Rise and Fall of The Songhay Empire


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here please subscribe and turn on the notification so you don’t miss our next video. History of the Songhay Empire
The Songhay Empire better known as Songhai was a state that thrived in the western Sahel
in the 15th and 16th century. At its height, it was one of the largest states
in African history. One of its greatest rulers Sonni Ali established
Gao as the capital of the empire. Other notable cities in the empire were Timbuktu
and Djenné. Initially, the Sonni dynasty ruled the empire
from 1464–1493, but it was later replaced by the Askia dynasty from 1493–1591. In the earliest times there were many different
groups of people that collectively formed the Songhai identity. Among the first people to dwell in the region
of Gao were the Sorko people who founded small settlements on the banks of the Niger River. The Sorko made boats and canoes and fished
from their boats and also provided water-borne transport for goods and people. Another group of people that settled in the
area to live off of the Niger’s resources were the Gow people. The Gow were hunters and experts at hunting
river animals such as crocodile and hippopotamus. The Do people are another group that lived
in the area. They were mostly farmers who grew crops in
the fertile lands bordering the river. Sometime before the 10th century, these
early settlers were conquered by more powerful, horse-riding Songhai speakers, who gained
control over the area. All these groups of people with time began
to speak the same language and they and their country  was known as the Songhai. Sonni Ali reigned over the Songhai empire
from 1464 to 1492 after the death of Sulayman Dama. In the late 1460s, he defeated many of the
Songhai’s neighboring states, including what was left of the Mali Empire. Sonni Ali is regarded as the empire’s most
formidable military strategist and conqueror. During his reign Songhai grew to a size of
over 1,400,000 square kilometers. Timbuktu came under Sonni Ali’s control
in 1468, after the Islamic leaders of the town requested his assistance in overthrowing
raiding Tuaregs who had taken the city following the decline of Mali. However, Ali was resisted when he set his
eyes on the wealthy and renowned trading town of Djenné. After an unrelenting seven-year siege, he
was able to forcefully annex it into his vast empire in 1473, having starved its citizens
to surrender. Muhammad Ture who became  known as Askia
the Great took over the throne of the Songhai empire in about 1493 even though he had no
right to be the king. Not only was he not of royal blood, he did
not possess the sacred symbols which entitled one to become a ruler. But Askia managed to take the throne, inspite
of all these. He was one of the Generals of Sonni Ali and
overthrew Ali’s son Sonni Baru to take the throne. He organized the territories that Sonni Ali
had earlier conquered and extended his power as far to the south and east. The army of the Songhai Empire under the Askia
Mohammad I possessed a full-time core of warriors. Askia Mohammad I although not as tactful as
Ali in military strategy, he did find success in alliances. Because of these alliances he was able to
expand the empire greatly. Unlike Ali, however, he was a faithful Muslim. He opened religious schools, built mosques,
and opened up his court to scholars and poets from the entire Muslim world. He had his children educated in Islamic
School and enforced Islamic practices. Yet he was quite tolerant of other religions
and did not force Islam on his subjects. At its height of its glory, the Songhai city
of Timbuktu became a flourishing cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian, and Jewish merchants all traveled
there for trade. A revival of Islamic scholarship also started
at the university in Timbuktu. However, Timbuktu was but one of a numerous
cities throughout the empire. By 1500, the Songhai Empire spanned over 1.4
million square kilometers. Economic trade flourished throughout the Empire,
thanks to the standing army stationed in the provinces throughout the empire. Key to the regional economy were independent
gold fields. The Julla merchants would forge partnerships,
and the state would give protection to these merchants at the port cities of the Niger. It was a very organized trading kingdom,
known for its production of practical crafts as well as religious artifacts. The Songhai economy was organized and based
on a clan system. The clan a person came from ultimately decided
one’s occupation. The most common were metalworkers, fishermen,
and carpenters. Lower caste participants were made up of mostly
non-farm working immigrants, who on some occasions were provided special privileges and held
high positions in society. At the top of the hierarchy were noblemen
and direct descendants of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen and traders. At the bottom were captives from war and slaves. Criminal justice in Songhai was mainly based
on Islamic principles, especially during the rule of Askia Muhammad. The local qadis were responsible for maintaining
order by following Sharia laws. Qadis were positioned in important trading
towns, such as Timbuktu and Djenné. The Qadi was chosen by the king and dealt
with common-law misdemeanors according to Sharia law. The Qadi also had the authority to grant a
pardon or offer refuge. The Assara-munidios, or “enforcers” worked
like a present-day police commissioner whose sole duty was to execute sentences. Jurists were mainly made up of those representing
the academic community; professors were often given administrative positions within the
Empire and many aspired to be qadis. Sonni Ali laid out the framework of a system
of government under the royal court, later to be expanded by Askia Muhammad, which selected
governors and mayors to preside over local tributary states, situated around the Niger
valley. Local chiefs were still given authority over
their respective areas as long as they did not undermine Songhai policy. Under Askia Muhammad, the Empire became more
centralized. He encouraged learning in Timbuktu by giving
its professors larger pensions as an incentive. The empire attained a great level of stability
as a result of the sound policies of Mohammad and great attestations of this noted organization
are recorded in the works of writers such as Leo Africanus, and others. As Askia the Great grew older, so did his
power decline. In 1528 his sons rebelled against him and
declared Musa, one of his sons king. But Musa’s reign was short-lived and following
his overthrow in 1531, Songhai’s empire went into decline. Multiple attempts at governing the Empire
by Askia’s sons and grandsons all worked to undermine the stability of the empire leaving
little hope for a return to the power it once held. A civil war of succession broke out after
the death of Emperor Askia Daoud, which weakened the Empire, leading Sultan Ahmad I al-Mansur
of Morocco to send an invasion force  under the eunuch Judar Pasha. Judar Pasha was a Spaniard by birth, but had
been captured as an infant and educated at the royal court in Morocco. After marching across the Sahara desert, Judar’s
forces plundered and razed the salt mines at Taghaza and moved on to Gao. At the 1591 Battle of Tondibi, when Emperor
Askia Ishaq II battled Judar, Songhai forces despite having superior numbers were scattered
by a cattle stampede caused by the Saadi’s gunpowder weapons. Judar proceeded to plunder Gao, Timbuktu and
Djenné, effectively destroying the Songhai as a regional power. Governing so large an empire proved too much
for the Moroccan Saadi Dynasty, however, and they soon gave up control of the region, letting
it fragment into dozens of smaller kingdoms. What have we missed out of this history? Let’s know in the comment section. Will it be ridiculous to subscribe to our
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