Iron Age

Rise to Glory: Trading Empires


Africa has not been isolated from the rest of the world as many books would have us believe. Cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean dating back to about 5000 BC have been found in neolithic tombs in Egypt as has obsidian. The Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden coast was one of the earliest sea trade routes.

To the Egyptians this land was know as the “Land of Punt (Incense)”, and was important for the goods that it brought to Egypt and much of the ancient Mediterranean world. Most of these exports came from the interior of present day Ethiopia, and the coastal areas of Somalia. Much of the trade occurred along the Red Sea Coast, and the Gulf of Aden.

The people of Punt exchanged myrrh, gold, ivory, ostrich feathers, and animal hides in return for hatchets, daggers, necklaces, and other goods that were in great demand. At first these goods were taken to Egypt by overland routes, but these were enduring journeys and traders faced costly taxes. By 2500 BC a new sea trade sprang up after the invention of a newer much more efficient ship. The Egyptians began arriving to the Puntite coast with their 60 oar ships and were now more capable in their trade.

Arab traders have sailed the African coast since the 7th century AD, exchanging glass, spices, weapons and tools from China and India for gold, ivory, rinoceros horn, slaves and animal hides. Wherever a civilisation has sprung up, the small sailing ships have soon found out and have been willing to act as go-betweens. 1     2

Red Sea Trade
Dhows off the coast of Zanzibar. Copyright Svein Nordrum.

 Africa in History
 Human Evolution

 North Africa  

 Kingdoms of the South
 Trading Empires
 West Africa

Slave Trade