Picture of author.

Richard Seymour Hall (1925–1997)

Forfatter af Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and Its Invaders

12+ Works 230 Members 9 Reviews

Om forfatteren

Omfatter også: Richard Hall (7)

Værker af Richard Seymour Hall

Associated Works

MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Summer 1994 (1994) — Author "Desperate Citadel" — 11 eksemplarer

Satte nøgleord på

Almen Viden

Land (til kort)
United Kingdom



This is the classic three-decker sandwich: in the first part, we get an overview of the long-established trading patterns in the Indian Ocean driven by the predictable winds of the monsoon: the triangular traffic between Arabia, India and East Africa and the links between India and South-East Asia and China. Hall obviously loves a good story and an eye-witness, so he spends a lot of time on the stories of Captain Buzurg, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and various other less well-known travel-writers, as well as on the surviving accounts of China's brief flirtation with naval superpower status in the 14th century under Admiral Zheng He. But in between also manages to slip in a pretty clear account of how it all hung together, and how little medieval Europe knew of the geography and politics of the countries around the Indian Ocean.

That ignorance was in many ways at its crassest with the first incursions by European ships, the Portuguese "voyages of discovery" around the end of the fifteenth century, which are covered in the second part of the book. The treaty of Tordesillas had given the Portuguese the — supposed — right to claim most of Africa and Asia for themselves, but the people who already lived there weren't too impressed by that legal detail. Portugal didn't have the manpower and resources to establish colonial territories in the way Spain was doing in the Americas, so they relied on setting up a few small trading enclaves, in places like Goa, Sofala, and Mombasa, and on terrorising local shipping into compliance with their trading rules using their superior naval firepower. The combination of engrained Portuguese hatred for Islam with the need to make a very small number of warships impress people over a very large area resulted in some very public atrocities that often make the activities of the Spanish Conquistadors look relatively harmless in comparison. Captured seafarers and their passengers were regularly submitted to mutilation and burning alive, preferably within sight of the shore.

Needless to say, Portugal soon faced active resistance from the Ottoman Turks (helped on the quiet by their Venetian trading partners) and competition from other European ships that started to arrive in the ocean, and the Portuguese dominion over Africa and Asia never came to very much beyond Goa and a few slave plantations along the Zambezi. One odd part of the story, that Hall spends quite some time on, is King Manuel's obsession with forming an alliance with the legendarily wealthy Christian emperor Prester John, who of course never existed either in Africa or India (the legends allowed for both possibilities). The closest match that could be found was in Ethiopia, a country that was certainly Christian, but had little to offer as an ally — Portuguese efforts to establish a presence there and convert the Ethiopians to Roman Catholicism were predictably disastrous.

The final part of the book fast-forwards us through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into the post-Napoleonic period, with a focus on Zanzibar under the crafty Sultan of Oman, Seyid Said, and his successors. The political situation has some interesting parallels to the present day: Seyid spent a lot of money with British arms manufacturers (especially in British India), so the British government, committed as it was to ending slavery, tended to overlook the fact that he controlled all the main slave-markets and most of the slave-ships in the region. And had tens of thousands of slaves working on his own plantations.

Hall also looks at how European trade goods (especially guns) and the increasing incursions of European explorers and missionaries created the volatile situation in which European colonies started to be established in East Africa, in the famous "race for Africa" of the 1870s and 80s. We get cool, hard looks at colourful figures like Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Stanley, and a few reminders of the abuses that went along with the establishment of "benign" protectorates. This process is mostly just sketched in: Hall obviously takes it for granted that readers will already know the outlines of the 20th-century history of Africa, which seems fair enough.

An interesting, lively book, with a good balance of colourful narrative and hard facts. Probably not the only book you will want to read about the region — it's pretty light on India, for example — but a good overview that also comes with with a lot of detail about East Africa that will be new to most readers.
… (mere)
3 stem
thorold | 4 andre anmeldelser | Feb 13, 2022 |
A most enjoyable, remarkable, tale of African exploration.
DramMan | 2 andre anmeldelser | Sep 16, 2017 |
Superb coverage of early European exploration and colonisation of the Indian Ocean area. Contains many little-known details that are integrated beautifully into this robust and honest (and brutal) history of the region. No holds are barred in recounting the ruthlessness of the age and the travesties against the peoples of the region as they were slaughtered, brutalised and/or enslaved by the region's intruders. However, we soon find that the Europeans were not singular in their practices, many other kingdoms and states also considered Africa and the weaker states of the region hunting grounds for riches and slaves.

The latter third of the book pays particular attention to the colonisation of East Africa and fills a void in many western readers' knowledge of the region. This is a book to be read and re-read and in which I have stuck many little tabs to highlight details I know I will want to refer back to (as this is a particular area of interest to me). The illustrations are excellent and I wished there were more. There is also a 20-page index to help you find your way to information about specific individuals and some events, but it could have been even more robust. For example, while there is considerable information about the importance of Oman as a powerful ship-building and sea-going nation, and Christianity in Ethiopia, there are no index entries under 'Oman' or 'Ethiopia' to help you find your way back to them. If there is ever an updated edition, I petition the author for a more extensive index as the text is so rich, it deserves more accessibility. The end notes are interesting but rarely give the source of textual information, which many readers will miss. There is, however, an excellent bibliography broken down into sub-subjects as they relate to the book's chapters (helpful in identifying relevant additional reading).
… (mere)
pbjwelch | 4 andre anmeldelser | Jul 25, 2017 |

Måske også interessante?

Associated Authors


Also by

Diagrammer og grafer