The Mali Empire

1 January 2018

The West African Empire that rose to dominance in the 13th and 14th centuries was the Mali Empire. The Empire was the second and most extensive of the three great successive empires, which included the Kingdom of Ghana and Songhai. The Mali Empire served as a model of statecraft for later kingdoms long after its decline in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Mali Empire was located near gold mines and rich interior floodplain of the Niger River. This region had been under the domination of the Ghana Empire until the middle of the 11th century. As Ghana declined, several short-lived kingdoms lived for influence over the western Sudan region. The small state of Kangaba, led by Sundiata Keita, defeated the nearby kingdom of Susu at the Battle of Kirina in 1235. The tyrannical king Sumanguru Kante led the Susu.

The clans of the heartland unified under Sundiata, now king of the vast region that was to become the Mali Empire. Under Sundiata and his immediate successors, Mali expanded rapidly west to the Atlantic Ocean, south deep into the forest, east beyond the Niger River, and north to the salt and copper mines of the Sahara. The city of Niani may have been the capital. At its height, Mali was a confederation of 3 independent, freely allied states (Mali, Mema, and Wagadou) and 12 garrisoned provinces. The most significant of the Mali kings was Mansa Musa. He expanded the Mali kingdom over the large Niger city-states of Timbuctu, Gao, and Djenne”. Mansa Musa’s wealth was legendary throughout the Middle East and Europe. A grandson or grandnephew of the warrior king Sundiata, who first established Mali as an empire in the 13th century.

Mansa Musa grabbed the attention of the Arab world when he left his home in Mali to make a hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in 1324. Unlike Sundiata, Mansa Musa truly was a Muslim. Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslims make a pilgrimage to the city, Mecca, the city on the Arabian Peninsula where the faith was started.

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