Kilwa Sultanate Kings’ List (960AD – 1505AD)

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The Kilwa Sultanate is a kingdom that controlled the east coast of the continent of Africa during the Medieval period and acted as middleman between Africa and states around the Indian Ocean.


maparchive - Africa, Culture and Trade 1500–1800

Indian Ocean trade routes

The Kilwa Sultanate that lasted around 600 years from between 960 AD and 1000 AD, went through three distinct eras and many different Kings who played a part in the huge growth of the Empire. Here, we look at the major Kings of the sultanate, their accomplishments and modes of succession, starting with the Shirazi Era.

Shirazi era

1. Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi was the founder of Kilwa. He retired to Kilwa, which he bought by promising the King enough cloth to cover the whole Island. When the King tried to renege on the deal, he supposedly had the bridge to the mainland destroyed. He was succeeded on his death by Muhammad ibn Ali

2. Muhammad ibn Ali was the son of Ali Hassan Shirazi. He ruled till 996 CE, but had no children. He was responsible for expanding Kilwa from its initial borders.

3. Ali ibn Bashat was the son of the brother of the previous Sultan. As the previous Sultan had no sons, the new King had to be elected by Kilwa colonists. He was the first person to rule Mafia Island, thus expanding Kilwa. He ruled for four years and started a chain of Kings who ruled for a few years.

4. Dawud ibn Ali was the son of Ali ibn Bashat. He was conquered by the Changa and deposed. The Changa was a baron from the South of modern day Zimbabwe (later to become Mutapa, Monomotapa in Portuguese, Mwenemutapa in Zezuru, Southern Zimbabwe, then the Rozwi empire in the 17th century).

5. Khalid ibn Bakr  was installed by the Changa, but he was removed within two years by the original Kilwans.

6. Al-Hassan ibn Suleiman ibn Ali. He was the nephew of the previous emperor, and he took over after the Kilwan Sultanate struck back to remove Khalid. He ruled for 16 years and set up the Kilwan Empire to be stable.

7.  Ali ibn Dawud was the son of Dawud ibn Ali, the emperor who was originally deposed. He ruled for 60 years from 1023 CE to 1083 CE. He expanded the Kilwan Empire and led to a golden age of development.

8. Ali ibn Dawud II  was the grandson of Dawud ibn Ali, but he was a tyrant. This led the Kilwa Empire to rebel against him, and he was left to die in a well after he was deposed.

9.  al-Hassan ibn Dawud was responsible for leading the people during the rebellion. He was the brother of Ali ibn Dawud II but was loved by the people and ruled for a few years.

10. Suleiman came in 1129, but was not of royal heritage. He was deposed by the people within two years.

11. Dawud ibn Suleiman was a respected man who was responsible for spreading Kilwan influence in Sofala. He was recalled after the rebellion against his father, and would rule for forty years.

12. Suleiman ibn al-Hassan ibn Dawud was the son of the previous emperor. Taking advantage of the influence of his father in Sofala, he was responsible for extending the Kilwan Empire into Sofala, and through it conquering the Swahili Coast. He was also an avid builder, building many fortresses and a new palace.

kilwa palace (cropped)
Kilwa palace
Kilwa Great Mosque

13. Dawud ibn Suleiman ruled for two years, and was deposed.

14. Talut ibn Suleiman (brother of Dawud ibn Suleiman) ruled for a year, and cost much of the goodwill of the previous Sultans.

15. Hussein ibn Suleiman replaced his brother and ruled for around twenty five years. He had no heirs, and kept the Empire stable, but did not expand it.

16.  Khalid ibn Suleiman also ruled for 10 years, but the Empire did not expand and its forces started growing complacent.

17. ibn Suleiman (descendant of the 12th ruler, name unknown) ruled for around 40 years as the Empire continued to stay stagnant.

18. Ali ibn Dawud ruled for 14 years to 1277. He was the last Shirazi Emperor, and his lack of control meant that he was eventually replaced by force.

Mahdali era

This sayyid dynasty, according to the Zanzibar chronicle, is called the family of Abu al-Mawahib. The Shirazi dynasty claimed a Persian origin whereas the Mahdali claimed origin from Yemen, in the Arabian Peninsula. Sayyid is an honorific title for descendants of Muhammed. (sayyidah for females)

19. al-Hassan ibn Talut would seize power from the previous emperor, thus instating the Mahdali era. He was an excellent knight and soldier, and ruled for around eighteen years, succeeded by his son.

20. Suleiman ibn Hassan ruled the Empire for 14 years. He was conspired against by some of his subjects and assassinated after his prayers. He was succeeded by his son.

21. Daud ibn Suleiman ruled for two years, while his older brother, al-Hassan completed the pilgrimage to Makkah he was on.

22. Abu al-Mawahib al-Hassan ibn Suleiman returned from Makkah in 1309 and assumed his place. He had no heirs.

23. Daud ibn Suleiman came back to the throne after the death of his brother and ruled for 24 years this time

24. Suleiman ibn Dawud was the son of Daud, but his reign was short lived, as his own uncle battled against him and defeated him within 20 days of his crowning.

25. Hussein ibn Suleiman al-Mat’un deposed his nephew to rule for 6 years. He died in a battle against the Bantu people.

26. Talut ibn Dawud was the brother of Suleiman and replaced his uncle. Like his brother, his reign would also be short lived and he was deposed by his own brother Suleiman.

27. Suleiman ibn Dawud deposed his brother to return as king. However, once again, he was deposed by one of his uncles, this time after two years.

28. Suleiman ibn Suleiman ibn Hussein deposed his nephew after he saw he was not a capable ruler. He was a solid leader who ruled for around twenty-four years.

