Thursday, November 26, 2009

Knowledge-base Tool Kit:

Nation States of Africa in Antiquity: Did National—GeoPolitical—Boundaries exist Here in Antiquity?

A new feature on this site will be the occasional and recurring posting of matters that come up every now and then in discussions as questions but are otherwise generally considered basic knowledge, under the "Knowledge-base Tool Kit" heading. Our first such topic here, will be on: Nation States of Africa in Antiquity: Did National—GeoPolitical—Boundaries exist Here in Antiquity? In search of answers to this question, turning to antiquated maps will do little to help us, if for no other reason than, that the further back in time one goes, the lesser acquainted with the world's actual geographical breadth and depth were people. Heck, back in the era of humanity's earliest centralized polities known to us today, the average person was more than likely not even conscious of the apparatus of geopolitical unity in terms of affiliation-by-continent, or in various cases, the extent of continents and worlds beyond their own immediate local confines and those of their neighbors. The following is a portion of western Africa, fairly decent-lookingespecially given the time or era in question and the relatively narrower scope of people awareness of the world's geographical extent or extremes beyond their own immediate shores and surrounding areas thereof, featuring the well-known sketch of Mansa Musa; presumably one of Spanish origin, dating to the 14th century (ca. 1375):

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The metmuseum website notes that the original map can be located in France; it site notes: Facsimilie of a map drawn in Spain and dated to 1375, showing the king of Mali holding a gold nugget. Image courtesy of the British Library. The original is held by the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Below, is a fairly odd representation of the northern portion of Africa and neighboring areas, reportedly of some European [southern European] origin and dating to the Medieval era...

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Below, we have a 15th century map by Giovanni Leardo:

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A circa 17th century rendition of Africa...

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What's notable about all these mapping manifestations of world geography, is that they all reflect different perceptions by different observers, and at different points in time. Therefore any assessment about any early maps of the sorts exemplified herein, while serving useful historical purpose, can only be subjective in reality, in accordance to the observer who created or authored the maps in question; they are subjective, because they would have been impacted by the limitations of the observers then knowledge base, whose views in most cases, would have been shaped by the world of the era they belonged to. It is safe to say that the different shapes of the maps above exemplify this. Therefore, the "accuracy of the maps" in question, can only reflect the scope of knowledge of the observer, and their intent in creating said maps. Furthermore, none of these maps reflect the geopolitical status quo of complexes traced considerably further back into antiquity, like say—the ancient Egyptian era, which had long gone by then. Any maps of the African continent or at least portions of it in the ancient Egyptian period, would have been even cruder than those shown above, because folks' knowledge of the world's geography was even more limited than that of their counterparts who proceeded them much later in time, in the "medieval" and contemporary times. However, one need not have these maps to ascertain that there were nation states in antiquity that had their own political boundaries, before the European imperialism that gained momentum after the 15th century. As noted here before, we have tangible evidence to this end, in terms of militarized border fortifications in the ancient Egyptian case. Furthermore, in the so-called medieval period, complexes like the Songhai empire, or even ancient Mali, apparently had their own political borders, which other western African complexes to their north for example, would have had to recognize, and could therefore only infringe on their sovereignty by use of force, if they had the means to. Recalling the harassment meted out to the ancient Ghanaian state by armed Tamazigh-speaking semi-nomads (reportedly affiliated with the Almoravid group) of the Sahel; what was all that about? Ancient Ghana had cavalry—why? What about the invasion of Songhai by the ancient Moroccan Kingdom under al Mansur. Again, it had to take force, for the Moroccan kingdom to lay any claim on territory under the Songhai polity, precisely because prior to that, Songhai would have been recognized as a sovereign socio-political entity, with borders that needed to be respected. Same assessments could be made for the conflicts between the Kushites and the ancient Egyptians, and between the Romans and the Kushites over Nile Valley territory, and so forth. Otherwise, there would be no need for such conflict; people can just come and go as they pleased. Hopefully, the intended point here is clear. An empire without borders has never existed—at least not to the knowledge of the present author.

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