Azania (Ancient Greek: Ἀζανία) is a name that has been applied to various parts of southeastern tropical Africa. In the Roman period and perhaps earlier, the toponym referred to a portion of the Southeast Africa coast extending from Somalia and Kenya, to perhaps as far south as Tanzania. This area was inhabited by Southern Cushitic-speaking populations until the wave of Bantu expansion.
Pliny the Elder mentions an “Azanian Sea” (N.H. 6.34) that began around the emporium of Adulis and stretched around the south coast of Africa. The 1st century AD Greek travelogue the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea first describes Azania based on its author’s intimate knowledge of the area. Chapter 15 of the Periplus suggests that Azania could be the littoral area south of present-day Somalia (the “Lesser and Greater Bluffs”, the “Lesser and Greater Strands”, and the “Seven Courses”). Chapter sixteen describes the emporium of Rhapta, located south of the Puralean Islands at the end of the Seven Courses of Azania, as the “southernmost market of Azania”. The Periplus does not mention any dark-skinned “Ethiopians” among the area’s inhabitants. They only later appear in Ptolemy’s Geographia, but in a region far south, around the “Bantu nucleus” of northern Mozambique. According to John Donnelly Fage, these early Greek documents altogether suggest that the original inhabitants of the Azania coast, the “Azanians”, were of the same ancestral stock as the Afro-Asiatic populations to the north of them along the Red Sea. Subsequently, by the 10th century AD, these original “Azanians” had been replaced by early waves of Bantu settlers.
Later Western writers who mention Azania include Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100 – c. 170 CE) and Cosmas Indicopleustes (6th century CE).
Azania was known to the Chinese as 澤散 (Middle Chinese: /ɖˠæk̚.sɑnX/, Pinyin: zésàn) by the 3rd century AD.
The term was briefly revived in the second half of the 20th century as the appellation given to South Africa by African nationalists such as the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) party. It was also considered as a possible name for South Sudan when it voted for independence in 2011 and has been applied to Jubaland within Somalia.
Mofarite, Hadramite and Omani merchants established various trading posts on the Zanj Coast corresponding to Azania, the South Semitic etymology of A’Zania preceded the later Arabic Al-Zanjia.