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The Ajuuraan State
14th century CE–17th century CE


Capital Mareeg (initially) then Qaallafo, other administrative centers at Merka and Hobyo
Language(s) Somali, Arabic, Persian, Oromo and Swahili
Government Theocracy
 - Established 14th century CE
 - Disestablished 17th century CE
Currency Mogadishan

The Ajuuraan State was a Somali Muslim empire that ruled over large parts of East Africa in the Middle Ages. Through a strong centralized administration and an aggressive military stance towards invaders, the Ajuuraan empire successfully resisted an Oromo invasion from the west and a Portuguese incursion from the east during the Gaal Madow and the Ajuuraan-Portuguese wars. Somali trading routes dating from the ancient and early medieval periods of history were strengthened or re-established, and foreign trade and commerce in the coastal provinces flourished. The Ajuuraans practiced hydraulic engineering and developed new systems for agriculture and taxation, which continued to be used in parts of the Horn of Africa as late as the 19th century. The tyrannical rule of the later Ajuuraan rulers caused multiple rebellions to break out in the empire, and at the end of the 17th century, the Ajuuraan state disintegrated into several successor kingdoms.


House of Gareen

The House of Gareen
Known members
  • Ajuran Gareen
  • Arliqo Gareen
  • Sarjelle Gareen
  • Fadumo Gareen
  • Umur Gareen

The House of Gareen was the ruling house and family of the Ajuuraan state whose origin lies in the Gareen Kingdom that ruled the Ogaden in the 13th century. With the back migration of Somalis from the Northern Somali peninsula to the Southern Somali peninsula, this wave brought new cultural and religious orders 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 Gareen Kingdom), the Gareen rulers claimed supremacy and religious legitimacy over other groups in the Horn of Africa. Balad's ancestors are said to have come from the northwestern Somali city of Berbera.


Medieval Mogadishu was one of the most important client states in the Ajuuraan realm.

Instead of using the traditional Somali titles for rulers like Boqor or Sultan, the Gareen rulers held the title Imam, which in the Ajuuraan state became the highest authority having multiple Sultans, Emirs and Kings as clients or vassals.

  1. Imam, Supreme leader/Emperor of the State.
  2. Emir, commander of the armed forces and navy.
  3. Na'ibs, Governors.
  4. Wazirs, tax and revenue collectors.
  5. Qadis, Chief Judges.
  6. Islam, State religion.
  7. Sharia, State law.

Nomadic citizens and farming communities

Farms of Afgoye.

Through their control of the region's wells, the Gareen rulers effectively held a monopoly over their nomadic subjects. Large wells made out of limestone were constructed throughout the state, which attracted Somali and Borana 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 East Africa, continued unchanged in Ajuuraan times. Today, numerous ruined and abandoned towns throughout the interior of Somalia and East Africa are evidence of a once-booming inland trade network dating from the medieval period.[1]

With the centralized supervision of the Ajuuraan state, farms in the Jubba valley, the Shabelle valley and Afgooye increased their productivity. A system of irrigation ditches known as Kelliyo fed directly from the Shabelle and Jubba rivers into the plantations where sorghum, maize, beans, grain and cotton were grown during the gu and xagaa 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, taraab and guldeed 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 Gareen rulers by the coastal Sultans of the State.

A political device that was implemented by the Gareen rulers in their realm was 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 sultanates and republics of Merca, Mogadishu, Barawa, Hobyo 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, India, Venetia,[2] Persia, Egypt, Portugal, and as far away as China.

Fra Mauro's 15th century map detailing several flourishing Somali cities such as Mogadishu and Barawa.

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.[3] In the 1500s, 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, wax and ivory. Barbaso also highlighted the abundance of meat, wheat, barley, horses, and fruit on the coastal markets, which generated enormous wealth for the merchants.[4] Mogadishu, the center of a thriving weaving industry known as toob benadir (specialized for the markets in Egypt and Syria),[5]) together with Merca and Barawa also served as transit stops for Swahili merchants from Mombasa and Malindi and for the gold trade from Kilwa.[6] Jewish merchants from the Hormuz also brought their Indian textile and fruit to the Somali coast in exchange for grain and wood.[7] Trading relations were established with Malacca in the 15th century,[8] with cloth, ambergris and porcelain being the main commodities of the trade.[9] In addition, giraffes, zebras and incense were exported to the Ming Empire of China, making Somali merchants leaders in the commerce between the Asian and African continents[10] and influencing the Chinese language with the Somali language in the process. Hindu merchants from Surat and 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.[11]


With several centers of global trade in its domain situated at the busiest trade routes of the medieval world the Ajuuraan state and it's clients were active participants of the East African gold trade and the Silk road commerce.

Trading coins from several Asian kingdoms and empires have been found in Somalia, while Mogadishan coins have been found as far away as the Middle East. The merchants of the Ajuuraan State did brisk business with traders from the following states:

Trading countries in Asia Import Export
1 Ming Empire celadon wares, currency horses, exotic animals, ivory
2 Mughal Empire cloth, spices gold, wax, wood
3 Malacca Kingdom ambergris and porcelain cloth, gold
4 Maldive Islands cowries musk, sheep
5 Kingdom of Jaffna cinnamon, currency cloth
Trading countries in the Near East Import Export
6 Ottoman Empire muskets, cannons textile
7 Safavid Persian Empire textile, fruit grain, wood
Trading countries in Europe Import Export
8 Portuguese Empire - -
9 Venetian Empire - -
10 Dutch Empire - -
Trading countries in Africa Import Export
11 Mamluke Egyptian Empire - -
12 Adal Empire - -
13 Swahili World - -
14 Monomopata gold spices, cloth
15 Gonderine Empire gold, cattle cloth
16 Merina Kingdom - -

Muslim migration

Medieval city of Merka.

