How do we know that the Tiwanaku Empire actually existed as an empire

How do we know that the Tiwanaku Empire actually existed as an empire

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The wikipedia article as well as scientific papers like Janusek 2002 and Ortloff and Kolata 1993 treat the historical existence of the Tiwanaku empire as a fact without offering any evidence corroborating it.

The papers are not open access (sorry for that!) but the perspective becomes clear from the abstracts. The papers go on to discuss archaeological evidence for settlement patterns, technology, artifacts etc etc.

I understand that archaeological studies may offer solid evidence of a culturally and technologically advanced civilization, but how can it be established that this civilization constituted a state or empire?

Pre-Columbian cultures in South America had (almost certainly) no writing system, so contemporary historical accounts do not exist. Is there perhaps evidence from later historical sources?

I had a brief look at (an English translation of) Guaman Poma's "The First New Chronicle and Good Government" written by a member of the provincial Peruvian Native American nobility. He gives the probably earliest comprehensive account of Incan and pre-Incan history of the region. However, what he produces in his chapter on pre-Incan history ("Chapter of the Ages of the Indians") is a rather bizarre mix of biblical narrative, contemporary Spanish Christian philosophy and native American mythology. Other historical sources are probably similar.

In any case, I fail to see any historical value in this particular chapter of Guaman Poma's work - but maybe historians disagree and manage to squeeze something useful out of it? Or maybe, there are other more informative sources?

Well, here's what Wikipedia currently says on the subject:

There are many theories about the type of Tiwanaku state, one opinion is that it was a far-reaching military empire, while other theory is that it was the center for regional religious pilgrimages and llama caravan trade routes without much political authority. The Tiwanaku empire was most likely a result of direct colonization of nearby areas and cultural dominance over more distant areas, where Tiwanaku's influence was based on religion, culture and trade instead of direct military and political control. The empire was more like a federation of autonomous regional communities for whom Tiwanaku was the center of religion, culture and trade.

So basically, there was clearly some kind of joint culture within that region, centered on Tiwanaku. But they don't know if it was a full on military empire (like say the Asyrian empire), or more or a colonial-type relationship, like the 8 BC Greek Diaspora.

Hints of mysterious religion discovered in world’s highest lake

Gold artifacts, precious shells and evidence of animal sacrifice in Lake Titicaca point to a belief system that helped organize the ancient Tiwanaku state, researchers claim.

About 1,200 years ago, a reef in the middle of Lake Titicaca in what is now Bolivia became the repository of a people’s most valued possessions. In 2013, a sparkling cache of those objects was unearthed by underwater archaeologists. Six years later, researchers think they now know what the objects represent—evidence of a religion that helped the Tiwanaku state become a dominant force in the region.

Results of the excavation were revealed in a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gold objects, metal ornaments, semiprecious stones, and incense burners recovered at the site suggest the reef—located near the Island of the Sun, home to multiple Tiwanaku sacred sites—was once used as a ritual site for the ancient state.

Anthropologists are still piecing together details of the religion that helped make the Tiwanaku state, which existed between about 500 A.D. and 1,000 A.D. and extended to Chile and Peru at its height, so powerful. The Tiwanaku people didn’t leave behind significant traces of military might, and the state is thought to have amassed influence from religion and trade. And though archaeologists have discovered plenty of archaeological evidence of Tiwanaku religious beliefs, they’re still piecing together the meanings of the religion and how it may have contributed to the state’s expansion.

Artifacts found from the site, known as Khoa reef, include two gold medallions that represent Tiwanaku’s ray-faced deity and metal plaques that portray a mythical puma-llama hybrid. Divers also recovered the remains of real animals, including the bones of at least three young sacrificed llamas.

Another surprising find was five items made from Spondylus shells and one complete shell. The mollusks were important to early Andean cultures but are native to the Pacific Ocean, not Lake Titicaca. The fact that the shells were over 1,200 miles from their nearest habitat indicates both the Tiwanaku people’s trading relationships and the shells’ great value.

“Finding so many Spondylus was really remarkable,” says José M. Capriles, an anthropologist and assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University and one of the paper’s authors.

Why did the Tiwanaku worshipers leave such valuable objects behind in the high Andes lake? Capriles sees the sacrifices as evidence of a religious tradition in the making—one that helped the Tiwanaku state grow and flourish. By using valuable, desirable materials in rites, Tiwanaku worshipers showed their commitment to their new religious traditions—customs that are “huge in terms of building societies,” Capriles says. “These deities that people are creating are becoming institutions that govern behavior.”

That new religion set the groundwork for moral and behavioral norms. “If you behave well, you are immortal,” says Capriles. “But if you’re bad, you are going to get punished by the chief's deity.” It also meant that people could move from place to place, secure in the knowledge that their shared beliefs would keep them from being perceived as outsiders. This, the team posits, helped the Tiwanaku state expand.

