That warriors who preferred to fight on horseback did not always welcome firearms might greatly complicate the choices. The introduction and spread of firearms and mounted warfare, whether jointly or not, contrib- uted to the slave raiding and intensified warfare, often with a strong streak of commercial motivation, that spurred West African state building in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Already well estab- lished by the ninth century, military slavery persisted into the twentieth century and, in certain respects, has not yet entirely disappeared. Before the late-nineteenth century European wars of conquest, observers tended to see Africans as naturally bloodthirsty savages. Even along the coasts, they could establish fortified trading posts and castles only with local sufferance.
Such posts dotted the coast from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south, but clustered most thickly on the Gold and Slave Coasts. European soldiers were limited to serving as allies of, or mercenaries in, African armies, political authority staying in African hands. In any event, it was largely accomplished through forces provided by allied local kings. And until the rise of tropical medicine, disease proved an African ally,19 in sharp contrast to the disease-caused decimation of Native American populations that gravely undercut their ability to contest European settlement.
The pro- cess was slow and uneven, but the effects were profound. Although Africans sought to fit firearms into the traditional fighting methods, they also recognized the need for new tech- niques to take advantage of the new capabilities. Scholars still debate the military and political consequences of the huge num- bers of firearms imported from Europe to the Atlantic coast of Africa.
The introduction of firearms differentially impacted societies of varying complexity; firearms meant some- thing quite different to roving bands of hunter-gatherers than they did to states founded on military conquest. The slow and awkward matchlock muskets carried by European mercenaries fighting in African wars held relatively little attraction for Africans, even though that did not keep thousands of firearms from changing hands.
Africans only began seriously to adopt firearms when flintlocks became available in the closing decades of the seven- teenth century. Firearms in the eighteenth century were absolutely central to the trade of people for goods. Although they did not usually comprise the bulk of goods traded—muskets and gunpowder accounted for about 10 percent of the cargo offloaded on the Loango coast present-day Angola in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, third behind textiles and liquor— trading would seldom take place unless powder and shot were included.
Some quantity of guns and gunpowder was a part of virtually every purchase of slaves. No other commodities were so indispensable. In this view, Africans conducted war to supply the slave trade, and sold slaves chiefly to obtain the weaponry that allowed them to seize more slaves. Slave exports rose in direct proportion to the quantity of firearms imported. Hacker 67 export no longer commands as much support as it once did, but there is no question at all about the connection between war and slavery. Even if gaining slaves was seldom the sole or main cause of war, the possibility of selling slaves made war less costly.
And war clearly resulted from efforts to control the slave trade. Although horses were known in West Africa well before the rise of Islam, effective heavy cavalry appeared no earlier than the fourteenth century with the introduction of a Muslim cavalry complex—larger horse breeds, saddles, stirrups, armor, and lances.
Despite its greatly enhanced military role, West African cavalry retained not only the strengths but also the normal weaknesses of any mounted force— frustration by fortifications, for instance, or restriction by un- favorable terrain—plus one unique to large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, an extremely unfavorable disease environment. In much of West Africa, diseases spread by the tsetse fly greatly restricted both horse breeding and horse keeping. Cavalry mounts had to be imported, and imported regularly, because few of the larger northern horses survived more than a year.
When Portuguese traders first appeared in the Senegambia, horses were widely available but very costly—as much as fifteen slaves per horse.
The Senegambia region extended from the westernmost coastal bulge of Africa along the lower reaches of the Senegal and Gambia rivers well into the sub- Saharan savanna. Portuguese competition soon cut the price of horses in half.
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Despite this apparent correlation, the expansion of cavalry in the sixteenth-century Senegambia owed more to the rise of cavalry states in the interior than to Portuguese horse supply. From D. Denham and H. Spring, African Arms and Armor Washington, , Barton C. Hacker 69 the sixteenth century, had relatively little impact. Certainly, Portu- guese withdrawal did not end the trade of slaves for horses, which persisted into the late nineteenth century. Most animals came from desert horse-breeders.
Certainly, a direct link existed between imported horses and exported slaves. State warfare used horses to produce captives for sale as slaves in the North African and Saharan trade, much as guns and gunpowder were exchanged for slaves in the Atlantic trade. But like the gun trade, the horse trade rarely furnished the sole reason for slave raiding and warfare, however incontrovertible the link between raid and trade. From the fourteenth century through the eighteenth and beyond, a major part of the political economy of African states along the southern desert frontier rested on trading slaves for North African horses.
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Even when horses failed as effective instruments of war, as they did in many parts of West Africa, they still mattered as potent symbols of political and military strength. On that score alone their introduction could upset the existing balance of power. Cavalry had emerged as the elite striking force of Sudanese armies even before The Mossi states of Upper Volta were founded in the fifteenth century by conquering horsemen and remained cavalry oriented until their conquest by France in Raiding for loot and slaves was the normal form of warfare, practiced almost exclusively by the horsed elite.
Cavalry played a central role in the political and economic structure of the eighteenth-century Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo, north of the forest line in present-day Nigeria.
