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Myth and Metrology: The Early Trans-Saharan Gold Trade

Timothy F. Garrard
The Journal of African History
Vol. 23, No. 4 (1982), pp. 443-461
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/182035
Page Count: 19
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Myth and Metrology: The Early Trans-Saharan Gold Trade
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Abstract

Coins and weights provide evidence which can throw light on the origins of the trans-Saharan gold trade. Such a trade does not seem to have existed before the end of the third century A.D., but from 296 to 311 an irregular gold coinage was issued at Carthage, and by the end of the fourth century there were significant changes in the North African tax system to enable more gold to be collected. The solidus, a coin first issued in 312, provided the standard used for weighing gold-dust in the trans-Saharan trade, while copper, a major item of merchandise in that trade, was being imported to Jenne-Jeno by A.D. 400. This strongly suggests that the gold trade first assumed significance in the fourth century. The trade was evidently flourishing before the Arab conquest, for the Byzantine mint of Carthage produced a copious output of gold between 534 and 695. For weighing gold-dust, the standard based on the Roman ounce and the solidus was retained by the Arabs, and survived until the nineteenth century in the Western Sudan. It was also adopted by the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast, who made it the basis of their weight-system from about 1400 to 1900.

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