At its height, the society had amassed significant political influence, economic power and cultural cachet. But after its collapse around 1,000 A.D., it was overshadowed by the cultures that came after it. “The Tiwanaku is the greatest Native American empire that many Americans have never heard of,” says Paul Goldstein, an archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego who is also affiliated with the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology. (Goldstein was not involved with the research.) “Every time we find something that reflects the complexity of the society, it adds to our deeper knowledge of the origins of complex societies worldwide.”

The Tiwanaku state may feel far away, but for Capriles, its artifacts help bring its people to life. “They were grateful, they made offerings,” he says. “They were just people like you and me.”

Puma Punku

If pyramids were almost superhumanly difficult to create several thousand years ago, then how much more difficult would it have been to build Puma Punku?

Puma Punku is believed to have once contained a great wharf and a massive four-part structure. Yet all that remains today are megalithic ruins from some cataclysmic events in history. A great earthquake? A comet that came too close to the Earth? A worldwide flood? These are all possible causes of the destruction of the once great structure that is now the ruins of Puma Punku.

Not only is there evidence to support the claim of a cataclysmic flood, but there is even evidence to support the theory that people once lived there before such a flood even occurred. The suspected flood could have happened somewhere around 12,000 years ago, and there is scientific evidence of tools, bones, and other material within flood alluvia, which suggests that a civilized people were there prior to any flood. Other evidence, including carvings of bearded people that are not Andean, has been recorded throughout the area.

Could the ruins of Puma Punku be evidence of a long-lost civilization?

What Makes the Ruins Unique?

The Invention Of Greek Fire

Wikimedia Commons A hand-held Greek fire flamethrower, depicted in a Byzantine military manual as a way to attack a besieged city.

Greek fire was created in the 7th century, and Kallinikos of Heliopolis is often credited as the inventor. Kallinikos was a Jewish architect who fled from Syria to Constantinople due to his concerns about the Arabs capturing his city.

As the story goes, Kallinikos experimented with a variety of materials until he discovered the perfect blend for an incendiary weapon. He then sent the formula to the Byzantine emperor.

Once authorities could get their hands on all the materials, they developed a siphon that operated somewhat like a syringe as it propelled the deadly arsenal toward an enemy ship.

Greek fire was not only incredibly effective but also intimidating. It reportedly produced a loud roaring noise and large amounts of smoke, much akin to the breath of a dragon.

Because of its devastating power, the formula for creating the weapon was a tightly guarded secret. It was known only to the Kallinikos family and Byzantine emperors and handed down from generation to generation.

This practice was clearly effective: Even when enemies managed to get their hands on Greek fire, they had no idea how to recreate the technology for themselves. However, this is also the reason why the secret of making Greek fire was ultimately lost to history.

Zapotec Civilization, 500 BC-750 AD

The capital city of the Zapotec Civilization is Monte Alban in the valley of Oaxaca in central Mexico. Monte Alban is one of the most intensively studied archaeological sites in the Americas, and one of the very few "disembedded capitals" in the world. The capital is also known for its astronomical observatory Building J and Los Danzantes, a stunning carved record of captive and slain warriors and kings.

1 Gobekli Tepe Was Built Before Humans Knew How to Grow Food

Back in the 1960s, surveyors in Turkey found an ancient buried complex composed of huge stone pillars arranged in a circle like Stonehenge, some of them 30 feet tall. What really knocked the monocles out of their eyes, however, was that this was much older than Stonehenge . 6,000 years older.

So those massive, ornate limestone pillars were carefully carved from a nearby quarry using hunks of flint rock and their bare hands.

Having been dated to around 9000 B.C., Gobekli Tepe is thought to be the oldest human construction. That's further back than any of the ancient sites you learned about in history class. In fact, it's in the Stone Age, where the only things we knew how to build were likely to fall over in a stiff breeze.

In fact, the site even predates agriculture, which means that the people who built it were still chasing mammoths rather than planting crops. Discovering that this complex of massive stone pillars was actually built by Encino Man, as National Geographic puts it, "was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife."

And this doesn't make much sense, because conventional knowledge has always been that humans didn't start building things until after we learned how to farm. You know, because we were finally able to settle down in one place and suddenly had a hell of a lot of free time.

Given that excavations turned up a whole lot of bones at the site, probably from animal sacrifices, archaeologists are pretty sure that it was a religious site, which seems to indicate that it was religion, not agriculture, that first inspired people to build giant shit. And given that they did all this before they even had metal tools, they must have been pretty scared of those gods. We just hope none of the archaeologists are dumb enough to go reading aloud any ancient inscriptions about awakening the Great Old Ones.

Yosomono writes for and is an image guru on their Imgur blog. Alaric Penname has a TWITTER. Follow him or whatever. Welldone also one of those, too, so he wouldn't feel left out.

