Empire of Mali

In the 14th century beyond the reach of the black death one culture flourished in west africa a remote kingdom controlled most of the western world's gold in 1350 to urban

battuta the greatest traveler of the age set off across the sahara to see for himself the empire of mali he crossed the desert with a salt caravan salt allowed the people of mali and

their animals to survive the ferocious heat salt is dug out of the ground in huge slabs camel trains arrive and carry it away the marlins exchange salt for money as we would

exchange gold and silver salt is traded here still carried by camel as it was in the 14th century mined in the north the salt moved south to be exchanged for fortunes in gold

dust merchants came to mali from all points of the horizon in a single year one writer recorded over 12,000 camels on just one of the roads once in mali even battuta traveled on

its main highway the river niger when we arrived at the arm of the river I saw 16 beasts with enormous bodies I said to abu bakr what beasts are these and he said these are

horses of the river hippopotami the boatman feared them and came in close to the shore so as not to be drowned by them in the 14th century the great mosque of djenne ii stood at

the heart of mali's empire here even battuta found familiar ways of life and routines of prayer malian cities like timbuktu and jenny were famed throughout the muslim world

undertook their mosques libraries and schools were gathering places for islamic intellectuals their texts were adorned with the source of mali's wealth gold gold also

paid for royal magnificence the court poetry and music in praise of the ruler they are the most humble of men before their king when he calls one of them the man invited takes off

his clothes and wears patched clothes takes off his turban and puts on a dirty cap he advances in humility like a beggar he hits the ground with his elbows he hits it hard when

the sultan sits in counsel drums are beaten bugles sounded in mali today people still celebrate the great 14th century king mansa musa everything about him they say

exude it majesty his stately gait his wives concubines and attendants the way he talked to the people only through a spokesman molly's traditional storytellers that jollies still

sing in praise of their most powerful ruler molly's wealth paid for an army and military expansion the strength of the mance's army was cavalry molly's mounted surgery

survived still in terracotta heavy-lidded aristocrats with protuberant lips and up tilted heads crowned with crested helmets ride on elaborately bridled horses the power of

these warriors established the manses rule over the desert grasslands and forests of west africa as the empire grew so did its control of precious trade reaps molly's merchants

followed in the footsteps of the sultan's soldiers wealth flowed through the marketplace in the markets of the south even battuta saw the gold had been looking for here it was in

abundance traded pound-for-pound for salt but the malians kept the source of their gold a closely guarded secret outsiders heard only rumors and fables it grew like

carrots it was brought up by ants in the form of nuggets it was mine by naked men who lived in holes probably the real place of origin was the upper reaches of the niger as it is

today the kings of marley to haul the nuggets in tax and left the goldsmith's with the gold dust legends of mansa musa's wealth became so well-known in europe that when

the king was depicted in the most famous map of the age the catalan atlas he was holding a gold nugget but the legends were shown to be true during mansa musa's pilgrimage to

mecca his extravagance inflated the economies of the towns he visited the passage of his caravan of gold was remembered for years

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