By the nineteenth century, the vast region known as the Sudan, the grasslands between the Sahara in the north and the rain forest in the south, from the Atlantic to the Nile, was dotted with military states ruled by warrior elite cavalry and supported by military predation for slaves and booty.
Raiding for slaves promoted the development of military institutions, leading to creation of powerful military states. A relatively sparse population—perhaps 25 million inhabitants in seventeenth- century Atlantic Africa divided among more than independ- ent political bodies of greatly differing size and complexity and living in a wide range of environments—tended to make control of human labour more important in state formation than control of territory.
These flintlocks, like their European counterparts, re- mained essentially unchanged over the next century-and-a-half and were still reaching West Africa in the twentieth century. Captur- ing slaves may have solely motivated few wars, but the sale of captives clearly affected war financing and fostered the policy of demographic stripping. The interlocked complex of war, firearms, captives, and the slave trade characterized the pre-nineteenth century lower Guinea coast.
Military success of the coastal states of Dahomey and Asante rested chiefly on easy access to firearms, which they sought to prevent reaching their inland foes. The Asante state and military system became a prime example. Hacker 71 Asante state. Gaining better access to European weapons was a major motive for Asante wars against coastal states early in the eighteenth century.
Taking slaves was seldom the sole or primary reason for Asante military campaigns, even if slaves usually formed part of the loot.
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The underlying motives for Asante expansion were more political than economic. The Asante economy seemed more geared to support military power rather than vice versa. Despite its early start, Dahomey never completely re- armed and enjoyed only spotty success against Oyo cavalry that fought with traditional arms. Even then, they played only minor roles in the major early nineteenth-century military transformations that took place on the West African savanna. Fulani jihadists relied on traditionally armed cavalry forces to overthrow backsliding Muslim kingdoms and establish new theocratic states.
They supplemented more than they replaced existing arms.
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They were commonly foot soldiers. Later, in the nineteenth century, firearms spread more widely as Muslim horsemen overcame their long-standing distaste for the new weapons. Adopting the new technology not only stimulated a military transformation but also had political re- percussions, as power shifted from elite horsemen toward a more widely recruited bureaucratic organization.
The demand side, particularly in the Saharan trade, also assumed great significance. Slaves destined for North Africa or the Middle East faced fates quite different from those shipped to the Amer- icas. Muslim slavery entailed much more domestic and military service, far less agricultural labour, than New World slavery. During the early centuries, most military slaves served in North African and Middle Eastern armies, but as Islam became established south of the Sahara, slaves increasingly filled the ranks of Sudanese armies. Slave soldiers figured prominently in Sudanese slave raiding.
Rulers normally chose to draw their slave soldiers from lands peripheral to Dar al-Islam, especially from the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. The use of black slave soldiers declined in much of the Muslim world after the eleventh century, though less in North Africa than elsewhere. Expanding kingdoms and empires required standing armies, not militias, and in the Sudan, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, rulers preferred slaves for that role. Slave soldiers also played significant roles on both sides in the Mahdist revolt of the s against Egyptian suzerainty and in the new states that resulted.
Al- though his owner might buy or sell him and otherwise dictate certain life choices, the relationship of owner to soldier more nearly resembled that of patron to client than master to slave.
To insure trainability and loyalty, Pipes adds, acquisition focused on preadolescent boys of foreign birth who lacked ties to kin or other social groups. Youth was undoubtedly the most desired factor in a potential slave soldier.
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Military slaves almost invariably owed allegiance to the ruler, not to the family or the state. Most soldiers in most armies throughout history shared more than a few characteristics with military slaves. Although not formally owned by the ruler as the military slave was, he still had little control over such major life decisions as where to live or when to marry.
The blurred distinction between slave and other soldiers is manifested nowhere more clearly than in European colonial armies in Africa. After the suppression of the open slave trade in , even after its formal abolition in , the French continued to buy slaves on the upper Senegal for use as soldiers.
African soldiers were indispensable since European troops succumbed too readily to tropical disease. Hacker 75 all black, and a fair number of the soldiers were slaves. Their purchase continued informally into the s, decades after the practice was officially outlawed. The British, Germans, Belgians, Portuguese and Italians all recruited black slaves or former slaves for military service through the end of the nineteenth century. The primary method of slave acquisition, in Africa as elsewhere in the world, has always been warfare. In early modern Africa, military action to procure slaves became a major aspect of political economy.
Military technology transfer, firearms and horses in particular, played a key role in the burgeoning slave trade of the early modern period. Slave raiding fostered the growth of powerful black African kingdoms. For the Atlantic slave trade, technology transfer and slave raiding largely defined the military aspect.
But for the Saharan trade there was a military demand side as well a supply side. Military slavery had early become a widespread Muslim institution and it regularly drew on black slaves, initially in North Africa and the Middle East, subsequently among the Muslim states of sub-Saharan Africa. Slave soldiers were usually the property of the state or its ruler, often counterbalancing the otherwise hard-to-control power of tribal warriors and noble horsemen.
By a curious irony, slave soldiery often provided the opportunity for tactical innovation that elite horsemen resisted, notably the introduction of troops bearing firearms.