The Mali Empire
From A.D. 700 to 1600 the ancient empires of Ghana
(700-1100), Mali (800-1550) and Songhay (1300-
1600) controlled vast areas of West Africa (see map
and time line). Although each empire rose to assert
its power, they coexisted independently for centuries.
At its peak (1200-1300), the Mali Empire covered an
area that encompasses significant portions of the
present-day country of Mali, southern and western
Mauritania and Senegal. Note that the old kingdoms
of Mali and Ghana are not the present-day countries
of Mali and Ghana.
Green Mali Empire
Red : Songhai Empire
Light brown: Ghana Empire
The Mali Empire began when a small Malinke
kingdom within the Ghana Empire grew ever
Mali began as a small Malinke kingdom around the
upper areas of the Niger River. It became an
important empire after 1235 when Sundjata
organized Malinke resistance against a branch of the
southern Soninke, who made up the center of the
older kingdom of Ghana. The empire developed
around its capital of Niani.
Ghana (Wagadu), the earliest known empire of the western Sudan, first entered
the historical consciousness of North Africa near the end of the eighth century
but probably originated long before. The king of the Soninke people who
founded Ghana never fully embraced Islam, but good relations with Muslim
traders were fostered. Ghana's preeminence faded toward the end of the eleventh
century, when its power was broken by a long struggle with the Almoravids led
by Abdullah ibn Yasin. Ghana subsequently fell to the expanding
The shaded portion indicates the greatest extent of the Ghana empire
ca. mid-eleventh century.
It was from one of Mali's former conquests, the kingdom of Gao, that the
last major empire of the western Sudan emerged. Although the city of Gao
had been occupied by a Songhai dynasty prior to being conquered by
Mansa Musa's forces in 1325, it was not until much later that the Songhai
empire emerged. It began to rise in 1464 when Sonni cAli Ber came to
power. Sonni cAli conquered much of the weakening Mali empire's territory
as well as Timbuktu, famous for its Islamic universities and the pivotal
trading city of Djenne.
The shaded portion indicates the greatest extent of the Songhai
empire, ca. sixteenth century.
The Empires of Mali disolved into
several different small Kingdoms:
The fragmentation of the Empires of Mali into
multiple small kingdoms favored French invasion.
French colonization lasted from 1883 to 1960. Mali
gained independence 22 September 1960. The
country was then ruled for 8 years by an elected
socialist governement. A military coup d’etat
brought a dictatorship to power for 23 years which
ended in a mainstream revolution in 1991.
Democracy began in 1992; Malians are now (April
2007) democratically electing their President for the