For more ways our ancestors are still taking us over their knees, check out 6 Amazingly High-Tech Ancient Weapons and 6 Ancient Sports Too Awesome For the Modern World.


Early history

In 2155, Commander Jonathan Archer stated that the Empire had existed for "centuries". ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly ") One of the Empire's early outer space conquests was a landing on Terra's moon, Luna, where it planted its flag. ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly ", " In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II " opening credits) Millennia ago, Terrans abandoned ideals such as freedom, equality and co-operation as they found them to be, in Georgiou's words, "destructive ideals that fuel rebellions". ( DIS : " Vaulting Ambition ")

21st century

Humanity's first contact with an alien species in the mirror universe began exactly as it did in the traditional universe. Upon detecting Zefram Cochrane's warp signature, the Vulcan scout ship T'Plana-Hath landed in Bozeman, Montana, to make first contact with Humanity. Instead of welcoming the Vulcans in a spirit of friendship and understanding, the mirror Cochrane killed the first Vulcan to set foot on Terran soil with a shotgun, as the he and his fellow Terrans boarded and ransacked the Vulcan ship after killing the first officer also. According to mirror Archer, the Vulcan first contact was considered a prelude to invasion.

Instead of the Vulcans gradually releasing technology to Earth over time, the Terran Empire applied the stolen Vulcan technology to a policy of aggressive interstellar expansion. Because of this, the Empire was able to engage in technological research and development considerably earlier than its United Earth counterpart in the prime universe. ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly ")

22nd century

By the 2150s, the Terran Empire had already conquered the Vulcans, Denobulans, Andorians, Aenars, Orions, and Tellarites and had launched attacks against the Klingons, Rigelians, and Xindi. The flagship of the Empire, the ISS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Maximilian Forrest, had a much more racially-diverse crew than its prime-universe counterpart, with numerous Vulcans and Tellarites serving as crew members.

Due to the rapid initial expansion made possible by the captured Vulcan technology, the Empire's hold on its territories was initially weak. By 2155, some of the worlds conquered by the Terrans were beginning to rebel against Terran rule, leading to a long-running conflict, and after a disastrous defeat at Tau Ceti, the Empire came to the brink of collapse. Propaganda, however, conveyed the message that things were going in the Empire's favor and that the war would be over soon.

In that year, the USS Defiant, a Federation ship launched in the 23rd century of a parallel universe, was reported in Tholian space. The first officer of the ISS Enterprise, Commander Archer, reviewed this report and proposed a bold surgical strike at an asteroid base at which the Tholians were keeping the Defiant. Archer's proposal was quickly rejected by Forrest, causing Archer to mutiny against his captain and take control of Enterprise to retrieve the Defiant so its technology could be utilized against the rebellion. Enterprise traveled to the base and dispatched a boarding party to gain all information they could about the ship, and destroy it to prevent the Tholians from being able to use it. Unfortunately, during the retrieval operation, the Tholians attacked Enterprise and destroyed it, stranding the boarding party aboard the Defiant. ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly ")

The truth about interphasic space and the origin of the Defiant remained classified for "Emperor's Eyes Only" into the mid-23rd century.

Following the destruction of the ISS Enterprise and the death of Captain Forrest, Commander Archer and his away team commandeered the USS Defiant. They proceeded to destroy the Tholian hangar in which the ship was being held and rescued a number of former Enterprise crewmembers, including Hoshi Sato, after apparent consideration of leaving their comrades stranded. Archer made a rendezvous with the ISS Avenger, the flagship of Admiral Black. Archer vaporized the admiral and took command of both vessels.

However, this coincided with Commander T'Pol and Crewman Soval leading the other non-Human crewmembers on board the Avenger in a mutiny aboard the ship. They attacked the Defiant in hopes of destroying it but the mutiny itself was destroyed after Commander Charles Tucker III reinitialized power systems that Phlox had attempted to disable. Commander Archer, acting as captain, then set a direct course for Terra, where he intended to declare himself Emperor of the Terran Empire. However, Hoshi Sato poisoned him with the assistance of his bodyguard, Travis Mayweather. The two then took control of the Defiant, and upon arriving at Terra, Sato declared herself Empress. ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II ")

At some point between 2155 and the 2250s, the symbol of the Empire appears to have been altered. The earlier symbol closely resembled that of the United Earth government, depicting all of Terra's continents, though replacing a laurel of peace with an aggressive sword. However, by the mid-23rd century, the symbol, while remaining essentially the same, had a mirrored globe and what seemed to be an inverted delta in the background. ( ENT : " In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II " DIS : " Despite Yourself ")

23rd and 24th centuries

By the mid-23rd century, the Terran Empire had conquered much of known space. However, it continued to be resisted by an alliance of non-Human species, including Vulcans, Andorians, and Klingons. Furthermore Gabriel Lorca of the ISS Buran attempted a failed coup against Emperor Philippa Georgiou. By 2256 or 2257 Starfleet engaged a rebel fleet at Porathia. ( DIS : " Despite Yourself ")

