The Ajuran Empire
: Saldanadda Ajuuraan
: سلطنة الأجورانية
), also spelled Ajuuraan Empire
and often simply as Ajuran
was a Somali empire
in the medieval times in the Horn of Africa
that dominated the trade in northern Indian ocean
. They belonged to the Somali Muslim sultanate
that ruled over large parts of the Horn of Africa
in the Middle Ages
. Through a strong centralized administration and an aggressive military stance towards invaders, the Ajuran Empire successfully resisted an Oromo invasion
from the west and a Portuguese
incursion from the east during the Gaal Madow and the Ajuran-Portuguese wars
. Trading routes dating from the ancient and early medieval periods of Somali maritime enterprise
were strengthened or re-established, and foreign trade and commerce in the coastal provinces flourished with ships sailing to and coming from many kingdoms and empires in East Asia
, South Asia
, the Near East
, North Africa
and East Africa
The Ajuran Empire's sphere of influence in the Horn of Africa
was one of the largest in the region. The empire covered much of southern Somalia
and eastern Ethiopia
with its domain extending from Hobyo
in the north, to Qelafo
in the west, to Kismayo
in the south.
Origins and the House of Garen
The House of Gareen
- Ajuran Gareen
- Arliqo Gareen
- Sarjelle Gareen
- Fadumo Gareen
- Umur Gareen
The House of Garen was the ruling hereditary dynasty
of the Ajuran Empire.
Its origin lies in the Garen Kingdom that during the 13th century ruled parts of the Somali Region
. With the migration of Somalis from the northern half of the Horn region to the southern half, new cultural and religious orders were introduced that influenced the administrative structure of the dynasty
, a system of governance which began to evolve into an Islamic government
. Through their genealogical Baraka
, which came from the saint Balad (who was known to have come from outside the Garen Kingdom),
the Garen rulers claimed supremacy and religious legitimacy over other groups in the Horn of Africa. Balad's ancestors are said to have come from the historical northern region of Barbara
The Ajuran Empire traces its name from the Arabic إيجار/'ijara
, which means rent
. A name well deserved for the exorbinant tributes paid to the Empire. Today the descendants of the Empire remain as Ajuran
, a clan of Somalis
. The clan resides in Ethiopia
. The Ajuran are said to be descendants of Alama who in turn is a son of Bal'ad who traces descent from Arab immigrant Harmalle Samale
, who traces his descent through Aqil bin Abu Talib.
- Imam – Head of the State
- Emir – Commander of the armed forces and navy
- Na'ibs – Viceroys
- Wazirs – tax and revenue collectors
- Qadis – Chief Judges
Nomadic citizens and farming communities
Through their control of the region's wells, the Garen rulers effectively held a monopoly over their nomadic
subjects as they were the only hydraulic empire
in Africa during their reign. Large wells made out of limestone
were constructed throughout the state, which attracted Somali
nomads with their livestock. The centralized regulations of the wells made it easier for the nomads to settle disputes by taking their queries to government officials who would act as mediators. Long distance caravan trade, a long-time practice in the Horn of Africa, continued unchanged in Ajuran times. Today, numerous ruined and abandoned towns throughout the interior of Somalia and the Horn of Africa are evidence of a once-booming inland trade network dating from the medieval period.
With the centralized supervision of the Ajuran, farms in Afgooye
and other areas in the Jubba
valleys increased their productivity. A system of irrigation ditches known locally as Kelliyo
fed directly from the Shebelle
and Jubba rivers
into the plantations where sorghum
, beans, grain and cotton were grown during the gu
in Somali) and xagaa
in Somali) seasons of the Somali calendar
. This irrigation system was supported by numerous dikes
and dams. To determine the average size of a farm, a land measurement system was also invented with moos
being the terms used.
The State collected tribute
from the farmers in the form of harvested products like durra
, sorghum and bun, and from the nomads, cattle, camels and goats. The collecting of tribute was done by a wazir
. Luxury goods imported from foreign lands were also presented as gifts to the Garen rulers by the coastal sultans
of the state.
A political device that was implemented by the Garen rulers in their realm was a form of ius primae noctis
which enabled them to create marriages that enforced their hegemonic
rule over all the important groups of the empire. The rulers would also claim a large portion of the bride's wealth, which at the time was 100 camels.