The late 15th and 17th centuries saw the arrival of Muslim families from Arabia, Persia, the Mughal empire, and Spain to the Ajuuraan state, the majority of whom settled in the coastal provinces. Some migrated because of the instability in their respective regions,[12] as was the case with the Yemeni families from the Hadramaut and the Muslims from Spain fleeing the Inquisition.[13] 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,[14] and were frequently employed as religious advisers or received administrative positions.


Almnara Somalia defensive tower.
Model of a medieval Mogadishan ship.

The Ajuuraan state had a standing army with which the Gareen imams and the governors ruled and protected their subjects. The bulk of the army consisted of mamluke soldiers[15] 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, Persian and Turkish mercenaries were at times employed as well.[16][17]

In the early Ajuuraan period, the army's weapons consisted of traditional Somali weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, and bows. With the import of firearms from the Ottoman Empire through the Muzzaffar port of Mogadishu, the army began acquiring muskets and cannons. 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.[18] In each province, the soldiers were under the supervision of a military commander known as an emir,[15] and the coastal areas and the Indian ocean trade were protected by a navy.[19]

Ajuuraan-Portuguese wars

During the terrible Battle of Barawa, Tristão da Cunha was wounded and requested to be knighted by Albuquerque.[20]

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, Mombasa, Malindi, Pate and Lamu were all systematically sacked and plundered by the Portuguese. Tristao da Cunha then set his eyes on Ajuuraan 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 Portuguese's failure to permanently occupy the city, and the inhabitants who had fled to the interior would eventually return and rebuild the city. After Barawa, Tristao 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, Tristao 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. Tristao heeded their advice and sailed for Socotra instead.[21]

In 1660, the Portuguese in Mombasa surrendered to a joint Somali-Omani force.[22]

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 send a punitive expedition against Mogadishu under Joao de Sepulveda, which was unsuccessful.[23] Ottoman-Somali cooperation against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean reached a high point in the 1580s when Ajuuraan clients of the Somali coastal cities began to symphatize with the Arabs and Swahilis 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[24]

The Somali-Ottoman offensive managed to drive out the Portuguese from several important cities such as Pate, Mombasa and Kilwa. However, the Portuguese governor sent envoys to 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.[25]

Oromo invasion

In the mid 1600's, the Oromo Nation began expanding from its homeland around Lake Abaya in southern Ethiopia towards the southern Somali coast at the time when the Ajuuraan State was at the height of its power.[26][27] The Gareen rulers conducted several military expeditions known as the Gaal Madow wars against the Oromo warriors, Islamizing those that were captured. The Ajuuraan empire's military supremacy forced the Oromo conquerors to reverse their migrations towards the Christian Solomonids and the Muslim Adalites, devastating the two warring empires in the process.

Decline and successor states

The Ajuuraan State 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 Muzzaffar clients in Mogadishu and other coastal cities by the Hiraab King, and the defeat of the Silcis Kingdom by a former Ajuuraan general Ibrahim Adeer in the interior of the state who established the Gobroon Dynasty. Taxation and the practice of primae noctis were the main catalysts for the revolts against Ajuuraan rulers. The loss of port cities and fertile farms meant that much needed sources of revenue were lost to the rebels.

See also


History of Somalia
Laas Geel Culture
Kingdom of Punt
Malaoites  · Oponeans
Kingdom of Ifat
Adal Sultanate
Ajuuraan Empire
Gobroon Dynasty
Gerad Dynasty
Sultanate of Hobyo
Dervish State
Italian Somaliland
British Somaliland
Aden Adde Administration
Shermarke Administration
Communist rule
Recent History
Somali maritime history
  1. ^ Lee Cassanelli pg.149
  2. ^ Journal of African History pg.50 by John Donnelly Fage and Roland Anthony Oliver
  3. ^ Da Gama's First Voyage pg.88
  4. ^ East Africa and its Invaders pg.38
  5. ^ Gujarat and the Trade of East Africa pg.35
  6. ^ The return of Cosmopolitan Capital:Globalization, the State and War pg.22
  7. ^ The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century By R. J. Barendse
  8. ^ Gujarat and the Trade of East Africa pg.30
  9. ^ Chinese Porcelain Marks from Coastal Sites in Kenya: aspects of trade in the Indian Ocean, XIV-XIX centuries. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1978 pg 2
  10. ^ East Africa and its Invaders pg.37
  11. ^ Gujarat and the Trade of East Africa pg.45
  12. ^ Somali Sultanate pg18
  13. ^ The origins and development of Mogadishu pg. 34 by Ahmed Dueleh Jama
  14. ^ Somali Sultanate -Virginia Luling pg18
  15. ^ a b Lee Cassanelli pg.90
  16. ^ Lee Cassanelli pg.104
  17. ^ Portuguese Rule and Spanish crown in S.A pg.29
  18. ^ Lee Cassanelli pg.92
  19. ^ Portuguese Rule and Spanish crown in S.A pg.25
  20. ^ Maritime Discovery: A History of Nautical Exploration from the Earliest Times‎ pg 198
  21. ^ The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel pg.287
  22. ^ Tanzania notes and records: the journal of the Tanzania Society‎ pg 76
  23. ^ The Portuguese period in East Africa‎ - Page 112
  24. ^ Portuguese rule and Spanish crown in South Africa, 1581-1640‎ - Page 25
  25. ^ Four centuries of Swahili verse: a literary history and anthology‎ - Page 11
  26. ^ Lee Cassanelli pg.114
  27. ^ Cerulli, Somalia 1: 65-67


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