Wars for the Red Sea Trade Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the decline of Portuguese influence along the East African coast, the sultanate of Oman asserted political and economic dominance over the region through a fierce struggle with Portugal. The growth of Omani maritime power together with new European imports of coffee led to a rapid development in Red Sea trade.

Summary of Event

The Portuguese captured the Indian Ocean spice trade in the sixteenth century by seizing control of the high seas as well as a number of strategic ports, including Mozambique, Mombasa, and Kilwa on the East African coast; Socotra, near the entrance to the Red Sea; Hormuz in the Persian Gulf; and Cochin on the west coast of India. By the seventeenth century, however, the Portuguese had lost control of the Indian Ocean to their Dutch and English rivals. Portugal;Middle East and [kw]Wars for the Red Sea Trade (1650-1698) [kw]Trade, Wars for the Red Sea (1650-1698) [kw]Red Sea Trade, Wars for the (1650-1698) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Expansion and land acquisition;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Trade and commerce;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Africa;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Middle East;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Oman;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Yeman;1650-1698: Wars for the Red Sea Trade[1680] Trade;wars over Red Sea Trade;wars over Red Sea

At the end of the sixteenth century, England became one of the strongest naval powers in Europe. Coveting the wealth and resources of the East, which were already being exploited by other European powers, England England;Middle East and entered into direct competition with the Portuguese. In 1600, the English East India Company British East India Company was established by royal decree. The East India Company began its activities in the Arabian Gulf region by selling English wool to Iran in exchange for silk. In January, 1622, Anglo-Persian forces attacked Hormuz, inflicted considerable damage on the Portuguese, and succeeded in expelling them from their outpost. Three years later, in 1625, a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet defeated the Portuguese fleet near Hormuz. Alongside the English, the Dutch played a key role in the seventeenth century Portuguese decline. This process began with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company in 1602.

As the Portuguese lost influence in the Middle East, they lost control first of the Arabian Gulf waters and then of the Indian Ocean. Oman Oman , located on the western end of the Arabian Peninsula, was able to throw off the colonial yoke as a result of this waning of Portugal’s sea power. The Omani Arabs expelled the Portuguese from their country and established the Al-Ya’ruba Dynasty Al-Ya’ruba Dynasty[Al Yaruba Dynasty] there in 1624.

The dynasty increased its power in the western basin of the Indian Ocean until it was ready to compete directly with Portugal for control of the Red Sea trade routes and strategic posts along the way. In 1650, Oman seized Muscat from Portuguese hands. The Omanis continued to struggle against the Portuguese and struck their centers in India and in Eastern Africa. They managed to sever all communication between the last Portuguese outpost in the Persian Gulf, the trading post in Kanj, and India and East Africa. This led the Portuguese to abandon the post and put an end to Portugal’s presence in the region.

Meanwhile, the Omani navy was growing in sophistication and power. It came to rely entirely on modern ships and to employ highly developed cannons with the same capacity as European cannons. The Omanis used huge ships on the European model. These advances in naval technology enabled the Omanis, after expelling the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf, to go even further on the offensive, attempting to take control of East Africa away from Portugal as well.

Whereas the Portuguese had built their eastern African empire relatively quickly during the sixteenth century, basing it simply on controlling the gold trade of the Zimbabwean Plateau, the Omanis had been traveling to East Africa and gaining influence of various sorts since the dawn of history, by way of the monsoon trade winds of the Indian Ocean. They had settled throughout the region from R’as Jurdafun in the north to the Gulf of Delgado in the south, the region now known as the Swahili Coast. With the passing of time, Omanis mixed with Africans, intermarried, and established important centers of trade. Those Omani Africans were part of the Portuguese eastern African empire.

