Medieval Somalia – Ajuran Sultanate

Medieval Somalia: The Ajuran Sultanate

ajuran canal

From the 13th till the 17th century a Sultanate dominated majority of east Africa. The first African hydraulic kingdom was founded by Somali sea traders. Thanks to a strong military and hard working population the kingdom thrived and managed to make history in the horn.

Hydraulic empire.

The most impressive achievement from the ancient Somali empire was that they were one of the first hydraulic empire in the world. A hydraulic empire is defined on Wikipedia as the following. A social or government structure which maintains power and control through exclusive control over access to water. It arises through the need for flood control and irrigation. This requires central coordination and a most of all a specialised bureaucracy’.

Considering the location of the empire, the control of water was needed for a society to thrive and for farmers to thrive. Besides being able to irrigate their farms properly and fairly, the Ajurans were also great ship builders. The Beden is a good example. A Beden is a sea vessel from the ancient Somali times, the ajurans improved the design and made it better for exporting goods.

Maritime trade routes

Thanks to the strategical location of the kingdom. Furthermore the Ajurans society had long established trade links called the Maritime trade routes. Just like the beden, the new community managed to improve the trade routes and started offering a wider range of products to the trade partners. The most well-known trade partners were: The Ming dynasty from China, The Ottoman empire from Turkey and especially relevant the Mughal empire from India.

The most popular export items from the kingdom were: First of all Horses, exotic animals, Ivory, gold, wax, wood, musk, sheep, cloth and African slaves. Most popular imported items were: Celadon wares, cloth, spices, ambergris, porcelain, cowries, cinnamon, muskets, cannons and finally fruit.

The Ajurans were able to do business with many different empires all over the region. Due to the many ports of the kingdom. Besides the location, the development of lighthouses and a friendly approach to strangers has led to a thriving business.

Vasco da Gama, the first European to visit India stopped at Mogadishu. He was surprised by the level of sophistication of a black African nation. Amazed by the 3 to 4 story high houses built from limestone. Also thriving enterprises. Vasco da Gama became interested in the region and as a result started an expedition.


Find out about the Ajuran – Portuguese war.  ( part 2 of the Ajurans history)