To what extent did trade shape the rise of West African kingdoms, and how? What other factors influenced the emergence of such kingdoms as those in Ghana, Mali, and Songhai?

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Trade was a primary factor in the rise and development of the West African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. In particular, these kingdoms grew wealthy, powerful, and influential because they were able to collect taxes from traders who crossed their territories. Most commerce consisted of salt from the Sahara Desert to the north being traded for gold from the forests to the south. Since it was necessary for merchants to cross these kingdoms to get from source to market, the kingdoms were well-positioned geographically to benefit.

The money collected from these taxes helped to fund large professional armies. These armies made it possible to conquer and subdue neighboring peoples who had their own resources and trade routes. Once these had been conquered, the West African kingdoms had access to even more tax revenue.

There remains some mystery as to how the Kingdom of Ghana first arose. After some time, trade made it stronger. However, its first advantage may have been access to iron...

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