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Sultanate of Adal

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Title: Sultanate of Adal  
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Subject: Cannon, Djibouti Armed Forces, Sub-Saharan Africa, Horn of Africa, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Somali people, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, Yagbe'u Seyon, History of Somaliland, Somalian architecture
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Sultanate of Adal

For other uses, see Adal.
Sultanate of Adal
سُلطَنَه عَدَال
Suldaanada Cadaal



Territory of the Sultanate of Adal and its vassal states circa 1500.
Capital Zeila (original capital, as Emirate)[1]
Dakkar (new capital, as Sultanate)[1]
Harar (final capital)[1]
Languages Somali, Oromo, Afar, Arabic, Harari
Government Monarchy
Historical era Middle Ages
 -  Established 1415
 -  War against Yeshaq I 1415-1429
 -  Capital moved to Dakkar 1433
 -  Succession Crisis 1518-1526
 -  Capital moved to Harar 1520
 -  Disestablished 1559
Today part of  Djibouti

The Adal Sultanate or the Kingdom of Adal (Somali: Saldaanada Cadal, Ge'ez: አዳል ʾAdāl, Arabic: سلطنة عدل‎) (c. 1415 - 1577[2]) was a medieval multi-ethnic Muslim state located in the Horn of Africa. At its height, the polity controlled large parts of modern day Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea.


Adal is mentioned by name for the first time in the 14th century, during the battles between the Muslims of the northern Somali and Afar seaboard and the Abyssinian King Amda Seyon's Christian troops.[3] Adal originally had its capital in the port city of Zeila, situated in the eponymous Awdal region in modern-day northwestern Somalia. The polity at the time was an Emirate in the larger Ifat Sultanate ruled by the Walashma dynasty.[1]

In 1332, the King of Adal was slain in a military campaign aimed at halting Amda Seyon's march toward Zeila.[3] When the last Sultan of Ifat, Sa'ad ad-Din II, was also killed by Dawit I of Ethiopia at the port city of Zeila in 1410, his children escaped to Yemen, before later returning in 1415.[4] In the early 15th century, Adal's capital was moved further inland to the town of Dakkar, where Sabr ad-Din II, the eldest son of Sa'ad ad-Din II, established a new sultanate after his return from Yemen.[1][5] The land beyond the Awash River was left to the Ethiopian Solomonic Emperors.[6] During this period, Adal emerged as a center of Muslim resistance against the expanding Christian Abyssinian kingdom.[1]

After 1468, a new breed of rulers emerged on the Adal political scene. The dissidents opposed Walashma rule owing to a treaty that Sultan Muhammad ibn Badlay had signed with Emperor Baeda Maryam of Ethiopia, wherein Badlay agreed to submit yearly tribute. Adal's Emirs, who administered the provinces, interpreted the agreement as a betrayal of their independence and a retreat from the polity's longstanding policy of resistance to Abyssinian incursions. The main leader of this opposition was the Emir of Zeila, the Sultanate's richest province. As such, he was expected to pay the highest share of the annual tribute to be given to the Abyssinian Emperor.[7] Emir Laday Usman subsequently marched to Dakkar and seized power in 1471. However, Usman did not dismiss the Sultan from office, but instead gave made him a ceremonial position while retaining the real power for himself. Adal now came under the leadership of a powerful Emir who governed from a palace of a nominal Sultan.[8]

Amir Mahfuz who would fight with successive Emperors caused the death of the emperor called Na'od in 1508. But he was killed by the forces of Emperor Lebna Dengel in 1517. After Mahfuz, a civil war started for the office of Highest Amir of Adal. Five Amirs came to power in only two years. But at last, a matured and powerful leader called Garad Abuun Addus (Garad Abogn) assumed power. Who was loved by the people of Adal. When Garad Abogne was in power, he was defeated and killed by Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, In 1554, under the initiative of Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, Harar became the capital of Adal. This time, not only the young Amirs revolted but the whole country of Adal raised against the deal of Sultan Abubeker because Garad Abogne was loved by the whole people of the Sultanate. Many people went to join the force of a new young knight called "Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi" who claimed a revenge for the beloved Garad Abogne. And this young man assumed the power of Adal in 1527. But he himself didn't remove the Sultan. He let him in his nominal office. When Abubeker waged war on him, the young Ahmed ibn Ibrahim killed the nominal sultan Abubeker and replaced him by his brother Umar Din.[9]

Adalite armies under the leadership of rulers such as Sabr ad-Din II, Mansur ad-Din, Jamal ad-Din II, Shams ad-Din and general Mahfuz subsequently continued the struggle against Abyssinian expansionism.

