Mali Empire
Overview
 
The Mali Empire or Mandingo Empire or Manden Kurufa was a West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

n empire of the Mandinka
Mandinka people
The Mandinka, Malinke are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa with an estimated population of eleven million ....

 from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita, Sundjata Keyita, Mari Djata I or just Sundiata was the founder of the Mali Empire and celebrated as a hero of the Malinke people of West Africa in the semi-historical Epic of Sundiata....

 and became renowned for the wealth
Wealth
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

 of its rulers, especially Mansa
Mansa
Mansa is a Mandinka word meaning "king of kings". It is particularly associated with the Keita Dynasty of the Mali Empire, which dominated West Africa from the thirteenth to the fifthteenth century...

 Musa I
Mansa Musa
Musa I , commonly referred to as Mansa Musa, was the tenth mansa, which translates as "king of kings" or "emperor", of the Malian Empire...

. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River
Niger River
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about . Its drainage basin is in area. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea...

. It extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

 kingdoms and provinces.
The Mali Empire grew out of an area referred to by its contemporary inhabitants as Manden.
Encyclopedia
The Mali Empire or Mandingo Empire or Manden Kurufa was a West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

n empire of the Mandinka
Mandinka people
The Mandinka, Malinke are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa with an estimated population of eleven million ....

 from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita, Sundjata Keyita, Mari Djata I or just Sundiata was the founder of the Mali Empire and celebrated as a hero of the Malinke people of West Africa in the semi-historical Epic of Sundiata....

 and became renowned for the wealth
Wealth
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

 of its rulers, especially Mansa
Mansa
Mansa is a Mandinka word meaning "king of kings". It is particularly associated with the Keita Dynasty of the Mali Empire, which dominated West Africa from the thirteenth to the fifthteenth century...

 Musa I
Mansa Musa
Musa I , commonly referred to as Mansa Musa, was the tenth mansa, which translates as "king of kings" or "emperor", of the Malian Empire...

. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River
Niger River
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about . Its drainage basin is in area. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea...

. It extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

 kingdoms and provinces.

Manden

The Mali Empire grew out of an area referred to by its contemporary inhabitants as Manden. Manden, named for its inhabitants the Mandinka (initially Manden’ka with “ka” meaning people of), comprised most of present-day northern Guinea
Guinea
Guinea , officially the Republic of Guinea , is a country in West Africa. Formerly known as French Guinea , it is today sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea-Bissau. Guinea is divided into eight administrative regions and subdivided into thirty-three prefectures...

 and southern Mali
Mali
Mali , officially the Republic of Mali , is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d'Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 km² with...

. The empire was originally established as a federation of Mandinka tribes called the Manden Kurufa (literally Manden Federation), but it later became an empire ruling millions of people from nearly every ethnic group in West Africa.

Etymology

The naming origins of the Mali Empire are complex and still debated in scholarly circles around the world. While the meaning of “Mali” is still contested, the process of how it entered the regional lexicon
Lexicon
In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. A lexicon is also a synonym of the word thesaurus. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes. Coined in English 1603, the word "lexicon" derives from the Greek "λεξικόν" , neut...

 is not. As mentioned earlier, the Mandinka of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 referred to their ethnic homeland as “Manden” in Africa.

Among the many different ethnic groups surrounding Manden, were Pulaar
Pulaar
Pulaar is a Fula language spoken primarily as a first language by Fula people and Tukolor in the Senegal River valley area traditionally known as Futa Tooro, and further south and east...

 speaking groups in Macina
Macina
Macina may refer to:*Macina Empire , former state located in present-day Mali*Macina , the area in Mali once controlled by the empire*Macina, Mali-See also:*Masina *Messina...

, Tekrur and Fouta Djallon
Fouta Djallon
Fouta Djallon is a highland region in the centre of Guinea, West Africa. The indigenous name is Fuuta-Jaloo...

. The Mandinka of Manden became the Malinke of Mali. So while the Mandinka people generally referred to their land and capital province as Manden, its semi-nomadic Fula subjects residing on the heartland’s western (Tekrur), southern (Fouta Djallon) and eastern borders (Macina) popularized the name Mali for this kingdom and later empire of the Middle Ages.

Pre-Imperial Mali

There are a few references to Mali in written literature of roughly contemporary age. Among these are references to "Daw" and "Malal" in the work of al-Bakri in 1068, the story of the conversion of an early ruler, known to Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun was an Arab Tunisian historiographer and historian who is often viewed as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics...

 (by 1397) as Barmandana, and a few geographical details in the work of al-Idrisi.

There has also been archaeological work done especially at Niani, reputed to be the capital of Mali, by Polish and Guinean archaeologists in the 1960s which revealed the remains of a substantial town dating back as far as the 6th century.

Modern oral traditions also related that the Mandinka kingdoms of Mali or Manden had already existed several centuries before Sundiata’s unification as a small state just to the south of the Soninké empire of Wagadou, better known as the Ghana Empire
Ghana Empire
The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, and Western Mali. Complex societies had existed in the region since about 1500 BCE, and around Ghana's core region since about 300 CE...

. This area was composed of mountains, savannah and forest providing ideal protection and resources for the population of hunters. Those not living in the mountains formed small city-states such as Toron, Ka-Ba and Niani
Niani
Niani may refer to...* Niani District, along the banks of the River Gambia, in the Central River Division of The Gambia. Named after the Niani tribe of The Gambia.* Niani village, in north east Guinea....

. The Keita dynasty from which nearly every Mali emperor came traces its lineage back to Bilal
Bilal ibn Ribah
Bilal ibn Rabah or Bilal al-Habashi was an Ethiopian born in Mecca in the late 6th century, sometime between 578 and 582.The Islamic prophet Muhammad chose a former African slave Bilal as his muezzin, effectively making him the first muezzin of the Islamic faith...

, the faithful muezzin
Muezzin
A muezzin , or muzim, is the chosen person at a mosque who leads the call to prayer at Friday services and the five daily times for prayer from one of the mosque's minarets; in most modern mosques, electronic amplification aids the muezzin in his task.The professional muezzin is chosen for his...

 of Islam’s prophet Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

. It was common practice during the Middle Ages for both Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 and Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 rulers to tie their bloodline back to a pivotal figure in their faith’s history. So while the lineage of the Keita dynasty may be dubious at best, oral chroniclers have preserved a list of each Keita ruler from Lawalo (supposedly one of Bilal’s seven sons who settled in Mali) to Maghan Kon Fatta (father of Sundiata Keita).

The Kangaba Province

During the height of Sundiata's power, the land of Manden became one of its provinces. The Manden city-state of Ka-ba (present-day Kangaba) served as the capital and name of this province. From at least the beginning of the 11th century, Mandinka kings known as faama
Faama
Faama is a Mandinka word meaning "king". It was commonly used within the area of pre-imperial Mali. The title spread into areas conquered by Mali and was later used by the Bamana Empire and the Wassoulou Empire of Samori Toure and non-Mandinka groups in the Kenedougou Empire.-See also:*Mali...

s ruled Manden from Ka-ba in the name of the Ghanas.

