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Why did not the Romans colonize Subsaharan Africa?

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    Posted: 17 Jun 2010 at 21:28
This topic was touched upon in another thread: Why did the Romans not colonize, or at least erect strongholds and fortifications along the coasts of subsaharan Africa? They had the naval technology to go there and they also knew the area, espcially eastern Africa, since they had trade connections along the Indian Ocean. But what was it that stopped them to go further? What were the main fators that stopped them from gaining a permanent foothold along the coasts, and perhaps also expand inlands? 


Here are a couple of maps just for orientaton:

Some Roman trade routes

File:Map of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.jpg
Trade routes on the Indian Ocean and East Africa.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jun 2010 at 21:52

Hello Carch

 
Well there was no reason to do that nor the resources to keep such an empire alive. Plus nearly all of Rome's expansion was the result of a power vaccuum within the conquered regions and since Rome was the biggest neighbour it was natural for it to conquer those nations especially that it has allies within them.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jun 2010 at 23:48
They didn't have the naval technology to get there.
A chain of Dhows and caravans extending down the coast or accross the sahara does not mean its possible to transport an army there, even if they had wanted to.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 08:24
In fact, Nero did send a military expedition of legionary and auxilary cohorts backed up by Nubian mercenaries to locate the source of the Nile. Little documentation of the expedition survived except that Seneca had personally spoken to some of the soldiers who had returned.

The trip was extremely dangerous as the explorers were decimated by tropical diseases and attacks from native tribes. Only a small fraction of the expeditionists returned. Sending entire legions to make a military conquest would be extremely costly, probably far more than the potential economic gains.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 11:08
A military point is that you can't use cavalry in middle Africa between the Sahara and the Kalaharii. And the legions had trouble enough in the German forests, let alone the African jungle.
 
As far as trading posts were concerned, what was there much to trade on the west coast? Slaves? They were available enough coming in via Egypt. Colonising the east of course would generally have brought conflict with the middle eastern (including Persian) powers that were already trading there for ivory and spices. It's not that the Romans didn't try and attack Persia.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko- Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 14:28
My take is that the Ancient Romans flourished where trade routes were established. Agriculture was the primary source of consumerism. Slaves did most of the work and they were plenty of them available throughout all conquered lands. After military conquests the Romans built a system of roads and sea lanes to transport goods. Land routes were slow and cumbersome and not conducive to large scale transport in comparison to naval trade. Economy by sea was faster and capable of larger cargo. Mining was the second biggest industry and there was no shortage in Egypt, Spain and Greece, which are med regions. That leads me to believe, pound-for-pound, it was easier and more profitable to do business as a Roman merchant as an importer/exporter in secure, well established regions that offered quick access. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 15:05
Why bother? When one controls the coast then one dominates the "interior" trade. Seko's surmise is entirely correct. The Sahel was no Dacia...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jun 2010 at 19:30
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

In fact, Nero did send a military expedition of legionary and auxilary cohorts backed up by Nubian mercenaries to locate the source of the Nile. Little documentation of the expedition survived except that Seneca had personally spoken to some of the soldiers who had returned.

The trip was extremely dangerous as the explorers were decimated by tropical diseases and attacks from native tribes. Only a small fraction of the expeditionists returned. Sending entire legions to make a military conquest would be extremely costly, probably far more than the potential economic gains.

Yes the land routes to Subsaharan Africa seems to have been quite impossible. In 23 BC Publius Petronius led a punitive expedition against the Nubians. The expedition reached Napata but then turned back partly because of difficult terrain and environmental conditions. Also the risk to end up in one or several ambushes during such circumstances was probably very high.


