Scholar-Griot: Rebecca Allyson Schnabel, M.S.

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While knights rode roughly medieval Europe, the 3 good realms of West Africa flourished via unimaginable wealth. Ghana, Mali and also Songhai managed even more gold and conducted more global trade than any kind of European power at this time in history.

Three Early West Afrihave the right to Empires

(Note: These historic empires are not the nations bearing the very same names this day. Also note: "CE" represents "Usual Era" and also, favor "AD," actions the years as counted by Christian scholars from the birth of Jesus.)

Ghana (Wagadu) – 300 CE -1235 CE

Traditionally known as Wagadu, the empire of Ghana was the initially of the good Western Afrihave the right to Empires. Situated better north than the modern-day Republic of Ghana, this was the smallest but longest enduring of these 3 historic domain names. Located between two significant rivers, the Niger and the Senegal, and also bordered by the Sahara to the eastern, Ghana became the center of profession between the Arabs and Berbers in the north regions and various other Afrihave the right to societies to the south. Bringing down salt from northern Africa, the Arabs and also Berbers traded in Ghana for gold and also ivory.

Empire of Ghana (Wagadu)

Ghana’s wide range prospered with a double taxation system inserted on their a lot of handy commodity, gold. People were taxed once bringing gold in and aobtain when taking it out of the empire. Ghana also profited from the exportation of gold. Gold dust was the main money of the time. Salt, yet, is necessary for humale survival and rare the even more southern ones travels. As the desire and require for further profession flourished, the nomadic Berbers developed the western trans-Saharan caravan road. Thanks to this elaborate highmethod mechanism, Mediterranean traders could take a trip southern to Afrideserve to strongholds favor Ghana to exchange their salt for ivory and also gold.

This 1985 Azalai salt caravan proceeds the heritage of trans-Saharan trade.

Leaders in Ghana, the Soninke, regulated to store their main resource of gold, the Bambuk mines, an enigma from the international traders. The Soninke retained the core of pure metal for themselves, accumulating excellent wide range, and also left the unoperated native gold to be marketed by the prevalent civilization. Historians think this global profession path mobilized numerous countless Africans, with the gold of Ghana getting to much ameans European and Oriental countries.

The decay of this empires arisen because of political turmoil from within and also intruders that penetrated Ghana’s boarders and sacked their good cities. Scholars tell us there were intrusions from the North by teams like the Almoravids, and also by the brief lived Sosso Kingdom. Sundiata Keita, founder of the Mali empire, additionally took benefit of the weakness of Ghana. Changing trading routes played a major duty in its decrease as well, as did civil wars because of spiritual differences. Many type of people in Ghana rejected Islam, preferring their traditional idea devices.

For even more readings on the political devices and also significant leaders of Ghana view Historian Phillip Curtin’s occupational titled Afrideserve to History, the Cambridge History of Africa, and the UNESCO series on the General History of Africa (GHA).

Mali – 1230 CE – 1460 CE

Out of the ashes of Ghana came the next great people of its time –– and the wealthiest kingdom ever to exist in people background — the Mali Empire. The roots of Mali begin within ancient Ghana and also the Malinke inhabitants of Kangaba, who offered as middlemen trading gold to foreigners. Sundiata Keita climbed up from his small kingdom of Kangaba, won the people’s assistance, conquered the last strongorganize of Old Ghana, and started the regime of the Mali Realm. His successors increased the empire to envelope the trading communities of Timbuktu and Gao and north regions such as Taghaza, containing the very useful salt deposits. Mali swallowed up the riches of Ghana and also increased on their methods with good success.

In 1312 CE, Musa the First or Mansa (meaning King or Emperor) Musa took the thramong Mali. He had an army of over 100,000 including a mounties of more than 10,000 guys. This army was a formidable fighting pressure, which permitted Mansa Musa to double the dimension of his kingdom. He is remembered a lot of notably as the wealthiest guy who ever lived.

Mansa Musa, the richest guy in history.

Ruling the gold facility of the people, Mansa Musa’s wealth is incomprehensible. Being a devote Muslim, Mansa Musa traveled across the continent and carried earlier scholars and also architects. These specialists would certainly develop colleges and also mosques. His 4,000 mile pilgrphoto to Capital gave him the possibility to display his generosity to the common world. Mansa Musa’s gifts of gold to common human being throughout his hajj destabilized the entire Egyptian economy. His good generosity literally put him on the map. In 1375 Mansa Musa was shown on the Catalan Atlas, one of the the majority of crucial human being maps of Middle ages Europe. He was portrayed through a golden scepter and crvery own, seated upon a golden throne.

The Catalan Atlas was one of the the majority of essential human being maps of its day. Mansa Musa of Mali, as one of the world"s a lot of necessary leaders, was pictured on it giving some of his gold.

However, Mansa Musa added much even more to the world than gold. In a very early form of globalization, Mansa Musa sent out ambassadors throughout the continent of Africa. In Mali he cultivated "a area of splendor, riches, and also sophistication," attracting European and also Center Eastern travelers achoose. Mansa Musa also modernized the great city of Timbuktu, building public institutions, colleges, and mosques. These incorporate the legendary Djinguereber, the oldest mosque in Timbuktu, constructed in 1327, which still stands now. It holds among the world’s oldest colleges still in visibility.

