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Timeline: Principia Moderni IV (Map Game)
OTL equivalent: West Africa
Benin in West Africa (1485)
|Demonym||Beninese, Bini, Edo|
|-||Total|| 2,209,450 km2
853,073 sq mi
|GDP (PPP)||1490 estimate|
|-||Per capita||MN 740 ($1,443)|
|Currency||Zuruoke (3·383 g gold coin)
Mpempe (25·984 g silver coin)
Mina (3·248 g silver coin)
Formation of city-state
Benin was founded as a city-state known as Igodomigodo sometime before the 12th century, under the direction of the Ogisos, or "Kings of the Sky". The first Ogiso, Igodo, was responsible for the city's foundation, and led the city-state into a prosperous beginning as he guided the Edo people in a wise and responsible manner. Igodo's successors would continue to govern Benin for centuries until the time of warrior Crown Prince Ekaladerhan, who was responsible for a period of court intrigue and political strife. Ekaladerhan was banished from the city after one of the queens of the Osigo had the message of an oracle deliberately changed so as to remove the well-loved crown prince from power and the royal line of succession. Angered with the message, Ekaladerhan left Igodomigodo with band of loyal warriors to a neighboring Yoruba kingdom where legend has it, he became a powerful king.
When Ekaladerhan's father, the then Osigo of Igodomigodo, died in the 12th century, there was no one to succeed the deceased monarch, leading to a group of Edo chiefs led by Chief Oliha, to seek out a replacement for the last Osigo. The man they sought to crown their new leader was Oduduwa, a powerful chief in the region. Oduduwa refused to take the crown, reasoning that it was not permissible for a chief to leave his domain, but instead suggested that the chiefs under Oliha take one of the seven sons that he had back with them to Igodomigodo. Thus, the group would decide upon Eweka, who they declared the new king of Igodomigodo. One of Eweka's first acts as the new king was to change the name of Igodomigodo to Edo, and his title to that of "Oba", or the "Omo N'Oba". Eweka would become the first Oba of Benin in 1180, starting the line of Eweka dynasty.
Early growth and advancements
Beginning with the reign of Oba Orobiru in 1397, Benin began moving in a direction toward the expansion and development of the nation as a whole. In 1400, Orobiru began to invest in the renewal of diplomatic relations with the surrounding nations of Oyo, Igala, and Bornu, and sought to build strong trade relations with Mali, sending his second-eldest son and heir, Prince Ogun to Mali as the representative of Mali. Other aims of the Oba was the creation of a currency system to allow Benin a more refined method of exchange with its northern neighbors, which came in the form of the zuruoke with 3.383 grams of gold, and the mpempe with 25.984 grams of silver. In the field of infrastructure, Orobiru invested in the construction of the Royal Road from the capital of Edo to the city of Enugu, after flooding washed away the unpaved road that proceeded it. While in Mali, Prince Ogun came to find himself fascinated by the sophistication of the Malians in Timbuktu, as well as the centers of learning such as the University of Timbuktu which taught all manners of science and theology. It was at the urging of the young prince that Orobiru permitted him to return to the city in 1401 and return to the capital with scholars and manuscripts to study from in the Royal Palace of Edo.
Benin's military underwent a number of reforms which included the introduction of regular marching and fighting drills, as well as the standardization of weapons, armor, and equipment of the Royal Regiment of the Oba. Spearheading the military developments was the Oba's eldest son, Uwaifiokun, who sought to expand the military capabilities of the state to compete with the local powers of Oyo and Igala. It was through Uwaifiokun's efforts that the foundation of the young Benin Imperial Navy was made, when Uwaifiokun and 200 handpicked warriors left Benin in 1401 to explore the lands beyond the Niger Delta. Through the efforts of the Ndi Meriri, or "Conquerors", Uwafiokun discovered and settled the islands of Bioko and Sao Tome and Principe between 1402 and 1404, and established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Kongo to the far south in 1405. Uwaifiokun continued to explore the lands beyond Benin for many years after contact with Kongo was established, and later founded the Navigator's School of Bioko in 1402 to train sailors for his later expeditions, and then founded the Imperial Naval Academy in 1406, transferring many of the students from Bioko to the permanent school location in the city of Eko.