Urban and maritime centers
The urban centers of Merca
, and their respective ports became profitable trade outlets for commodities originating from the interior of the State. The farming communities of the hinterland brought their products to the coastal cities, where they were sold to local merchants who maintained a lucrative foreign commerce with ships sailing to and coming from Arabia
, and as far away as China
. Vasco Da Gama
, who passed by Mogadishu in the 15th century, noted that it was a large city with houses of four or five storeys high and big palaces in its centre and many mosques with cylindrical minarets.
In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa
noted that many ships from the Kingdom of Cambaya
sailed to Mogadishu with cloths and spices for which they in return received gold
. Barbosa also highlighted the abundance of meat, wheat, barley, horses, and fruit on the coastal markets, which generated enormous wealth for the merchants.
Mogadishu, the center of a thriving weaving industry known as toob benadir
(specialized for the markets in Egypt and Syria
together with Merca and Barawa also served as transit stops for Swahili
merchants from Mombasa
and for the gold trade from Kilwa
Jewish merchants from the Hormuz
also brought their Indian textile and fruit to the Somali coast in exchange for grain
Trading relations were established with Malacca
in the 15th century,
with cloth, ambergris
being the main commodities of the trade.
In addition, giraffes, zebras and incense were exported to the Ming Empire
of China, making Somali merchants leaders in the commerce between Asia and Africa.
and influencing the Chinese language
on Somali in the process. Hindu
merchants from Surat
and Southeast African merchants from Pate
seeking to bypass both the Portuguese blockade and Omani
interference used the Somali ports of Merca and Barawa (which were out of the two powers' jurisdiction) to conduct their trade in safety and without interference.
The Ajuran Empire also minted its own Ajuran currency
. Many ancient bronze
coins inscribed with the names of Ajuran Sultans have been found in the coastal Benadir province, in addition to pieces from Muslim rulers of Southern Arabia
additionally, Mogadishan coins
have been found as far as the United Arab Emirates
in the Middle East
. Trading routes dating from the ancient and early medieval periods of Somali maritime enterprise
were strengthened or re-established, and foreign trade and commerce in the coastal provinces flourished with ships sailing to and coming from a myriad of kingdoms and empires in East Asia
, South Asia
, the Near East
, North Africa
and the Horn of Africa
Through the use of commercial vessels, compasses, multiple port cities, light houses and other technology, the merchants of the Ajuran Empire did brisk business with traders from the following states:
With their maritime pursuits and history, the Empire established trading and diplomatic ties across the old world, especially in Asia, from being a close ally to the grand power of the Ottomans
to having cordial ties to the mighty Ming Dynasty
and even having their merchants following the greatest maritime expedition in their history as far as Java
The ruler of the Somali
Ajuran Empire sent ambassadors to China
to establish diplomatic ties, creating the first ever recorded African community in China and the most notable Somali
ambassador in medieval China was Sa'id of Mogadishu
who was the first African man to set foot in China
in recorded history. In return, Emperor Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty
(1368–1644), dispatched one of the largest fleets in history to trade with the Somali nation. The fleet, under the leadership of the famed Hui Muslim Zheng He
, arrived at Mogadishu
while the city was at its peak in economic and social vibrancy. Along with gold
, Zheng brought back the first ever African wildlife to China, which included hippos
The Ajuran Empire was an influential Somali kingdom that held sway over several cities and towns in central and southern Somalia during the Middle Ages. With the fall of the Sultanate
, a number of these settlements continued to prosper, eventually becoming major cities
in present-day Somalia. A few of these cities and towns were eventually abandoned or destroyed:
The Ajurans developed a very rich culture with various forms of Somali culture
such as architecture
, astronomy, festivals, music and art
evolving and flourishing during this period. The majority of the inhabitants were ethnic Somali
, but there were also Yemeni
, and Turkish
minorities. The vast majority of the population adhered to Sunni Islam
with a Shia
minority (mostly those of Persian descent)
. Somali was the most commonly used language of government and social life while Arabic
was most prominently used for religious studies
Example of an historic Somali figurehead
The Somali martial art Istunka
, also known as Dabshid, was born during their reign. An annual tournament is held every year for it in Afgooye
Carving, known in Somali as qoris
, was practiced in the coastal cities of the state. Many wealthy urbanites in the medieval period regularly employed the finest wood and marble carvers in Somalia to work on their interiors and houses. The carvings on the mihrabs
of ancient Somali mosques
are some of the oldest on the continent, with Masjid Fakhr al-Din
being the 7th oldest mosque in Africa.
