African Kingdoms - Features

Key features - Benin

Already in existence as far back as 40 BC, and known as Ubini, the Portuguese explorers who visited the kingdom in the 1460s renamed it Beny and today, it is known as Benin.

 It was at its height between the 15th and 17th century when the Oba (King) was the most formidable ruler in West Africa. A defence wall was built round the city. This came to be known as the famous Benin moat.

Benin craft workers cast superb bronze figures which were used to record the achievements of the Oba and significant events of the day. These are still famous world wide today.

Key features – Mali

The Mali (1235 - 1645) empire was famous for the wealth of its rulers who had exclusive rights to the gold mined within his borders.

 Its traded in gold, salt and copper. It maintained a professional full time army to protect its borders.

 The Djenne Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali  is the largest mud brick in the world and is a master piece of earthen architecture.

The first mosque was built in the 13th century and was a great citadel of learning for Islamic students who came from different parts of the world.

The mosque remains one of the most famous landmarks in Africa.

Mansa Musa was Mali's most famous ruler. He ruled the empire between 1312 and 1337, at the time when Mali had over half of the world's gold. During his reign, Sankora University in Timbuktu reached it's height. Islamic scholars came from all over the world to receive free education. He commissioned Spanish craftsmen to decorate his palace. When he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, he took an entourage of 60,000 followers and he gave away vast amount of gold as he went. When he reached Cairo in Egypt which was the centre of world gold trade, he gave away so much gold tips that Cairo's economy collapsed and this did not recover for another ten years. This single act put him, Mali and Africa on the world map: The Catalan atlas of 1375. Find out more here:

By the 14th century, Mali provided two thirds of the gold in Europe.

Task: Imagine that you are an explorer, write a play script of your first meeting with His Majesty.

Key features – Ethiopia

Ethiopia was a Christian empire in the heart of Muslim Africa.

 Its most famous ruler was the fabulously rich Prester John.

Ethiopian Christians built their churches by hollowing through solid rocks to form cross shapes. Fifteen of these churches survive today.

 Lalibela was the capital of the empire in 1200s.

Task: Plan an excursion to Ethiopia to see this church and other landmarks. What will you take with you?

Key features - Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe is now the name given to the remains of the stone walls built around structures in the settlement, they took over 400 hundred years to complete (11th to 15th centuries).They remain some of the oldest and largest structures in Southern Africa.

The people used copper and iron and traded in gold with the rest of the world.

Great Zimbabwe was at its height around 1450 in central Africa.

Task: There is a lot of speculations about this civilisation. What do you 

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