Archive for the ‘empires’ Category

Mali Empire

mali1350The Mali Empire (1230-1400s) was an empire in West Africa. It stood roughly where Senegal and Mali are today. At its height in the 1300s it was one of the richest in the world and had one of the greatest seats of learning of its time, Timbuktu.

Mali came after the Ghana Empire, on whose remains it was built, but before the Songhay Empire, which took it over bit by bit.

The empire stretched across the grasslands south of the Sahara along the Niger  and Senegal rivers. In those days the land was not so dry and trade went by land not by sea, so twice as many people lived there back then. The main sign that times used to be different are the huge mosques that the empire left behind.


Size: In the early 1400s the Mali Empire had about as much land and as many people as America did east of the Mississippi River in 1880. Timbuktu in those days was bigger than London, and it was not even the capital!

Making a living: Most people were farmers. They grew rice, beans, sorghum, millet, peanuts, papaya and cotton. Some people were slaves. Herdsmen raised cows, goats and sheep. Its smiths worked copper, iron and gold. To the north were salt mines and to the south, gold. Mali got rich mainly from its gold and from trade between the Muslim world to the north and Africa to the south and south-east. It stood along important caravan routes.

At its height Mali produced more gold than anywhere else in the world. When its greatest ruler, Mansa Musa, passed through Egypt on his way to Mecca in 1324, the value of gold dropped by a fourth. He had that much gold.

Religion: unlike the old Ghana empire before it, the top people in Mali were mostly Muslim. They helped to spread Islam to that part of the world.

Language: Arabic, the language of the holy book, the Koran, was the language of its scholars and poets. Mali’s gold and its use of Arabic  is what helped to make Timbuktu a great seat of learning. Students came from as far away as the Middle East.

The people: The empire ruled the Mandingo, Fulani, Tuareg, Wolof and Soninke. The Wolof  lived in the west, the Soninke in the north, the Tuareg beyond them in the sands of the far north and the Mandingo lived throughout the empire. The Fulani and Tuareg were herdsmen, the rest were mainly farmers.

The main cities were along the Niger River and had on the order of 100,000 people each. Going from west to east they were: Niani (the capital), Jenne (or Djenne), Timbuktu (the seat of learning) and Gao.

The empire started to weaken in the early 1400s. The city of Gao in the east rose up against it, then the Tuaregs in the north and the Wolof in the west. Gao became the seat of a new empire, the Songhay.

– Abagond, 2009. 


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The Portuguese empire (1415-1999) was the first and the last of the empires of western Europe. It sold black pepper from the Spice Islands and black men from Africa. It helped to spread the Catholic faith, especially to Africa and Asia, and made Portuguese a language spoken by more people than French. The empire gave birth to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and other countries.

At one time or other Portugal ruled parts or all of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Indonesia, East Timor, Bahrain, Barbados, Nagasaki in Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Goa in India and Macao in China, among others.

From 1000 to 1300 the Portuguese Christians took over what is now Portugal from the Moors. But in a sense they never stopped: in the 1400s they kept on going, down the coast of Africa. By 1498 they had reached India, by 1571, Japan. They had ports and outposts all along the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Lisbon to Nagasaki. The empire was at its height – not in land, but in power, trade and wealth.

Treaty of Tordesillas: The groundwork for this was laid in 1494, two years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The pope divided the world outside Europe in half between Portugal and Spain. In effect Portugal got Brazil and all of Africa and Asia except the Philippines.

The agreement held long enough among European powers to shape both empires. Portuguese power in its half of the world was not challenged till the 1600s by the Dutch. In 1500 the Portuguese had the best ships in the world, but by 1600 it was the Dutch.

The Dutch fought the Portuguese everywhere, even in Brazil. Portugal managed to hold onto Brazil, but lost Ceylon and the Spice Islands (Sri Lanka and Indonesia). Worse than mere land, they lost control of trade from the East. The glory days of the empire were over.

In the 1700s Brazil became the jewel of the empire. Brazil had sugar, gold, diamonds, cacao and tobacco. Black slaves worked the land. With the growth of Brazil inland, the empire reached its height in terms of land.

Extensão máxima do Império Português no século XVII.

The early 1800s brought the wars of Napoleon. The king fled to Brazil. Rio, not Lisbon, was the seat of the empire for a while. But after the wars Portugal was no longer strong enough to hold onto Brazil. It became independent in 1825.

This was a huge shock. To make up for its loss, Portugal turned its attention to its possessions in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique.

In the late 1900s the empire came to an end.

In 1974 Salazar fell from power in Portugal and nearly all of the remaining countries of the empire were freed: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor. Some of these sank into wars of succession, particularly Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia took over East Timor, killing a third of its people.

But even then Portugal still had Macao near Hong Kong. That was given back to China in 1999, the last bit of the empire to go.

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