Omani Empire
الْإِمْبَرَاطُورِيَّة الْعُمَانِيَّة (Arabic)
Flag of Omani Empire
Coat of arms of Omani Empire
Coat of arms
Chronological map of the Omani Empire and Zanzibar
Chronological map of the Omani Empire and Zanzibar
Common languagesOfficial:
Ibadi Islam
Sunni Islam
Shia Islam
Yaruba Dynasty 
• 1692–1711
Saif bin Sultan (first)
• 1711–1718
Sultan bin Saif II
• 1718–1719
Saif bin Sultan II
• 1719–1720
Muhanna bin Sultan
• 1722–1723
Ya'arab bin Bel'arab
• 1724–1728
Muhammad bin Nasir
• 1742–1743
Sultan bin Murshid
• 1743–1749
Bal'arab bin Himyar
Al Busaid Dynasty 
• 1744–1778
Ahmad bin Said
• 1778–1783
Said bin Ahmed
• 1783–1793
Hamad bin Said
• 1792–1804
Sultan bin Ahmed
• 1805–1806
Badr bin Seif
• 1806–1856
Said bin Sultan (last)
• Civil war
in Oman
• Persian invasion
of Sohar
• Al Busaid Dynasty
took over
• Treaty with the
United States
• Division into two sultanates
• 1870 estimate
Indian rupee
Maria Theresa thaler
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Imamate of Oman
Kathiri State of Seiyun
Muscat and Oman
Sultanate of Zanzibar

The Omani Empire (Arabic: الْإِمْبَرَاطُورِيَّة الْعُمَانِيَّة) was a maritime empire, vying with Portugal and Britain for trade and influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. After rising as a regional player in the 18th century, the empire at its peak in the 19th century saw its influence or control extend across the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan, and as far south as Cape Delgado. After the death of Said bin Sultan in 1856 the empire was divided between his sons into two sultanates, an African section (Sultanate of Zanzibar) ruled by Majid bin Said and an Asian section (Sultanate of Muscat and Oman) ruled by Thuwaini bin Said.


Becoming a regional power

Muscat, which is located in a strategic location on trade routes, came under the control of the Portuguese Empire between 1507 and 1650. However, the Portuguese did not succeed in controlling Oman in its entirety. In mid-17th century, the Omani tribes were able to end the Portuguese presence in Muscat.[2]

In 1696, under the reign of Saif bin Sultan, an Omani fleet attacked Mombasa, besieging the Portuguese Fort Jesus, in which 2,500 civilians had taken refuge. The siege of the fort ended after 33 months when the garrison dying of hunger surrendered to the Omanis. By 1783, the Omani Empire had expanded eastwards to Gwadar in present-day Pakistan.[2] The Omanis also continued attacking Portuguese bases in western India[3] but failed to conquer any. In the north, the Omanis moved into the Persian Gulf, taking Bahrain from the Persians, holding it for several years.[4] The expansion of Omani power and influence southwards included the first large-scale settlement of Zanzibar by Omani migrants.

Ya'rubid Dynasty

Ya'rubids' ensign[5]

The Ya'rubids (1624–1719) managed to construct a powerful and well-organized state after the Portuguese had disrupted Arabian maritime trade in the region. The Portuguese encroachment which had engulfed the area in an economic crisis was challenged by the Omanis, where the latter managed to restore their traditional role as local maritime traders. Along with this, significant economic and political developments took place.[6]

The agriculture in Oman had undergone a massive improvement under Saif bin Sultan. He is known for providing water to the interior lands of Oman, while he encouraged Omani Arabs to move from the interior and settle along the coast by planting date palms in the coastal Al Batinah Region.[7] The town in the interior of Oman, Al Hamra, has its irrigation system improved by the new built large falaj, it seems that the Ya'ruba dynasty supported major investment in settlement and agricultural works such as terracing along the Wadi Bani Awf.[8] Saif bin Sultan built new schools.[9] He made the castle of Rustaq his residence, adding the Burj al Riah wind tower.[10]

Saif bin Sultan died on 4 October 1711. He was buried in the castle of Rustaq in a luxurious tomb, later destroyed by a Wahhabi general.[11] At his death he had great wealth, said to include 28 ships, 700 male slaves and one third of Oman's date trees. He was succeeded by his son.[7] Sultan bin Saif II (r. 1711–1718) established his capital at Al-Hazm on the road from Rustaq to the coast. Now just a village, there still are remains of a great fortress that he built around 1710, and which contains his tomb.[12]

Alliance with Great Britain

Sultan bin Ahmad assumed control of the government after the death of his nephew and strengthened the already powerful fleet by adding numerous gunships and sleek cargo vessels, he also needed a strong ally to help him regain control of Mombasa from the Mazrui clan, fight off the movement spreading from what is now Saudi Arabia and to keep the Qasimi tribes from the Persian city of Lengeh out of Oman. He found this able ally in Great Britain, which in the late 18th century was at war with France and knew that the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, was planning to march through Persia and capture Muscat on his way to invade India. In 1798, Britain and Oman agreed on a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation.[13][14]

Sultan bin Ahmad pledged himself to British interests in India, and his territories became out of bounds to the French. He allowed the British East India Company to establish the first trading station in the Persian Gulf, and a British consul was posted to Muscat. As well as defeating Bonaparte, the British had another motive for the treaty with Oman: they wanted to put pressure on the sultan to end slavery, which had been declared illegal in England in 1772. At this time, the trade from Africa to Oman was still buoyant, and Zanzibar's position as an important trade centre was bolstered further when the supply of ivory from Mozambique to India collapsed because of excessive Portuguese export duties. The traders simply shipped their ivory through Zanzibar instead. Omani warships were in constant skirmishes up and down the gulf, which kept Sultan preoccupied. It was in the course of one of his sorties during an incursion abroad a ship in the Persian Gulf in 1804 that Sayyid Sultan was shot in the head by a stray bullet. He was buried in Lengeh.[15]