The Twelve Kingdoms

Wagadou's control over Manden came to a halt after internal instability lead to its decline. The Kangaba province, free of Soninké influence, splintered into twelve kingdoms with their own maghan
Maghan
Maghan I was a mansa of the Mali Empire, following his father Kankan Musa I's death in 1337. Aside from legendary founder Sundiata, Kankan Musa I is generally regarded as the most successful of the Malian emperors, and Maghan inherited the empire at the height of its glory. He reigned for only four...

 (meaning prince) or faama. Manden was split in half with the Dodougou territory to the northeast and the Kri territory to the southwest. The tiny kingdom of Niani was one of several in the Kri area of Manden.

The Kaniaga Rulers

In approximately 1140 the Sosso
Sosso
The Sosso Empire was a twelfth-century Kaniaga kingdom of West Africa.-Medieval Sosso:The modern Sosso people trace their history to a 12th- and 13th-century Kaniaga kingdom known as the "Sosso." With the fall of the Ghana Empire, the Sosso expanded into a number of its former holdings, including...

 kingdom of Kaniaga, a former vassal of Wagadou, began conquering the lands of its old masters. By 1180 it had even subjugated Wagadou forcing the Soninké to pay tribute. In 1203, the Sosso king Soumaoro of the Kanté clan came to power and reportedly terrorized much of Manden stealing women and goods from both Dodougou and Kri.

The Hungering Lion

According to Niane's version of the epic, during the rise of Kaniaga, Sundiata of the Keita clan was born in the early 13th century. He was the son of Niani’s faama, Nare Fa (also known as Maghan Kon Fatta meaning the handsome prince). Sundiata’s mother was Maghan Kon Fatta’s second wife, Sogolon Kédjou. She was a hunchback from the land of Do, south of Mali. The child of this marriage received the first name of his mother (Sogolon) and the surname of his father (Djata). Combined in the rapidly spoken language of the Mandinka, the names formed Sondjata, Sundjata or Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita
Sundiata Keita, Sundjata Keyita, Mari Djata I or just Sundiata was the founder of the Mali Empire and celebrated as a hero of the Malinke people of West Africa in the semi-historical Epic of Sundiata....

. The anglicized version of this name, Sundiata, is also popular. In Ibn Khaldun's account, Sundjata is recorded as Mari Djata with "Mari" meaning "Amir" or "Prince". He also states that Djata or "Jatah" means "lion".

Prince Sundjata was prophesized to become a great conqueror. To his parent's dread, the prince did not have a promising start. Sundiata, according to the oral traditions, did not walk until he was seven years old. However, once Sundiata did gain use of his legs he grew strong and very respected. Sadly for Sundjata, this did not occur before his father died. Despite the faama of Niani’s wishes to respect the prophecy and put Sundiata on the throne, the son from his first wife Sassouma Bérété was crowned instead. As soon as Sassouma’s son Dankaran Touman took the throne, he and his mother forced the increasingly popular Sundjata into exile along with his mother and two sisters. Before Dankaran Touman and his mother could enjoy their unimpeded power, King Soumaoro set his sights on Niani forcing Dankaran to flee to Kissidougou
Kissidougou
Kissidougou is a city in southern Guinea. It is the capital of in the Kissidougou Prefecture, and had a population of 66,018 in the 1996 census. Following intensified conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia during the fall and winter of 2000, many people from the city of Guéckédou fled to...

.

After many years in exile, first at the court of Wagadou and then at Mema, Sundiata was sought out by a Niani delegation and begged to combat the Sosso and free the kingdoms of Manden forever.

Battle of Kirina

Returning with the combined armies of Mema, Wagadou and all the rebellious Mandinka city-states, Maghan Sundiata led a revolt against the Kaniaga Kingdom around 1234. The combined forces of northern and southern Manden defeated the Sosso army at the Battle of Kirina
Battle of Kirina
The Battle of Kirina, also known as the Battle of Krina , was a confrontation between the Sosso king Sumanguru Kanté and the Mandinka prince Sundiata Keita...

 (then known as Krina) in approximately 1235. This victory resulted in the fall of the Kaniaga kingdom and the rise of the Mali Empire. After the victory, King Soumaoro disappeared, and the Mandinka stormed the last of the Sosso cities. Maghan Sundiata was declared “faama of faamas” and received the title “mansa”, which translates roughly to emperor. At the age of 18, he gained authority over all the twelve kingdoms in an alliance known as the Manden Kurufa. He was crowned under the throne name Mari Djata becoming the first Mandinka emperor.

Organization

The Manden Kurufa founded by Mari Djata I was composed of the “three freely allied states” of Mali, Mema and Wagadou plus the Twelve Doors of Mali
Twelve Doors of Mali
The Twelve Doors of Mali were the possessions of the mansa of the medieval Mali Empire starting in around 1235. These lands were either allied to or conquered by Sundiata Keita on his campaign to free the Mandinka heartland from the Susu kingdom of Kaniaga.-The Twelve Doors:*Bambougou; conquered...

. It is important to remember that Mali, in this sense, strictly refers to the city-state of Niani.

The twelve doors of Mali were a coalition of conquered or allied territories, mostly within Manden, with sworn allegiance to Sundiata and his descendants. Upon stabbing their spears into the ground before Sundiata’s throne, each of the twelve kings relinquished their kingdom to the Keita dynasty. In return for their submission, they became “farbas” a combination of the Mandinka words “farin” and “ba" (great farin). Farin was a general term for northern commander at the time. These farbas would rule their old kingdoms in the name of the mansa with most of the authority they held prior to joining the Manden Kurufa.

The Great Assembly

The Gbara
Gbara
The Gbara or Great Assembly in Old Malinke was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire, which ruled much of West Africa during the Middle Ages...

 or Great Assembly would serve as the Mandinka deliberative body until the collapse of the Manden Kurufa in 1645. Its first meeting, at the famous Kouroukan Fouga
Kouroukan Fouga
The Kouroukan Fouga or Kurukan Fuga is purported to be the constitution of the Mali Empire , created after the Battle of Krina by an assembly of notables to create a government for the newly established empire. It was first alluded to in print in Djibril Tamsir Niane's book, Soundjata, ou la...

 (Division of the World), had 29 clan delegates presided over by a belen-tigui (master of ceremony). The final incarnation of the Gbara, according to the surviving traditions of northern Guinea, held 32 positions occupied by 28 clans.

Social, economic, and government reform

The Kouroukan Fouga also put in place social and economic reforms including prohibitions on the maltreatment of prisoners and slaves, installing documents between clans which clearly stated who could say what about who. Also, Sundiata divided the lands amongst the people assuring everyone had a place in the empire and fixed exchange rates for common products.

