The Wheel in Ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhai?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,866
#11
Before I start, I just want to clarify that I'm not one of those people who thinks that the wheel is a caveman technology like fire or stone tools. I'm aware that the invention of the wheel has only ever happened independently maybe 2 or 3 times in history. Likely Europe and the Middle East and then spread elsewhere into India, East Asia and North Africa. There was also an instance in Meso-America but it was never used for practical application.

I often hear that the wheel never spread to Sub-Saharan Africa except for Ethiopia. Is this true? If so, why? The Ghana, Mali, and Songhai seem to have been very well capable of using the wheel. Not only capable but it seems as though they were likely to have been exposed or informed of it by other cultures from the north. They lived north of the forest zone too so they didn't have to worry about the tetse fly, so they had horses, camels, donkeys, and cattle. They had constant trade with the Mediterranean world including articles such as Chinese porcelain, silk, paper, and later gunpowder and they were active members in the Islam world (and it's science). So again my question is, outside of Ethiopia, did any other part of Sub-Saharan Africa use the wheel before the modern era?
It may have been the wheel wasn't just practical in in Sub Saharan Africa IF that was true. The Mayans were aware of the wheel, but never used it anything but toys. If you don't have roads for wheels to travel on, that may limit the practicality of the wheel.

But I thought I saw ancient African pictographs showing chariots. Simply because they didn't use it a lot, doesn't mean they didn't know about the wheel or used it a little.
 
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#12
If you don't have roads for wheels to travel on, that may limit the practicality of the wheel.
Since when were there no roads in S.S Africa? You can't build cities without roads and there were definitely no shortage of cities in S.S Africa. More specifically West Africa.

But I thought I saw ancient African pictographs showing chariots. Simply because they didn't use it a lot, doesn't mean they didn't know about the wheel or used it a little.
You probably did but the only ones I've ever seen came from North Africa and Ethiopia.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,866
#13
Since when were there no roads in S.S Africa? You can't build cities without roads and there were definitely no shortage of cities in S.S Africa. More specifically West Africa.
My mistake. I should have said roads suitable for wheeled transportation. A pathways that a mule or horse can travel wouldn't necessarily be suitable for a wheeled vehicle. Such roads for wheeled traffic would require more work to create and maintain than one simply used by animal traffic.


You probably did but the only ones I've ever seen came from North Africa and Ethiopia.
The Mayan did without wheeled transportation, even though they knew of the wheel. The Islamic civilization largely abandoned the use of wheeled vehicles when it took over the Mideast.

For all the discussion there has been among archeologists about why advanced societies such as those in pre-Colombian Central and South America never invented wheeled transport, there has been little notice taken
of the amazing fact that Middle....

Eastern society wilfully abandoned the use of the wheel, one of mankind's greatest inventions.

It did not, of course, abandon the wheel in all of its many forms. The potter's wheel remained, and so did the huge, picturesque norias, or waterwheels of Syria. But gradually over the course of the first four or five centuries of the Christian era, and perhaps even earlier, all wheeled transport in the area, from the grandest chariot to the humblest farm wagon, passed out of existence.

As late as the 1780's the French traveler Volney could still note, "It is remarkable that in all of Syria one does not see a single cart or wagon." Moreover, in the Arabic and Persian languages one is hard pressed to find any vocabulary proper to either the use or construction of carts and wagons. Saudi Aramco World : Why They Lost The Wheel
Whatever factors that led to the Muslim world abandoning wheeled vehicles could have also prevented Sub Saharan African from adopting wheeled vehicles in the first place. For one thing, without animals to pull a cart, wheeled transportation doesn't become as desirable.

And due to the Tsetse fly and other diseases, horses and even oxen did not often prosper in Sub Saharan Africa. Without plentiful available live stock (oxen, horses) to pull wheeled vehicles, wheeled transportation would be less popular in Sub Saharan Africa.

Evidence of the hardship TseTse posed to the keeping of livestock comes from the colonial record. Commissioner H.H. Johnston (1894) described the TseTse as the "greatest curse" nature laid upon Africa and remarked the "value of the country would be centupled" in the absence of the fly. Early colonists often resorted to the less advanced technologies that characterized the region (such as human porterage). The problem was especially acute given that the TseTseĆ­s ecological niche was in fertile areas in Africa. http://healthpolicy.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/tsetse_working_paper.pdf
 
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#14
My mistake. I should have said roads suitable for wheeled transportation. A pathways that a mule or horse can travel wouldn't necessarily be suitable for a wheeled vehicle. Such roads for wheeled traffic would require more work to create and maintain than one simply used by animal traffic.




The Mayan did without wheeled transportation, even though they knew of the wheel. The Islamic civilization largely abandoned the use of wheeled vehicles when it took over the Mideast.



Whatever factors that led to the Muslim world abandoning wheeled vehicles could have also prevented Sub Saharan African from adopting wheeled vehicles in the first place. For one thing, without animals to pull a cart, wheeled transportation doesn't become as desirable.