Artistic carving was considered the craft of men similar to how the Somali textile industry was mainly a women's business. Amongst the nomads
, carving, especially woodwork
, was widespread and could be found on the most basic objects such as spoons, combs and bowls, but it also included more complex structures such as the portable nomadic tent, the aqal
During its tenure, the Empire left an extensive architectural legacy
, being one of the major medieval Somali powers engaged in castle and fortress
building. Many of the ruined fortifications dotting the landscapes of southern Somalia today are attributed to the Ajuran Empire's engineers.
These structures include a number of pillar tomb fields, necropolises
, castles, fortresses and ruined cities built in that era.
In the Marca area, various pillar tombs exist, which local tradition holds were built in the 16th century, when the Ajuran Empire's naa'ibs
governed the district.
families would call the Ajuran realm their home.
The late 15th and 17th centuries saw the arrival of Muslim families from Arabia
to the Ajuran realm of territories, the majority of whom settled in the coastal provinces. Some migrated because of the instability in their respective regions,
as was the case with the Hadhrami
families from the Yemen
and the Muslims from Spain fleeing the Inquisition
Others came to conduct business or for religious purposes. Due to their strong tradition in religious learning, the new Muslim communities also enjoyed high status among the Somali ruling elite and commoners.
One of the oldest harbours documented in Southern Africa
, medieval Sofala was erected on the edge of a wide estuary formed by the Buzi River
(called Rio de Sofala
in older maps). By the Somali
merchants from Mogadishu established a colony in Mozambique
to extract gold from the mines in Sofala.
The Somalis strengthened their trading capacity by having, among other things, rivergoing dhows
ply the Buzi and Save
rivers to ferry the gold extracted in the hinterlands to the coast.
The first king of the Maldivian Hilaalee dynasty
was proclaimed king in the year 1388 AD. Hilaalee dynasty
was a Somali
Dynasty. Some historical writing and some folklores reveal that this Dynasty is from Somali
descent. It seems they were travellers and traders of Ajuran Empire
where they established a colony in Maldive
islands. They settled in Hlhule' in Male' atoll. Some historical documents reveal that Hilali Kalo Hassan dethroned King Uthman Rasgefaan, who reveal the ruling King at that time and outcast him and all his ministers. After his Hilai Kalo Hassan started the Hilai Dynasty. The Hilaalee dynasty
was a sub-dynasty of Garen Dynasty
The presence and high position of Abd al-Aziz in this region highlights the close connections between medieval Maldives
and the Somali seamen from Mogadishu
sailing the Indian Ocean
. They supplied Maldivian traders with exotic animals and musk
, and contributed to the ethnogenesis
of the Maldivian population.
In 1346, Abd al-Aziz welcomed Ibn Battuta
at his court and entertained him before giving him a barque to continue his journey.
The tomb of Sheikh Hussein
The most famous Somali scholar of Islam from the Ajuraan period is Sheikh Hussein
, who was born in Merca
, one of the power jurisdiction and cultural centers of the Ajuran Empire.
He is credited with converting the Sidamo
people living in the area of what is now the Bale Province, Ethiopia
. He is also credited with establishing the Sultanate of Bale
. Despite the Bale Sultanate not being directly under Ajuran rule, the two kingdoms were deeply connected and Bale was heavily influenced by Ajuran.
His tomb lies in the town of Sheikh Hussein
in what is the most sacred place in the country for Ethiopian Muslims mostly Oromo
Almnara Somalia defensive tower
The Ajuran State had a standing army with which the Garen imams and the governors ruled and protected their subjects. The bulk of the army consisted of mamluke
who did not have any loyalties to the traditional Somali clan system, thereby making them more reliable. The soldiers were recruited from the inter-riverine area; other recruits came from the surrounding nomadic region. Arab
mercenaries were at times employed as well.