Mari Djata I

Mansa Mari Djata’s reign saw the conquest and or annexation of several key locals in the Mali Empire. He never took the field again after Kirina, but his generals continued to expand the frontier, especially in the west where they reached the Gambia River and the marches of Tekrur. This enabled him to rule over a realm larger than even the Ghana Empire in its apex. When the campaigning was done, his empire extended 1000 miles (1,609.3 km) east to west with those borders being the bends of the Senegal and Niger Rivers respectively. After unifying Manden, he added the Wangara
Wangara
Wangara may refer to:*The Soninke Wangara of West Africa*Wangara, Western Australia*Wangara, Burkina Faso...

 goldfields making them the southern border. The northern commercial towns of Oualata
Oualata
Oualata or Walata is a small oasis town in south east Mauritania that was important in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the southern terminus of a trans-Saharan trade route...

 and Audaghost were also conquered and became part of the new state’s northern border. Wagadou and Mema became junior partners in the realm and part of the imperial nucleus. The lands of Bambougou, Jalo (Fouta Djallon
Fouta Djallon
Fouta Djallon is a highland region in the centre of Guinea, West Africa. The indigenous name is Fuuta-Jaloo...

), and Kaabu
Kaabu
The Kaabu Empire was a Mandinka Kingdom of Senegambia that rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former province of the Mali Empire...

 were added into Mali by Fakoli Koroma, Fran Kamara, and Tiramakhan Traore, respectively.
Among the many different ethnic groups surrounding Manden were Pulaar speaking groups in Macina, Tekrur and Fouta Djallon. The Mandinka of Manden became the Malinke of Mali.

Imperial Mali

Imperial Mali is best known to us through three primary sources: The first is the account of Shihab al-Din ibn Fadl Allah al-'Umari
Al-Umari
Chihab Addine Abul-Abbas Ahmad ben Fadhl al-Umari , or simply al-Umari, 1300 – 1384) was an Arab historian, born in Damascus. al-Umari visited Cairo shortly after the Malian Mansa Kankan Musa I's pilgrimage to Mecca, and his writings are one of the primary sources for this legendary hajj...

, written about 1340 by a geographer-administrator in Egypt. His information about the empire came from visiting Malians taking the hajj, or pilgrim's voyage to Mecca. He had first hand information from several, and at second hand, he learned of the visit of Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa
Musa I , commonly referred to as Mansa Musa, was the tenth mansa, which translates as "king of kings" or "emperor", of the Malian Empire...

. The second account is that of the traveler Shams al-Din Abu Abd'Allah ibn Battua, who visited Mali in 1352. This is the first account of a West African kingdom made directly by an eyewitness, the others are usually at second hand. The third great account is that of Abu Zayd Abd-al-Rahman ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun was an Arab Tunisian historiographer and historian who is often viewed as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics...

, who wrote in the early 15th century. While the accounts are of limited length, they provide us with a fairly good picture of the empire at its height.

The Emperors of Mali

There were 21 known mansas of the Mali Empire after Mari Djata I and probably about two or three more yet to be revealed. The names of these rulers come down through history via the djelis and modern descendants of the Keita dynasty residing in Kangaba. What separates these rulers from the founder, other than the latter’s historic role in establishing the state, is their transformation of the Manden Kurufa into a Manden Empire. Not content to rule fellow Manding subjects unified by the victory of Mari Djata I, these mansas would conquer and annex Fula
Fula people
Fula people or Fulani or Fulbe are an ethnic group spread over many countries, predominantly in West Africa, but found also in Central Africa and Sudanese North Africa...

, Wolof
Wolof people
The Wolof are an ethnic group found in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania.In Senegal, the Wolof form an ethnic plurality with about 43.3% of the population are Wolofs...

, Bamana, Songhai, Tuareg, and countless other peoples into an immense empire.

The Djata Lineage 1250-1275

The first three successors to Mari Djata all claimed it by blood right or something close to it. This twenty-five year period saw amazing gains for the mansa and the beginning fierce internal rivalries that nearly ended the burgeoning empire.

Ouali I

After Mari Djata’s death in 1255, custom dictated that his son ascend the throne assuming he was of age. However, Yérélinkon was a minor following his father’s death. Manding Bory, Mari Djata’s half-brother and kankoro-sigui (vizier), should have been crowned according to the Kouroukan Fouga. Instead, Mari Djata’s son seized the throne and was crowned Mansa Ouali (also spelt “Wali” or "Ali").

Mansa Ouali proved to be a good emperor adding more lands to the empire including the Gambian provinces of Bati and Casa. He also conquered the gold producing provinces of Bambuk and Bondou. The central province of Konkodougou was established. The Songhai kingdom of Gao also seems to have been subjugated for the first of many times around this period.

Aside from military conquest, Ouali is also credited with agricultural reforms throughout the empire putting many soldiers to work as farmers in the newly acquired Gambian provinces. Just prior to his death in 1270, Ouali went on the hajj to Mecca during the reign of Sultan Baibars
Baibars
Baibars or Baybars , nicknamed Abu l-Futuh , was a Mamluk Sultan of Egypt. He was one of the commanders of the forces which inflicted a devastating defeat on the Seventh Crusade of King Louis IX of France and he led the vanguard of the Egyptian army at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, which marked...

, according to Ibn Khaldun. This helped in strengthening ties with North Africa and Muslim merchants.

The Generals' Sons

As a policy of controlling and rewarding his generals, Mari Djata adopted their sons. These children were raised at the mansa’s court and became Keitas upon reaching maturity. Seeing the throne as their right, two adopted sons of Mari Djata waged a devastating war against one another that threatened to destroy what the first two mansas had built. The first son to gain the throne was Mansa Ouati (also spelt “Wati) in 1270. He reigned for four years spending lavishly and ruling cruelly according to the djelis. Upon his death in 1274, the other adopted son seized the throne. Mansa Khalifa is remembered as even worse than Ouati. He governed just as badly, was insane and fired arrows from the roof of his palace at passersby. Ibn Khaldun recounts that the people rushed upon him and killed him during a popular revolt. The Gbara replaced him with Manding Bory in 1275.

The Court Mansas 1275-1300

After the chaos of Ouati and Khalifa’s reigns, a number of court officials with close ties to Mari Djata ruled. They began the empire’s return to grace setting it up for a golden age of rulers.

Abubakari I

Manding Bory was crowned under the throne name Mansa Abubakari (a Manding corruption of the Muslim name Abu Bakr). Mansa Abubakari’s mother was Namandjé, the third wife of Maghan Kon Fatta. Prior to becoming mansa, Abubakari had been one of his brother’s generals and later his kankoro-sigui. Little else is known about the reign of Abubakari I, but it seems he was successful in stopping the hemorrhaging of wealth in the empire.

Sakoura

In 1285, a court slave freed by Mari Djata, and who had also served as a general, usurped the throne of Mali. The reign of Mansa Sakoura (also spelt Sakura) appears to have been beneficial despite the political shake-up. He added the first conquests to Mali since the reign of Ouali including the former Wagadou provinces of Tekrour and Diara. His conquests did not stop at the boundaries of Wagadou however. He campaigned into Senegal and conquered the Wolof province of Dyolof then took the army east to subjugate the copper producing area of Takedda
Takedda
Takedda was the name of both a town and a former kingdom in current-day Niger's Western Sahara. The town of Takedda was founded by the Sanhaja, a Berber tribal confederation of the Maghreb. In 1285, a court slave freed by Mari Djata, the founder of the Mali Empire, whom had also served as a...

