The Merchandise of Africa
While the sea merchants of Europe had been colonising the Atlantic islands, the landed aristocracies were casting covetous eyes on the African mainland. Africa was clearly visible from Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar and the city of Ceuta was well known to the Genoese whose bankers had been buying their gold bullion there for two centuries. Gold was the most famous of all the products of Africa and the one that most attracted successive generations of aspiring colonisers and would-be conquerors. But golden riches were not the only attraction of Africa. Portuguese fishermen from the Algarve regularly sailed small boats across the narrow seas to fish in African waters. In North Africa Morocco was recognised as a fertile agricultural country that had once provided quantities of corn for its Roman colonisers and now supported several flourishing cities at the western end of the Islamic world. On a more sombre note European land-owners who were constantly short of workers to sow and reap their crops could sometimes afford to buy foreigners to work for them as slaves. The traditional, white, slaves of the Mediterranean had been Slav-speaking peoples from the plains of Russia, but the prospect of buying, or even kidnapping, slaves closer to hand in Africa was tempting.