In the 16th century, Adal's headquarters were again relocated, this time to Harar. From this new capital, Adal organised an effective army led by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi that invaded the Abyssinian empire.[1] This campaign is historically known as the Conquest of Abyssinia or Futuh al Habash. During the war, Ahmed pioneered the use of cannons supplied by the Ottoman Empire, which were deployed against Solomonic forces and their Portuguese allies led by Cristóvão da Gama. Some scholars argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons and the arquebus over traditional weapons.[10]

Sultans of Adal

Name Reign Note
1 Sulṭān SabiradDīn SaʿadadDīn 1415 - 1422 Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, won some early victories before being soundly defeated by Emperor Yeshaq
2 Sulṭān Mansur SaʿadadDīn 1422 - 1424 Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, Defeated the Abyssinians at Yedaya, only to be defeated and imprisoned by Yeshaq
3 Sulṭān JamaladDīn SaʿadadDīn 1424 - 1433 Won several important battles before being defeated at Harjai, he was assassinated in 1433
4 Sulṭān AḥmedudDīn "Badlay" SaʿadadDīn 1433 - 1445 Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, known to the Abyssinians as "Arwe Badlay" ("Badlay the Monster"). AḥmedudDīn turned the tide of war against the Abyssinians and decisively defeated the forces of Emperor Yeshaq and liberated the land of Ifat. AḥmedudDīn founded a new capital at Dakkar in the Adal region, near Harar, creating the Sultanate of Adal. He was killed in battle after he had launched a jihad to push the Abyssinians back out of Dawaro.
5 Sulṭān Maḥamed AḥmedudDīn 1445 - 1472 Son of AḥmedudDīn "Badlay" SaʿadadDīn, Maḥamed asked for help from the Mameluk Sultanate of Egypt in 1452, though this assistance was not forthcoming. He ended up signing a very short-lived truce with Baeda Maryam
6 Sulṭān ShamsadDin Maḥamed 1472 - 1488 Son of Maḥamed AḥmedudDīn, he was attacked by Emperor Eskender of Abyssinia in 1479, who sacked Dakkar and destroyed much of the city, though the Abyssinians did not attempt to occupy the city and were ambushed on the way home with heavy losses.
7 Sulṭān Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn 1488 - 1518 Great-grandson of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed of Ifat, he continued to fight to liberate Dawaro along with Garad Maḥfūẓ of Zeila. He was assassinated after a disastrous campaign in 1518 and the death of Garad Maḥfūẓ.
8 Sultan Maḥamed Abūbakar Maḥfūẓ 1518 - 1519 Seized the throne, sparking a conflict between the Karanle and Walashma
9 Sulṭān Abūbakar Maḥamed 1518 - 1526 He killed Garād Abūn and restored the Walashma dynasty, but Garād Abūn's cousin Imām Aḥmed Gurēy avenged his cousin's death and killed him. While Garād Abūn ruled in Dakkar, Abūbakar Maḥamed established himself at Harar in 1520, and this is often cited as when the capital moved. Abūbakar Maḥamed was the last Walashma sultan to have any real power.
10 Garād Abūn ʿAdādshe 1519 - 1525 Successor to Maḥamed Abūbakar Maḥfūẓ and the Karanle party of the struggle for the throne.
11 Sulṭān ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed 1526 - 1553 Son of Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn, Imām Aḥmed Gurēy put Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn's young son ʿUmarDīn on the throne as puppet king in Imām Aḥmed Gurēy's capital at Harar. This essentially is the end of the Walashma dynasty as a ruling dynasty in all but name, though the dynasty hobbled on in a de-jure capacity. Many king lists don't even bother with Walashma rulers after this and just list Imām Aḥmed Gurēy and then Amīr Nūr Mujahid.
12 Sulṭān ʿAli ʿUmarDīn 1553 - 1555 Son of ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed
13 Sulṭān Barakat ʿUmarDīn 1555 - 1559 Son of ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed, last of the Walashma Sultans, assisted Amīr Nūr Mujahid in his attempt to retake Dawaro. He was killed defending Harar from Emperor Gelawdewos, ending the dynasty.


Part of a series on the
History of Somalia
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The rulers of the earlier Sultanate of Shewa and the Walashma princes of Ifat and Adal all possessed Arab genealogical traditions.[11]

During Adal's initial period, when it was centered on the port city of Zeila in present-day northwestern Somalia, the kingdom was primarily composed of Somalis, Afars and Arabs.[12]

There is some debate over the ethnic composition of Adal after its capital moved to modern-day Ethiopia. I.M Lewis states:

Somali forces contributed much to the Imām’s victories. Shihab ad-Din, the Muslim chronicler of the period, writing between 1540 and 1560, mentions them frequently (Futūḥ al-Ḥabasha, ed. And trs. R. Besset Paris, 1897.). The most prominent Somali groups in the campaigns were the Samaroon or Gadabursi (Dir), Geri, Marrehān, and Harti - all Dārod clans. Shihāb d-Dīn is very vague as to their distribution and grazing areas, but describes the Harti as at the time in possession of the ancient eastern port of Mait. Of the Isāq only the Habar Magādle clan seem to have been involved and their distribution is not recorded. Finally several Dir clans also took part.[13]

This finding is supported in the more recent Oxford History of Islam:

The sultanate of Adal, which emerged as the major Muslim principality from 1420 to 1560, seems to have recruited its military force mainly from among the Somalis.[14]

Lewis, on the other hand, notes that the Imam's origins are unknown.[15] Ewald Wagner connects the name ʿAdäl with the Dankali (Afar) tribe Aḏaʿila and the Somali name for the clan Oda ʿAlï, proposing that the kingdom may have largely been composed of Afars.[16] Although Afars constituted a significant part of Adal, Didier Morin notes that "the exact influence of the ʿAfar inside the Kingdom of `Adal is still conjectural due to its multi-ethnic basis."[16] Nevertheless, Franz-Christoph Muth identifies Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi as Somali.[17]


According to the 14th-century historian Al-Umari, the people of Ifat spoke "Abyssinian and Arabic". J.D. Fage suggests that the 'Abyssinian' in this assertion denotes an Ethio-Semitic language.[18]

However, the 19th century Ethiopian historian Asma Giyorgis suggests that the Walashma themselves spoke Arabic, which is similar to Ge'ez.[19]


During its existence, Adal had relations and engaged in trade with other polities in Northeast Africa, the Near East, Europe and South Asia. Many of the historic cities in the Horn of Africa such as Maduna, Abasa and Berbera flourished under its reign with courtyard houses, mosques, shrines, walled enclosures and cisterns. Adal attained its peak in the 14th century, trading in slaves, ivory and other commodities with Abyssinia and kingdoms in Arabia through its chief port of Zeila.[1] The cities of the empire imported intricately colored glass bracelets and Chinese celadon for palace and home decoration.[20]


The Adalite military was divided in several sections such as the infantry consisting of swordsmen, archers and lancers that were commanded by various generals and lieutenants. These forces were complimented by a cavalry force and eventually later in the empire's history; by matchlock-technology and cannons during the Conquest of Abyssinia. The various divisions were symbolised with a distinct flag.

The Adalite soldiers donned elaborate helmets and steel-armour made up of chain-mail with overlapping tiers.[21] The Horsemen of Adal wore protective helmets that covered the entire face except for the eyes, and breastplates on their body, while they harnessed their horses in a similar fashion. In siege warfare, ladders were employed to scale buildings and other high positions such as hills and mountains.

Invasion of Abyssinia

Main article: Ethiopian-Adal War

In the mid-1520s, Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi conquered Adal and launched a holy war against Christian Ethiopia, which was then under the leadership of Lebna Dengel. Supplied by the Ottoman Empire with firearms, Ahmad was able to defeat the Ethiopians at the Battle of Shimbra Kure in 1529 and seize control of the wealthy Ethiopian highlands, though the Ethiopians continued to resist from the highlands. In 1541, the Portuguese, who had vested interests in the Indian Ocean, sent aid to the Ethiopians in the form of 400 musketeers. Adal, in response, received 900 from the Ottomans.

Imam Ahmad was initially successful against the Ethiopians while campaigning in the Autumn of 1542, killing the Portuguese commander Cristóvão da Gama in August that year. However, Portuguese musketry proved decisive in Adal's defeat at the Battle of Wayna Daga, near Lake Tana, in February 1543, where Ahmad was killed in battle. The Ethiopians subsequently retook the Amhara plateau and recouped their losses against Adal. The Ottomans, who had their own troubles to deal with in the Mediterranean, were unable to help Ahmad's successors. When Adal collapsed in 1577, the seat of the Sultanate shifted from Harar to Aussa in the desert region of Afar and a new sultanate began.[22]

Oromo expansion

Main article: Oromo migrations

After the conflict between Adal and Abyssinia had subsided, the conquest of the highland regions of Abyssinia and Adal by the Oromo (namely, through military expansion and the installation of the Gadaa socio-political system) ended in the contraction of both powers and changed regional dynamics for centuries to come. In essence, what had happened is that the populations of the highlands had not ceased to exist as a result of the Gadaa expansion, but were simply incorporated into a different socio-political system.


The Adal Sultanate left behind many structures and artefacts from its heyday. Numerous such historical edifices and items are found in the northwestern Awdal province of Somalia, as well as other parts of the Horn region where the polity held sway.

Archaeological excavations in the late 1800s and early 1900s at over fourteen sites in the vicinity of Borama in modern-day northwestern Somalia unearthed, among other artefacts, coins identified as having been derived from Kait Bey, the eighteenth Burji Mamluk Sultan of Egypt.[23] Most of these finds are associated with the medieval Adal Sultanate,[24] and were sent to the British Museum for preservation shortly after their discovery.[23]


See also

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