The same year, the Imperial Intelligence located the headquarters of the resistance on Harlak, which was destroyed by the ISS Charon. ( DIS : " The Wolf Inside ")

In 2257, Lorca was able to resume his coup against Georgiou, having escaped the mirror universe and manipulated his way back with a Federation starship, the USS Discovery. For a while, the coup was successful, but Discovery had been informed that Lorca was Terran by the prime Michael Burnham, who Lorca had become obsessed with due to his relationship with the mirror Burnham, and Discovery defeated Lorca. However, although Lorca was killed, not only was Georgiou deposed, but the Charon had been destroyed, and she had been brought to the prime universe, resulting in a power vacuum. ( DIS : " Vaulting Ambition ", " What's Past Is Prologue ", " The War Without, The War Within ")

Not long after this, the symbol was changed yet again, returning to its delta-less version and, this time, depicting only the continents of Terra's western hemisphere.

Eventually, the power vacuum was filled. The Empire encountered a Gorlan uprising, to which the ISS Enterprise, captained by James T. Kirk, responded with the destruction of the rebels' home planet. Other feats of Captain Kirk by 2264 included the execution of five thousand colonists on Vega IX and the annihilation of all remaining inhabitants of Talos IV. In 2267, the Empire coveted the dilithium reserves of the Halkan homeworld and Kirk interceded to demand mining rights on behalf of the Empire.

Emblem worn by a Terran slave

In that year, crewmembers of the ISS Enterprise, including Captain Kirk, accidentally switched places with their prime universe counterparts of the USS Enterprise, who in the same time were transported aboard the mirror version of the Enterprise. Kirk believed that the mirror Spock would one day become captain of the ISS Enterprise, and before returning to his own reality, he planted a seed of doubt about the inevitability of the Empire and whether violence was the only logical answer. Spock promised to consider Kirk's words, after realizing the Empire would only last about 240 years before being overthrown. ( TOS : " Mirror, Mirror ")

As Kirk predicted, the mirror Spock later became the captain of the ISS Enterprise and eventually rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Empire. He began instituting major reforms that were very popular, turning the Empire into a more peaceful and less aggressive power. However, Spock's reforms left the Empire unprepared to defend itself against the emerging threat of a united Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, which managed to conquer the entire Terran Empire, turning the Terrans themselves into a slave race. The Bajorans, a people conquered by the Empire, came to be a powerful voice in this Alliance. ( DS9 : " Crossover ")

How Did Noah Care for All the Animals?

Just as God brought the animals to Noah by some form of supernatural means, He surely also prepared them for this amazing event. Creation scientists suggest that God gave the animals the ability to hibernate, as we see in many species today. Most animals react to natural disasters in ways that were designed to help them survive. It’s very possible many animals did hibernate, perhaps even supernaturally intensified by God .

Whether it was supernatural or simply a normal response to the darkness and confinement of a rocking ship, the fact that God told Noah to build rooms (“qen”—literally in Hebrew “nests”) in Genesis 6:14 implies that the animals were subdued or nesting. God also told Noah to take food for them ( Genesis 6:21 ), which tells us that they were not in a yearlong coma either.

Were we able to walk through the Ark as it was being built, we would undoubtedly be amazed at the ingenious systems on board for water and food storage and distribution. As Woodmorappe explains in Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, a small group of farmers today can raise thousands of cattle and other animals in a very small space. One can easily imagine all kinds of devices on the Ark that would have enabled a small number of people to feed and care for the animals, from watering to waste removal.

As Woodmorappe points out, no special devices were needed for eight people to care for 16,000 animals. But if they existed, how would these devices be powered? There are all sorts of possibilities. How about a plumbing system for gravity-fed drinking water, a ventilation system driven by wind or wave motion, or hoppers that dispense grain as the animals eat it? None of these require higher technology than what we know existed in ancient cultures. And yet these cultures were likely well-short of the skill and capability of Noah and the pre-Flood world.

How do we know that the Tiwanaku Empire actually existed as an empire - History

The Emergence of “Confucianism” in the Han Period
[This section is excerpted from faculty consultant Stephen F. Teiser’s essay in Living in the Chinese Cosmos]

