Compare and Contrast African Empires in the Early Modern Period: (1450-1750)

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Comparing African Empires in the Early Modern Period: (1450-1750) Mr. Blankenship AP World History
One of the comparative topics in this time period is “empire building” in Africa. The AP Jedi Masters want you to know only one of the following: (Kongo, Benin, Oyo, Dahomey, Ashanti or Songhay) – so they probably are not going to ask you to compare two African Kingdoms since they stated you only need to know one – so they could ask you to compare the process of “empire building” in Africa to that in: (Asia, Latin America or Europe) – but I am providing you with information from three African Empires – just in case – and each if from a different region in Sub-Saharan Africa – so different historical forces to consider.

The Kongo (c. 14th – 17th century)
   Located on the western coastal region of Central Africa – along the Congo river. Centralized state – with officials overseeing military, judicial, and financial affairs. The empire was divided into regions – and governors who were usually related to the King oversaw those areas – some areas were allowed to continue to rule as long as they recognized the superiority of the Kongo King – they had to report to him yearly for inspection and “renewal” of their title. The empire was financed both by the taxing of trade as well as a head tax collected by local administers and sent to the capital.

Songhay: (West Africa – Sudanic Empire) (Mid 1400’s – Mid-1600’s)  As the power of the Mali continued in the 1400’s a state within the Empire was able to obtain its independence – this was called the Songhay Empire with its capital in the trading city of Gao. The height of the Empire came under the leadership of Sunni Ali who ruled from 1464-1493. He built an elaborate administrative and military apparatus to oversee affairs in his realm. 

The Kingdom of the Asante (1680-1900)
The Asante were one of the Akanspeaking peoples who settled in the forest region of modern Ghana between the 11thand 13th centuries. The separate Asante chiefdoms were united by Osei Tutu in the 1670s and in 1696 he took the title of Asantehene (king) and founded the Asante empire. Asante was the only part of Africa where rich agricultural and mineral resources coincided. With its capital at Kumasia only 30 miles south of the northern forest edge – it could draw on both forest and savanna produce some of the traditional crops were: plantains, yams, and rice.



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The Portuguese arrived in the late 15th century – Kings of the Kongo converted to Christianity as a way to establish closer commercial relations with Portuguese merchants and diplomatic relations with the Portuguese King.





He appointed governors to oversee provinces and maintained a professional army, with a cavalry and navy of small boats and canoes – which were able to patrol the Niger River. He extended his empire over the areas formally controlled by the Mali rulers – he conquered the cities of Timbuktu and Jenne (which took him 7 years of siege warfare – he finally married its Queen to solidify his rule). From the capital city of Gao the Songhay rulers presided over a prosperous empire that participated in the transSaharan trade that brought: Salt, textiles and metal goods in exchange for gold and slaves. Despite the fact that the rulers were Islamic and supported Islamic institutions: mosques / universities – the vast majority of the populace remained non-Muslim. The Songhay meet their demise in 1591 when they took on a Moroccan army armed with musket gun – the defeat left open an opportunity for regions to revolt against Songhay administration.



Kongo Kings appreciated the fact that Christianity offered a strong endorsement of their monarchical rule – the new faith was convenient also because the saints of the Roman Catholic Church were similar to spirits long recognized in Kongolese religions. For the first number of years Portugal and the Kingdom of the Kongo dealt with each other with a...
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