top of page
  • Yazarın fotoğrafıMoussa Hissein Moussa

A Shining African Empire in the Middle Ages: Mali Empire


At the end of the 12th century, in the years following the fall of the Moorish dynasty that ruled the coastal region bordering the south of the Great Sahara, the regional sultans were engaged in a never-ending war. Everyone wanted to control the region's trade. It was at this time that one sovereignty began to rise to prominence: The Kingdom of Sosso. Located in the east of what is now Mauritania, this kingdom was ruled by the Soninke dynasty. In 1200, Soumoro Kanté succeeded his father on the Sosso dynastic throne. The young king decided to go to war to ensure full control of his reign and, in particular, to bring peace to the region. He was able to achieve so. But in exchange, he had to shoulder additional responsibilities. He now had to strengthen his economic dominance. He believed that this could be solved by controlling the gold mines in the south of the country under his control. These gold mines were located in Mandé, a city dominated by the Malinke tribe. With the superiority of power, Soumoro could easily control the city. However, the Malinke elders, who could not accept a possible defeat, asked for the help of their brother Soudjata Keita. Keita welcomed the extended hand and agreed to lead the war. Thus, from 1222 to 1235, a fierce war raged between Soumoro Kanté and Soundjata Keita. This 12-year war ended in Soundjata's victory in the city of Kirina.

Manden (Kurukan Fuga) Accord

From north to south, east to west, all the tribes and dignitaries of the Sultanate swore allegiance to the new leader of the region. A year later, a huge assembly was formed, which had not been convened until then. Soundjata was given the title "Mansa", meaning king of kings. Soudjata's first political act was to organise a constitution in 1236, which was to be called the Edict of Manden. This edict is a document of one of the first attempts of a constitution in World history, that protects human rights as well as people’s liberty, and then divides the regions of the empire according to specialities and determines the form of governance.

Soudjata continued the policy of conquest initiated by Soumoro to bring stability to the region by designating the city of Niani as the capital. He thus annexed the kingdoms of Djolof and Tekrour to his empire. By the time of Soudjata's death in 1255, the Mali empire extended from the highlands of Niger to the Goré gold mines.

The Richest Sultan of All Ages: Mansa Musa

Another king who expanded the territory of his empire was Mansa Sagora. Known for his high military experience, Mansa Sagora ruled from 1287 to 1300. He controlled the Arab and Tuvareg tribes in the north and expanded the borders of the empire along River Niger in the south. However, the empire reached its zenith during the reign of Mansa Musa, also called Kankan Musa. Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1312 to 1337, extended the borders of the empire to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, to the west of what is now Niger in the east, to Mauritania in the north, and to the south, including the present-day states of Burkina Faso, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

The historical pilgrimage of Musa Mansa in 1324 is simply inconceivable. He wrote an epic not only for Africa but also for world history. The pilgrimage took place with a caravan of 60,000 people, from the lords of the empire to the soldiers and the people, from the officials of the palace to the labourers. Everyone was dressed in silk and adorned with precious jewellery. There were also hundreds of small cattle for food and 80 camels carrying the riches of gold. The richest king the world has ever known was none other than the Emperor Mansa Musa of Mali.

During this journey, Mansa Musa distributed alms and built mosques in every city he passed through. During his stay in Egypt, he distributed alms to such an extent that the dinar used in this country, which was by then ruled by the Mamluks of Turkish origin, lost about 20 per cent of its value. It took more than ten years for the dinar to return to its normal value.

This journey did not stop there. From the Arabian peninsula to Anatolia and Europe, the Mali empire was now for the first time recognised for its wealth and all its features. This empire, which had previously carried out commercial activities only in the coastal region, added Egypt to its commercial connections.