Unfortunately, queens that adhered to would certainly lose control of several smaller sized states within Mali, resulting in disunity, revolt, and also the erosion of main power. As Mali increased from the fevery one of Ghana, so Songhai would assert its independent power over the area, emerging as the next good Western Afrideserve to Realm.


Songhai (additionally spelled Songhay) – 1460 CE – 1600 CE

While Mali easily fell acomponent as a result of rampant disunity, a new king reigned. Sonni Ali ruled Songhai from 1464 to 1492. The Songhai kingdom was a tiny contemporary state of Ghana yet later on climbed to defeat its Malian conquerers. The Songhai managed the trade on the Niger river at the moment of the Mali Realm. Thturbulent endless campaigns for growth, Songhai became the largest of the three great realms of Western Africa –– and also bigger than all of continental Europe. The Songhai kingdom under Ali had actually the only naval fleet in West Africa. Ali was a armed forces tyrant, additionally described as Sunni the Merciless, intolerant of any resistance to his rule. He is recognized for having actually starved the citizens of renowned trading tvery own of Djenné into submission. These brutal strategies define exactly how the empire thrived so big in such a short amount of time, likewise suggesting why the empire would certainly last simply as briefly. Sonni Ali is additionally known, however, for his wise economic decisions, reviving the prehistoric profession paths of realms previous. Under his regime, large commercial cities prefer Djenné, Gao, and also Timbuktu became excellent centers of discovering and scholarship.

King Sonni Ali (as illustrated by the Afrihave the right to Heritage Foundation)

Anvarious other proficient ruler of the Songhai Empire was Askia the Great. Known for encouraging worldwide profession between Songhai and also both Europe and Asia, Askia was also well-known for his spiritual tolerance. Like the rulers prior to him of both Songhai and Mali, Askia the Great was a devout Muslim. He opened up spiritual schools and also mosques across the empire. Oral histories relate that he did not pressure Islam on his people or punish those who chose to think otherwise. Simultaneously orchestrating a strategy of expansion and consolidation, Askia the Great did not develop his domain alengthy standard Islamic lines. He rather instituted a mechanism of governmental government unrivaled at this time in Western Africa. The Songhai Empire possessed some of Africa’s earliest arranged taxation systems and profession regulations, proceeding the ancestral profession routes of gold, ivory, and also salt. Among Askia’s well-known financial and also military success is his less popular interest in and also affect on the advancement of the field of astronomy.

By the 17th century satellite kingdoms alengthy the boundaries started to rebel, and also civil battles occurred throughout the empire. The main power of the emperor likewise dropped right into consistent strife as decedents battled over the best to rule. With the empire splintering acomponent from within, the surrounding area of Morocco chose to take benefit and also introduced an invasion. In spite of having actually a tenth of the manpower, the Morochave the right to muskets far outperformed the standard spears and also arrows of the Songhai armed forces. Moroccan leader Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi, well-known as ‘the Golden Conqueror,’ seized the Songhai treasure. He eventually soaked up all of the empire right into a Moroccan province, disaddressing the last of the Great Western Afrihave the right to Empires.

In Conclusion

Like many historical empires, Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, did not endure into modern-day times. However, they were fundamental in shaping the human being we live in this particular day. Many European, Center Eastern, and Eastern strongholds would certainly not have actually prospered without the trade from these Afrideserve to Empires. These Afrideserve to cultures not only affected the global economy, they additionally shaped the world"s art, culture, and also faith through worldwide profession. These empires gave security and also resources to many excellent Afrihave the right to and Muslim scholars, thereby sustaining the development of scientific research, approach, and other forms of knowledge across the globe.


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Andrews, Evan. “7 Influential Afrideserve to Empires.”, A&E Television Networks. Januaray 11, 2017.

Cain, Áine. “Here"s What It Was like to Be Mansa Musa, Thought to Be the Richest Human being in History.” Business Insider. February 14, 2018.

Cartwideal, Mark. “Songhai Empire.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. July 26, 2019.

“Collapse: Mali and Songhai.” Collapse: Why perform human beings loss apart? Annenberg Foundation. 2016.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade (7th–1fourth Century Century).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2000.

Freaexecute, Michael, director. The Great West Afrihave the right to Empires. July 21, 2016.

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Mbody organ, Thad. “This 14th-Century Afrihave the right to Emperor Remains the Richest Person in History.”, A&E Television Netfunctions, 19 Mar. 2018

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The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Mali: Historical Realm, Africa.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified January 23, 2019.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Songhai: Historical Realm, Africa.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified April 2, 2019.

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Whistler, Hamza. “Kingdoms of the Grasslands – West Afrideserve to Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and also Songhai Chapter 8 (2 of 4) - Ppt Video Online Downfill.” SlidePlayer. 2015.

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Rebecca Schnabel is a graduate of UW-Milwaukee’s Masters of Public History and also Museum Studies Certificate programs. She strives to cultivate a sense of neighborhood via engaging endeavors that connect history through the existing, especially with empowering the basic public to use their own agency while exploring exhibitions on social justice. Rebecca’s passion does not reside in one specific historical era or geographic location, however rather in illuminating underrepresented backgrounds. Her specialties include interpretation, collections monitoring, and exhilittle architecture. To learn more, please visit her virtual portfolio: