History Of The Songhai Empire

The Songhai Empire was the last and largest of the three main West African Pre-Colonial Empires.  Songhai4

Origins Of The Songhai Empire

During the reign of Dia Kossi, the Songhai Capital Gao was founded in approximately 800 A.D, and it eventually expanded to include the Mali Empire after conquering Timbuktu.

Regarded as one of the best Civil Administrators in History, Sunni Ali Ber, is considered the first great ruler of the Songhai, and under him, the  Empire continued to expand into the Sahara.

A succession dispute however occurred after Sunni Ali Ber’s death in 1492, which saw the rise of the Muslim Ruler Muhammad Toure after he usurped the Throne from Sunni Ali Ber’s son.

Sharia Law was then promulgated throughout the Empire with more Schools and education centres established followed by an extension of the Sankore University in Timbuktu.


Under Muhammad Toure, relations with the broader Muslim world were strengthened through Scholar and Diplomatic exchanges with the Arab world and Muslim Spain.

Decline Of The Songhai Empire

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

Although he was victorious through the use of Guns and Canon which the Songhai had not encountered before, the Moroccan conquest of the Empire was never complete.

The Moroccans were faced with frequent revolts and eventually withdrew in 1661.


Despite the Moroccan withdrawal, Songhai had been weakened and could not be reconstituted to its former glory and structure as a Unitary State and Polity.

Nevertheless, various Songhai Emperors sought to recreate old Songhai but failed until finally the empire was  conquered and colonised by the French in 1901 marking the end of an era.

Peep the Dr. John Henrik Clarke’s ‘Empire of Songhai’ video Lecture, a real gem which takes you deep into the origins, rise and fall of the Songhai. I appreciated his exposition on the essence of Pre-Colonial African Spirituality, Culture and Society as background to the founding of the Empire.

Dont forget to Subscribe to our Whatsapp Channel to get articles, share links and discuss.

You can join either the Articles only Board or the Discussion Group.

Also take some time out to check out our Pinterest ‘Ancient World’ Board and Instagram for more images of the mighty Songhai Empire and other great Civilizations.