  • Under the Han, the codification of Confucian texts takes place. “Through the interpretation of the scholar Dong Zhongshu, who lived during the Han dynasty from around 179-104 BCE, Confucianism became strongly linked to the cosmic framework of traditional Chinese thought, as the Confucian ideals of ritual and social hierarchy came to be elaborated in terms of cosmic principles such as yin and yang.”
  • It was only with the founding of the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) that Confucianism became “Confucianism,” that the ideas associated with Kong Qiu’s name received state support and were disseminated generally throughout upper-class society. The creation of Confucianism was neither simple nor sudden, as the following three examples will make clear.
      • The Classical Texts. In the year 136 BCE the classical writings touted by Confucian scholars were made the foundation of the official system of education and scholarship, to the exclusion of titles supported by other philosophers. The five classics (or five scriptures, wujing) were the Classic of Poetry (Shijing), Classic of History (Shujing), Classic of Changes (Yijing), Record of Rites (Liji), and Chronicles of the Spring and Autumn Period (Chunqiu) with the Zuo Commentary (Zuozhuan), most of which had existed prior to the time of Kong Qiu. Although Kong Qiu was commonly believed to have written or edited some of the five classics, his own statements (collected in the Analects [Lunyu]) and the writings of his closest followers were not yet admitted into the canon.
      • State Sponsorship. Kong Qiu’s name was implicated more directly in the second example of the Confucian system, the state-sponsored cult that erected temples in his honor throughout the empire and that provided monetary support for turning his ancestral home into a national shrine. Members of the literate elite visited such temples, paying formalized respect and enacting rituals in front of spirit tablets of the master and his disciples.
      • Dong Zhongshu’s Cosmological Framework. The third example is the corpus of writing left by the scholar Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179-104 BCE), who was instrumental in promoting Confucian ideas and books in official circles. Dong was recognized by the government as the leading spokesman for the scholarly elite. His theories provided an overarching cosmological framework for Kong Qiu’s ideals, sometimes adding ideas unknown in Kong Qiu’s time, sometimes making more explicit or providing a particular interpretation of what was already stated in Kong Qiu’s work.
        • Dong drew heavily on concepts of earlier thinkers — few of whom were self-avowed Confucians — to explain the workings of the cosmos. He used the concepts of yin and yang to explain how change followed a knowable pattern, and he elaborated on the role of the ruler as one who connected the realms of Heaven, Earth, and humans. The social hierarchy implicit in Kong Qiu’s ideal world was coterminous, thought Dong, with a division of all natural relationships into a superior and inferior member. Dong’s theories proved determinative for the political culture of Confucianism during the Han and later dynasties.

        The Han Empire and the Roman Empire

        • The Han Empire and the Roman Empire exist simultaneously at opposite ends of the Eurasian continent. The Chinese and Roman empires trade through intermediates on the overland route through Central Asia, the “Silk Road.” Chinese silk was an especially prized commodity in Rome, as silk production (sericulture) was known only to the Chinese. (This is the first of three major periods of Silk Road trade.)
        • After the Han dynasty disintegrates in the 3rd century, China experiences a 300-year period of political fragmentation nomadic tribes dominate northern China while a series of Chinese dynasties succeed one another in the south. It is during this period that Buddhism is introduced into China from India, following trade routes.

        Timeline of Chinese History

        It may be useful at this point to review a timeline of Chinese history and dynasties, noting the patterns evident in the Han and that recur over the course of Chinese history:

        Songhai, African Empire, 15-16th Century

        West Africa is home to many of Africa's oldest kingdoms. These kingdoms played an important role in the development of trade and economic growth of the region. As old kingdoms came to be replaced by new smaller ones many changes were experienced. The transformations were influenced by conquest and warfare along with patterns of trade. West African societies were shaped by competition for wealth and the search for independence from more powerful kingdoms.

        The earliest African civilizations south of the Sahara desert were in West Africa. These civilisations developed at a time when most of Europe was experiencing the Dark Age, after the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire around 476 A.D. the people of West Africa could already smelt iron ore to make tools for warfare and agriculture. Iron farming tools made agricultural methods far more efficient. This led to improvements in agriculture and greater productivity of the land, as prosperity grew the population expanded giving rise to larger towns. Broad rivers linked people in these larger towns by way of canoe travel. These rivers also maintained the fertility of the soil all year round.

        At the same time kingdoms were developing in this region. One of the earliest kingdoms to emerge here was ancient Ghana to the far West. By the year 300 A.D, this kingdom had been ruled by about 40 kings, showing that its political administration was well developed to allow new kings to take office without destroying the kingdom by fighting destructive civil wars. The economy of Ghana was based on iron and gold mining along with agriculture. Products were traded with Berber societies north of the Sahara desert. At the same time (1230-1300) the Mali kingdom of the Mande people, to the east of Ghana, was growing and increasing its control of trade in the region. This brought the two kingdoms into conflict. Finally, the Ghana kingdom was taken over by the Mali kingdom. The Mali kingdom was able to establish its influence with ease due to the surrounding savannah terrain. This enabled the easy and speedy dispatch of soldiers across the region to conquer neighbours. The adoption of the Islamic faith by the Mali people in about the 1500s during the rule of Kankan Musa, created a point of unity for this kingdom.

        Quarrels over who should succeed the throne and rebellion by the Fulani people in Senegambia and the Songhai people in Gao led to the collapse of the Mali kingdom in the 16th century. Songhai became independent of Mali, and rivalled it as the leading power in West Africa.

