At first sight Saharan oases appear unlikely locations for the development of early urban communities. Recent survey work has, however, discovered evidence for complex settlements of the late first millennium BC and early first millennium AD, surrounded and supported by intensive agricultural zones. These settlements, despite their relatively modest size, satisfy the criteria to be considered as towns. The argument presented here not only presents the evidence for their urban status but also argues that it was not agriculture but trade that conjured them into existence. Without the development of trans-Saharan trade, these complex oasis communities would have been unsustainable, and their subsequent economic fortunes were directly linked to the fluctuating scale and direction of that trade.