. He also conquered Macina
Macina
Macina may refer to:*Macina Empire , former state located in present-day Mali*Macina , the area in Mali once controlled by the empire*Macina, Mali-See also:*Masina *Messina...

 and raided into Gao
Gao
Gao is a town in eastern Mali on the River Niger lying ESE of Timbuktu. Situated on the left bank of the river at the junction with the Tilemsi valley, it is the capital of the Gao Region and had a population of 86,663 in 2009....

 to suppress its first rebellion against Mali. More than just a mere warrior, Mansa Sakoura went on the hajj during the reign of Al-Nasir Muhammad
Al-Nasir Muhammad
Al-Nasir Muhammad b. Cairo 1285, d...

. Mansa Sakura also opened direct trade negotiations with Tripoli
Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

 and Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

.

Mansa Sakoura was murdered on his return trip from Mecca in or near present-day Djibouti
Djibouti
Djibouti , officially the Republic of Djibouti , is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east...

 by a Danakil
Danakil
Danakil may refer to the following:*Danakil, an old ethnonym referring to:**Afar people**Afar language*Afar Depression *Danakil Desert...

 warrior attempting to rob him. The emperor’s attendants rushed his body home through the Ouaddai
Ouaddaï
Ouaddaï may refer to:* Ouaddaï Prefecture* Ouaddaï Region* Ouaddai Empire* Ouaddai plateau*Ouaddaï highlands...

 region and into Kanem
Kanem
Kanem may refer to:* Kanem Empire* Kanem Prefecture* Kanem Region* Kanem Department...

 where one of that empire’s messengers was sent to Mali with news of Sakoura’s death. When the body arrived in Niani, it was given a regal burial despite the usurper’s slave roots.

The Kolonkan Lineage 1300-1312

The Gbara selected Ko Mamadi as the next mansa in 1300. He was the first of a new line of rulers directly descending from Mari Djata’s sister, Kolonkan. But seeing as how these rulers all shared the blood of Maghan Kon Fatta, they are considered legitimate Keitas. Even Sakoura, with his history of being a slave in the Djata family, was considered a Keita; so the line of Bilal had yet to be broken.

It is during the Kolonkan lineage that the defining characteristics of golden age Mali begin to appear. By maintaining the developments of Sakoura and Abubakari I, the Kolonkan mansas steer Mali safely into its apex.

Economy

The Mali Empire flourished because of trade above all else. It contained three immense gold mines within its borders unlike the Ghana Empire, which was only a transit point for gold. The empire taxed every ounce of gold or salt that entered its borders. By the beginning of the 14th century, Mali was the source of almost half the Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

's gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 exported from mines in Bambuk, Boure and Galam. There was no standard currency throughout the realm, but several forms were prominent by region. The Sahelian and Saharan towns of the Mali Empire were organized as both staging posts in the long-distance caravan trade and trading centers for the various West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

n products. At Taghaza
Taghaza
Taghaza is an abandoned salt-mining centre located in a salt pan in the desert region of northern Mali. It was an important source of rock salt for West Africa up to the end of the 17th century when it was abandoned and replaced by Taoudenni. Salt from the mines formed an important part of the...

, for example, salt was exchanged; at Takedda
Takedda
Takedda was the name of both a town and a former kingdom in current-day Niger's Western Sahara. The town of Takedda was founded by the Sanhaja, a Berber tribal confederation of the Maghreb. In 1285, a court slave freed by Mari Djata, the founder of the Mali Empire, whom had also served as a...

, copper. Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

 observed the employment of slave labor in both towns. During most of his journey, Ibn Battuta traveled with a retinue that included slaves, most of whom carried goods for trade but would also be traded as slaves. On the return from Takedda to Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

, his caravan transported 600 female slaves, suggesting that slavery was a substantial part of the commercial activity of the empire.
Gold

Gold nuggets were the exclusive property of the mansa, and were illegal to trade within his borders. All gold was immediately handed over to the imperial treasury in return for an equal value of gold dust. Gold dust had been weighed and bagged for use at least since the reign of the Ghana Empire. Mali borrowed the practice to stem inflation of the substance, since it was so prominent in the region. The most common measure for gold within the realm was the ambiguous mithqal (4.5 grams of gold). This term was used interchangeably with dinar, though it is unclear if coined currency was used in the empire. Gold dust was used all over the empire, but was not valued equally in all regions.

Salt

The next great unit of exchange in the Mali Empire was salt. Salt was as valuable, if not more valuable than gold in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was cut into pieces and spent on goods with close to equal buying power throughout the empire. While it was as good as gold in the north, it was even better in the south. The people of the south needed salt for their diet, but it was extremely rare. The northern region on the other hand had no shortage of salt. Every year merchants entered Mali via Oualata with camel loads of salt to sell in Niani. According to Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

 who visited Mali in the mid-14th century, one camel load of salt sold at Walata for 8-10 mithkals of gold, but in Mali proper it realized 20-30 ducats and sometimes even 40.
Copper

Copper was also a valued commodity in imperial Mali. Copper, traded in bars, was mined from Takedda in the north and traded in the south for gold. Contemporary sources claim 60 copper bars traded for 100 dinars of gold.

Military

The number and frequency of conquests in the late 13th century and throughout the 14th century indicate the Kolonkan mansas inherited and or developed a capable military. Sundjata is credited with at least the initial organization of the Manding war machine. However, it went through radical changes before reaching the legendary proportions proclaimed by its subjects. Thanks to steady tax revenue and stable government beginning in the last quarter of the 13th century, the Mali Empire was able to project its power throughout its own extensive domain and beyond.
Strength

The Mali Empire maintained a semi-professional, full-time army in order to defend its borders. The entire nation was mobilized with each clan obligated to provide a quota of fighting age men. These men had to be of the horon (freemen) caste and appear with their own arms. Contemporary historians present during the height and decline of the Mali Empire consistently record its army at 100,000 with 10,000 of that number being made up of cavalry. With the help of the river clans, this army could be deployed throughout the realm on short notice.
Order of Battle

The army of the Mali Empire during the 14th century was divided into northern and southern commands led by the Farim-Soura and Sankar-Zouma, respectively. Both of these men were part of Mali's warrior elite known as the ton-ta-jon-ta-ni-woro ("sixteen slave carriers of quiver"). Each representaive or ton-tigi ("quiver-master") provided council to the mansa at the Gbara
Gbara
The Gbara or Great Assembly in Old Malinke was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire, which ruled much of West Africa during the Middle Ages...

, but only these two ton-tigi held such wide ranging power.