        Culture, Religion and Monarchy

        The Songhai had settled on both banks of the middle Niger River. They established a state in the 15th century, which unified a large part of the western Sudan and developed into a brilliant civilisation. It was ruled by the dynasty or royal family of Sonni from the thirteenth century to the late fifteenth century. The capital was at Gao, a city surrounded by a wall. It was a great cosmopolitan market place where kola nuts, gold, ivory, slaves, spices, palm oil and precious woods were traded in exchange for salt, cloth, arms, horses and copper.

        Islam had been introduced to the royal court of Songhai in 1019, but most people remained faithful to their traditional religion.

        Sonni Ali reorganised the army, which was equipped with a fleet on the Niger River. The commander of the fleet was known as the ‘Master of the Water’. Foot soldiers captured the best men of the defeated armies. An elite cavalry was fast and tough. They wore iron breastplates underneath their battle tunics.

        The foot soldiers were armed with spears, arrows and leather or copper shields. Military music as produced by a group of trumpeters. The total army comprised 30 000 infantry and 10 000 horsemen. The Songhai defence system was the largest organised force in the western Sudan not only was a political instrument, but also an economic weapon by virtue of the booty it brought in. They conquered the cities of Timbuktu and Jenne.

        Muslim scholars at Timbuktu called Sonni Ali ‘tyrannical, cruel and impious’. The Sonni’s were driven from power by the Muslim Askiya dynasty.

        The new monarchy based at Gao had centralised and absolute and sacred power. It was possible to approach him only in a prostate position. He sat on a raised platform surrounded by 700 eunuchs. People paid taxes to the king in return for internal and external security. The royal court was responsible for the administration and the army. Large estates belonged to nobles. They were worked by servile labour that did the fishing, animal raising for milk, meat and skins, and the agricultural work.

        The Songhai kingdom was the last major one in the region. Its fall did not bring an end to kingdoms in West Africa. Kingdoms that survived were Guinea, Benin in Nigeria, Ashanti in present day Ghana and Dahomey, north of Benin. These kingdoms continued the Trans Saharan trade with the Arab states in North Africa. The Trans Saharan trade was complex. It was not limited to trade and the exchange of gold, copper, iron, kola nuts, cloth, and salt. It was also about close co-operation and interdependence between kingdoms south of the Sahara and kingdoms north of the Sahara. Salt from the Sahara desert was just as important to the economies and kingdoms south of the Sahara as gold was for those in the north. Therefore, the exchange of these commodities was vital for the economic and political stability of the region.

        Travel and trade in Songhai

        Trade significantly influenced the course of history in West Africa. The wealth made through trade was used to build larger kingdoms and empires. To protect their trade interests, these kingdoms built strong armies. Kingdoms that desired more control of the trade also developed strong armies to expand their kingdoms and protect them from competition.

        Long distance trade helped the local economy and supported internal trade. Merchants travelling between towns across the Sahara needed places to rest and stock up with food for the journey across the Sahara desert. Food would be provided by local markets that relied on local farms for supplies. This practice allowed merchants to plan long trips knowing that local markets would provide food and shelter. For this reason, many kingdoms in West Africa encouraged agricultural improvements to meet this need. Often this meant uniting smaller farmers, traders and societies into stronger trading blocs. For example, the Kuba kingdom in present day Congo brought together different cultures under a single authority and used the Congo River as a main transport link to other distant kingdoms. As a result, smaller traders joined with each other like the Chokwe and Lunda kingdoms under a single broad-based trade. This led to the increase of ivory and rubber trade between these kingdoms and with Portuguese traders.

        Present day Kuba King. Source: Daniel Laine (2001) National Geographic, from

        The slave trade was also important for the economic development of West Africa. For a very long time, West African kingdoms had relied on slaves to carry out heavy work. The Songhai kingdom under the rule of Askia Mohammed used slaves as soldiers. Slaves were trusted not to overthrow their rulers. Slaves were also given important positions as royal advisers. Songhai rulers believed that slaves could be trusted to provide unbiased advice unlike other citizens who held a personal stake in the outcome of decisions. Another group of slaves was known as palace slaves or the Arbi. The Arbi slaves served mainly as craftspersons, potters, woodworkers, and musician. Slaves also worked on village farms to help produce enough food to supply the growing population in towns.

        The Asante kingdom of the Akan people grew in about the 15th and 16th century into a powerful kingdom in the most southern parts of West Africa, present day Ghana. This growth was made possible by the rich gold mines found in the kingdom. The Akan people used their gold to buy slaves from the Portuguese. Since 1482, the Portuguese who were interested in obtaining Asante gold, had opened a trading port at El Mina. As a result, their first slave trade in West Africa was with the Akan people. The Portuguese bought the slaves from the kingdom of Benin, near the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Slave labour made it easy for the Akan people to shift from small scale agriculture to large scale agriculture (Giblin 1992). The shift transformed the Asante kingdom and it developed a wealthy agricultural and mining economy.