Relations with the United States of America

On 21 September 1833, a historic treaty of friendship and trade was signed with the United States. It was the second trade treaty formulated by the US and an Arab state (Morocco being the first in 1820). The United States and Oman both stood to benefit, as the US – unlike Britain and France – had no territorial ambitions in the Middle East and was solely interested in commerce. On 13 April 1840, the ship Al-Sultanah docked at New York, making it the first Arab envoy to ever visit the New World. Her crew of fifty-six Arab sailors caused a flurry of excitement among the three hundred thousand residents of that thriving metropolis. Al-Sultanah carried ivory, Persian rugs, spices, coffee and dates, as well as lavish gifts for President Martin Van Buren. The visit of Al-Sultanah lasted nearly four months, in which time the emissary, Ahmad bin Na'aman Al Kaabi, the first Arab emissary to visit the United States[16] (whose portrait can still be seen in the Oman and Zanzibar display of the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts) and his officers were entertained by state and city dignitaries. They received resolutions passed by official bodies, were given tours of New York City and saw sections which would, a few decades later, become Arabic-speaking immigrant neighborhoods. Among Bin Na'aman's hosts was Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, in whose home he met Governor William H. Seward and Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson. The visit of Al Kaabi to America was a happy one, and when he prepared to leave, the United States completely repaired Al-Sultanah and presented him with gifts for his Sultan.[17]

Said bin Sultan of the al-Busaid Dynasty

Said bin Sultan was the son of Sultan bin Ahmad, who ruled Oman from 1792 to 1804. Sultan bin Ahmad died in 1804 on an expedition to Basra. He appointed Mohammed bin Nasir bin Mohammed al-Jabry as the Regent and guardian of his two sons, Salim bin Sultan and Said bin Sultan.[18] Sultan's brother Qais bin Ahmad, ruler of Sohar, decided to attempt to seize power. Early in 1805 Qais and his brother Mohammed marched south along the coast to Muttrah, which he easily captured. Qais then started to besiege Muscat. Mohammed bin Nasir tried to bribe Qais to leave, but did not succeed.[18]

Mohammed bin Nasir called on Badr bin Saif for help.[18] After a series of engagements, Qais was forced to retire to Sohar. Badr bin Saif became the effective ruler.[19] Allied with the Wahhabis, Badr bin Saif became increasingly unpopular.[20] To get his wards out of the way, Badr bin Saif made Salim bin Sultan governor of Al Maşna‘ah, on the Batinah coast and Said bin Sultan governor of Barka.[21]

In 1806, Said bin Sultan lured Badr bin Saif to Barka and murdered him nearby. Said was proclaimed ruler of Oman.[22] There are different accounts of what happened, but it seems clear that Said struck the first blow and his supporters finished the job. Said was acclaimed by the people as a liberator from the Wahhabis, who left the country. Qais bin Ahmad at once gave his support to Said. Nervous of the Wahhabi reaction, Said blamed Mohammed bin Nasir for the murder.[22]

In 1832, Said bin Sultan transferred the capital from Oman to Zanzibar. At that time, the empire's African dominion extended along the Swahili coast to 12 miles south of the Ruvuma River in Mozambique. Although the empire's primary governance was concentrated along the coastline, it also established control over numerous African tributary states and designated governors for inland regions.[23]


Under the 1798 Anglo-Omani Treaty of Friendship, Britain guaranteed the sultan’s rule. When a succession crisis occurred in 1856, the Omani Empire was divided between the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat and the Sultanate of Zanzibar. Later in 1891, the former became a British Protectorate where the sultan controlled the Muscat coast while the Imam governed the interior from Nizwa.[24]


  1. ^ "Population: Oman", Maddison Project Database, version 2020. Bolt, Jutta and Jan Luiten van Zanden (2020), “Maddison style estimates of the evolution of the world economy. A new 2020 update ”. Archived from the original on 22 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b "A History of Oman". Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  3. ^ Davies 1997, p. 51-52.
  4. ^ Davies 1997, p. 52.
  5. ^ "De Rode Leeuw".
  6. ^ El-Ashban, Abdul Aziz (1979). "The Formation of the Omani Trading Empire under the Ya'aribah Dynasty (1624-1719)". Arab Studies Quarterly. 1 (4): 354–371. ISSN 0271-3519. JSTOR 41857520.
  7. ^ a b Thomas 2011, p. 222.
  8. ^ Siebert 2005, p. 175.
  9. ^ Plekhanov 2004, p. 49.
  10. ^ Ochs 1999, p. 258.
  11. ^ Miles 1919, p. 225.
  12. ^ JPM Guides 2000, p. 85.
  13. ^ Miles 1919, p. 281.
  14. ^ Alston and Laing 2012, p. 34-36.
  15. ^ "The British Empire, Imperialism, Colonialism, Colonies". Retrieved 2018-08-06.
  16. ^ "MIRRORING MODERNITY: on consumerism in cosmopolitan Zanzibar".
  17. ^ Eilts 1962.
  18. ^ a b c Miles 1919, p. 304.
  19. ^ Miles 1919, p. 305.
  20. ^ Miles 1919, p. 307.
  21. ^ Miles 1919, p. 308.
  22. ^ a b Miles 1919, p. 309.
  23. ^ Rippin 2013, p. 42–43.
  24. ^ "History of Oman | Royal Air Force of Oman". RAF Museum. Retrieved 2023-05-15.