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Medieval Indian Ocean Trade Routes

This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can play the Medieval Indian Ocean Trade Routes game with your whole family together!

1st thru 4th grades
5th thru 8th grades
9th thru 12th grades

Layers of Learning Unit 2-13
Unit 2-13: African Kingdoms, Mali, Carbon Chem, Textiles

The Indian Ocean Trade Game is from Layers of Learning Unit 2-13, which is all about African Kingdoms of the middle ages. Printables and games are sprinkled all through Layers of Learning, a hands-on family style curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.

Many cities around the rim of the Indian Ocean, including the east coast of Africa, became fabulously wealthy during the middle ages through the medieval Indian Ocean trade routes.    The Swahili coast of Africa had ivory, gold, ebony, sandalwood, and slaves to trade. China had silk and porcelain to get to market in the west.  India, at the center of the trade routes got it coming and going, silk from China and ivory and ebony from Africa, and they exported their spices and narcotics.  Many city rulers, like the sultan of Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea, demanded tribute for merchant ships to stop in the port.  It was mostly Arabs who were the sailors and traders, braving the pirates, storms, and hardships of life at sea to become wealthy by buying and selling.

Step 1: Library Research

Before you begin exploring, read a book or two about the Indian Ocean trade during the middle ages. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about Indian Ocean trade, Swahili city-states, or Arab traders. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.

This is a very hard to find topic. You can also read the Wikipedia article Indian Ocean Trade.

Juma’s Dhow Race

by Lisa Maria Burgess

Set in the modern day, this book introduces children to the Swahili culture and the seafaring tendencies of the east Africans.

Indian Ocean Trade

by Crash Course

It’s super hard to find books on this fascinating topic, so here’s a video.

Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean

by K.N. Chaudhuri

A thorough book on a hard to find topic. This isn’t exactly an easy conversational read, but it’s well done and less than 300 pages.

Step 2: Indian Ocean Trade Game Exploration

To play the Indian Ocean Trade Game you will need colored pencils, game pieces, a die, and this Indian Ocean Trade Game printable.

You can use anything for game pieces: Legos, beans, coins, and so on.
Click on the image to print.

Print out the map above by clicking on the link or on the image.  Alternatively, you can free-hand draw the map onto a large poster board to make it easier to see and play.  Color the map and game spaces with the colored pencils.

Roll a die to travel from Sofala, the southernmost Swahili trade city to the Spice Islands and back.  Venture into the Red Sea and the Arabian sea on your way. Read facts about the Indian Trade, the Arab traders, or the Swahili city-states between turns.

You’ll notice pirates on the map.  These spots really were pirate havens back then and captains of trading vessels were especially cautious as they neared these areas, though a pirate could set upon you anyplace. You can make these spaces into penalties like “go back three spaces” or “lose a turn”.

Step 3: Show What You Know

Have you kids each draw their own map with illustrations and captions describing the trade routes of the Indian Ocean during the middle ages. Put the maps into the history section of your Layers of Learning binder.

Additional Layers

Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.

Writer’s Notebook

Pirates were all over the Indian Ocean, but there were certain places that were especially favorable to pirates.  If you were a pirate what would you look for in a good hideout or base of operations?

Write about it in your Writing Journal.

Additional Layer

Learn about the dhow boats used by the Arabs.

Additional Layer

Learn about the slave trade of east Africa. This slave trade had been going on since ancient times and was mostly run by the Arabs. East coast Africans would capture slaves from the interior and then sell them to Arabs who sold them throughout the Muslim world and sometimes in Europe.

Get the first Layers of Learning unit free when you sign up for the monthly newsletter.

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