The land of the Somali people, much of it arid and inhospitable, has for thousands of years been close to civilization and international trade. To the north, just across the Gulf of Aden, is Saba, the land of the legendary Queen of Sheba and the earliest part of Arabia to prosper. To the west is Ethiopia, where the kingdom of Aksum is established by the 5th century BC.

Situated on the so-called Horn of Africa, jutting out into the India Ocean, Somalia’s harbours are natural ports of call for traders sailing to and from India. So the coastline of the region is much visited by foreigners, in particular Arabs and Persians. But in the interior the Somali are left to their own devices.