Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Κυριακή, 5 Αυγούστου 2018

The Roman expeditions for exploration of Sub-Saharan Africa

Romans in Sub-Saharan Africa were a group of expeditions and explorations to Lake Chad and western Africa. These expeditions were conducted by groups of military and commercial units of Romans who moved across the Sahara and into the interior of Africa and its coast. They occurred between the first and the fourth century AD. The primary motivation for the expeditions was to secure sources of gold and spices. The Romans organized expeditions to cross the Sahara along five different routes: through the western Sahara, toward the Niger river, near modern Timbuktu through the Tibesti mountains, toward Lake Chad and modern Nigeriaup the Nile valley through Egypt, toward the Great Rift Valley along the western coast of Africa, toward the Sénégal Riveralong the coast of the Red Sea, toward the Horn of Africa, and perhaps modern Zanzibar. All these expeditions were supported by legionaries and had mainly a commercial purpose. Only the one conducted by emperor Nero seemed to be a preparative for the conquest of Ethiopia or Nubia; in 62 AD, two legionaries explored the sources of the Nile. One of the main objectives of the explorations was to locate and obtain gold, using camels to transport it overland back to Roman provinces on the Mediterranean coast. The explorations near the coasts were supported by Roman ships and deeply related to overseas commerce.
The Romans conducted five main explorations: two in the western Sahara, two in the central Sahara, and one in the area of Lake Chad. In western Sahara there were two Roman expeditions, just south of the Atlas mountains: Cornelius Balbus expedition: The first expedition done by Romans in the Sahara according to Plinius was the one of Cornelius Balbus, who in 19 BC probably reached the river Niger near Timbouctou. He moved from Libyan Sabratha and conquered with ten thousand legionaries the Garamantes capital in Fezzan and sent a small group of his legionaries further south across the Ahaggar mountains in order to explore the "land of the lions": they found a huge river (the Niger) that in their opinion was going toward the Nile river. Indeed in 1955, many Roman coins and some Latin ceramics were found in the area of Mali. Suetonius Paulinus expedition: The second was done in the year 41 AD by Suetonius Paulinus, a Roman Consul, who was the first of the Romans who led an army across the Atlas range. At the end of ten days' march he reached the mountains summit covered by snow and later he arrived at a river called Gerj. He then penetrated into the semi deserted country south of Morocco and some of his legionaries probably went near the river Daras (Senegal river). From the first century after Christ there is evidence (coins, fibulas) of Roman commerce and contacts in Akjoujt and Tamkartkart near Tichit in Mauritania.
The two main explorations/expeditions in the central Sahara were:
1) Flaccus expedition: During Augustus times lake Chad was a huge lake and two Roman expeditions were carried out in order to reach it: Septimius Flaccus and Julius Maternus reached the "lake of hippopotamus" (as Lake Chad was called by Claudius Ptolomeus). They moved from coastal Tripolitania and passed near the Tibesti mountains. Both did their expeditions through the Garamantes' territories, and were able to leave a small garrison on the "lake of hippopotamus and rhinoceros" after 3 months of travel in desert lands. Ptolemy wrote that in 50 AD Septimius Flaccus carried out his expedition in order to retaliate against nomad raiders who attacked Leptis Magna, and reached Sebha and the territory of Aozou. He then reached the rivers Bahr Ergig, Chari and Logone in the lake Chad area, described as the "land of Ethiopes" (or black men) and called Agisymba.
2) Matiernus expedition: Ptolomeus even wrote that around 90 AD Julius Maternus (or Matiernus) did a mainly commercial expedition. From the Sirte gulf he reached the Oasis of Cufra and the Oasis of Archei, then arrived -after 4 months travelling with the king of the Garamantes- to the river Bahr Salamat and Bahr Aouk, near the actual Central African Republic in a region then called Agisymba. He went back to Rome with a rhinoceros with two horns, that was shown in the Colosseum. According to Raffael Joorde, Maternus was a diplomat who explored with the king of Garamantes the territory south of the Tibesti mountains, while this king did a military campaign against rebellious subjects or as a "razzia".
