They welcomed ships from Arabia, Persia, and China. Because of demand for these goods from customers, traders acquired ivory, leopard skins, iron, copper, and gold. From India, Southeast Asia, and China came cotton cloth, silk, spices, porcelain, glassware, and swords.

The traders from Arabia, Persia, and China also contributed to the development of the slave trade. Customers of these traders throughout Asia were eager to purchase slaves for use in their homes and for forced labor. In every port, the traders purchased enslaved people who had been captured on raids into the interior of Africa, as well as from coastal regions.

Trade, including the trade of enslaved Africans, was beneficial to the merchants, and it also helped local rulers build strong, independent city-states. Although they competed for trade, relations between the city-states were generally peaceful. A Muslim visitor described Kilwa, the most successful city-state, as “one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world.” Its royal palace still stands on cliffs that today overlook the ocean. The complex consists of courtyards, terraces, and nearly 100 rooms. Built of coral and cut stone, the structure is evidence of the old city's splendor.

Photo of a rocky area surrounded by greenery and a city in the background. Rocky area has been cleared, and a very large trapezoidal hole dug into the ground. A shape of rock was carved around into the depth of the hole, leaving a cross facing skyward from ground level to the bottom of the hole. Visitors walk around the edge of the hole and inside it.

Determine Point of View

Beta Ghiorgis, which means House of George, is one of King's Lalibela's solid rock churches. Why would King Lalibela build a church in the shape of a cross?

Trade Influences Swahili

The successful East African international trade system led to the emergence of a vibrant culture and language known as Swahili. By the 1000s, many East African coastal cities had not only grown in wealth but also in size. Traders from the Middle East and Asia began to settle permanently in flourishing trading cities such as Kilwa.

As more settlers arrived, the local East African culture absorbed cultural elements from these new residents. For example, the architecture of private houses and palaces illustrated a blend of East African and Arabic designs that created unique and elegant Swahili buildings and furniture. Over time, many Arabic words were absorbed into the local Bantu-based language. In fact, the term swahili comes from an Arabic word meaning “of the coast.” The language itself was eventually written in Arabic script.

Series of intersecting Moorish archways and columns comprising the cover of an outdoor space in ruins.

Trade brought great wealth and different cultural influences to the region. The Great Mosque in Kilwa reflects the prosperity and the spread of Islam that trade brought to the area.

The Travels of Ibn Battuta

The journey of Ibn Battuta tells us much about travel and trade in East Africa, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. Battuta was born in Tangier to a Berber family of the Muslim faith. After completing his education at the age of 21, Battuta made the hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are expected to make if they are able. His trek became one of the greatest journeys of medieval times. The 30-year sojourn took Battuta to Southwest Asia, West Africa, Southern Russia, India, and China.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments