Suakin: A northeast African port in the Ottoman empire

A. C.S. Peacock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Capital of the Ottoman province of Habeş and a major entrepôt for trade between the African interior and the Hijaz, the Indian Ocean, and Egypt, Suakin's apogee largely coincided with its direct rule by the Ottomans between the early to mid sixteenth century and the early nineteenth century. Although a number of short studies of the history of Suakin have been written, these have rarely referred to the pertinent Ottoman language sources. Older scholarship thus tended to assume the port was merely a remote Ottoman outpost, cut off from its African hinterland,1 while research that has given more prominence to the role of Suakin's Hadariba elite in the life of the city has paid less attention to the Ottoman context in which they operated. 2 In this essay, I offer an overview of Suakin's development under Ottoman rule drawing on the Ottoman materials.3 These of course have their own perils, for the Ottoman archival documents largely consist of reports to or orders from Istanbul, usually concerning the appointment of officials, the military situation, and requests for reinforcements. Trade is rarely prominent in the documents, as none of the Ottoman financial records of the port or province have come to light. Literary sources, in the form of reports of revolt in Suakin in 1655 and the traveler Evliya Çelebi's account of his visit some two decades later, shed more light on social and economic history, at least for the seventeenth century. The Ottoman evidence, scant though it may be compared to that surviving for the Mediterranean world, is our prime source for the history of Suakin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-50
Number of pages22
JournalNortheast African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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