Following the Omani success in expelling the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf, the people of Mombasa turned to the Omanis, their fellow countrymen and coreligionists, for help against the Portuguese. The Omanis, for their part, encouraged Swahili resistance to the Portuguese, since they feared that Portugal might be tempted to launch a counter-attack against the Persian Gulf from East Africa if they maintained their strength there. Thus, Oman successfully attacked Zanzibar and Pate in 1655, taking a large number of Portuguese captives and seizing a number of warships and trading vessels. As a result, Zanzibar came under the total control of Oman, and its ruler agreed to pay a yearly poll tax in return for protection against the Portuguese.

In 1660, the Omani fleet was in the midst of a siege of Bombay when it received orders to abandon the siege and sail for Mombasa. The Omanis besieged Mombasa for nearly five years (1660-1665). The Portuguese ultimately broke the siege, but it acted as an effective draw on their resources while it lasted. Sulṭān bin Saif Sulṭān bin Saif , ruler and imam of Oman, made his way to the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar and succeeded in freeing them from all Portuguese control. In 1679, the Portuguese were temporarily forced to withdraw from Pate as well

Following the death of Sulṭān bin Saif in 1679, his son, Balՙarab bin Sulṭān Balՙarab bin Sulṭān , ascended the throne. The new ruler made an oath to free Mombasa or die. In 1680, Balՙarab prepared a fleet of twenty-eight boats and laid siege to Mombasa once more, but Mombasa was one of the strongest Portuguese centers in East Africa. Its strong fortifications proved too much for the siege to break. Balՙarab next decided to lay siege to Mozambique’s fortress, but the Portuguese defenses there were able to withstand his siege as well. The Omanis began to dig a tunnel beneath the fortress, intending to penetrate inside. The defenders responded by placing charges, which exploded with such tremendous force that they distressed the Omanis, who refused to continue their siege

The strife between Balՙarab bin Sulṭān and his brother Saif bin Sulṭān Saif bin Sulṭān over the throne of Oman enabled the Portuguese to regain control over some of the cities on the Swahili Coast, including Malindi, Faza, Pate, and Lamu. In 1686, Pate revolted against Portuguese rule, and its sultan was taken to Goa and beheaded on Christmas Day. However, when Saif became the ruler of Oman, the Omanis won massive victories, the most important of which was the capitulation of Mombasa Mombasa, fall of (1698) on December 14, 1698, after the fall of Fort Jesus.

The fort fell following a long siege that had commenced in March, 1696. A fleet of seven sails from Oman had arrived in Kilindini harbor and laid siege to Fort Jesus after Pemba called in Omani aid against the Portuguese in 1694. The Omani fleet seized the small fort at the entrance to the channel in Mombasa. The siege lasted thirty-three months and although the fort was never subjected to any serious attack until the final assault was launched, the hardships undergone by the Portuguese garrison through lack of supplies and the ravages of sickness were severe in the extreme. At length, disease exacted so great a toll that the last fierce resistance of the defenders was overcome.


The 1698 fall of Mombasa marked the beginning of the expulsion of the Portuguese from the Swahili Coast, and in 1699, the Omanis decisively conquered Pemba, Kilwa, Pate, and Zanzibar. Thus, the Omanis completely expelled the Portuguese from all their strongholds north of Mozambique, and this region became one of Oman’s dependencies until the very end of the nineteenth century, when Britain and Germany conquered it. Following the expulsion of the Portuguese from the Swahili Coast, Mombasa became an important state under the Omani-derived Mazrui Dynasty, while the southern coast, controlled by the Busaidi Dynasty, enjoyed a period of prosperity as well.

The growth of Omani maritime power in the western Indian Ocean, as well as new European imports of coffee from Mocha, located in the Red Sea coast nation of Yemen, resulted in rapid development in Red Sea trade throughout the eighteenth century. After the maritime struggles of the second half of the seventeenth century, the Red Sea remained out of bounds to European commercial companies. Yet, the situation changed in the beginning of the eighteenth century, following the rise in popularity of coffee Coffee;popularity of drinking in Europe, which provided the coffee growers of Yemen with additional demand and motivated them to establish and maintain friendly contact with Europe.

Categories: History