The Ajuran Empire

I love reading about ancient African history. With each topic, subject, or civilization I am wowed by some piece of information I find. I must push down the frustration that grows with the lack of Western education on these events, these people that we could learn so much from. Instead, I read and I write. My goal is to always share; share what I have read and learned and then articulate this information to whomever will listen.

Let’s get to it. The Ajuran Sultanate, an empire located in Somalia ruled over large parts of the Horn of Africa between the 13th and late 17th centuries. This empire belonged to the Somali Muslim Sultanate in which a number of empires belonged and ruled during the Middle Ages. During this time, the region was not ruled by any one centralized government. However, all of the sultanates were linked to the central role that Islam played since the 7th century in this area.

The Ajuran Empire had a strong centralized administration and a formidable military which took an aggressive stance toward invaders. Over the years, the Ajuran successfully resisted a series of Oromo invasions as well as Portuguese incursions. Their strength helped establish and solidify foreign trade and commerce eventually leading the Ajuran to become trading partners with empires in East Asia, Europe, the Near East, North Africa, and East Africa.

Ajuran Empire

Being a major power, the Ajuran Sultanate left an extensive architectural legacy. They engaged in castle and fortress building and their ruins still dot the landscape of southern Somalia today. The Ajuran Sultanate, as well as others, saw the establishment of several dozen stone cities in the interior of Somalia as well as the coastal regions. Explorers passing through these stone cities described them as “endless in size” and Vasco Da Gama who passed through Mogadishu in the 15th century noted it was a large city with houses of four or five stories high and big palaces in its center. Throughout the medieval era, castles and fortresses known as Qalcads were built by Somali Sultans for protection against both foreign and domestic threats. The Ajuran Empire was a major power in castle building. In fact, hundreds of ruined fortifications dotting the landscapes of Somalia today are attributed to Ajuran engineers.

One of the most fascinating facts about the Ajuran Empire was that they were considered the only hydraulic empire on the African continent apart from Ancient Egypt and the Kingdom of Kush. Some think that hydraulic empire implies that a civilization was built on the water or was on some sort of large body of water. This isn’t necessarily the case. In terms of the Ajuran Empire their government functioned to monopolize the water resources of the Shebelle and Jubba Rivers. Through hydraulic engineering, the empire also constructed many of the limestone wells and cisterns of the state that are still operative and in use today. It is unclear to me if this particular system of government was used by the Ajuran government to control their population or if this style was used or bring organization to irrigation and energy sources.

There is so much more to the Ajuran Empire and the Somali Muslim Sultanate and this is just a piece of this this fascinating empire. The architectural style as well as the engineering notes left behind give a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this Middle Age empire.

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