And due to the Tsetse fly and other diseases, horses and even oxen did not often prosper in Sub Saharan Africa. Without plentiful available live stock (oxen, horses) to pull wheeled vehicles, wheeled transportation would be less popular in Sub Saharan Africa.
The three empires mentioned in the OP all lacked the tsetse fly and all had ties with civilizations that used the wheel. As far as "roads suitable for the wheel" there were some places that were. For example the Kingdom of Ife's roads were paved in a very unique way using potsherds. Great job with the rest of your research though but it would be pretty cool if there was some concrete reason in these books/articles.
 
Jun 2013
854
Universe
#15
Like poster Mansa Musa said a year earlier there were most likely use of wheels in the Sahara and the Ghana, Mali and Songhai Empires were near the Sahara.

And I agree with the OP that those Sahelian empires like Ghana and Mali were north of the forest and so away from the testes flies. This is well known.
 
Jun 2013
854
Universe
#16
My mistake. I should have said roads suitable for wheeled transportation. A pathways that a mule or horse can travel wouldn't necessarily be suitable for a wheeled vehicle. Such roads for wheeled traffic would require more work to create and maintain than one simply used by animal traffic.




The Mayan did without wheeled transportation, even though they knew of the wheel. The Islamic civilization largely abandoned the use of wheeled vehicles when it took over the Mideast.



Whatever factors that led to the Muslim world abandoning wheeled vehicles could have also prevented Sub Saharan African from adopting wheeled vehicles in the first place. For one thing, without animals to pull a cart, wheeled transportation doesn't become as desirable.

And due to the Tsetse fly and other diseases, horses and even oxen did not often prosper in Sub Saharan Africa. Without plentiful available live stock (oxen, horses) to pull wheeled vehicles, wheeled transportation would be less popular in Sub Saharan Africa.
What you're like grasping is that the OP is stating that those empires he mentioned i.e Ghana, Mali and Songhai were NOT in the testes flies belt.



These are the empires the OP is talking about.


As you can see they are comfortably above the tstes fly region. But more importantly it was known that those empires used camels and especially horses for war. The testes fly argument is overrated to some degree...
 
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#17
What you're like grasping is that the OP is stating that those empires he mentioned i.e Ghana, Mali and Songhai were NOT in the testes flies belt.



These are the empires the OP is talking about.


As you can see they are comfortably above the tstes fly region. But more importantly it was known that those empires used camels and especially horses for war. The testes fly argument is overrated to some degree...
Thanks, nice job with the visuals. I'd also like to mention that many of these empires were relatively urbanized and thus had horses comfortably housed in cities where they were safe from the tsetse fly. The Benin Empire is one such example. Even though it sat well within the forest zone of West Africa horses were still common in the empire and well groomed within the cities. The same can be said for the Oyo Empire and it's military was almost entirely composed of cavalry.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,866
#18
What you're like grasping is that the OP is stating that those empires he mentioned i.e Ghana, Mali and Songhai were NOT in the testes flies belt.



These are the empires the OP is talking about.


As you can see they are comfortably above the tstes fly region. But more importantly it was known that those empires used camels and especially horses for war. The testes fly argument is overrated to some degree...
The Aramco article I posted said the camel was the reason the Muslims abandoned wheel vehicles in the areas the Muslims conquered. If the enpires had camels, perhaps the same reasons applied to those empires.

In areas the Arabs took over, wheeled vehicles became neglected, and largely abandoned. When Christians reconquered Spanish cities from the Muslims, they had to rework the cities for wheeled transportation again. The Arabs were able to build a prosperous and wide spread civilization largely without wheeled tranxportation. Perhaps wheeled transportation was overrated.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#19
The Aramco article I posted said the camel was the reason the Muslims abandoned wheel vehicles in the areas the Muslims conquered. If the enpires had camels, perhaps the same reasons applied to those empires.

In areas the Arabs took over, wheeled vehicles became neglected, and largely abandoned. When Christians reconquered Spanish cities from the Muslims, they had to rework the cities for wheeled transportation again. The Arabs were able to build a prosperous and wide spread civilization largely without wheeled tranxportation. Perhaps wheeled transportation was overrated.
Why carry cargo on your back when you can roll it behind you in a suit case? The same applies for wagons and chariots. If you are carrying yourself (and your cargo) on an animal's back, you could get alot more bank for your buck if you carried more cargo in a wagon behind you. Not saying I'm right (or wrong) but it just seems like having wheeled vessels would be much more efficient for carrying lots of supplies and/or passengers. That being said, in my humble opinion, I don't think the wheel was overrated.
 
Nov 2018
41
West Covina
#20
Why carry cargo on your back when you can roll it behind you in a suit case? The same applies for wagons and chariots. If you are carrying yourself (and your cargo) on an animal's back, you could get alot more bank for your buck if you carried more cargo in a wagon behind you. Not saying I'm right (or wrong) but it just seems like having wheeled vessels would be much more efficient for carrying lots of supplies and/or passengers. That being said, in my humble opinion, I don't think the wheel was overrated.
Thts why you have horses and camels they can go were the wheel can't so it is deeply over rated
 

Similar History Discussions