29. Hussein ibn Suleiman succeeded his father and like him, ruled for 24 years.

30. Muhammad ibn Suleiman al-Adil was the brother of Hussein and ruled for nine uneventful years.

31. Suleiman ibn Muhammad succeeded his father and ruled for 22 years. He rebuilt the mosque of Kilwa, which had previously fallen in a state of disrepair.

32. Ismail ibn Hussein was the uncle of Suleiman and ruled for 14 years. His rule was beset by rebellion as Sa’id ibn Hassan tried to overthrow him, backed by the ruler of Zanzibar. They tried to create a coalition to take over Kilwa. However, his Vizier Suleiman managed to bribe key people organizing the expedition. This clever move helped to isolate Sa’id who was later pardoned.

33. The previous Vizier Suleiman took over from the previous King on his death. It was the first time that Ministers had taken control of the Empire. The opinion of the people of Kilwa soon forced him to hand power over to Emir Muhammad, however, who had conspired with the Vizier to take over.

34. Muhammad ibn al-Hussein ibn Muhammad ibn Suleiman al-Mazlum, who was more popularly known as Emir Muhammad, took over from the Vizier. He ruled for barely an year, as his poor choices for Vizier meant he was deposed.

35 Ahmad ibn Suleiman was the son of the late Vizier. He was deposed within a year by those of the Royal Family who did not appreciate the role of his father in the coup.

36 al-Hassan ibn Ismail was the son of the last royal Emperor Ismail. He ruled for ten years, and restored the ruling family to power.

37. Sa’id ibn al-Hassan was the son of the previous Emperor. He ruled for ten years, but once again upon his death, an Emperor’s ministerial choices left the Empire in open rebellion.

38. Suleiman ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn was the Vizier and seized power as soon as the previous Emperor died. He lifted his own brother to the rank of Emir. However, once again, the people of Kilwa forced a Vizier to step down.

39. Abdullah ibn al-Hassan was restored by the people of Kilwa. He was the brother of Said and ruled for one and a half years. These constant changes started weakening the Kilwan Empire, and they started declining.

40. Ali ibn Hassan took over from his brother, and ruled for a year and a half. He was old, and his death meant another Vizier taking over.

41  al-Hassan ibn Suleiman took over from the previous Emperor, and was installed by his uncle, the Vizier. He was deeply unpopular, and his own uncle deposed him to install someone from the Royal Family.

42. Sabhat ibn Muhammad ibn Suleiman was installed by the Vizier to take over from his own nephew. He ruled for a year before dying.

43. al-Hassan ibn Suleiman was brought by his uncle. Once again, he was deeply unpopular and his uncle had to remove him. His uncle’s constant interference was the greatest threat to the Kilwan Empire.

44. Ibrahim ibn Muhammad was again put to the throne by Emir Muhammad. This time however, his deposed nephew launched a rebellion. However, his uncle wanted order, and turned against his own nephew, declaring that the King’s Royal Blood meant he was a better choice for king. Sadly, this did not stop Emir Muhammad from deposing him, this time making himself the Emperor.

45. ibn Kiwab, or Emir Muhammad finally made himself Sultan. His rule was very brief, and he abdicated himself, showing that he never had ambitions to rule, and just wanted to install a better candidate.

46. al-Fudail ibn Suleiman took over from Emir Muhammad in 1495. However, once again, the Emir’s nephew returned with an army of Bantus and Kilwan Exiles. The Empire had been weakened by years of struggle. Al Fudail did not want bloodshed and was ready to step aside but the Emir knew his nephew should not have power. The Emir decided to give his son amnesty, in return for private life in Kilwa. He was suddenly taken ill and died, and in the confusion, his son infiltrated troops into the city, under the guise of returning to private life in Kilwa.

He led a squad of city troops to his father’s encampment as a sign of his return as a private citizen. However, this was a trap and the entire squad was massacred. His army attacked the same night, and the Kilwans rallied to their King to finally end the menace of the Emir’s nephew, Hassan. A bloody battle ensued, and the Sultan was successful. The victorious Sultan soon changed the family of the Emirs, appointing Ibrahim ibn Suleiman.

He was the last meaningful Sultan and was succeeded by three Portuguese puppets. The constant years of rebellion had finally taken its toll on the great Kilwan Empire.

Portuguese era

This era was characterised by a series of usurpers and Portuguese puppets that lacked legitimacy either by lineage or skill, resulting in ten years of uncertainty, and end of the Kilwan sultanate.

47. Ibrahim ibn Suleiman (c. 1499) murdered the previous Sultan, and attempted to take over. The Kilwan states refused to acknowledge him, and this opened the door to the Portuguese captains invading and deposing him.

48. Muhammad ibn Rukn ad Din (c. 1505) was put to the throne by the Portuguese Captain Francisco de Almeida as the Sultan of Kilwa, which was no a Vassal state. He was deposed as the Portuguese chose to appoint one of their own instead.

Modes of succession

Out of 48 rulers, one was the founder and became king from buying land and throwing off the yoke of the regional ruler. 25 sultans became king through bloodless succession (#2, #4, #7, #8, #11 to #18, #21 to #24, #29 to #32, #34, #36, #37, #39, #40). Seven usurpers were uncles or nephews of the deposed monarch (5, #9, #25 to #28, #44). Four overthrows were by non-royals (10, #19, #20 and 35). Five successors were either Ministers (or Viziers) or picked by Viziers (33, #38, #41, #42 and 43). Two were the nephews of sultans who died without children (#3 and #6).

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Kilwa Sultanate Kings’ List (960AD – 1505AD)

by Editorial Team time to read: 8 min