Edited by Carcharodon - 19 Jun 2010 at 19:35
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jun 2010 at 19:11
The Romans appear to have been masters of asking themselves: "What's in it for us" before they undertook military campaigns. Indeed, some modern historians theorize that Ceasar's "Gallic Wars" was written precisely to address that issue before the Senate came to conclusions of its own. To echo Seko and Dr. G, I can't see what interest they would have had in doing so, considering that they could obtain the products they wanted from there via trade with other markets.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bernard Woolley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jun 2010 at 11:32
Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

They didn't have the naval technology to get there.
A chain of Dhows and caravans extending down the coast or accross the sahara does not mean its possible to transport an army there, even if they had wanted to.
 
Besides which, it would seem (this is based on my recent reading of The Ottoman Age of Exploration) that the Red Sea was a terrible place from which to launch a presence on the Indian Ocean. Shipbuilding materials had to be imported from far away and lugged overland through Egypt, as did all the equipment needed for outfitting a fleet. This hugely expensive effort would have to become a permanent fixture in order for a durable presence to be established in the area.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Leonidas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jun 2010 at 12:08
I would of thought that maleria and tropical diseases, along with the Sahara and no vital trading routes would of made it a second choice to going east.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jun 2010 at 12:24
Originally posted by Bernard Woolley Bernard Woolley wrote:

Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

They didn't have the naval technology to get there.
A chain of Dhows and caravans extending down the coast or accross the sahara does not mean its possible to transport an army there, even if they had wanted to.
 
Besides which, it would seem (this is based on my recent reading of The Ottoman Age of Exploration) that the Red Sea was a terrible place from which to launch a presence on the Indian Ocean. Shipbuilding materials had to be imported from far away and lugged overland through Egypt, as did all the equipment needed for outfitting a fleet. This hugely expensive effort would have to become a permanent fixture in order for a durable presence to be established in the area.

Ships indeed sailed out of the Red Sea and had done so since the time of the Pharaohs. But to do it in a larger scale would probaly had been rather costly.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bernard Woolley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 13:58
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

Ships indeed sailed out of the Red Sea and had done so since the time of the Pharaohs. But to do it in a larger scale would probaly had been rather costly.
 
Yes, extremely costly. The Ottoman Empire, which was able to send 200-ship fleets back and forth across the Mediterranean, had trouble putting 20 ships on the Indian Ocean. Through most the 16th century, the "fleet" on permanent station at Yemen was usually only 2 to 4 galliots.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 16:56
Here we go again...careless use of terms in order to breathe life into a specious speculation. "Ships" sailing out of the Red Sea since the time of the pharaohs is hardly proof of anything other than a vapid misapplication of Senmut's decor for Hatshepsut's funerary temple. The Indian Ocean is not the Mediterranean nor is the maritime technology of the 14th century that of the 2nd. Accept the obvious--trade followed the lines of least resistance--and leave it at that. Commercial thrusts, as with those of the military, depend entirely upon finesses in logistic requirements.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 19:42
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Here we go again...careless use of terms in order to breathe life into a specious speculation. "Ships" sailing out of the Red Sea since the time of the pharaohs is hardly proof of anything other than a vapid misapplication of Senmut's decor for Hatshepsut's funerary temple. The Indian Ocean is not the Mediterranean nor is the maritime technology of the 14th century that of the 2nd. Accept the obvious--trade followed the lines of least resistance--and leave it at that. Commercial thrusts, as with those of the military, depend entirely upon finesses in logistic requirements.

Well already the Pharaoh Sahure is said to have sent ships on expeditions down the red sea and perhaps out into the Indian Ocean (at least some have interpreted it so). 

Also experiments with a replica of a 3800 year old Egyptian ship have shown the seaworthiness of these crafts.


Min of the Desert, replica of a 3800 years old oceangoing Egyptian ship

See this thread:

Those who are interested can also contemplate Bjorn Landstroms book Ships of the Pharaohs.



Edited by Carcharodon - 29 Jun 2010 at 22:03
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 21:25
Ho hum and a bottle of rum...Sorry, Carch, but only someone who has not had the chore of maintaining a simple sailboat would be so insistent on this nonsense.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 21:58
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Ho hum and a bottle of rum...Sorry, Carch, but only someone who has not had the chore of maintaining a simple sailboat would be so insistent on this nonsense.

