Saharan Smiths

Some interesting bits on Tuareg armaments in the 15th century:

During the first half of the fifteenth century the Portuguese, under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, established a series of commercial outposts in what is now the Spanish Sahara, and began to extend their trading operations southward along the coast beyond. By 1448 they had built up a flourishing slave trade all along the Atlantic coast of West Africa, from Rio de Oro to the mouth of the Senegal River. About this time they also establsih regular commercial relations with the western desert trading center of Ouadane, where the Taureg supplied them with slaves in exchange for horses, silk and “other merchandise.” Weapons doubtless figured prominently among the “other merchandise,” for many Tuareg swords that are preserved in collections, as well as in a few still in use among the modern Tuareg, bear the marks of sixteenth – and seventeenth-century German bladesmiths of Solingen and Passau, as well as those of the royal swordsmiths of Spain which were so freely copied in both Germany and northern Italy, and even in the Sudan. Apparently the Tuareg still trade for European sword blades now and then, for in 1955 I saw one, bearing a late nineteenth-century dated mark of the Spanish Royal Arsenal of Toledo, in the workshop of smiths at Tamanrasset in the Ahaggar. Cheap copies, often with forged European marks have long been made and still are made occasionally by Saharan and particularly Sudanese smiths, both for the Tuareg and for the tourist trade.

Briggs, Lloyd Cabot, Tribes of the Sahara, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960, pg. 44.


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