire as it could be used for fashionable decoration in a manner similar to the aforementioned shells as an example we know that ivory ceilings with gilded beams were present in aristocracy estates in addition to table legs and ivory dinner couches combined with Anna moment of tortoise-shell ivory was also used in religious rituals as flutes and musical pipes crafted from the material were used ceremonially during animal sacrifices smaller practical items such as writing styluses combs hair pins and even back scratchers were crafted and sold to wealthy buyers some Roman legionaries also paid for their personal swords to be enhanced with ivory hilts but these were likely the more wealthy soldiers such as Centurions or tributes costing even more than the pricing for turtle and tortoise shells the nine denarii per pound cost for ivory shows us just why the Aksumite monarch sought to control this industry so much the natural environment of the region of Aksum and sub-saharan Africa also provided unique goods which the Romans prized a rather vaguely described large beach around ninety miles south of a doulas was the source of the famous volcanic glass known as obsidian this material which would have seemed almost magical to the ancients was quarried from black volcanic rocks deep beneath the surface of the sand and was supposedly a natural creation of that place alone Pliny tells that the Roman people would use this strange material to make cold statues for their gods craft dark mirrors which reflected shadows rather than clear images and to test precious stones which would not be damaged if scratched by a flake of obsidian while glass copies would be left with the white mark though this beach was nominally under the control of the Aksumite monarchy emphasis is placed on the assertion that they did not fully exploit the area for this precious resource in exchange for the luxury ivory turtle and tortoise shell goods provided by the native peoples Roman traders offered common and inexpensive goods from the empire which were however in high demand in the Aksumite kingdom large quantities of Egyptian fabric were traded including linens scarves from our sin away and colored cloaks made from printed cloth there was also a market for low value Roman metals in the sub-saharan regions of Africa Aksumite traders would accept grass and copper pans as well as drinking vessels due to the fact that they could be cut apart in order to make decorative omelets for local women in addition their materials were also repurposed in order to serve as a form of coinage as local Aksumite iron supplies were also of low quality and quantity Roman merchants provided locals with stocks from the Empire with which they could manufacture higher quality wood cutting tools weapons and hunting equipment it is even noted that Roman iron was commonplace in Spears used for felling elephants a final export commodity on the Roman export list to Exim was Indian Lac dye which the state would use in order to equip its soldiers and bureaucrats with scarlet coloured uniforms in addition we mentioned before how there was a permanent Roman Merson tal presence in the Aksumite kingdom in order to engage in commerce with these migrants traders from the Empire were therefore often advised to bring essential Mediterranean goods such as Italian wine and olive oil to trade as an alternative to cash as they could not be grown in Africa now having learned all this we must depart Aksum and sell even further down the eastern coast of Africa at this point Roman ships prepared to leave the Red Sea and make contact with markets in Somalia beyond the flat and barren Somalian coastal plains there were arid mountains and a large inland plateau on which a variety of exotic aromatic trees grew wild the trading stations in this distant land were known by the Romans as the farside ports and were more traditionally uncivilized than those regions closer to the empire there were no cities or indigenous kingdoms in this part of Africa and the natives instead lived in small self-governing tribal communities each of the coastal trade stations here were not ruled by an overarching king but were each ruled by its own chief or pteranodon each of these far side markets was known to have its own distinct character some were considered unruly and rowdy while others Gen had a peaceful reputation whatever their behavior Roman traders generally referred to these Africans as Barbara or barbarians these longer distance trading expeditions now began to require larger and more specialized ships which would travel specifically to the far side markets to acquire their unique incense products whereas some other vessels merely sailed along the coast taking advantage of opportunities where they came the first of the farside markets reached by Roman ships was the small port town of Avila T's which stood on the narrow choke point like entrance to the Red Sea and possessed one of the populations known to be unruly rafts and small craft from other parts of the African East Coast and Arabia would routinely come to this settlement along with the Romans in return for low value goods such as colorful glass baubles Egyptian olives Roman clothing grain and tin local traders provided small amounts of ivory turtle shell and an extremely high-quality mirth which was valued at $16 repr pound of weight more than a laborer earned in two weeks sailing further the first Somali port on the Horn of Africa was Millau a settlement which offered plentiful myrrh supplies and an extremely valuable product known as cassia a type of cinnamon which was sold for fifty denarii per pound in return for these highly sought after products and other fragrant woods Romans exchanged objects similar to those at of a letís it was at this point on the coastal voyage that Arabic traders became a common sight and Romans had to compete with them for business two days sail further east was the port of mundo and it offered similar goods to Malawi in return for Roman clothing food glassware iron and money we know that glassware was a popular exchange item here because shards of it have been found in archaeological expeditions similar to the Aksumite King the native dealers at this port also had a thrifty and hard bargaining reputation two or three days even further east was Mosul on almost at the very point of e staff horn this settlement had close access to different inland regions which in turn offered unique natural products this included large quantities of the aforementioned valuable cassia and this location was so famed for that particular high demand high-value product that larger Roman ships would go specifically to ma salon to trade in it due to the very expensive nature of the cassia Roman traders offered native traders silverware and precious stones further ports in the Somalia region offered similar products and traded them for similar of Roman exports rounding the Horn of Africa and then sailing south specialized trading ships would eventually reach a trading post known as upon a which was especially known for its good quality African slaves after skipping by several other smaller trading stations such as saira pian nichkhun and the island of many theists a Roman trader would reach the very last port of trade on the coast of East Africa Raptr at this point the enterprising sailor was around 3,000 miles away from the Imperial borders if they looked further south they would see an uncharted unknown territory and had no incentives to explore further we are planning to make more videos on the room and economy so make sure you are subscribed to our channel and have pressed the bell button we would like to express our gratitude to our patreon supporters and channel members who make the creation of our videos possible now you can also support us by buying our merchandise via the link in the description this is the kings and Generals channel and we will catch you on the next one

35 Replies to “Roman Trade with Africa DOCUMENTARY

  1. the name of the city Adulis comes from the saho words of Ado and lay. Ado means white and lay means water. So the name of the city was white water. Koloe is also know as Qohaito which means stone city. Both Adulis and Qohaito are saho cities
    Saho is a kushitic language in the horn of africa Spoken by the saho people who live mainly in Eritrea

  2. Idea for more videos: how did commerce affect Roman's world view. Did they think there was something beyond their known trading posts? What did Roman's think of Africa, Arabia or India? Were they just "barbarians" or was somebody interested in other's civilization's culture? Where there explorers that visited southern Africa o East Asia?

  3. In the animation it shows the ships sailing to India being far from the coast in the deep parts of the Arabian sea which I highly doubt. They probably stayed closer to the coast since those ships did not do well in the open seas.

  4. I absolutely love the focus on economy and trade when looking at history. Back when I was a child, schools used to focus solely on battles, years and names. Adding economy brings so much more context and makes thing so much more interesting!

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