However some historians (like Susan Raven) believe that there was even another Roman expedition to sub-saharan central Africa: the one of Valerius Festus, that could have reached the equatorial Africa thanks to the Niger river. Festus expedition: Plinius wrote  that in 70 AD a legatus of the Legio III Augusta named Festus repeated the Balbus expedition toward the Niger river. He went to the eastern Hoggar Mountains and the entered the Air Mountains until the Gadoufaoua plain (full of dinosaur fossils). Gadoufaoua (Touareg for “the place where camels fear to go”) is a site in the Tenere desert of Niger known for its extensive fossil graveyard, where remains of Sarcosuchus imperator, popularly known as SuperCroc, have been found. Festus finally arrived to the area of modern-day Timbouctou. But a few academics -like Fage- think that he only reached the Ghat region in southern Libya, near the border with southern Algeria and Niger (however it is possible that a few "explorers" of his legionaries reached the Niger river and went down to the equatorial forests navigating the river to the estuary in actual Nigeria, like happened in the Nile river exploration done under Nero emperor when Roman centurions reached the lake Victoria region).
The Roman vassal king Juba II organized successful trade from the area of Volubilis. Pliny the Elder, a 1st-century Roman author and military officer, drawing upon the accounts of Juba II, king of Mauretania, stated that a Roman expedition from Mauritania visited the islands of the archipelago of the Canaries and Madeira around 10 AD and found great ruins but no population, only dogs (from those animals he called the islands, using the Latin word "canarius" or "canis" for dog). According to Pliny the Elder, an expedition of Mauretanians sent by Juba II to the archipelago visited the islands: when King Juba II dispatched a contingent to re-open the dye production facility at Mogador (historical name of Essaouira, Morocco) in the early 1st century AD, Juba's naval force was subsequently sent on an exploration of the Canary Islands, Madeira and probably the Cape Verde islands, using Mogador as their mission base. It has been historically recorded that, according to Pliny the Elder, the Greek Xenophon of Lampsacus stated that the "Gorgades" (Cape Verde islands) were situated two days from "Hesperu Ceras" (modern day Cape Verde), the westernmost part of the African continent, showing a knowledge of the area by the Romans.
Furthermore, according to Pliny the Elder and his citation by Gaius Julius Solinus, the sea voyaging time crossing the Gorgades (Cape Verde) to the islands of the Ladies of the West ("Hesperides", actual São Tomé and Príncipe and Fernando Po) was around 40 days: this fact has prompted academic discussions about the possibility of further Roman travels toward Guinea and  the Gulf of Guinea. A Roman coin of the emperor Trajan has been found in Congo. Other Roman coins have been found in Nigeria and Niger, but also in Guinea, Togo and Ghana. However, it is much more likely that all these coins were introduced at a much later date than that there was direct roman intercourse so far down the western coast. No single article unmistakably originating in Africa south of the Equator as been discovered in the Graeco-Roman world or in contemporari Arabia, nor is there any mention of such article in written records: while the coins are the only ancient European or Arabian articles that have been found in the southern parts of Africa. Additionally must be noted that Emperor Augustus decided that the circumnavigation of Africa should also be attempted (in 1 BC). Romans had two naval outposts in the Atlantic coast of Africa: Sala Colonia near present Rabat and Mogador in southern Morocco (north of Agadir). The island of Mogador prospered from the local purple dye-making industry (highly esteemed in imperial Rome) from the reigns of Augustus until Septimius Severus. Augustus, based on the discovery of a sunken merchant ship from southern Hispania (Spain) in the Djibouti area (done by his adoptive son Gaius Caesar when he sailed toward Aden), wanted to organize an expedition from Egypt to Mogador and Sala around Africa, which never bore fruit.
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