In the early Ajuran period, the army's weapons consisted of traditional Somali weapons such as swords
, battle axe
, and bows
. The Empire received assistance from its close ally the Ottoman Empire
, and with the import of firearms
through the Muzzaffar port of Mogadishu
, the army began acquiring muskets
. The Ottomans would also remain a key ally during the Ajuran-Portuguese wars
. Horses used for military purposes were also raised in the interior, and numerous stone fortifications were erected to provide shelter for the army in the coastal districts.
In each province, the soldiers were under the supervision of a military commander known as an emir
and the coastal areas and the Indian ocean
trade were protected by a navy
The Ottomans regularly aided the Ajurans in their struggles with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean
The European Age of discovery
brought Europe's then superpower
the Portuguese empire
to the coast of East Africa, which at the time enjoyed a flourishing trade with foreign nations. The wealthy southeastern city-states of Kilwa
were all systematically sacked and plundered by the Portuguese. Tristão da Cunha
then set his eyes on Ajuran territory, where the battle of Barawa
was fought. After a long period of engagement, the Portuguese soldiers burned the city and looted it. However, fierce resistance by the local population and soldiers resulted in the failure of the Portuguese to permanently occupy the city, and the inhabitants who had fled to the interior would eventually return and rebuild the city. After Barawa, Tristão would set sail for Mogadishu
, which was the richest city on the East African coast. But word had spread of what had happened in Barawa, and a large troop mobilization had taken place. Many horsemen, soldiers and battleships in defense positions were now guarding the city. Nevertheless, Tristão still opted to storm and attempt to conquer the city, although every officer and soldier in his army opposed this, fearing certain defeat if they were to engage their opponents in battle. Tristão heeded their advice and sailed for Socotra
After the battle the city of Barawa quickly recovered from the attack.
Over the next several decades Somali-Portuguese
tensions would remain high and the increased contact between Somali sailors
and Ottoman corsairs
worried the Portuguese who sent a punitive expedition against Mogadishu under João de Sepúlveda, which was unsuccessful.
Ottoman-Somali cooperation against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean
reached a high point in the 1580s when Ajuran clients of the Somali coastal cities began to sympathize with the Arabs
under Portuguese rule and sent an envoy to the Turkish corsair Mir Ali Bey for a joint expedition against the Portuguese. He agreed and was joined by a Somali fleet
, which began attacking Portuguese colonies in Southeast Africa
The Somali-Ottoman offensive managed to drive out the Portuguese from several important cities such as Pate
. However, the Portuguese governor sent envoys to Portuguese India
requesting a large Portuguese fleet. This request was answered and it reversed the previous offensive of the Muslims into one of defense. The Portuguese armada managed to re-take most of the lost cities and began punishing their leaders, but they refrained from attacking Mogadishu, securing the city's autonomy in the Indian Ocean.
The Ottoman Empire would remain an economic partner of the Somalis.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries successive Somali Sultans defied the Portuguese economic monopoly in the Indian Ocean
by employing a new coinage which followed the Ottoman pattern, thus proclaiming an attitude of economic independence in regard to the Portuguese.
In the mid-17th century, the Oromo
Nation began expanding from its homeland around Lake Abaya
in southern Ethiopia
towards the southern Somali coast at the time when the Ajuran was at the height of its power.
The Garen rulers conducted several military expeditions known as the Gaal Madow
wars against the Oromo warriors, converting those that were captured to Islam
. The Ajuran military supremacy forced the Oromo conquerors to reverse their migrations towards the Christian Solomonids
and the MuslimAdalites
, devastating the two warring empires in the process.
Decline and successor states
The Ajuran Empire slowly declined in power at the end of the 17th century, which paved the way for the ascendance of new Somali powers. The most prominent setbacks against the state were the dethronement of the Muzaffar clients
and other coastal cities by the Hawiye
and the defeat of the Silis Kingdom
by a former Ajuran general, Ibrahim Adeer
, in the interior of the state who then established the Gobroon dynasty
Taxation and the practice of primae noctis were the main catalysts for the revolts against Ajuran rulers. The loss of port cities and fertile farms meant that much needed sources of revenue were lost to the rebels.
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