        The Akan people needed slaves to work their gold mines and farms. Passing traders and a growing population in the Asante towns demanded increasing supplies of food. The slave trade with the Portuguese continued until the early 1700s. The Akan people supplied the Portuguese with slaves to work on sugar plantations in Brazil. A small number of slaves were kept in the Asante kingdom. However, by this period, the Atlantic slave trade dominated trade with West Africa. Kingdoms like the Asante and Dahomey used their power to raid societies like the Bambara, Mende, and Fulanis for slaves. The kingdom of Benin is the only known kingdom in West Africa to abolish slave trading in Benin. The slave trade ban was succesful and forced the Portuguese to search for slaves elsewhere in West Africa. However, Dutch traders took over the role. From the 1600s the Dutch dominated the West african and Atlantic Slave trade.

        The Portuguese and Dutch governments were unable to colonise West African kingdoms because they were too strong and well organised. As a result, the slave and ivory, rubber and gold trades remained under the control of Asante, Fon, and Kongo kingdoms. In 1807, the British government abolished the slave trade. Because West African kingdoms did not co-operate with the British, the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean continued. However, the slave trade declined in areas where the British had influence, for example the Gold Coast.

        Industrial development in Britain led to increasing trade with West Africa in agricultural products like palm oil, rubber, and cocoa. To supply Britain with these products, the Asante kingdom kept the slaves they had captured for the Atlantic slave trade and used them as farm workers instead. This led to the growth of slavery in West Africa because each kingdom wanted to profit from this new trade. West African slavery came to a slow end towards the end of the 19th century when many of these kingdoms were colonised by the French and British. Former slaves became the landless lower classes.

        The states of the Niger Delta extend for about three hundred miles along the Gulf of Guinea from the Benin River on the West to the Cross River on the East. Due to the many rivers, which cross over each other, the main source of transport was by canoe. Societies found in this area include the Ibo, Ijaw, Jekiri Efik and Calabari.

        Unlike other West African states, Niger ones were different in character. They were small states that maintained contact through war, trade and migrations. The Atlantic trade brought about great prosperity in this region. These states were known for their skill in politics and for their “middleman” skills in commerce. Their long history of internal trade had brought these small states together and led to economic growth of Bonny (also known as Igbani) and Warri states.

        The Kingdom of Dahomey (also known as the Fon Kingdom of Dahomey) was the southern part of the Republic of Benin, a country that divides the dense forest of Nigeria from those of modern Ghana. Dahomey was the most prominent coastal state in the region. It was ruled by a king on the authority of the queen mother who held the power to appoint an heir. The king and queen mother ruled Dahomey from their capital Abomey. Dahomey began emerging as a great power in the early 18th century because of the slave trade. It also managed to overtake other coastal states competing for control of both the slave and inland trade. The Fon army was unusual in West Africa because its soldiers were women feared by other neighbouring coastal states.

        In about 1650 there was a great demand from the West Indies sugar plantations for African slaves. The Fon people used their position as sea-merchants to ensure that they held a monopoly of the slave trade. The Dahomey kingdom also relied on its strong military to dominate weaker inland states and to conquer coastal states. States looking to trade in the region were expected to pay a fixed amount of tax and fixed prices for slaves. Custom duties were paid in respect of each ship as well.

        By the 18th century the Fon king had absolute power and under his rule Dahomey became strong enough to capture neighbouring coastal states. The Fon were still paying tribute to the Oyo kingdom and this meant that they had to appease the Oyo with guns and other goods each year. In 1725, Dahomey conquered the Oyo kingdom, and three years later they pushed south to Savi and Whyad, Jakin was taken in 1732 but it was only in 1740 that the Fon won complete control when Whydah became a Fon colony. This ushered in control of the coast and even visiting Europeans had to gain prior permission to go ashore.

        Atlantic System, Contact with Europeans

        The arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century in search of new trading opportunities changed the trade networks in West Africa. An important change was the new direction of the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Sahara desert. This increased the power of small West African kingdoms like the Asante and Dahomey kingdoms. It also contributed to the fall of the Songhai Empire, because the slave and gold trade were no longer going through the Songhai kingdom. As a result, the Songhai rulers could not claim tribute and taxes from these kingdoms.

        The other change came from the growing slave trade. African slaves were captured from Africa to work as slaves in the Americas in the early 1500’s. Portugal, Spain, France and Britain were the key players in this slave trade, which lasted for more than 400 years. Because Portugal was the first to establish itself in the region and to enter treaties with West African kingdoms, it had the monopoly on the slave and gold trade. As a result, Portugal was responsible for transporting over 4.5 million Africans, approximately 40 percent of the slaves taken from the continent before the 1700s. During the 18th century however, Britain was responsible for almost 2.5 million of the 6 million African slaves traded. Due to expanding market opportunities in Europe and the Mediterranean, they increased trade across the Sahara and later gained access to the interior using the Senegal and Gambia River, which bisected long-standing trans-Saharan routes. The Portuguese brought in copper ware, cloth, tools, wine and horses and later included guns, in exchange for gold, pepper, slaves, and ivory. The growing trade across the Atlantic came to be called the triangular trade system.

