The View from Awdaghust: War, Trade and Social Change in the Southwestern Sahara, from the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century*
This chapter suggests how an understanding of the social and economic changes can help fill the gaps which still plague the history of Awdaghust. Awdaghust, the famous medieval caravan centre, appears a number of times in early Arabic accounts, and has recently been given considerable attention by archaeologists, geographers and historians. Its lifetime provides the chronological limitations for this investigation, essentially the eighth to the end of the fifteenth century. During this period, the southern Sahara inserted itself irreversibly into the history of West Africa. Trade usually occupies a focal position in studies of the medieval Sahara, although in the context of its agricultural and pastoral society, commercial exchange was not the only means by which different sectors of the economy were integrated. But as the seventeenth-century wars which later engaged warriors and zawāyā across the southern Sahara illustrate, these divisions in turn were the beginning of social conflict as well as social order.