The ton-tigi belonged to an elite force of cavalry commanders called the farari ("brave men"). Each individual farariya ("brave") had a number of infantry officers beneath them called kèlè-koun or dùùkùnàsi. A kèlè-koun led free troops into battle alongside a farima ("brave man") during campaign. A dùùkùnàsi performed the same function except with slave troops called sofa ("guardian of the horse") and under the command of a farimba ("great brave man"). The farimba operated from a garrison with an almost entirely slave force, while a farima functioned on the field with virtually all freemen.
Equipment

The army of the Mali Empire used of a wide variety of weapons depending largely on where the troops originated. Only sofa were equipped by the state, using bows and poisoned arrows. Free warriors from the north (Mandekalu or otherwise), were usually equipped with large reed or animal hide shields and a stabbing spear that was called a tamba. Free warriors from the south came armed with bows and poisonious arrows. The bow figured prominently in Mandinka warfare and was a symbol of military force throughout the culture. Bowmen formed a large portion of the field army as well as the garrison. Three bowmen supporting one spearman was the ratio in Kaabu and the Gambia by the mid-16th century. Equipped with two quivers and a knife fastened to the back of their arm, Mandinka bowmen used barbed, iron-tipped arrows that were usually poisoned. They also used flaming arrows for siege warfare. While spears and bows were the mainstay of the infantry, swords and lances of local or foreign manufacture were the choice weapons of the cavalry. Ibn Battuta comments on festival demonstrations of swordplay before the mansa by his retainers including the royal interpreter. Another common weapon of Mandekalu warriors was the poison javelin used in skirmishes. Imperial Mali's horsemen also used chain mail armor for defense and shields similar to those of the infantry.

The Gao Mansas

Ko Mamadi was crowned Mansa Gao and ruled over a successful empire without any recorded crisis. His son, Mansa Mohammed ibn Gao, ascended the throne five years later and continued the stability of the Kolonkan line.

Abubakari II

The last Kolonkan ruler, Bata Manding Bory, was crowned Mansa Abubakari II
Abubakari II
Abu Bakr II may have been the ninth mansa of the Mali Empire. He succeeded his nephew Mansa Mohammed ibn Gao and preceded Kankou Musa I...

 in 1310. He continued the non-militant style of rule that characterized Gao and Mohammed ibn Gao, but was interested in the empire’s western sea. According to an account given by Mansa Musa I, who during the reign of Abubakari II served as the mansa’s kankoro-sigui, Mali sent two expeditions into the Atlantic. Mansa Abubakari II left Musa as regent of the empire, demonstrating the stability of this period in Mali, and departed with the second expedition commanding some 4,000 pirogue
Pirogue
A pirogue is a small, flat-bottomed boat of a design associated particularly with the Cajuns of the Louisiana marsh. In West Africa they were used as traditional fishing boats. These boats are not usually intended for overnight travel but are light and small enough to be easily taken onto land...

s equipped with both oars and sails in 1311. Neither the emperor nor any of the ships returned to Mali. Modern historians and scientists are skeptical about the success of either voyage, but the account of these happenings is preserved in both written North African records and the oral records of Mali’s djelis.

The Laye Lineage 1312-1389

Abubakari II’s 1312 abdication, the only recorded one in the empire’s history, marked the beginning of a new lineage descended from Faga Laye. Faga Laye was the son of Abubakari I. Unlike his father, Faga Laye never took the throne of Mali. However, his line would produce seven mansa who reigned during the height of Mali’s power and toward the beginning of its decline.

Administration

The Mali Empire covered a larger area for a longer period of time than any other West African state before or since. What made this possible was the decentralized nature of administration throughout the state. According to Joseph Ki-Zerbo
Joseph Ki-Zerbo
Joseph Ki-Zerbo was a Burkinabé politician and writer. He spent his youth in Toma where he grew up in a rural context inside a big family. Ki-Zerbo himself declared that his first 11 years passed in a rural context marked his personality and thoughts. He was recognized as one of Africa’s foremost...

, the farther a person traveled from Niani, the more decentralized the mansa’s power became. Nevertheless, the mansa managed to keep tax money and nominal control over the area without agitating his subjects into revolt. At the local level (village, town, city), kun-tiguis elected a dougou-tigui (village-master) from a bloodline descended from that locality’s semi-mythical founder. The county level administrators called kafo-tigui (county-master) were appointed by the governor of the province from within his own circle. Only when we get to the state or province level is there any palpable interference from the central authority in Niani. Provinces picked their own governors via their own custom (election, inheritance, etc.). Regardless of their title in the province, they were recognized as dyamani-tigui (province master) by the mansa. Dyamani-tiguis had to be approved by the mansa and were subject to his oversight. If the mansa didn’t believe the dyamani-tigui was capable or trustworthy, a farba might be installed to oversee the province or administer it outright.

Farins and Farbas

Territories in Mali came into the empire via conquest or annexation. In the event of conquest, farins took control of the area until a suitable native ruler could be found. After the loyalty or at least the capitulation of an area was assured, it was allowed to select its own dyamani-tigui. This process was essential to keep non-Manding subjects loyal to the Manding elites that ruled them.

Barring any other difficulties, the dyamani-tigui would run the province by himself collecting taxes and procuring armies from the tribes under his command. However, territories that were crucial to trade or subject to revolt would receive a farba. Farbas were picked by the mansa from the conquering farin, family members or even slaves. The only real requirement was that the mansa knew he could trust this individual to safeguard imperial interests.

Duties of the farba included reporting on the activities of the territory, collecting taxes and ensuring the native administration didn’t contradict orders from Niani. The farba could also take power away from the native administration if required and raise an army in the area for defense or putting down rebellions.

The post of a farba was very prestigious, and his descendants could inherit it with the mansa’s approval. The mansa could also replace a farba if he got out of control as in the case of Diafunu.

Territory

The Mali Empire reached its largest size under the Laye mansas. Al-Umari, who wrote down a description of Mali based on information given to him by Abu Sa’id ‘Otman ed Dukkali (who had lived 35 years in Niani), reported the realm as being square and an eight month journey from its coast at Tura (the mouth of the Senegal River) to Muli (also known as Tuhfat). Umari also describes the empire as being south of Marrakesh and almost entirely inhabited except for few places. Mali's domain also extended into the desert. He describes it as being north of Mali but under its domination implying some sort of vassalage for the Antasar, Yantar'ras, Medussa and Lemtuna Berber tribes. The empire's total area included nearly all the land between the Sahara Desert and coastal forests. It spanned the modern-day countries of Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, northern Burkina Faso, western Niger, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and northern Ghana. By 1350, the empire covered approximately 439400 square miles (1,138,040.8 km²). The empire also reached its highest population during the Laye period ruling over 400 cities, towns and villages of various religions and elasticities. During this period only the Mongol Empire was larger.

The dramatic increase in the empire’s size demanded a shift from the Manden Kurufa’s organization of three states with twelve dependencies. This model was scrapped by the time of Mansa Musa's hajj to Egypt. According to al'Umari, whom interviewed a Berber that had lived in Niani for 35 years, there were fourteen provinces (really tributary kingdoms). In al-'Umari's record, he only records the following thirteen provinces.
  • Gana (this refers to the remants of the Ghana Empire
    Ghana Empire
    The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, and Western Mali. Complex societies had existed in the region since about 1500 BCE, and around Ghana's core region since about 300 CE...

    )
  • Zagun or Zafun (this is another name for Diafunu)
  • Tirakka or Turanka (Between Gana and Tadmekka
    Essouk
    Essouk is a commune and small village in the Kidal Region of Mali. The village lies 45 km northeast of Kidal in the Adrar des Ifoghas massif. The ruins of the medieval town of Tadmekka lie 2 km northeast of the present village...

