The Somali civilization

Far from the contrasting image it reflects today, Somalia experienced a golden age, through the civilization of the people who named it. We are going to tell you about that glorious page of history…



The Somali people all together with the Oromos, the Afars, the Sidamos and the Bejas embody the great Cushitic people. Kush is the ancient name of Sudan and is even documented in the writings of Pharaoh Akhenaten. It appears that the Somalis are from a branch of the first Sudanese. Before their Islamization, they used to practice the African Spirituality and the Somali language is an African language. The thin traits and smooth hair of the Somalis constitute a variant of the black race, without mixing. The Somalis have been probably in Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia since the most ancient times.

Somali couple The people of the horn of Africa have naturally straight hairs
The Somalis

The emergence of the Somali civilization

The appearance of this civilization like all those of the East African Coast is attributed to Arab and Persian settlers who arrived around the 9th century. And it would be through commercial activity with the East and Asia that the Somali people would have reached their imperial dimension. However, extensive research has put this official version at risk. The oldest city on the East Coast seems to be a city named Rhapta, documented by the Greeks 2000 years ago. In 2016, researcher Diver Alan Sutton discovered off Tanzania the ruins of a large sophisticated city that could be Rhapta.

Moreover, the study of the architecture of the Swahili civilization in Tanzania-Kenya revealed that it was neither Arab nor Persian but African. Roman coins were discovered in Somalia and Tanzania, which help us conclude that the Africans from the East Coast traded internationally before the Arab contact. Finally, the populations and kings that the explorers saw in the region were very black, even blacker than the populations of today. All this shows that the civilizations of the East Coast were present before the Arab and Persian contact. Although Islamization was to permeate deeply the Somali civilization, the Somali civilization is most likely African in its foundations.

Ruines d'une ville ancienne large de 4 Km au large de la Tanzanie, et découvertes en 2016 A noter les immenses blocs de corail taillé Rhapta?
Ruins of an ancient city wide of 4 km in Tanzania, and discovered in 2016. Note the immense blocks of carved coral. Rhapta ?

Researcher RP Matthews thus says “all those cities on the east coast were essentially African … It is increasingly clear that they cannot be considered as Arab or Persian colonies … according to the descriptions given by the geographers of the Middle Age, those inhabitants were doubtless blacks and they even had a more negroid type than that of the present population …”[1].

The organization of the Somali Sultanates

The Somali cities were divided into Sultanates in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Among them are Adal, Ifat, Ajuran, Wargansali, Mogadishu.

The Sultan of Mogadishu had ministers, legal experts, commanders, and many other officials. There were some eunuchs at the court. The Arab traveler Ibn Battuta described the presence of men carrying umbrellas with a golden bird above in the royal procession. He noted that the practice was identical to that of West Africa (Mali Empire). The great bird (Horus) associated to the sovereign, which was also found in Egypt, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and among the Yorubas, shows that the Somali power was basically African.

Ibn Battuta still described in the 14th century, the elites dressed in silky outfits and the Sultan wearing a large furred cloak imported from Jerusalem with Egyptian linen embroidered on the edges, a silk loincloth and a turban.

L'ancien port de Mogadiscio
The ancient port of Mogadishu

Commercial activity was one of the pillars of the Somali economy. Mogadishu was inhabited by many wealthy merchants. Somali exports included high quality fabrics, gold and ivory. The port activity was highly developed. The entire East African coast – from Somalia to Mozambique – enjoyed exceptional economic prosperity, accentuated by the mining activities of Zimbabwe.

The Somali sultanates used to issues their currency and the coins were bearing the names of the successive sovereigns. The presence of those coins is attested in the United Arab Emirates. Coins from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and China have been found in Somalia. There were Somali ambassadors in China in the 15th century and vice versa. On the markets there was an abundance of camel meat, wheat, barley, spices, fruits, etc. The Somali fed so well that they were obese.

Somali cities and their architecture

In the 15th century, a Chinese man who came to visit Mogadishu reported the presence of tall stone houses of 4 to 5 storeys [2]. But it was the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, who had visited much of Africa in the 14th century, who left us the most valuable description of the Somali cities.

Ibn Battuta who had visited Asia and the Arab-Muslim world first abhorred Zeila, which was facing urbanization issues and said – although it’s a big city – it is ” the dirtiest, the most unpleasant …” city of the world “[3]. Then from Mogadishu, he says that it is a city of an “excessively wide” size. This qualifier used by an Arab of that time is comparable to that of an American’s today who would use the same words. Mogadishu was gigantic.

Vasco de Gama said of Mogadishu in the 15th century that it was a large city with imposing palaces and mosques with large cylindrical minarets in its center, as well as 5 floor-high-houses [4]

Vue aérienne de Taleh
Aerial view of Taleh
Remarquez le travail fait sur cette porte
Pay attention to the artwork done on this entrance

The decline of the Somali civilization

The Somali civilization declined due to the assaults of the European slave trade. In the 17th century, the great Somali cities were nothing more than the shadow of themselves, before falling under Arab domination. This page of history has been told here.


By: Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)


  • Janakesho
  • Histoire générale de l’Afrique, Unesco, volume 4, chapter 17
  • Culture and Customs of Somalia, Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi
  • Wikipedia
  • International Business Time
  • [1] Afrique noire, démographie, sol et histoire (Black Africa, demography, soil and history) , Louise Marie Diop-Maes, page 100.
  • [2] Idem, page 99
  • [3] Government of Somalia
  • [4] The history of Somalia, Raphael Chijoke Njoku
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