Ancient Kingdoms: The Mali Empire

The Mali Empire, located in West Africa, was established around 1235 CE. Sundiata Keita founded the empire after his victory over the Kingdom of Sosso. It began as a small Mandinka kingdom in the upper parts of the Niger river. The empire became renowned and famous for the wealth of its rulers. It also served as the largest empire in West Africa while at its peak.

The empire development began in its capital city, Niani, that also happened to be King Sundiata’s birthplace, the empire’s founder. During his reign, Sundiata built a vast empire that stretched from Atlantic Coast south of the Senegal river up to Goa, east of the Middle Niger bends.

Leadership in the Empire

  • The rulers of Mali have the title of ‘Mansa’.
  • The first ruler and founder of the empire Sundiata, established himself as a strong leader claiming that he had a direct link to the land’s spirits, making him the guardian of the ancestors.
  • An estimate has it that Sundiata ruled for about 25 years, and died in 1255.
  • Sundiata’s son, Mansa Wali, became the next King after his father’s death and is also considered one of the most influential leaders. Mansa Wali was succeeded by his brother Wati, who was succeeded by his brother Kahlifa. Kahlifa was considered an evil ruler, and as a result of his misrule, he was demoted and replaced by Sundiata’s grandchild, Abu Bakr.

The famous Mansa Musa of Mali

Mansa Musa was the ruler of the Mali Empire from 1312-1337 CE. During his regime, Mali became one of the wealthiest Kingdoms in Africa, and Mansa Musa himself was among the richest individuals in the world at the time.

Mansa Musa developed cities like Gao and Timbuktu into important cultural and learning centres. He went to the extent of bringing in Architects from across Africa and the Middle East to design new structures and buildings for his cities. Using their designs and ingenuity he ordered the construction of large public buildings and mosques and, as a result of his developments, Timbuktu became a major Islamic university centre in the 14th century.

In 1337, Mansa Musa and was succeeded by his sons. He is remembered for his riches and his patronage of culture in Mali, promotion of scholarship, and his strong Islamic faith.

Key moments of the Empire of Mali

  • Mali Empire controlled important trade routes across Western Sahara to the Middle East and Europe.
  • In 1235 CE, Sundiata defeated Sumanguru, the King of Sosso and established independence for the Malinke.
  • The reign of Mansa Musa, from 1312 CE-1337 CE brought the empire much of its fame and wealth.
  • The Mali Empire was the largest and most famous Empire in West Africa between 1240 CE-1645 CE.
  • In 1468 CE, King Sunni Ali of the Songhai Empire conquered most of the Mali Empire.

The decline of the Mali Empire

Following the death of Mansa Musa, the empire fell victim to declining. Other trade centres developed that brought in great competition to the market and ended up affecting the commercial wealth that had surrounded Mali.

Another reason that contributed to the decline of the empire was a series of poor leadership that set the kingdom on a path of frequent civil wars. Uncles and brothers fought and killed each other for the throne. By the 15th century, the empire was already in decline.

As trade routes continued to develop, frequent attacks from rival kingdoms like the Songhai Empire, that conquered most of Mali Kingdom, led to a further decline. By the 17th century, the Moroccan Empire took over and occupied the once-famous Mali Empire.

To learn more about the history of the Mali Empire, check out these links:

Rise And Fall of the Mali Empire

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