The Islamic empires of the early modern world

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In March 1591, a great battle took place at Tondibi, an important trading center just upstream from Timbuktu on the Niger River. On one side of the battle field stood the rested and well-provisioned army of the Songhay ruler Askia Ishaq II, who had assembled a force of at least 10, 000 troops-and by some accounts many times that number-to defend his kingdom from foreign invasion. On the opposing side was a Moroccan expeditionary force of no more than 2, 500 men. Led by Juwdar Pasha, a household slave of the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur (r. 1578 to 1603), this company of adventurers reached Tondibi after an excruciating three-month trek across the Sahara, during which their members had fallen to thirst, hunger and exposure to the elements at the terrifying rate of one death per mile. Thus, to any independent observer, the odds must have seemed to heavily favor the Songhay as the Battle of Tondibi commenced. And yet, like so many equally lopsided encounters from the history of European imperial expansion, it was not the native Songhay but the Moroccan invaders who were destined to emerge victorious. For although they found themselves outnumbered, exhausted and in unfamiliar territory, Juwdar Pasha’s men also arrived at Tondibi with an important advantage: large quantities of gunpowder weapons, including muskets, mortars and even a battery of English artillery. Against an opposing army brandishing cudgels, arrows and poisoned-tipped javelins, the outcome of the battle was hardly ever in doubt. The decisive role of gunpowder was not the only similarity between this Moroccan expedition and the contemporary imperial ventures of the Spanish and Portuguese, Dutch and English. Like them, the Moroccan campaign involved the conquest of a remote and previously inaccessible part of the world (in this instance, accomplished by crossing the desert rather than the sea).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History Volume VI
Subtitle of host publicationThe Construction of a Global World, 1400-1800 CE, Part 1: Foundation
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139194594
ISBN (Print)9780521761628
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


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