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The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  186 ratings  ·  33 reviews
A leading historian reconstructs the forgotten history of medieval Africa

From the birth of Islam in the seventh century to the voyages of European exploration in the fifteenth, Africa was at the center of a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas. It was an African golden age in which places like Ghana, Nubia, and Zimbabwe became the crossroads of civilizations, and where Afri
ebook, 280 pages
Published December 4th 2018 by Princeton University Press (first published February 7th 2013)
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Ina Cawl
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i always asked myself if there was a time where my Black people interacted and traded with the outside world without being considered commodity and sold as slaves
this short book has answered it in short
Jacopo Quercia
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'The Golden Rhinoceros' is a fascinating approach to a subject that should fill entire archives but, for reasons convincingly explained by its author, can be codified within a single volume. François-Xavier Fauvelle accomplishes this Herculean task in this brief but thorough work, and the result in an excellent starting-point for research into Africa from the spread of Islam to Vasco da Gama's voyage to India. Any student or teacher in these fields should own this book.

'The Golden Rhinoceros' is
L’historien et archéologue François-Xavier Fauvelle raconte des histoires de l'Afrique précoloniale en 34 courts chapitres et rend accessible aux non-spécialistes une période qui est malconnue dans le monde occidental. Le Moyen Âge africain, dit Fauvelle, c'est la période entre l'Antiquité tardive et le fin du XVe siècle à cause de l'absence générale de sources écrites. Donc, Fauvelle utilise d'autres sources africaines—les sources orales, les rapports de fouilles archéologiques, les objets—et p ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very cool + cute book about medieval Africa. the book is quite fragmented and only gives hints of much of the subject matter partially because it's not intended as a grand overview, but also because most of the written sources being drawn upon are fragmentary and mostly foreign to the actual places being discussed, so you get a lot of accounts of arab merchants and so on. what you do get though is fascinating - glimpses of international trade networks(chinese and indian goods in subsaharan archa ...more
Justin Evans
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-etc
I understand why someone might not like this book. It's less than 250 pages long, and has 34 discrete chapters. So, you don't get a whole lot of depth on anything, and you could easily find that frustrating.

If, on the other hand, you find your own ignorance of African history frustrating (as I do), and also find the astonishing lack of good writing about pre-colonial African history frustrating, this is a charming place to start. A very reviewer wrote that 'maps would have helped.' There are ma
Ευθυμία Δεσποτάκη
Δοκίμια για την πραγματική ιστορία της Αφρικής. Ασχολείται με πώς σχεδόν όλη η "Μεσαιωνική" ιστορία της Αφρικής είναι γνωστή μέσα από το πρίσμα των αποικιοκρατών ή των Μουσουλμάνων ταξιδιωτών, όπως ο Ιμπν Μπατούτα. Αλλά στην πραγματικότητα μιλάει για πράγματα που πραγματικά δεν τα 'χα ξανακούσει ποτέ, όπως τι θα πει ζιμπάμπουε ή το ότι υπάρχουν "ναυάγια" καραβανιών στην έρημο. Γραμμένο σε μικρά κεφάλαια, με τρόπο που παλαντζάρει μεταξύ δημοσιογραφίας και επιστημονικού κειμένου, με κέρδισε τόσο π ...more
R.J. Gilmour
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Fauvelle's book is a look at Africa in the Middle Ages through short 2-3 page pieces about particular places, people or kingdoms. Sadly, the book doesn't offer a lot of explanation for those unfamiliar with African history and too often is written with a senior student in African history in mind. A map showing the places and people discussed would have helped. ...more
Stephen Simpson
May 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book is a little like trying to make a meal out of supermarket samples. I get that this is a short-attention-span world, but the history snippets weren't all that engaging and only glossed over some really interesting subjects. On the plus side, it's fairly well-sourced, so you can dive deeper into the original sources if you want. ...more
Yves Gounin
On parle peu de l’Afrique précoloniale. Les écoles historiques, notamment est-européennes, qui se sont penchées sur elle au lendemain de l’indépendance, ont disparu. Raison de plus pour saluer à sa juste valeur l’ouvrage de l’historien et archéologue François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar luxueusement illustré par une riche iconographie. Il relève le défi de rendre accessible aux non-spécialistes un matériau savant, principal projet de l’ouvrage : des comptes rendus de fouilles en Éthiopie, la stratigra ...more
(3.75; RTC.)

Each very short chapter of Fauvelle’s book takes an archaeological site, artifact, or ancient text as its focus. From these items, he creates what a Literary Review critic called “historical pointillism”, opening tiny windows onto medieval African international relations, piecing together tantalizing stories: the Jewish merchant who impregnated his Indian maid and abandoned her in Somaliland; the Sultan of Mali whose lavish tipping while on hajj crashed the Cairene gold market for th
Really interesting read, since my knowledge of African history in this period is limited. I had hoped it would provide some good readings I could assign to students, but it manages to be both light in detail and to require a fair bit of background knowledge to follow each chapter, so I think my students would just find it frustrating. There were so many fascinating stories in the book, it’s a shame they aren’t contextualized better.
Lucy Barnhouse
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, medieval
Fauvelle's book is gorgeously written, as well as being lucid and engaging. Of the most famous of the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, for instance, he says: "It displays no more joints than the tunic of Christ does seams." Credit goes to Tony Tice, as well, for translating Fauvelle's elegant and incisive portraits of medieval Africa. It's a composite rather than a linear narrative, following map-makers and archaeologists, traders and scholars, as they traverse the diverse landscapes of the conti ...more
Judy Ugonna
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am in awe of this book. Taking pieces of written and material evidence, Fauvelle paints a tantalising picture of medieval Africa, demonstrating that there was a rich and fascinating social and commercial life, in all parts of Africa with connections to many parts of the world including China, long before Vasco da Gama's "miserable first adventure" soon to be "regilded with all the color of an epic saga"! Beautifully written (and well translated into English), each chapter is a short complete s ...more
Ann Talbot
African Civilizations Matter

