Contact between West Africa, North Africa and Europe during the European medieval period

Authored by: Scott MacEachern

The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415841306
eBook ISBN: 9781315449005
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Any consideration of processes of globalization in the medieval period between West Africa on the one hand and North Africa and Europe on the other, must consider two sets of issues. The first of these is: what are the actual evidences that we have for economic, social and/or political contacts throughout this region during this period; the second is: does the nature of any such ancient contacts across seas, deserts and continental boundaries constitute ‘globalization’? The first question is straightforward and will be discussed below although, as we will see, finding data for an answer can be difficult. The second is less easy to answer. There is (often somewhat fragmentary) evidence for long-range cultural connections between West Africa and the Mediterranean world through the medieval period, and indeed before that – but can we say that such evidence for connections implies processes of globalization? This depends upon our definition of globalization, and such definitions are – to say the least – various. John Tomlinson’s (1999: 2) definition of globalization as ‘complex connectivity . . . the rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life’ is not applicable to the evidence for long-distance, sporadic, tenuous and culturally ‘thin’ networks of connection that are characteristic of much of the area and time period covered in this chapter. For most of this period and over most of this area, the modes of interchange involved might more closely approximate the ‘small-world’ networks described by Sindbaek (2007) in early medieval Northern Europe, mediated by small numbers of key individuals or locations with many long-distance ties and vulnerable to disruption, rather than Tomlinson’s dense and complex networks of globalizing interchange. At the same time, and as Sindbaek argues, such small-world networks can themselves transform social systems.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.