East African and Persian Economies

Overview of Swahili City States

  • Settled by the Bantu (ethnic group that speaks the Bantu language) and their migrations towards South and East Africa from West Africa.
  • The Swahili dominated the east African coast from Mogadishu (north) to Kilwa, Comoro (Island)
  • Group of city states, weren't empires or kingdoms (there were a few exceptions)
  • Swahili society had similar patterns of development
  • Trade dramatically increased the wealth of East Africa
  • Leaders could increase power through controlling trade.
  • Prestigious city states: Mombasa, Kilwa, Mogadishu, Great Zimbabwe, and Maputo.
  • Decline: Brought upon by the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 1400's.
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  • Multicultural society
  • Had Chinese, Arab, Bantu, Persian, and Indian influences/history
  • Center of Indian Ocean Trade- Traded with Persia, China, Arab traders.
  • One of the main ports in the Indian ocean trading system
  • Well developed port
  • First mention of Mombasa: Mentioned by Diogenese of Sinope, Greek historian, in 100 CE.
  • Traded copper, brass, ivory, ebony, tortoise shells, glass, beads, animal horns, and skins.
  • Received textiles, spices, ceramics, and other exotic goods from the far East.
  • Key Imports: Ivory, millet, coconut
  • Important trade center for ivory, spices, and gold

Kilwa (Kisiwani)

  • Small island located 3 miles off the coast of modern-day Tanzania
  • Important trade center in the Indian Ocean from 1100's-1400's
  • Called Kilwa Kisiwani to distinguish from Kilwa (another Swahili city state)
  • Suffered from erosion due to the Monsoon Winds- damaged archaeological record
  • Believed to be first inhibited around 800 CE
  • Sold to a Muslim trader (900's-1000's)- Became a center of Shirazi Islam
  • Caused East African and Islamic cultures and traditions to mingle
  • Emerged to be an independent state ruled by an Arab sultan
  • Goods from interior of Africa ----> Kilwa -----> Europe, Near East India, China included gold, copper, coconuts, ivory, and rhino horn.
  • Finished products from distant markets -----> Kilwa ------> African Interior included jewelry, porcelain, and cloth.
  • Kilwa Kisiwani grew rich because of the trade- caused Sultan to have luxurious life in a palace (Present day Husuni Kubwa Palace).
  • Declined with the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 1400's.
  • Conquered by the Portuguese in 1505.


  • Located on the Sofala bank of Mozambique
  • Founded by Somali merchants from Mogadishu
  • Used rivers around the city state to help ease trade
  • Traded cloth for gold and ivory

- Gave gold and ivory

- Got cloth

Great Zimbabwe

  • Not as coastal as other city states
  • This enabled them to have different items that they could still trade out, but were different, causing more demand
  • Trade of Great Zimbabwe was affected greatly by the monsoon winds- sometimes products would go wasted because the right opportunity to trade would never be reached
  • Had a king
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  • Located in the northern region of the Swahili city states
  • Trade was concentrated in Mogadishu, along with a few other city states
  • Located in present day Somalia
  • Cloth and textiles
  • Location (close to water) helps in trade
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  • Was a prosperous seaport city
  • Very involved in trade
  • Located on the west coast of the Red Sea, in Egypt
  • Founded by Ptolemy II
  • Was in control of the Romans at one point


Factors affecting East African trade:

  • Monsoon Winds
  • Religious Beliefs
  • Trade routes
  • Landforms and Bodies of Water

Places that traded with East Africa (mainly Swahili City states)

  • Persia
  • China
  • India
  • Parts of Europe
  • Western Africa (Interior of Africa)

Ivory Trade

  • Ivory: noun: a hard creamy-white substance composing the main part of the tusks of an elephant, walrus, or narwhal, often (especially formerly) used to make ornaments and other articles.
  • East African Ivory was very soft
  • Used to make sword hilts and chess pieces
  • Gathered from elephants
  • Asian elephants were endangered, so elephants were mostly found in Africa
  • Swahili city states provided ivory, along with some agricultural products
  • Ivory manufacturing: Direct pathway from Red Sea to India
  • Ivory banned in India by government, because of the Indian God, Ganesh, who has an elephant head.

Monsoon Winds

  • Trade to East African ports affected and promoted by Monsoon Winds
  • Blew from Indian Ocean to East Africa from October to April- benefited Arabia, Persia, India, and China
  • Blew from Africa to Indian Ocean from June to September- East African city states had better access to the Indian Ocean
  • Would gather goods from Indian Ocean to trade in Africa and would get back when the monsoon switched
  • Great Zimbabwe: Trades heavily depended (would be delayed or dismissed) on the strength of the winds. This hurt their economy because due to the weather, some products would go to waste because they couldn't be traded.
  • Straits of Hormuz: Links the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Sea. This area was an area of trade in the past, especially between East African city states and the Persian Empire.

Persian Empire

  • Grew Grains (barley and wheat)
  • Peas, lentils, mustard, garlic, onions cucumbers, dates, apples, pomegranates, pears, apricots

  • Farmers usually grew more than they needed; the extra food was used for distribution, selling, or trade.

  • Overall had agricultural surpluses

  • Trade helped economy

  • India: Gold, ivory, substances or plants that smelled (aromatics)

  • Iran and central asia: stones

  • Mesopotamia and Iran: finished products

  • Anatolia: gold, silver, iron, copper, tin

  • Phoenicia: glass, cedar, timber, woolen fabrics

  • Arabia: spices

  • Egypt: grain, textiles, writing materials, ivory

  • Trade reached high point under Alexander the Great’s rule

  • Darius standardized coinage system

  • Helped standardize economy-one currency makes transactions easier

  • Darius built more roads-connected empire, made more trade routes for economy

  • Darius started exchanging goods for coinage

Persian Rugs

  • Believed Persian Rugs were first created in the Archaemenid Empire, under Cyrus' rule.
  • Symbol of high prestige
  • Symbol of culture
  • Commodity with high trading value
  • Kept people warm in the cold

Connections to Present Day East Africa

(Some) Present Day Exports of East African Countries

  • Gold
  • Coal
  • Uranium
  • Diamonds
  • Platanium
  • Tobacco
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Coconuts
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Oil

  • Still export coconut
  • Still export gold
  • Has metal trade (copper, brass...)
  • Mombasa is one, if not, the busiest trading port
  • Monsoon winds still affect trade


  • Ivory trade is nonexistent legally today
  • Monsoon winds do not heavily impact the trading system as it did before
  • Ways to work with monsoon winds have been created