Ann Talbot

Review: Francois Xavier-Fauvelle, The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages English translation by Troy Tice (Princeton University Press, 2018); original (Paris, 2013).

“The world is changing its mind about the past of Africa.” So wrote Basil Davidson in 1959 on the eve of Ghana’s independence. More than 30 years later, in 1996, Martin Hall was no less optimistic, suggesting “a respinning of the globe that would put Africa in the centre of t
Jamison Shuck
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
Bite-sized histories that bring life to understudied and oftentimes forgotten times and places.

In each chapter (4-5 pages) the author focuses on a specific primary source or archeological site and squeezes out what can be understood about political and everyday life throughout the African Middle Ages.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary, history
Das Buch ist ein schöner Überblick in einzelnen Kapiteln, die quer über den afrikanischen Kontinent hüpfen. Meistens gelingt es, anhand der bloßen Fakten, die Vorkommnisse darzustellen und zu interpretieren, gesteht sich auch die Grenzen durch fehlende Quellen ein und v.a. scheint selbst dem Autor die afrikanischen Mentalitäten etwas fremd; wie soll es da mir als unbeschlagenem Leser gehen?
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book & another way of doing history. It's not so much a narrative of history as it is a bunch of snippets. He goes through an artifact or site (e.g. a letter between monarchs, a merchant document, a city, a traveler's account) & weaves a narrative around what was going on with respect to that artifact (e.g. a brief history of the relationship between the rulers that led to the letter being sent). Each story is only a few pages and is beautifully and succinctly written [unlike most of ...more
Martyn Smith
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, summer-2019
In histories of ancient or medieval Africa evidence tends to be scarce and contested. What comes through in traditional scholarship is the limitation of our knowledge rather than building real excitement about a better understanding of this immense continent. The Golden Rhinoceros is a revelation in its clarity and beauty. In his introduction French historian Francois-Xavier Fauvelle describes his method as resembling the creation of a stained-glass window. He has taken a series of modest object ...more
Zunächst einmal: wer hofft, in dem Buch eine Fortsetzung von Arno Sondereggers "Kurzen Geschichte des Alten Afrikas" zu finden, wird zumindest ein Stück weit enttäuscht. Fauvelle liefert nicht - und hat auch keinesfalls den Anspruch - eine Gesamtdarstellung des Zeitraums von ca. 800 bis 1500, der einsetzenden Kolonialisierung durch die Europäer zu geben.

Vielmehr gelingt es dem Autor anhand von 34 mehr oder weniger kurzen Einblicken auf teils sehr spezielle Themen einen Überblick über diverse The
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
"This forgetfulness conditions access to the distant African past, and consequently to the writing of its history. ... Let's come to terms with it: if his book presents itself to the reader as an arrangement of fragments illuminated side by side in turn, it is because I have preferred the stained-glass window to the grand narrative fresco that would have produced only the illusion of an authoritative discourse." (7-8)

"Between Mogadishu and Madagascar, an entire world sprawled across the lengths
Aatif Rashid
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic history of medieval Africa, told in small, fragment-like chapters that each center on a particular historical artifact, document, or source. These brief chapters function as both stand alone stories about different regions of the continent, from Great Zimbabwe to Mansa Musa's Mali, and, when taken together, as a sort of incomplete puzzle of reflective of our patchwork knowledge of this great continent during this not-so-long ago time. It's a book that shatters all those "dark continent ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interessant boek. Het geeft een compilatie van wat er tot nu toe bekend is over Afrika in de Middeleeuwen. Vaak heel fragmentarisch, maar er staat toch nog best veel nieuws in. Mooi geschreven. Er hadden voor mij wat meer foto's in gemogen. (De rhinoceros van de titel is inderdaad ooit gevonden in het noorden van Zuid-Afrika). ...more
Daniel Farabaugh
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting account of subject that I do not know enough about and is not researched enough. One of the most effective parts of this is the fact that the author recognizes and addresses the limitations of our knowledge.
Dave Pier
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is as good for its explanations of what we do not know about Africa during this period, as it is for its history.
Tait Jensen
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating glimpse into a mysterious world.
Jeanette Petersson Munro
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Essentially short chapter stories of different aspects/objects of African in the middle ages.
However, the stories overlapped to give good introductory information.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loaded with extraordinary stories
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Some chapters were better than others. Written pretty differently from other history books. Topic was very interesting.
Ryan Fischer
Jan 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
A lot of interesting, tantalizing snippets - a very interesting approach. I think the organization could have been improved.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great interdisciplinary look at history of Africa during the “Middle Ages”
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