        The Triangular Trade System

        The Atlantic Slave Trade (also known as the triangular trade) was a system of trade that revolved around three areas. The first point of the triangle would begin in Africa, where large shipments of people were taken across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas (The Caribbean, North and South America) to be sold to work in colonies on plantations as slaves. Once the slaves were offloaded in the Americas, the same ships would then load products from plantations such as sugar, cotton and tobacco. These products would be sold in Europe. From Europe the ships would carry manufactured goods such as cloth, iron, rum and guns, which they would use in exchange for slaves and gold.

        Most captured slaves were taken between 1450 and 1500, from the West African interior with the co-operation of African kings and merchants. There were occasional military campaigns organised by Europeans to capture slaves, especially by the Portuguese in what is now Angola. This accounts for only a small percentage of the total. In return, the African kings and merchants received various trade goods including beads, cowry shells (used as money), textiles, brandy, horses, and perhaps most importantly, guns. These guns became a very important trade commodity when West African kingdoms were increasingly organising their militaries into professional armies. During this period England sold close to 100 000 muskets a year to West African kingdoms.

        Slaves crossing the Atlantic Ocean endured inhumane conditions aboard the ships transporting them. They would travel naked and cramped into the hold of the ship chained together at the ankles and packed together side-by-side in holds which were about 1.5 m high with hardly any light and fresh air. They were provided with buckets, which they had to use as toilets. This resulted in many slaves becoming sick and dying. Cases of fevers and small pox were common during the voyages. The health of slaves on board was made worse by the lack of medical attention. Slaves would be regularly hosed down with water each morning and those that had died overnight, would be thrown overboard.

        The slave trade was abolished in 1807 by the British government. The French only abolished their slave trade in 1848. The continued Atlantic slave trade forced the British government to take responsibility to end slave trading. They captured European ships and released slaves on board. This was made more difficult by the unwillingness of West african kingdoms to give up the slave trade. The British government tried to influence the Asante rulers to stop practising slavery in their kingdom with no success. As a result, from the 1870s, the British government began to colonise the Asante people in order to prevent the use of slave labour, but also as an excuse to take control of the rich gold mines of the Asante and to protect British commercial interests against French expansion in the region. Click here to read a lesson about colonial rule and African responses.

        A royal mausoleum for the ruler of Songhai, Askia Muhammed (1493-1528) built in Gao in the once powerful capital of the Songhai Empire. Picture source:

        The foot soldiers were armed with spears, arrows and leather or copper shields. Military music as produced by a group of trumpeters. The total army comprised 30 000 infantry and 10 000 horsemen. The Songhai defence systemwas the largest organised force in the western Sudan Not only was a political instrument, but also an economic weapon by virtue of the booty it brought in. They conquered the cities of Timbuktu and Jenne.

        Muslim scholars at Timbuktu called Sonni Ali 'tyrannical, cruel and impious'. The Sonni's were driven from power by the Muslim Askiya dynasty.

        The new monarchy based at Gao had centralised and absolute and sacred power.

        It was possible to approach him only in a prostate position. He sat on a raised platform surrounded by 700 eunuchs. People paid taxes to the king in return for internal and external security. The royal court was responsible for the administration and the army. Large estates belonged to nobles. They were worked by servile labour that did the fishing, animal raising for milk, meat and skins, and the agricultural work.

        The following information will still be developed for this topic:
        - Travel and trade in Songhai at the height of its power ( Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants at Timbuktu)
        - Learning and culture
        - Fall of the Empire: Moroccan invasion of 1591.
        - Women in Songha
        - Contact with Europeans Please contribute activities and content for this section by clicking on the ‘contribute’ button.

        800 - Gao was established
        1110 - Timbuktu was established
        1290 - Empire of Mali established and conquered Timbuktu and Gao
        1375 - Timbuktu appeared for the first time on a European map
        1400 - Gold trade flourished - from west Africa, through Timbuktu and Gao, to Europe
        1450 - Large settlement of scholars and traders in Timbuktu
        1468 - Songhay Empire established by Sunni Ali. Took over Timbuktu and Gao
        1493 - Muhammed Ture, a Muslim, founded the Askia dynasty and took over Songhay Empire.
        1530 - Portuguese came to Timbuktu in search of wealth. Only one man survived.
        1591 - Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire conquered by Moroccans.

        Activity Put these events up on the board in the wrong order. Students should try to recall the correct order in their note books.