Medieval superpowers of the Swahili Coast

Great civilizations of the Middle Ages were not located solely in Europe or Asia. Some of the world superpowers grew up along the coasts of Africa. In a feature article for i09, Annalee Newitz takes a look Songo Mnara, a city that thrived from the 10th to 15th centuries. (photos)

In the article, Newitz writes:

From the tenth to fifteenth centuries, the riches of Africa's interior, such as ivory, gold, resins, food, timber, and even slaves, were in high demand around the world. Because of the monsoon trade winds, which could reliably bring traders from around the Indian Ocean to and from the East African coast, many of these goods passed through Swahili towns and into a hemisphere-spanning trade network—through the Red and Mediterranean Seas to Europe, across the ocean to India and Persia, and to China via sea and land. Some of the Swahili stone towns—a collective description of some settlements with stone ruins across miles of coast—grew spectacularly wealthy on this trade. They were independently ruled sultanates that shared intracoastal trade, culture, language (Kiswahili), religion (Islam), and receptiveness to the influence of the outside world. Like the independent city-states of the same period in Italian history, some were major powers, and their fortunes rose and fell with shifting trade relationships and political maneuvering.