Actually I have travelled in several boats and ships of different kinds, with and without sails, ancient and modern, and I also happened to own a couple of smaller crafts through the years.

I do not know if you have done some travelling in replicas of ancient ships or boats though. Perhaps you could ask Cheryl Ward or the other people who have sailed with Min of the Desert if they want to take you on a tour. Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2010 at 23:09
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:


But what was it that stopped them to go further? What were the main fators that stopped them from gaining a permanent foothold along the coasts, and perhaps also expand inlands?


Hmmm... this sounds like a fun little exercise. What if i were a Roman Princep, what would i do? Well i would have to look at the Sahara and think of it as logistical nightmare that would swallow so much of my very limited  in number legionary armies, that any effort put into would not have been worth my time. Much better too have used for what it was, a natural land barrier against the natives south of it. Besides, what with Germanic tribal problem to the north taking up quite a bit of the man power allotment, and expanding my power to the east, why would i give natives to the south a hand up in establishing a reason and a land route to conquering the North African provinces?

As for  establishing a presence further down the east African coast, sure  i may  have had the technology to do the things you brought up, but why bother with that when i already controlled a major maritime choke point to the east? Why bother in stretching my resources and logistics any further then was already necessary? I mean the treasury wasn't inexhaustible and neither were the supplies of Roman citizens that would have made up the army. Speaking of which, the citizens of Rome were an unruly lot that had to be treated very carefully, lest i were too lose my major support base in keeping the Roman senate in line! They were always looking for any little reason to do a Princep in, Chicago style! Sorry, couldn't resist that last bit. Big smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jun 2010 at 00:14
Carch, travelling on a boat is not the same as maintaining one! For years, I owned a Westerly Tiger with its original "Lister" engine--yes, sailboats today do have engines--and frankly, if it's not a Maine schooner, I will gladly leave my historical nautical ventures, thank you, to my childhood and my regular crossings aboard the Ille de France!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jun 2010 at 12:57
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Carch, travelling on a boat is not the same as maintaining one! For years, I owned a Westerly Tiger with its original "Lister" engine--yes, sailboats today do have engines--and frankly, if it's not a Maine schooner, I will gladly leave my historical nautical ventures, thank you, to my childhood and my regular crossings aboard the Ille de France!

I have also maintained boats. But that has not so much to do with the maritime history of Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans or others and their capabilities to sail along the coasts of Africa.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jul 2010 at 16:08
Well, frankly, they did very little sailing and the more appropriate term would be rowing!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Jul 2010 at 13:13
But they did also sail. Just remember Eudoxos following the Hippalos wind.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jul 2010 at 01:44
Eudoxos of Cnidus a sailor? Carch you must recommend what you are smoking these days! Of course, I would love for you to produce the very words of Eudoxos telling of his following the Hippalos wind, which would really be a wonder...perhaps you are abusing Pliny and his mumblings on Muziris?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jul 2010 at 12:38
Not Eudoxos of Cnidus but the navigator Eudoxos of Cyzicus. He and the navigator Hippalos sailed along the monsoon winds to and from India in late second century BC.
The winds were called Hippalos winds from Hippalos.
 
And we can learn about Eudoxos from Strabo who got his information from Posedonius.
 
Hippalos name is also mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jul 2010 at 16:10
Warning! Warning! Reading Wikipedia can be hazardous to thought...or better yet, accepting a reading through Carch renders all suspect. Given the fact that Strabo himself scoffed at the veracity of this Eudoxos through Poseidonius, I stand amazed at the subsequent personification of the big blow, Hippalos:

Now, really, all this does not fall short of the fabrications of Pytheas, Euhemerus and Antiphanes. Those men, however, we can pardon for their fabrications --since they follow precisely this as their business -- just as we pardon jugglers; but who could pardon Poseidonius, master of demonstration and philosopher, whom we may almost call the claimant for first honours. So much, at least, is not well done by Poseidonius.

