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For modern region in Somalia, see Azania State. For other uses, see Azania (disambiguation).

Azania (Ancient Greek: Αζανία) is the name that has been applied to various parts of southeastern tropical Africa. In Roman times—and perhaps earlier—the name referred to a portion of the Southeast African coast extending from Kenya,[1] to perhaps as far south as Tanzania.


The earliest attestations for the name Azania do not explain it. A number of etymologies proposed in the nineteenth century claimed the name was derived from Zanj, an Arabic or Persian word referring to the dark-skinned inhabitants of Africa and their land. More recent suggestions for the origin of the word are from the Arabic 'ajam ("foreigner, non-Arab") or the Greek azainein ("to dry, parch").[citation needed]

Ancient Azania[edit]

Pliny the Elder mentions an "Azanian Sea" (N.H. 6.34) that began around the emporium of Adulis and stretched around the south coast of Africa.

The slightly later Periplus of the Erythraean Sea offers more details about Azania (chapters 15,16,18). From chapter 15 of the Periplus, it could be that Azania is the area south of modern day Somalia (the "Lesser and Greater Bluffs", the "Lesser and Greater Strands", and the "Seven Courses").[2] However, chapter 16 clearly describes Rhapta, as located south of the Puralean Islands at the end of the Seven Courses of Azania, as the "southernmost market of Azania".

Modern identifications of Rhapta place it on the coasts of modern-day Tanzania—indicating that Azania referred to an area perhaps identical to the later Arab Zanj. There is some archaeological evidence indicating that Rhapta was near the mouth of the Rufiji River.[citation needed]

Azania was known to the Chinese as Zésàn (澤散) by the 3rd century CE.[3]

Later writers who mention Azania include Claudius Ptolemy and Cosmas Indicopleustes.

South Africa[edit]

The first mention of the name Azania with a South African connection appeared in the 1930s archaeological reports of excavations at Mapungubwe in the northern Transvaal. The skeletal remains were referred to as ancient Azanians. The term is currently used by some political movements in South Africa influenced by black nationalism, including the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania, the Azanian People's Organisation, the Socialist Party of Azania, and associated organisations. The New Black Panther Party also refers to South Africa as Azania.


  1. ^ Richard Pankhurst, An Introduction to the Economic History of Ethiopia, (Lalibela House: 1961), p.21
  2. ^ George Wynn Brereton Huntingford, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, (Hakluyt Society: 1980), p.29
  3. ^ [1] The Weilüe. Draft translation by John Hill


  • Casson, Lionel (1989). The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Lionel Casson. (Translation by H. Frisk, 1927, with updates and improvements and detailed notes). Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Chami, F. A. (1999). "The Early Iron Age on Mafia island and its relationship with the mainland." Azania Vol. XXXIV 1999, pp. 1–10.
  • Chami, Felix A. 2002. "The Egypto-Graeco-Romans and Paanchea/Azania: sailing in the Erythraean Sea." From: Red Sea Trade and Travel. The British Museum. Sunday 6 October 2002. Organised by The Society for Arabian Studies.[][dead link]
  • Collins, Alan S. and Pisarevsky, Sergei A. (2005). "Amalgamating eastern Gondwana: The evolution of the Circum-Indian Orogens." Earth Science Reviews, 71, 229–270.
  • Huntingford, G.W.B. (trans. & ed.). Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Hakluyt Society. London, 1980.
  • Yu Huan, The Weilue in The Peoples of the West, translation by John E. Hill [2]

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See also[edit]