Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Pathways to Statehood: Authority, legitimacy and Social Diversity in the Horn of Africa (11th-16th centuries)

Project description

Tracking the origins of weak or failed states

Understanding the features of weak or failed states is a challenging issue. The Horn of Africa is widely known as a geographic region that is characterised by disintegrated systems of governance and weak legitimate authority. The EU-funded StateHorn project proposes a new method based on archaeology that will provide a new vision of how statehood has been conceived, studied and analysed in the Horn of Africa. The project will focus on the medieval period in northern Somalia and south-eastern Ethiopia. This is considered a period during which actual political, economic and demographic characteristics emerged. StateHorn envisages developing a theory able to analyse regions with weak or failed states.


The StateHorn Project presents a radically new, archaeology-based approach to one of the key issues in the contemporary world: the nature and characteristics of weak and failed states. Based in the Horn of Africa, an area widely known by recurrent problems of fragmented systems of governance and legitimate authority, the StateHorn project aims to build an alternative vision on the ways statehood has been conceptualized, studied and analyzed in the region. It will do it from a archaeological, deeper past perspective which will take as its focus the medieval period (1100—1600) in northern Somalia and south-eastern Ethiopia, a period which saw the emergence of the defining political, demographic and economic characteristics which have shaped the modern region until the present day. The project aims to understand the nature and conceptualization of the medieval states in this region, which were the roots of their legitimacy and power and how they related with their populations and other neighbouring states.

Organized around five Research Lines (Territory, Material Culture, Written and Oral Sources, Urbanization and Trade), the State Horn project will complement archaeological information with written historical sources, oral traditions, linguistics, literature and ethnography to present the most comprehensive study of statehood in the Horn of Africa during the medieval period. It will also move beyond an enclosed, isolated study of a specific historical period to develop a theory of statehood in the Horn of Africa which is at the same time coherent with the archaeological and historical sources and useful to analyze the current political situation in the region and any other places where weak or failed states are present.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 848,00
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)