THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN WEST AFRICA:
AT its fullest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from around modern-day Aswan, Egypt at its southernmost point to Great Britain in the north but the influence of the Roman Empire went far beyond even the borders of its provinces as a result of commerce and population movements. Contrary to popular belief which holds that the Sahara Desert was an impossible obstacle to trade prior to the Middle Ages, the Romans had a robust and dynamic network of connections to Sudanic and Sub-Saharan Africa. Slaves, gold, foodstuffs, and spices were transported from complex urban settlements on the Niger river, onwards to oasis cities in the Sahara, before finally reaching Rome’s bustling ports on the coast of North Africa. Going in the opposite direction, gemstones, textiles, and coins reached cities along the fertile banks of the Middle Niger.
Classical Greek and Roman writers refer to all of Sudanic and Sub-Saharan Africa as ‘Aethiopia’, while the term ‘Africa’ originally referred only to the Maghreb region on the northwestern coast of the continent. Most Aethiopians in the Roman Empire likely came from East Africa through Egypt and Nubia but new evidence has also highlighted the role of trade and military interactions between West Africa and the Roman Empire.