On his return from Medina in 1327, he brought Islamic scholars, architects and Mamluk soldiers with him from the Middle East and built madrasas that taught Islamic sciences, social and scientific sciences. Of these, Sankore University and Jingerbe Madrasah in Timbuktu are very famous. In fact, Sankore University became the centre of knowledge of the period with its library containing more than 700.000 thousand works from jurisprudence to philosophy, mathematics, medicine and physics.

In 1336, the famous Syrian historian Al-Oumari, who travelled to Egypt in 1336, wrote in his works that until that period, Musa Mansa was praised for his wealth in the streets of Egypt. In 1375, the Catalan Atlas, a gift to the Emperor of France, symbolises Musa Mansa as a king in West Africa holding gold in his left hand and a scepter in his right. The gold signifies the king's economic power and the scepter his political authority.

After Musa Mansa's death in the 1400s, the vastness of the empire made it difficult to control. In 1433, the Mali Empire was invaded by the Mossi under Musa Mansa's son Magan. At the same time, the Tuvaregs in the north of the empire revolted and re-established their sultanate. A new sovereignty, the Songay empire, emerged over most of the vast empire. In the following years, the empire weakened further and became a mere Sultanate.

The Administration System of the Mali Empire

Administrative System

The Mali empire was governed by a decentralization system. At the top of the state was a ruler with the title of Mansa. Mansa was a title passed down from brother to brother, provided that they were part of the Keita dynasty. The Mansa had overall administrative responsibility for his empire and took decisions strictly in consultation with the council of the empire's wise men, army commanders, community representatives, traditional women and clergy, and especially the queen. However, Mansa also had legal obligations. He was also responsible for settling disputes between the people and those working in the administration.

Below the Mansa were the regional governors. Appointed from the center, they were in absolute cooperation with the rulers representing the tradition in the region in order to take decisions in accordance with the realities of the region. The autonomy of each region varied according to its importance and strategic position. However, they were obliged to pay a certain amount of allowances in accordance with their loyalty to the throne for a certain period of time, and to send troops in case of war. They had military districts in the north and south of the empire to prevent a possible invasion.

Legal and Military System

The legal system of the Mali empire had a dual judiciary. On the one hand, there was the Islamic Sharia, which applied to the elite of the empire and foreign merchants. On the other hand, there was the customary judiciary that applied to the rest of the locals. The army had an important position in the organization of the Mali empire. Its army of more than 100,000 soldiers was strong enough to control such a vast area for centuries. The strength of the army was also written about by the famous historian and jurist Ibn Battuta. In his travelogue, he wrote that many Maghreb emirs sought the help of the Malian army when they were threatened.   However, Ibn Battuta also notes that the Malian army was successful in protecting the trade caravans of the Malian empire.

Economic System

The economy of the Mali Empire was divided into two parts: external and internal.  The external economy was characterized by trade relations, mostly with the Saharan states. Caravans equipped with gold, copper, animals and skins were shipped from Mali to North Africa. And from there, textiles, weapons, jewelry and spices were imported. In addition, the Malian empire strengthened its gold reserves by sending goods from the Maghreb to tropical African dominions. During this period, Mali was the largest gold exporter on three continents.

When we look at the domestic economy, agriculture was the most common activity. Each region specialized in a certain field. Millet and wheat cultivation in the coastal region, cotton cultivation and management in the Soninkelerin region, fishing in the Niger River, maize cultivation in the Djolof and Tekrour regions, and artistic activities. Thus, the Mali Empire brought together previously unrelated regions under one administration. All this made the Mali Empire one of the largest civilizations in Africa.


The Mali Empire, known to many for its vast gold treasures and massive architectural structures, is one of the largest empires in Africa to ever exist. This empire has a great historical and cultural heritage and is an important part of West Africa's rich cultural background. Timbuktu, the capital of the Mali Empire, was known at the time as a center of science, arts and commerce, with a strong administrative and economic system across the empire's vast territory. Therefore, the Mali Empire is of great importance not only in terms of wealth and power, but also in terms of the progress and development of civilization.





1 görüntüleme


bottom of page