Kingdom of Benin

One of the oldest and most highly developed states in West Africa

A bas-relief of an Oba in ceremonial dress and weapons, which decorated the palace of the obas.

Once rulers, oba still hold prestigious positions in Benin as government advisors.

The Kingdom of Benin is located in what is now southern Nigeria

The modern Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) is well to the west of the old kingdom and is named for its situation on the Bight of Benin, not after the kingdom.

Benin Bronze

Primarily made of cast bronze and carved ivory, Benin art was produced mainly for the court of the Oba of Benin – a divine ruler for whom the craftsmen produced a range of ceremonially significant objects.

Additional Information:

  • Kingdom of Benin also known as the Edo Kingdom or Benin Empire
  • Located in what is now southern Nigeria
  • The Kingdom of Benin’s capital was Edo, now known as Benin City in Edo state, Nigeria
  • The Benin Kingdom was “one of the oldest and most highly developed states in the coastal hinterland of West Africa”
  • Formed around the 11th century AD
  • Benin Kingdom annexed by the British Empire in 1897
  • The original people and founders of the Benin Kingdom, the Edo people, were initially ruled by the Ogiso (Kings of the Sky) who called their land Igodomigodo
  • Benin City (Edo) sprang up by around 1000, in a forest that could be easily defended; the dense vegetation and narrow paths made the city east to defend against attacks
  • The rainforest, which Benin City is situated, in, helped in the developed of the city because of its vast resources – fish from rivers and creeks, animals to hunt, leaves for roofing, plants for medicine, ivory for carving and trading, and wood for boat building – that could be exploited
  • The original name of the Benin Kingdom, at its creation was Igodomigodo, as its inhabitants called it; nearly 36 Ogiso are accounted for as rulers
  • The Walls of Benin are a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches, called Iya in the Edo language in the area around present day Benin City; may have been constructed between the 13th and mid-15th century CE
Walls of Benin
  • The Walls of Benin are a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches, called Iya in the Edo language in the area around present day Benin City, the capital of present day Edo, Nigeria
  • They consist of 9 miles of city iya and an estimated 9,900 miles in the rural area around Benin
  • Some estimates suggest that the walls may have been constructed between the 13th and mid-15th century CE and others suggest that the Walls of Benin (in the Esan region) may have been constructed during the first millennium AD
  • The Walls of Benin became known to Westerners around 1500 due to Portuguese explorer Duarte Pacheco Pereira who briefly described the walls during his travels 
  • Another description given around 1600, is by the Dutch explorer Dierick Ruiters
  • The walls were built of a ditch and dike structure; the ditch dug to form an inner moat with the excavated earth used to form the exterior rampart
  • The Walls were ravaged by the British in 1897 during what has come to be called the Punitive expedition; scattered pieces of the structure remain in Edo, with the vast majority of them being used by the locals for building purposes
  • Ethnomathematician Ron Eglash has discussed the planned layout of the city using fractals as the basis, not only in the city itself and the villages but even in the rooms of houses; he commented that “When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive; it never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet

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