The privileged position of this region as a crossroads between Africa, Middle East, the Nile River and the Indian Ocean has favoured the exchange of ideas, beliefs, goods and commodities, and has pushed the development of complex political structures
Somalilandsun: The study of state-building, statehood and state collapse has a long tradition in the Horn of Africa, a region that holds some of the oldest examples
of states in the African continent and whose archaeological remains have long since attracted the interest of archaeologists and historians alike.
The privileged position of this region as a crossroads between Africa, Middle East, the Nile River and the Indian Ocean has favoured the exchange of ideas, beliefs, goods and commodities, and has pushed the development of complex political structures of which the Axumite kingdom (Phillipson 2012) is the better studied. Less attention has been paid
to later state experiences, especially from the archaeological point of view.
Although the medieval history of the Horn of Africa is well known due to the remarkable number of written accounts from Ethiopian, Muslim and European origin, the materiality of the numerous polities which played a role between the 10th and the 16th centuries is still
very poorly known.
This lack of information is especially significant considering that the Middle Ages were one the key historical periods in the region. Between the 13th and the 16th, the Horn of Africa witnessed the emergence and consolidation of a number of Muslim kingdoms to the south of the Ethiopian highlands, an increasing conflict between these polities and the Ethiopian Christian kingdom, the arrival of the Portuguese, the invasion of the Oromo groups from
the south and the collapse of the Sultanate of Adal. All these events were fundamental to reconfigure the whole ethnical, religious, political and social map of the Horn of Africa, and had an impact which is still present on many of the political issues that affect the region.
This lack of interest is especially noted in the southern and eastern regions of the Horn of Africa, a wide territory now occupied by Somalia, Djibuti and the south-eastern region of Ethiopia, where the medieval Muslim kingdoms were situated. The region has been significantly understudied due to a combination of reasons –political instability and fragmentation, lack of academic interest or research traditions and complex logistics, among others. Only recently (Fauvelle-Aymar et al. 2011, Insoll 2003, 2017;
González-Ruibal and Torres 2018, Torres et al. 2018) a number of projects have
started to unravel the materiality of the Muslim states in the Horn of Africa,
although proper archaeological synthesis are sorely needed before an adequate
interpretative framework can be established for this period.
This article, Built on diversity: Statehood in Medieval Somaliland (12th-16th centuries AD), by Jorge de Torres Rodriguez presents an overview of the current situation of the medieval
Islamic archaeology of the Horn of Africa, summarizing the available information in the areas where research has been conducted but leaving aside southern Somalia, which historically has been more related to East Africa and the Swahili world.
The paper then focuses on a theme considered key for the historical reconstruction of the period: the presence of very diverse ethnic groups, religions and lifestyles within the Muslim sultanates and their relation with the state superstructures. It will choose the example of nomads and urban dwellers in Somaliland, two groups with very distinctive and radically opposed material cultures, to understand how the Islamic sultanates were able to generate a cohesive superstructure that provided a remarkable stability for the region for
more than three centuries.
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