Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 March 2020
This chapter is intended as an analytical counterpoint to the descriptive presentation of the evidence of pre-Islamic activity at Saharan oases and as an engagement with some of the more theoretical introduction to the volume. Here we make the case for a dynamic Saharan history with frequent episodes of sedentarisation and urbanisation in the past. The related issue of state formation will be considered as the conclusion of the book, with a discussion of how we might define states and state formation in the Saharan milieu and the contribution that oasis centres have made to early desert states, like the Garamantes. We do not seek to deny the importance of pastoral lifeways, or the social complexity of such mobile societies, but we argue that the pastoral and mobile dimension of the Trans-Saharan world has been over-emphasised to the neglect of its sedentary communities. Several factors play into the choices made by communities as to how to live: social and political circumstance, environmental affordances, regional dynamics and trade. The fact that pastoral groups have tended to be more dominant in later history does not exclude the possibility that in some earlier ages sedentary and oasis populations have had greater social and political weight. Trans-Saharan history we suggest has been characterised by a continually changing power balance between pastoralists and sedentarists (as is also evident at times in the recent past).