    )
  • Tekrur (On 3rd cataract of the Senegal River, north of Dyolof)
  • Sanagana (named for a tribe living in an area north of the Senegal river)
  • Bambuck or Bambughu (gold mining region)
  • Zargatabana
  • Darmura or Babitra Darmura
  • Zaga (on the Niger, downriver of Kabora)
  • Kabora or Kabura (also on the Niger)
  • Baraquri or Baraghuri
  • Gao or Kawkaw (province inhabited by the Songhai)
  • Mali or Manden (capital province for which the realm gets its name)

Musa I

The first ruler from the Laye lineage was Kankan Musa (or, Moussa), also known as Kango Musa. After an entire year without word from Abubakari II, he was crowned Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa
Musa I , commonly referred to as Mansa Musa, was the tenth mansa, which translates as "king of kings" or "emperor", of the Malian Empire...

. Mansa Musa was one of the first truly devout Muslims to lead the Mali Empire. He attempted to make Islam the faith of the nobility, but kept to the imperial tradition of not forcing it on the populace. He also made Eid
Eid ul-Fitr
Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Fitr, Id-ul-Fitr, or Id al-Fitr , often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting . Eid is an Arabic word meaning "festivity," while Fiṭr means "breaking the fast"...

 celebrations at the end of Ramadan
Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and...

 a national ceremony. He could read and write Arabic and took an interest in the scholarly city of Timbuktu
Timbuktu
Timbuktu , formerly also spelled Timbuctoo, is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali...

, which he peaceably annexed in 1324. Via one of the royal ladies of his court, Musa transformed Sankore from an informal madrasah
Madrasah
Madrasah is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious...

 into an Islamic university. Islamic studies flourished thereafter. That same year a Mandinka general known as Sagmandir put down yet another rebellion in Gao.

Mansa Musa’s crowning achievement was his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, which started in 1324 and concluded with his return in 1326. Accounts of how many people and how much gold he spent vary. All of them agree it was a very large group (the mansa kept a personal guard of some 500 men), and he gave out so many alms and bought so many things that gold’s value in Egypt and the near east depreciated for twelve years. When he passed through Cairo
Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

, historian al-Maqurizi noted "the members of his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

n slave girls, singing girls and garments, so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six dirhams."

Musa was so generous that he ran out of money and had to take out a loan
Loan
A loan is a type of debt. Like all debt instruments, a loan entails the redistribution of financial assets over time, between the lender and the borrower....

 to be able to afford the journey home. Musa's hajj, and especially his gold, caught the attention of both the Islamic and Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 worlds. Consequently, the name of Mali and Timbuktu appeared on 14th century world maps.

While on the hajj, he met the Andalusian
Al-Andalus
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

 poet and architect Es-Saheli. Mansa Musa brought the architect back to Mali to beautify some of the cities. Mosques were built in Gao and Timbuktu along with impressive palaces also built in Timbuktu. By the time of his death in 1337, Mali had control over Taghazza, a salt producing area in the north, which further strengthened its treasury.

Mansa Musa was succeeded by his son, Maghan I
Maghan
Maghan I was a mansa of the Mali Empire, following his father Kankan Musa I's death in 1337. Aside from legendary founder Sundiata, Kankan Musa I is generally regarded as the most successful of the Malian emperors, and Maghan inherited the empire at the height of its glory. He reigned for only four...

. Mansa Maghan I spent wastefully and was the first lackluster emperor since Khalifa. But the Mali Empire built by his predecessors was too strong for even his misrule and passed intact to Musa’s brother, Souleyman in 1341.

Souleyman

Mansa Souleyman took steep measures to put Mali back into financial shape developing a reputation for miserliness. However, he proved to be a good and strong ruler despite numerous challenges. It is during his reign that Fula raids on Takrur began. There was also a palace conspiracy to overthrow him hatched by the Qasa (Manding term meaning Queen) and several army commanders. Mansa Souleyman’s generals successfully fought off the military incursions, and the senior wife behind the plot was imprisoned.

The mansa also made a successful hajj, kept up correspondence with Morocco and Egypt and built an earthen platform at Kangaba called the Camanbolon where he held court with provincial governors and deposited the holy books he brought back from Hedjaz.

The only major setback to his reign was the loss of Mali’s Dyolof province in Senegal. The Wolof
Wolof people
The Wolof are an ethnic group found in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania.In Senegal, the Wolof form an ethnic plurality with about 43.3% of the population are Wolofs...

 populations of the area united into their own state known as the Jolof Empire
Jolof Empire
The Jolof Empire was a West African state that ruled parts of Senegal from 1360 to 1890.-Origins:Traditional accounts among the Wolof agree that the founder of the state and later empire was Ndiadiane Ndiaye who lived in the 13th century...

 in the 1350s. Still, when Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

 arrived at Mali in July of 1352, he found a thriving civilization on par with virtually anything in the Muslim or Christian world. Mansa Souleyman died in 1360 and was succeeded by his son, Camba.

The North African traveler and scholar Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

 visited the area in 1352 AD and, according to a 1929 English translation, said this about its inhabitants:

Mari Djata II

After a mere nine months of rule, Mansa Camba was deposed by one of Maghan I’s three sons. Konkodougou Kamissa, named for the province he once governed, was crowned as Mansa Mari Djata II in 1360. He ruled oppressively and nearly bankrupted Mali with his lavish spending. He did however, maintain contacts with Morocco, sending a giraffe to King Abu Hassan of the Maghreb. Mansa Mari Djata II became seriously ill in 1372, and power moved into the hands of his ministers until his death in 1374.

Musa II

The ruinous reign of Mari Djata II left the empire in bad financial shape, but the empire itself passed intact to the dead emperor’s brother. Mansa Fadima Musa, or Mansa Musa II, began the process of reversing his brother’s excesses. He did not, however, hold the power of previous mansas because of the influence of his kankoro-sigui.

Kankoro-Sigui Mari Djata, who had no relation to the Keita clan, essentially ran the empire in Musa II’s stead. He put down a Taureg rebellion in Takedda
Takedda
Takedda was the name of both a town and a former kingdom in current-day Niger's Western Sahara. The town of Takedda was founded by the Sanhaja, a Berber tribal confederation of the Maghreb. In 1285, a court slave freed by Mari Djata, the founder of the Mali Empire, whom had also served as a...

 and campaigned in Gao. While he met success in Takedda, he never managed a decisive victory in Gao. The Songhai settlement effectively shook off Mali’s authority in 1375. Still, by the time of Mansa Musa II’s death in 1387, Mali was financially solvent and in control of all of its previous conquests short of Gao and Dyolof. Forty years after the reign of Mansa Musa I, the Mali Empire still controlled some 1.1 million square kilometres of land throughout Western Africa.

Maghan II

The last son of Maghan I, Tenin Maghan (also known as Kita Tenin Maghan for the province he once governed) was crowned Mansa Maghan II in 1387. Little is known of him except that he only reigned two years. He was deposed in 1389, marking the end of the Faga Laye mansas.

