Rise & Fall Of The Songhai Empire

Rise Of The Songhai Empire

The rise and fall of the Songhai Empire due to its success in Trade which helped it prosper, and the internal conflicts which led to the Songhai Empire’s fall is one of the most important stories of Pre-Colonial Africa.

The Songhai Empire acquired great wealth from the trade and tribute it raised from trading activity along the Trans-Saharan Trade route.  It was established around 1486 when the Songhai people of Gao broke away from the Mali Empire to create the Songhai Empire. 

The Capital of the Songhai Empire was founded at Gao, a city surrounded by a wall and it was an important Trading Centre for the trade in goods such as slaves, ivory, gold, salt, guns, cloth palm oil and spices.

Under the rule of Sonni Ali, the Songhai Empire also built an impressive army which resulted in the conquest of the City of Timbuktu.

The Songhai Empire would generate immense riches from the trade activities in its vast territory.

Trade In The Songhai Empire

The Songhai Empire had a strong Trade based Economy.

In addition to local trade between the peoples of Songhai, the Songhai Empire itself benefited significantly from the Trans-Saharan Trade.

The Songhai Empire was involved in the Trans-Saharan Trade in Gold and Salt. This ancient Trade also included other trade goods such as slaves, kola nuts and cowry shells. 

In addition to the profits and Taxes the Songhai Empire raised from The Trans-Saharan Trade which was a long distance trade, the local Economy of the Songhai Empire also benefitted from and bolstered the Tans-Saharan Trade as Traders travelling the long distance across the Sahara desert would get supplies of food and accomodation from local towns along the Trans-Saharan Trade route. 

The arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century led to the rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which led to the decline of the Songhai Empire because it was no longer able to raise Taxes from goods transported through the Songhai Empire’s territory along the Trans-Saharan Trade Route since Slaves were now being transported across the Atlantic Ocean. 


Decline Of The Songhai Empire

In 1591 civil war in the Songhai Empire weakened the Songhai State, and the Moroccan Sultan Ahmad I al-Mansur Saadi saw this as an opportunity to conquer Songhai.

Songhai was attacked, and although Moroccan Sultan Ahmad I al-Mansur Saadi was victorious through the use of Guns and Canon, the Moroccan conquest of the Songhai Empire was never decisive.

As a result, the Moroccans were faced with frequent revolts and eventually withdrew in 1661.


Despite the Moroccan withdrawal, the Songhai Empire had been weakened and could not be restored to its former glory.

Nevertheless, various Songhai Emperors sought to recreate the old Songhai Empire but failed until finally the Songhai Empire was colonised by the French in 1901 marking the end of the period of the rise and fall of the Songhai Empire in the Ancient world.

The Trade Networks Of The Songhai Empire