History 1113

Sub-Saharan AFRICA, 900-1400:
Yuan China, Africa, and Europe in the 14th-Century Global System

Islam and the East: the Early History and Its Revival. As in India, the first contacts between the Chinese and Islam were chiefly through trade.  Muslim merchants began venturing to China in 1.5 year voyages in the 8th century C.E., which was the heyday of the Tang dynasty and in the era of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.  The contacts were intensive enough and Tang society open enough that a Arabo-Persian enclave emerged in the Chinese port of Guanzhong (Canton).  These voyages ended in the 10th century C.E. at which point the Abbasid dynasty was less than vibrant and Chinese society was in transition from the Tang to the Song dynasty.  These early travelers, though, succeeded in spreading not only trading networks but also Islam to Southeast and East Asia.

After this decline in the Muslim presence in the East, Muslim trading networks developed under the auspices of the during the 11th and 12th centuries.  Muslim merchants soon controlled Eurasian market access to Africa, Persia, and India and this then allowed Muslim influence to spread eastwards, coopting Malay, Chinese, and Indian traders.  The Chinese dynasties of the era (the Song and the Southern Song, 960-1279 C.E.)  despite their anti-foreigner bias in the case of nomadic peoples encouraged Muslim merchants to establish trading enclaves in the cities of southern China.  Song emperors regulated Chinese merchants, by contrast, very heavily, so Muslim merchants could operate more cheaply even though the Chinese junks were more efficient and seaworthy.  Many Chinese merchants converted to Islam to tap into the Dar al-Islam's credit network.

Like the Sultanate of Delhi, the Khanate of the Great Khan, especially under Qubilai Khan (r. 1265-1294), hired a lot of foreigners.  Mongols did not trust the Chinese scholar-gentry and preferred foreigners including Muslims and Europeans such as the Polo family who served as tax collectors, finance officers, craftsmen, and architects.  After Qubilai Khan's death the scholar-gentry were back in favor.  Subsequent Mongol rulers became more Chinese in their outlook and this meant that Muslims could not continue their integration into Chinese society.  Nevertheless Muslims were able to spread throughout China and into Korea, living in their own enclaves replete with mosques, hospitals, markets, religious colleges, and religious judges.  Muslims even receive credit from the Yuan governments.  Only after 1368 with the arrival of Chinese and strongly anti-foreigner dynasty under the Ming did Muslims find themselves truly excluded from Chinese society.

In Southeast Asia the strategic point for commerce was the Strait of Malacca, which connected the South China Sea with the Bay of Bengal.  Vessels sailed east with the summer monsoon winds and usually had to stop near the Strait of Malacca until a northeasterly wind set in to carry them to China in April or May.  This meant that Muslim merchants were pursued by Hindu/Hindu-Buddhist Malay rulers and so Muslim merchant communities took root in these states.  Through these communities Islam came to influence elites and the rise of the Sultanate of Malacca (1403-1511 C.E.), a powerful Islamic state in this region, is proof of this.  The earliest of these states was Sumudra in the northeast of Sumatra, whose ruler converted to Islam in 1297 C.E. only a few years before Osman Bey unified the Ottoman Turks in Anatolia in 1299 C.E.

Africa and the Islamic World:

The Kingdom of Ghana, c. 11th-13th Centuries C.E. The kingdom of Ghana was located in the grasslands of the Niger River valley (do not confuse it with the modern-day nation-state of Ghana!).  Beginning in the 5th century C.E. local communities in this area became more and more integrated, perhaps because of the rich gold-producing area nearby.  Warlords in the region came to monopolize the gold trade in the region and on that basis formed a state.  Ghana itself, then, did not produce the gold in question, but Ghana's merchants brought it from a neighboring people and exported it to Morocco along with other commodities such as ivory and slaves.  The trade across the Sahara was carried out through Berber merchants and cameliers and Saharan nomads who supplied the gold needs of the Islamic empire and then its successors.  But wars with the Berbers ultimately destabilized Gahan in the 12th century. 

The Mali Empire, c. 13th-15th Centuries C.E. Mali was located in the same geographic zone as the kingdom of Ghana, but it was larger and its heartland was further south in a savanna region where agricultural productivity was better.  Like Ghana, the Mali empire's wealth was based on its control of the gold trade and its major city was Timbuktu.  The main ethnic group, the Malinke had their homeland in the upper Niger and Senegal rivers and was located near the major gold-producing areas of Bure and Bambuk.  The leaders of this group, the
mansas, chiefly came from the keita clan who took control of the region between the gold fields and the shore area of the Sahara Desert, the Sahel.  Their control of this area allowed them to exact tribute and build a powerful military based on armored cavalry.  Eventually, the Mali empire reached from the Atlantic coast to the great bend in the Niger river, making it bigge than Europe and giving the mansas control over trade along a 1200-mile route in the Western Sudan.  The trade goods included gold, kola nuts, salt, slaves, and ivory, which were exchanged for textiles, copper, books, spices, papers, swords, ironware, perfumes, jewelry, and dried fruits. 

The person who solidified the empire was Sunjaata or Sundiata (r. early 13th century).  The Malinke had come under the influence of Islam before his time and Sunjaata's family had as well, but he turned to traditional Malinke religion to unify support among his people for a war of liberation against the Soso.  If Sunjaata's loyalty to Islam is in doubt, that of his successors is not.  his son and successor Mansa Uli was a big supporter of Islam and his grandnephew Mansa Musa is known to have gone on the hajj in the 14th century and to have spent so much gold that he drove down its prive by 25%!

