Northern Africa. The conquests of this people, of mixed race, but united in their fanatical propagation of the neo-Arab religion, had been made when Southern Europe, weak and divided, still bore the marks of the ruin which had befallen the Western Empire. The greater part of Spain had fallen into their hands, and they had invaded, though fruitlessly, France itself. Charles the Great had begun the process of restoring the Christian West to stability and influence, and under his successors Western Christendom recovered its balance. Yet the Saracen peoples still preponderated in maritime power. They long held in check the rising maritime power of Venice and Genoa; they overran Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands. Nor was the domination of these vigorous peoples confined to the Mediterranean. In the Red Sea and on the East coast of Africa, frequented by them as far south as Madagascar, they had no rivals. Eastward from the Red Sea they traded to, and in many places settled on, the coasts of India, and the continental shores and islands of the Far East. That branch which held Barbary and Spain was not likely to leave unexplored the Western coast of Africa and the Canary Islands. It was on this coast that the principal work achieved in the Age of Discovery had its beginnings; and although maritime enterprise flourished at Constantinople and Venice, there can be little doubt that these beginnings are due to the Saracens. The Moors, or Saracens of North-west Africa, must have made great progress in ship-building and navigation to have been able to hold the Mediterranean against their Christian rivals. Masters of North Africa, they carried on a large caravan trade across the Sahara with the negro tribes of the Soudan. It is certain that at the beginning of the Age of Discovery they were well acquainted with the dreary and barren Atlantic coast of the Sahara, and knew it to be terminated by the fertile and populous tract watered by the Senegal river; for this tract, marked "Bilad Ghana" or "Land of Wealth," appears on a map constructed by the Arab geographer Edrisi for Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, about the year 1150. That they habitually or indeed ever visited it by sea, is improbable, since it was more easily and safely accessible to them by land; and the blank sea-board of the Sahara offered nothing worthy of attention. The Italians and Portuguese, on the contrary, excluded from the African trade by land, saw in Bilad Ghana a country which it was their interest to reach, and which they could only reach by sea. Hence, the important events of the Age of Discovery begin with the coasting of the Atlantic margin of the Sahara-first by the Genoese, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, then by the Portuguese, in the first half of the fifteenth-and with the slave-raiding expeditions of the latter people on the voyage to and in Bilad Ghana itself. The name Ghana became known to the Genoese and Portuguese as "Guinea," and the negroes who inhabited it-a pure black race, easily distinguishable from the hybrid wanderers, half Berber and half black, of the
Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/45
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