Strabo. Geography. 2:3, par. 5, lines 106-107.
 
Oh how much fantasy one can weave from the reading of three pages (24-26) and a passing supposition in George Hourani (ed. John Carswell). Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times. Princeton: PUP, 1995.
 
PS: And please stop referring to these folks as "navigators"...they all called each other philosophers and poets!


Edited by drgonzaga - 23 Jul 2010 at 16:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2010 at 12:12
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Warning! Warning! Reading Wikipedia can be hazardous to thought...or better yet, accepting a reading through Carch renders all suspect. Given the fact that Strabo himself scoffed at the veracity of this Eudoxos through Poseidonius, I stand amazed at the subsequent personification of the big blow, Hippalos:

Now, really, all this does not fall short of the fabrications of Pytheas, Euhemerus and Antiphanes. Those men, however, we can pardon for their fabrications --since they follow precisely this as their business -- just as we pardon jugglers; but who could pardon Poseidonius, master of demonstration and philosopher, whom we may almost call the claimant for first honours. So much, at least, is not well done by Poseidonius.

Strabo. Geography. 2:3, par. 5, lines 106-107.
 
Oh how much fantasy one can weave from the reading of three pages (24-26) and a passing supposition in George Hourani (ed. John Carswell). Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times. Princeton: PUP, 1995.
 
PS: And please stop referring to these folks as "navigators"...they all called each other philosophers and poets!
 
Actually all ancient narratives must be taken with some grains of salt. that does not say that there is no kernel of truth in some of them. As for the narratives about Eudoxos its quite detailed and at least shows some knowledge of existing conditions concerning geography, existing winds and similar.
And Eudoxos was hardly a philosopher but rather a merchant, navigator and explorer. Hippalos was what one can refer to as a captain or a navigating officer.
 
And there are actually other sources than Wikipedia.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2010 at 14:09
To puff up kernels produces nothing more than popcorn! Besides, you are forgetting that already by 325 BC you have "sailings" or have you forgotten the narrative on Alexander the Great and the Indus delta? Check up on Arrianos of Nicomedia and his transcriptions of the Indica recounting the exploits of Nearchos...it is this latter that served as the foundation for why Strabo poopoohed Poseidonius!
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2010 at 16:49
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

To puff up kernels produces nothing more than popcorn! Besides, you are forgetting that already by 325 BC you have "sailings" or have you forgotten the narrative on Alexander the Great and the Indus delta? Check up on Arrianos of Nicomedia and his transcriptions of the Indica recounting the exploits of Nearchos...it is this latter that served as the foundation for why Strabo poopoohed Poseidonius!
 

Actually, when talking about sailing one can go much further back in time then Alexander. Sail and sailing are ancient inventions.

And about Nearchos, he just took a short trip on the sea compared with a person like Skylax a couple of hundred years earlier.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jul 2010 at 05:16
Small sailing vessels were being used in Indian Ocean trade during the Roman Empire. Riding the monsoon winds just as did until the 19th century. How do you think the East Syrian Church got to Kerala! In fact I doubt the vessels would be that different.
I'm not sure what your point here is Dr Gonzaga.
 
My point was that I don't think you can really use dhows or their predecessors to launch military campaigns. You can conduct significant trade in places where its a nightmare to conduct a campaign.


Edited by Omar al Hashim - 27 Jul 2010 at 05:17
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jul 2010 at 22:48
The point, after all the befuddlement interjected, was a simple one: The Roman Empire had no desire to go out "sailing" [or mounting caravans for that matter] whatsoever since all that it might desire from the outward reaches flowed inwardly naturally in the normal trade links. I made no mention of "dhows", but admittedly with all the smoke put out by our belching berserker the original question and its answer require a Rosetta Stone for deciphering!
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