9 Unforgettable Events Of Ancient Ghana That You May Not Know About

Ancient Ghana, or the Old Ghana Empire, has nothing to do with modern Ghana at all — it’s not even in the same place, being some 400 miles to the north and west of modern Ghana, and consisting of, very roughly, what are now Northern Senegal, Southern Mauritania and a bit of Southwestern Mali. In fact, “Ghana” wasn’t even the empire’s name — it was the title of its ruler (it means warrior king) and the empire itself was actually called Wagadugu, or Wagadou, or the Soninke Kingdom, according to whichever account you’re reading. When modern Ghana achieved independence, it chose the name Ghana to honor the strength of ancient Ghana and also as a statement that Black Africa did have a great history, including advanced empires, prior to European and Arabic slave raids and the destruction of most native functioning kingdoms.


Somewhere between those two dates, the empire was formed under the semi-divine Dinga Cisse, leader of the modern-day Senegalese, then known as the Soninke people. The empire was helped by the domestication of the camel, allowing the transportation of goods around the dry desert areas of North Africa to become significantly easier. 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, the Middle East and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.

A.D. 992 — Ghana Captures Awdaghast

Although known for its trade connections, the empire was pretty handy with its weapons, too, and expanded itself considerably by conquering neighboring cities and regions. Awdaghast was a city along the trans-Saharan trade route to the north of the original empire, and that entire area became part of the expanded empire, according to answersafrica.com.

1000 — The Old Empire of Ghana at Its Peak

The Old Ghana Empire controlled the trade of all gold and salt in that part of the world, and a good proportion of the newly discovered element, iron, for several hundred years, and this was what made it powerful. It was an intermediary, controlling the trade between the Berber and Arab salt traders that were north of it and the ivory and gold producers to the south. By this time, it had extended to incorporate large chunks of these areas and subjects of the empire and claimed tributes from them, including some of the richest gold mines in the world at Bambuk, on the Senegal River (a location that was a closely guarded imperial secret at the time). Its capital, Kumbi Saleh, was the hub of all this trade, and Ghana had an organized taxation system to make sure it received its due from it all, and a standing army of around 200,000 warriors who supplied security and safe passage to the many caravans on its trade routes.


Bassi was the second-to-last ruler of the empire, ruling until 1062. The fast-developing skills of the Ghanaians in ironworking led to much stronger weapons than had hitherto been known, such as iron-tipped spears, and contributed considerably to the empire’s battle success.


1054 — Ibn Yasin captures Aoudaghast

Although not converted to Islam themselves (unlike most of the rest of North Africa), the Ghanaians did allow Muslims to live among them, a generosity that led to the beginning of the end of the empire — that and the obvious wealth and resources to be found there — as a group of Muslims to the north calling themselves the Almoravids poured out of the newly founded Moroccan city of Marrakesh and decided to attack them, beginning the breakup of Ghana. The first obvious indication of this was when the Almoravid, Ibn Yasin, marched south and captured the Ghanaian city of Aoudaghast.

1062 — Tunka Manin Takes the Throne

Some histories show it was not just the attacks of the Almoravids that contributed to the downfall of Ghana. Around that time, new gold mines began to be worked at Bure (in modern Guinea), which was out of the commercial reach of the king of Ghana and broke his monopoly on the trade. There were also long droughts that weakened the empire’s ability to sustain its farms and herds. New trade routes began to open up to the east, taking more and more trade off that way. Also, as the central authority began to weaken, the subject tribes began to break away from the empire and reclaim their own lands.

1076 — Abu Bakr Captures Kumbi Saleh

The decline of the Old Ghana Empire began in earnest when in 1076 the Almoravid leader, Abu Bakr Ibn Umar, captured Ghana’s capital city, Kumbi Saleh,  and thus effectively captured Ghana.

1180 — Ghana Rose Again … Briefly

The Almoravids only stayed for a few years, and after their departure in 1087 the empire recovered to some extent, although the Soninke warriors were now scattered all over North Africa, and there was very little military or economic cohesiveness.

1203 — Soso Attack Brings on the End

An anti-Muslim group called the Soso (or Susu, or Sosso) arose in a small northern area of the original empire under its leader, Sumanguru, and their attack on Ghana in 1203 finally finished the last of the Ghanaian authority. Another small kingdom called Kangaba was also growing in the area, and when their dynamic new ruler, Sundiata Keita, took over in 1235 he began to incorporate what was left of the declining empire into his new Mali Empire. After that, it was just a matter of time before what was left of Ghana was totally absorbed into Sundiata’s Mali Empire, and by about 1240, the once immense and powerful Old Empire of Ghana was no more.

Source: Atlanta Black Start

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