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Ghana Empire

From Academic Kids

The Ghana Empire (existed c. 900-1240) was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania and part of Mali. The empire grew rich from the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt.

Relatively little is known about the kingdom, with most information coming from Andalusian traders who frequently visited the country, and from the Almoravids, who invaded the kingdom in the late 11th century.

It is believed to be the first of many empires that would rise in that part of Africa. It first began in the eighth century, when a dramatic shift in the economy of the Sahel area south of the Sahara allowed more centralized states to form. The introduction of the camel and other forms of livestock by Arabs brought about a revolution in trade, and for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa and the Middle East in exchange for manufactured goods.

This trade produced an increasing surplus, allowing for larger urban centres; it also encouraged territorial expansion to gain control over the lucrative trade routes. Ghana is believed to have originally been a small Berber principality also known as Awkar, that had existed since at least the fourth century; and in the following period it began to expand greatly, annexing a number of neighbouring cities and peoples. The empire eventually came to be dominated by the Soninke people, who built the empire's capital of Kumbi Saleh. This would grow to a size of 30,000 on the edge of the Sahara.

The first written mention of the kingdom comes soon after it was contacted by Arab traders in the eighth century. In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, there are more detailed accounts of a centralized monarchy that dominated the states in the region. The Cordoban scholar al-Bakri collected stories from a number of travelers to the region, and gave a detailed description of the kingdom in 1067. At that time, the King of Ghana fielded an army of some 200,000 soldiers.

The Kingdom was ruled by a king known as the Ghana, hence the name of the state. Upon the death of a Ghana, he was succeeded by his sister's son. The deceased Ghana would be buried in a large dome-roofed tomb. The religion of the kingdom involved emperor worship of the Ghana.

The capital city was a large metropolis divided between Africans and Arabs. The African half consisted of mud-brick structures, while the Arab half consisted of stone houses that were home to the traders and merchants. The literate and educated Arabs were also utilised by the Ghana as bureaucrats and administrators.

As Islam grew throughout the region, the kings of Ghana permitted the religion, but did not convert to it. The growing power of the Almoravids to the northwest soon led them to launch a jihad against the kingdom. The empire had long been struggling. The rise of the Almoravids had disrupted the Saharan trade and pushed into the west. The population density around the empire's leading cities had also overtaxed the region, and the Sahara desert was expanding southward. While imported food was sufficient to support the population whenever the income from trade was high, when trade faltered, this system also broke down. The weakening of the centre sparked a revolt of the empire's vassal states, destroying the Ghana Empire in the thirteenth century and enabling the area to be annexed by the Almoravids. They collapsed quickly, and a new state, the Mali Empire, rose to dominate the region.

The modern country of Ghana is named after the ancient empire, though there is no territory shared between the two states. There are traditional stories that the survivors of the Ghana Empire migrated to the region of modern Ghana, but there is no evidence that this is true.

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ja:ガーナ王国

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