African history is one of the most important, superb and beautiful history in the world today. Without the interesting histories from Africa, history of the world would’ve been boring, uninteresting, not colourful and uninspiring. African history is universally unique.
The Songhai Empire was a state that dominated the western Sahel in the 15th and 16th centuries. At its peak, it was one of the largest empire in African history.
During the second half of the 13th century, Gao and the surrounding region had grown into an important trading center; and attracted the interest of the expanding Mali Empire. Mali conquered Gao, towards the end of the 13th century; and the town remained under Malian hegemony until the late 14th century. But as the Mali Empire started to disintegrate, the Songhai reasserted control of Gao. Songhai rulers subsequently took advantage of the weakened Mali Empire to expand Songhai rule.
IMPORTANT POINTS ABOUT SONGHAI EMPIRE
- The Songhai Empire was a state that dominated the western Sahel in the 15th and 16th centuries. At its peak, it was one of the largest states in African history. Initially, the empire was ruled by the Sonni dynasty (c. 1464–1493), but it was later replaced by the Askiya dynasty (1493–1591).
- In the second half of the 14th century, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire and in the 1430s Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty.
- Sonni Ali reigned from 1464 to 1492. In the late 1460s, he conquered many of the Songhai’s neighboring states, including what remained of the Mali Empire. He was arguably the empire’s most formidable military strategist and conqueror. Under his rule, Songhai reached a size of over 1,400,000 square kilometers.
- The internal political chaos and multiple civil wars within the empire allowed Morocco to invade Songhai. The main reason for the Moroccan invasion was to seize control of and revive the trans-Saharan trade in salt and gold. The empire fell to the Moroccans and their firearms in 1591.
- The empire’s power was linked to economic trade; their government system granted authority to local chiefs as long as they did not undermine Songhai policy and tightly controlled labor division system.
THE FALL OF SONGHAI
The Songhai Empire began to shrink, especially in the west, from the last quarter of the 16th century CE. This was largely due to a string of ineffectual leaders and civil wars for the right of succession which had blighted the empire ever since the death of King Mohammad in 1528 CE. One particular rivalry, between Mohammad IV Bano (r. from 1586 CE) and his brothers, effectively divided the empire in half. Then the final deathblow was swift. The Moroccan leader Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi (d. 1603 CE), known rather grandly as ‘the Golden Conqueror’, sent a small force of perhaps 4,000 men armed with muskets to attack the empire in the 1590-1 CE. The Songhai army numbered some 30,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, but their weapons were mere spears and arrows. As a result of this technological mismatch, the Moroccans won the war, even if there were a few sporadic but ineffectual Songhai fightbacks over the next few years.
The Songhai Empire, West Africa’s largest, had simply crumbled from within and evaporated. It would be the last of the great empires that had dominated West Africa since the 6th century CE.