The Obscure Lineages 1389-1545

From 1389 onward Mali will gain a host of mansas of obscure origins. This is the least known period in Mali’s imperial history. What is evident is that there is no steady lineage governing the empire. The other characteristic of this era is the gradual loss of its northern and eastern possession to the rising Songhai Empire
Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was a state located in western Africa. From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history. This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai. Its capital was the city...

 and the movement of the Mali’s economic focus from the trans-Saharan trade routes to the burgeoning commerce along the coast.

Sandaki

Mansa Sandaki, a descendant of Kankoro-Sigui Mari Djata, deposed Maghan II becoming the first person without any Keita dynastic relation to officially rule Mali. Sandaki should not however be taken to be this person's name but a title. Sandaki likely means High Counselor or Supreme Counselor, from "san" or "sanon" (meaning "high") and "adegue" (meaning counselor). He would only reign a year before a descendant of Mansa Gao removed him.

Maghan III

Mahmud, possibly a grandchild or great-grandchild of Mansa Gao, was crowned Mansa Maghan III in 1390. During his reign, the Mossi emperor Bonga of Yatenga
Yatenga
Yatenga is a modern province in the Nord Region of Burkina Faso, located in its Nord Region. In modern Yatenga, the most prominent city is Ouahigouya . This city served as the capital of the old Mossi kingdom, but its influence has decreased in the century or two since colonization...

 raids into Mali and plunders Macina. Emperor Bonga does not appear to hold the area, and it stays within the Mali Empire after Maghan III’s death in 1400

Musa III

In the early 15th century, Mali was still powerful enough to conquer and settle new areas. One of these was Dioma, an area south of Niani populated by Fula Wassoulou
Wassoulou
Wassoulou is an historic region in southwest Mali, northeast Guinea and the area west of the Sankarani river and south of the Niger River in Mali and Côte d'Ivoire...

nké. Two noble brothers from Niani, of unknown lineage, went to Dioma with an army and drove out the Fula Wassoulounké. The oldest brother, Sérébandjougou, was crowned Mansa Foamed or Mansa Musa III. His reign saw the first in a string of many great losses to Mali. In 1430, the Taureg seized Timbuktu. Three years later, Oualata also fell into their hands.

Ouali II

Following Musa III’s death, his brother Gbèré became emperor in the mid-15th century. Gbèré was crowned Mansa Ouali II and ruled during the period of Mali’s contact with Portugal. In the 1450s, Portugal began sending raiding parties along the Gambian coast. The Gambia was still firmly in Mali’s control, and these raiding expeditions met with disastrous fates before Portugal’s Diogo Gomes
Diogo Gomes
Diogo Gomes , was a Portuguese navigator, explorer and writer.Diogo Gomes was a servant and explorer of Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator. His memoirs were dictated late in his life to Martin Behaim...

 began formal relations with Mali via its remaining Wolof subjects. Alvise Cadamosto, a Venetian explorer, recorded that the Mali Empire was the most powerful entity on the coast in 1454.

Despite their power in the west, Mali was losing the battle for supremacy in the north and northeast. The new Songhai Empire
Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was a state located in western Africa. From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history. This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai. Its capital was the city...

 conquered Mema, one of Mali’s oldest possessions, in 1465. It then seized Timbuktu from the Taureg in 1468 under Sunni Ali Ber.

In 1477, the Yatenga emperor Nasséré made yet another Mossi raid into Macina this time conquering it and the old province of BaGhana (Wagadou).

Mansa Mahmud II

Mansa Mahmud II
Mahmud II (mansa)
Mansa Mahmud II, also known as Mamadou, was mansa of the Mali Empire from 1481 to 1496.Mansa Mahmud II’s rule was characterized by more losses to Mali’s old possessions and increased contact between Mali and Portuguese explorers along the coast...

 came to the throne in 1481 during Mali's downward spiral. It is unknown from whom he descended; however, another emperor, Mansa Maghan III, is sometimes cited as Mansa Mahmud I. Still, throne names don’t usually indicate blood relations. Mansa Mahmud II’s rule was characterized by more losses to Mali’s old possessions and increased contact between Mali and Portuguese explorers along the coast. In 1481, Fula
Fula people
Fula people or Fulani or Fulbe are an ethnic group spread over many countries, predominantly in West Africa, but found also in Central Africa and Sudanese North Africa...

 raids against Mali’s Tekrur provinces begin.

The growing trade in Mali’s western provinces with Portugal witnesses the exchange of envoys between the two nations. Mansa Mahmud II receives the Portuguese envoys Pêro d'Évora and Gonçalo Enes in 1487. The mansa loses control of Jalo during this period. Meanwhile, Songhai seizes the salt mines of Taghazza in 1493. That same year, Mahmud II sends another envoy to the Portuguese proposing alliance against the Fula. The Portuguese decide to stay out of the conflict and the talks conclude by 1495 without an alliance.

Mansa Mahmud III

The last mansa to rule from Niani is Mansa Mahmud III
Mahmud III (mansa)
Mansa Mahmud III, also known as Mamadou II, was mansa of the Mali Empire from 1496 to 1559. He was the last mansa to rule from Niani and is known as the mansa under which Mali suffered the most losses to its territory....

 also known as Mansa Mamadou II. He came to power around 1496 and has the dubious honor of being the mansa under which Mali suffered the most losses to its territory.

Songhai forces under the command of Askia Muhammad
Askia Muhammad
Askia Muhammad is a poet, journalist, radio producer, commentator, and photojournalist. He has been multiply awarded by the National Association of Black Journalists for his work on National Public Radio, with first place "Salute to Excellence" awards for his commentaries on "Mississippi and My...

 defeat the Mali general Fati Quali in 1502 and seize the province of Diafunu. In 1514, the Denanke dynasty is established in Tekrour. It isn’t long before the new kingdom of Great Fulo is warring against Mali’s remaining provinces. To add insult to injury, the Songhai Empire seizes the copper mines of Takedda.

In 1534, Mahmud III received another Portuguese envoy to the Mali court by the name of Pero Fernandes. This envoy from the Portuguese coastal port of Elmina
Elmina
Elmina, is a town in the Central Region, situated on a south-facing bay on the Atlantic Ocean coast of Ghana, about 12 km west of Cape Coast...

 arrives in response to the growing trade along the coast and Mali’s now urgent request for military assistance against Songhai. Still, no help is forthcoming and Mali must watch its possessions fall one by one.

Mansa Mahmud III’s reign also sees the military outpost and province of Kaabu
Kaabu
The Kaabu Empire was a Mandinka Kingdom of Senegambia that rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former province of the Mali Empire...

 become independent in 1537. The Kaabu Empire appears every bit as ambitions as Mali was in its early years and swallows up Mali’s remaining Gambian provinces of Cassa and Bati.

The most defining moment in Mahmud III’s reign is the final conflict between Mali and Songhai in 1545. Songhai forces under Askia Ishaq
Askia Ishaq I
Askia Ishaq I was ruler of the Songhai Empire from 1539 to 1549, elected Askia following the death of Askiya Ismail. He was the fifth ruler of the Askiya Dynasty which had the town of Gao as its capital....

’s brother, Daoud
Askia Daoud
Askia Daoud was ruler of the Songhai Empire from 1549 to 1582. Daoud came to power unopposed following the death of his brother Askia Ishaq I in 1549. The Empire continued to expand under Daoud's rule, and saw little internal strife.He organised a series of military campaigns against tributary...

, sack Niani and occupy the palace. Mansa Mahmud III is forced to flee Niani for the mountains. Within a week, he regroups with his forces and launches a successful counter-attack forcing the Songhai out of Manden proper for good. The Songhai Empire does keep Mali’s ambitions in check, but never fully conquers their old masters.

After liberating the capital, Mahmud III abandons it for a new residence further north. Still, there is no end to Mali’s troubles. In 1559, the kingdom of Fouta Tooro succeeds in taking Takrur. This defeat reduces Mali to Manden proper with control extending only as far as Kita
Kita, Mali
Kita is a town and commune in western Mali. It lies on the eastern slope of Mount Kita , known for its caves and rock paintings. Today, the city is known for its music, its annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage and its role as a processing center for the surrounding cotton- and peanut-growing region...

 in the west, Kangaba
Kangaba
Kangaba is a town and commune and seat of the Cercle of Kangaba in the Koulikoro Region of south-western Mali.The area was once the Kangaba Province under the Mali Empire....

 in the north, the Niger River bend in the east and Kouroussa
Kouroussa
Kouroussa is a town located in northwestern Guinea, and is the capital of Kouroussa Prefecture. In 2008 it had an estimated population 10,165...

 in the south.

Late Imperial Mali

Mansa Mahmud III's reign ended around 1559. There seems to have been either a vacancy or unknown ruler between 1559 and the start of the last mansa's reign. A vacancy or rule by a court official seems the most likely since the next ruler takes the name of Mahmud IV. By 1560, the once powerful empire was really only the core of the Manden Kurufa. The next notable mansa, Mahmud IV, doesn’t appear in any records until the end of the 16th century. However, he seems to have the distinction of being the last ruler of a unified Manden. His descendants are blamed for the break-up of the Manden Kurufa into north, central and southern realms.

Mansa Mahmud IV

Mansa Mahmud IV (also known as Mansa Mamadou III, Mali Mansa Mamadou and Niani Mansa Mamadou) was the last emperor of Manden according to the Tarikh al-Sudan. It states that he launched an attack on the city of Djenné
Battle of Jenné
The Battle of Jenné was a military engagement between forces of the Mali Empire and the Moroccan pashalik of Timbuktu. The battle marked the effective end of the great Mali Empire and set the stage for a plethora of smaller West African states to emerge....

 in 1599 with Fulani allies hoping to take advantage of Songhai’s defeat. Moroccan fusiliers, deployed from Timbuktu, met them in battle exposing Mali to the same technology (firearms) that had destroyed Songhai. Despite heavy losses, the mansa’s army was not deterred and nearly carried the day. However, the army inside Djenné intervened forcing Mansa Mahmud IV and his army to retreat to Kangaba.

Collapse

The mansa’s defeat actually won Manden the respect of Morocco and may have saved it from Songhai’s fate. It would be the Mandinka themselves that would cause the final destruction of the empire. Around 1610, Mahmud IV died. Oral tradition states that he had three sons who fought over Manden's remains. No single person ever ruled Manden after Mahmud IV's death, resulting in the end of the Mali Empire.

Manden Divided

The old core of the empire was divided into three spheres of influence. Kangaba, the de facto capital of Manden since the time of the last emperor, became the capital of the northern sphere. The Joma area, governed from Siguiri, controlled the central region, which encompassed Niani. Hamana or Amana, southwest of Joma, became the southern sphere with its capital at Kouroussa in modern Guinea. Each ruler used the title of mansa, but their authority only extended as far as their own sphere of influence. Despite this disunity in the realm, the realm remained under Mandinka control into the mid-17th century. The three states warred on each other as much if not more than they did against outsiders, but rivalries generally stopped when faced with invasion. This trend would continue into colonial times against Tukulor enemies from the west.

The Bamana Jihad

Then, in 1630, the Bamana of Djenné declared their version of holy war on all Muslim powers in present day Mali. They targeted Moroccan Pashas still in Timbuktu and the mansas of Manden. In 1645, the Bamana attacked Manden seizing both banks of the Niger right up to Niani. This campaign gutted Manden and destroyed any hope of the three mansas cooperating to free their land. The only Mandinka power spared from the campaign is Kangaba.

Sack of Niani

Mama Maghan, mansa of Kangaba, campaigned against the Bamana in 1667 and laid siege to Segou-Koro for a reported three years. Segou, defended by Biton
Kaladian Coulibaly
Kaladian Coulibaly was a West African ruler who founded one of the first large Bambara kingdoms, centered on Ségou in what is now Mali. Around 1650, Coulibaly's kingdom was one of the dominant forces in the region. Though it lacked a systematic framework and thus failed to outlast his death...

, successfully defended itself and Mama Maghan was forced to withdraw. Either as a counter-attack or simply the progression of pre-planned assaults against the remnants of Mali, the Bamana sacked and burned Niani in 1670. Their forces marched as far north as Kangaba where the mansa was obliged to make a peace with them, promising not to attack downstream of Mali. The Bamana, likewise, vowed not to advance farther upstream than Niamina. Following this disastrous set of events, Mansa Mama Maghan abandoned the capital of Niani.

See also

  • African empires
    African empires
    There have been a number of pre-colonial African kingdoms of varying size and influence:*Iron Age empires of North Africa*Medieval Islamic empires in North Africa and the Horn of Africa*The medieval Sahelian kingdoms...

  • Keita Dynasty
    Keita Dynasty
    The Keita Dynasty ruled pre-Imperial and Imperial Mali from the 12th century into the early 17th century. It was a Muslim Dynasty, and its rulers claimed descent from Bilal. Bilal was a freed slave who accepted Islam and became one of the Sahabas of the Prophet Muhammad. Bilal bears the...

  • Kouroukan Fouga
    Kouroukan Fouga
    The Kouroukan Fouga or Kurukan Fuga is purported to be the constitution of the Mali Empire , created after the Battle of Krina by an assembly of notables to create a government for the newly established empire. It was first alluded to in print in Djibril Tamsir Niane's book, Soundjata, ou la...

  • Gbara
    Gbara
    The Gbara or Great Assembly in Old Malinke was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire, which ruled much of West Africa during the Middle Ages...

  • Songhai Empire
    Songhai Empire
    The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was a state located in western Africa. From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history. This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai. Its capital was the city...

  • Segou Empire
  • Military history of the Mali Empire
    Military history of the Mali Empire
    The military history of the Mali Empire is that of the armed forces of the Mali Empire, which dominated Western Africa from the mid 13th to the late 15th century. The military culture of the empire’s driving force, the Mandinka people, influenced many later states in West Africa including...

  • List of Sunni Muslim dynasties

Sources

Subscription required. First published in 1981 by Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521224225.

External links

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