Despite the Islamicization of its political and mercantile elites, however, Mali remained non-Muslim in the countryside, with the cities being the place of residence for most Muslims.  Moreover, the non-Muslim population was crucial to Mali's tax-base, so Mali presents us with a segmented state as opposed to the more centralized states we have so far encountered. 

Swahili Society, c. 11th-15th Centuries C.E. This was another Bantu society like the others we have been reviewing, but it was one of city-states situated along the East African coast from Mogadishu to Kilwa and Sofala.  The name Swahili comes from an Arabic term meaning "coasters" as in coastal traders and the language Swahili is Bantu in origin, but has been shaped by borrowings from Arabic. 

The major city-states of the Swahili world were Mogadishu, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Kilwea, Mozambique, Sofala.  Each city-state was independent and ruled by its own king who regulated and taxed trade, the economic life's blood of these communities.  As in Ghana trading links with Muslim traders had originally brought Islam to the Swahili city-states.  One could therefore compare the Swahili city-states to the Indian cities of the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts.  The Swahili city-states essentially continued their existence well beyond the year 1400, but with the arrival of the Portuguese in the late-15th-century they were no longer able to operate as independently.

Zimbabwe, 12th-15th Centuries C.E. Zimbabwe, while dependent on the Swahili city-states for its contacts with the world beyond Africa, was not a Swahili city-state, but an inland empire on a plateau between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.  It exported gold to the Swahili traders from the gold deposits west of the kingdom.  The word zimbabwe means dwelling place of a chief; the kings of this country built their palaces of stone and the capital, Great Zimbabwe, had many stone buildings in it for the king, the wealthy merchants, and the city's trading sites while poorer folk lived in mud-brick houses with thatched rooves.  About 10,000 lived within its walls and another 8,000-10,000 outside the walls.  As with the Mali empire, there was a substantial number of people in Zimbabwe involved in agriculture, although their wealth was concentrated in the ownership of cattle.  The king also gained revenue from taxing the gold trade, but when overgrazing caused a decline in the kingdom's agricultural productivity in the 15th century, the gold trade alone was not enough to maintain the its vitality.
Islam and the World of Western Eurasia and Africa, 1300-1400: Ties between Muslims, Europeans, and Africans. The trading systems of East Africa and West Africa were basically a western extension of an Islamic Trading system that dominated the eastern hemisphere and stretched from Morocco to China.  In this world Europeans were certainly participants, witness the ships trading with Muslim ports such as Alexandrias and the Polo family in China during the reign of Qubilai Khan.  But Europeans played by rules set by others.  To take the trans-Saharan gold trade, Europeans paid very high prices in silver to obtain the West African gold that they needed.  Wester Afican dominance in this trade is clear when it is recognized the even into the 14th and 15th centuries about two-thirds of the world's gold may have come from this region. 

This, then, is why the Portuguese and the Spanish really had two reasons for beginning their expansion in the 14th and 15th centuries, which would lead to the voyages of Christopher Columbus and others, with trading and military activity focused on controlling the Mediterranean and on gaining more direct access to West Africa.  The wonder is not that the Europeans attacked northern Africa and attempted to establish trading ties with West Africa.  More difficult to explain is why the Islamic world, which had reunified much of Eurasia by the 13th and 14th centuries, collapsed or receded in influence in the early modern era.  There is no single explanation for why this happened, but it is possible point to several important causes that resulted in the isolation of different parts of the Islamic world meant that the Chinese and then the Europeans would be the next to try an organize cultural interactions on a global scale.  First, individual Islamic states, such as the Ottoman empire, became more powerful than and independent of the Dar al-Islam and increasingly pursued their own agendas, meaning that the integrative force of the Dar al-Islam was diminished.  China, a key state in the eastern end of the economic reach of the Dar al-Islam, became isolationist and anti-foreigner after 1368, which disrupted Muslim access to that region.  Epidemic disease in the form of the bubonic plague disrupted Eurasia in the middle of the 14th century.  African empires in West African states were perfectly happy to trade with Europeans as well as Muslims, so that took another region away from the Islamic world.  All of these factors represented challenges to the Islamic world holding its position in the early modern era.

I. Islam and the East

A. The Early History

B. Revival of Muslim and Asian ties under the Song

C. Asian Muslim Ties under the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty, 1279-1368 C.E.

D. Asian Muslim Ties in Southeast Asia

II. Africa and the Islamic World

A.  Kingdom of Ghana: 11th to 13th c.

B.  Mali Empire: 13th to 15th c.

1.  Origins, Social Order, and Economy

2.  Sunjaata or Sundiata (r. early 13th century) solidified the empire

C.  East Africa

1.  Swahili Society: 11th to 15th c.

2.  Zimbabwe [zihm-BAHB-way], 12th-15th century

III. Islam and the World of Western Eurasia and Africa, 1300-1400

A. Ties between Muslims, Europeans, and Africans

Key Terms:
Persian Gulf
Tang dynasty
Abbasid dynasty
Umayyad dynasty
Guanzhong (Canton)
Malay, Indian, and Chinese traders
Song and Southern Song Dynasties (960-1279 C.E.)
Kubilai Khan (4. 1265-1294 C.E.)
Strait of Malacca
Bay of Bengal
South China Sea
summer monsoon
Sultanate of Malacca (1403?-1511)
Niger River Valley
Niger and Senegal Rivers
Sudanic region: steppe and savanna region south of the Sahara Desert

Sahel = steppe region between the Sahara and the savanna of West
Sunjaata (fl. early to mid-13th c. C.E., d. 1255 C.E.)
Mansa Uli (r. 1255-1270 C.E.)
Mansa Musa (r. 1312-1337 C.E.)
Soso (people), Soso empire
Zambezi River
Limpopo River
Great Zimbabwe

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