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The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Second Edition
Richard W. Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven W. Hirsch, Lyman L. Johnson, David Northrup
History WIRED

Chapter 15: Tropical African and Asia, 1200-1500


The Travels of Ibn Battuta
This map traces the routes of this Muslim traveler during the fourteenth century.

A View from Above: South Asia
This satellite image shows the physical topography of much of the tropics in the Eastern Hemisphere.

A View from Above: Africa
Explore the physical boundaries of Africa with this map.

A View from Above: The World
This map offers a complete view of the physical diversity of the tropics in the Eastern Hemisphere.

National Geographic Map Machine: Indian Ocean
This link provides a map of the Indian Ocean that can be manipulated to explore various areas.

Map of the Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean Dhow Ports
This map focuses on the western half of the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean Trade Routes
This map shows the Afro Eurasian trade routes that existed between the eighth and fifteenth centuries.

Trade in Ancient Africa
This map traces the trans-Saharan trade routes.

The Islamic World at 1500

The Slave Dynasty
Click on "map" in the corner for a map of the Delhi Sultanate.

Map of Imperial Africa
This map shows various indigenous kingdoms and empires in Africa from 800 to 1500.


Arab Dhow

Chinese Junk

The Qutb Minar, or the Tower of Victory
An image of this minaret built in Delhi during the Delhi Sultanate.

Spices from the Malabar Coast
Images of various spices grown on the east coast of India.

A History of the Malay Peninsula: The Coming of Islam
This site contains images of a few relics from the early presence of Islam on the Malay Peninsula.

Photo Gallery: Images of Islam
This site offers many images of Islamic presence in Western Africa dating back to the twelfth century.

The Swahili Coast
Images of ruins from this time period on the East African coast.

Swahili Culture
This site includes images of modern dhows and ruins from the medieval cities on the east coast of Africa.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Activity One:

To better comprehend this unique chapter, a good understanding of the geographical context is essential.  This chapter explores the lands and seas in the Eastern Hemisphere (Africa and Asia) between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  Go to A View from Above: The World and locate this area.  Using A View from Above: South Asia and A View from Above: Africa analyze the ecological diversity of this region.  According to your textbook, where were the areas where the land could support large populations?  Which areas were logical emporia (areas where merchants from a variety of areas could trade their goods)?  Using Indian Ocean Dhow Ports, explain how the Indian Ocean affects the movements of people and goods.  Finally, print out the map at Eastern Hemisphere.  Using the maps above and those in your textbook, identify the Delhi Sultanate, Mali, Gupta, the Swahili Coast, Great Zimbabwe, Aden, Malacca, and Timbuktu.

Activity Two:

According to The Earth and Its Peoples (Second Edition), "In each region [of tropical Africa and Asia] certain ports functioned as giant emporia for the trade, consolidating from smaller ports and inland areas for transport across the seas" (p 383).  The map at Indian Ocean Trade Routes identifies some of these cities such as Malacca and the Swahili cities on the East African Coast.  Aden and the cities in the Gujurat area of India are other prime examples.  During this period in world history, these emporia often had more in common with each other than with their hinterland.  They were part of a trading system that transversed two continents and many civilizations and cultures.  For a description of this trading network, go to Portugal's Ecumenical Trading Zone.  After reading this essay, go to Malacca: Cross-Cultural Contacts in the Fifteenth Century and Kilwa.  What did these two cities have in common?  You should be certain to consider ethnic diversity, religion, and trading practices.  How did these features distinguish these cities from their hinterlands?  While the similarities between Malacca and Kilwa should not be exaggerated, they symbolized the impact of increased trade and contact in the Indian Ocean world between 1200 and 1500.  Explain how the geography and trading patterns of tropical Asia and Africa fostered the growth of emporia such as Malacca and Kilwa and the common bonds between them.

Activity Three:

The cultural convergence symbolized by Kilwa and Malacca in certain areas of tropical Africa and Asia made the journeys of Ibn Battuta in the fourteenth century possible.  For an introduction to this famous traveler, read the essay at The Travels of Ibn Battuta.  For a map of his travels, see The Travels of Ibn Battuta.  What was the purpose of his travels? Which areas in the tropics did he visit and observe? Considering what you have learned in this chapter, what developments in this region made Battuta's pursuit viable and possible?  To read some of his accounts, go to From the Travels of Ibn Battuta: China, Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta: "Ibn Battuta in Mali", and Malian Women.  What aspect of each of these societies does he seem most interested in observing?  How does his description of the Muslim societies in Africa differ from his description of China?  For what audience do you believe Battuta is writing?How do the travels of Ibn Battuta symbolize the cultural convergence, at least of major emporia, in tropical Africa and Asia between 1200 and 1500?  Do Battuta's travels reveal a homogenized culture in the region, or did small traditions still coexist within the larger Islamic framework?

Activity Four:

Ibn Battuta was not the only intercontinental traveler between 1200 and 1500.  In Chapter 14, "Eastern Eurasia, 1200-1500," you explored the voyages of Zheng He.  This Chinese mariner and his crew visited many of the same areas as Ibn Battuta, but nearly a century later.  For more on their adventures, see The Ming Dynasty's Maritime History.   Compared to Ibn Battuta, what aspects of the societies that they visited do they seem most interested in?  For example, are they searching for fellow religionists like Battuta was?  What was the overall purpose of their visits?  What do the adventures of Zheng He reveal about the wealth of tropical Africa and Asia?  As you will see, the Chinese were not the only group willing to explore and tap into the wealth generated in the Indian Ocean.  Western Europeans, whom you will study in the next two chapters, were also beginning their own voyages of exploration during the fifteenth century.