Upon learning of the world that Benin had long ignored in detail, Oba Orobiru's domestic and foreign policies shifted dramatically from one of isolationism to one of active foreign trade and diplomacy. Writing was introduced in 1403, helping Benin to record laws and actions of the government, and the Royal Library was founded on the palace grounds to translate and copy texts from books brought from Mali and abroad to Benin. One of the individuals who had accompanied Prince Ogun to the city of Timbuktu in 1401, Okpara Maduka, sought special permission from the Oba to leave Benin and explore the world and learn of the cultures beyond West Africa in person. Orobiru obliged, and in 1407, send Okpara and his expedition off on a nearly five-year journey throughout North Africa and the Middle East as a diplomat of Benin. As the horizons of the nation continued to expand through the efforts of the Oba's sons, Benin's social structure became more fluid, with more and more Bini seeking to advance themselves through the arts and sciences as many of the books and teachings brought from Timbuktu to Edo were opened to the public. The desire of the people to advance their nation in the eyes of the foreigners the sought to parley with soon became fashionable.
Transition to an empire
In the years following Benin's introduction to the world stage, the empire had been forced to make a number of radical developments as new information and ideas were brought to the nation. Sanitation in 1404, writing in 1407, and the record of a Bini in Asia by 1409, all made out of the desire to be prepared for any possibility of an attack by a foreign power, of which Benin discovered there were many. Secure with his position in the region, Oba Orobiru sought to begin the first moves toward shaping the political future of his empire, and in 1408, invaded Benin's longtime rival and adversary, Oyo. He managed to bring the smaller empire into Benin's lands with relatively little bloodshed, and incorporated into the armies of Benin the cavalry that had made Oyo a fearsome opponent on the battlefield. Orobiru expanded the road network from Edo into the new lands after witnessing a tremendous increase in trade from Edo to Enugu, and expanded the size of Benin's fleet to secure trade up the Niger River and along the southern coastline. By 1410, Benin had doubled its territory and population, and was largely unrivaled militarily.
As a sign of Benin's growing power, the city of Edo was completely rebuilt by the Oba beginning in 1410, with wide and spacious avenues lined with trees, drainage systems to remove waste and provide clean drinking water, completely stone buildings to enhance the longevity of structures, and a complete revamping of the city's enormous walls and earthworks. The introduction of the sewage system alone is often cited as having been responsible for the dramatic decrease in infant mortality in the city, and the greatly improved standard of living for the people who no longer suffered from diseases such as cholera on a massive scale. Beyond the city walls, reorganization of farmlands was made by the government to increase food output, thanks largely to the amount of arable land gained from the war with Oyo in 1408. The road network was expanded, and the first organized message rely system was introduced with the access to Oyo's old cavalry now in Benin's control. Expansion of the port city of Eko saw trade with nations such as Mali and Jolof increase as well, with slaves and ivory exchanged from Benin for gold and salt from the Sahelian nations.
In 1413, Okpara Maduka returned to Benin as a man of honor, having made Benin's name known in the regions he visited. He brought back with him countless volumes of books and trinkets, that helped to enhance the burgeoning intellectual community in Benin under the rule of Orobiru. The community of scientists Prince Ogun had sought to establish grew exponentially a result od Okpara's efforts. In spite of these gains, tragedy struck Benin in 1413, when a smallpox outbreak killed more than 130,000 people, most having occurred in the lands once belonging to Oyo. The disparity in the death rate is widely believed to have been due to the efforts of the warriors in preventing the spread of the infection into the densely-populated heartlands of Benin, sparing the rest of the empire the tragedy and an increase in deaths. The following year, however, Oba Orobiru died from smallpox himself, having taken it upon himself to visit the devastated regions of his empire to show his support for the suffering people. His son, Prince Ogun, was thus crowned Oba of Benin and taking the name Ewuare, and vowed to continue the policies of his father as he was the chief proponent of reform during Orobiru's reign.
Expansion of the empire's trade with Mali was made a priority by Ewuare, and the development of local industries such as the refining of palm oil and iron-working, were sponsored by the state. Reorganization of the empire's lands into manageable districts helped greatly with the administration of new farmlands and pastures, especially as Benin's population witnessed considerable growth in the years following Oyo's conquest. In 1414, trade with Europe and North Africa became a major part of Benin's economy, as for the first time, Benin was able to directly trade with the northerners by sea in a meaningful manner, without having to take the bulk of his trade through Mali, and allowing the Malians to profit from the sells. That same year, Oba Ewuare revolutionized the method in which all cities in Benin were to be built, when he passed a law detailing the method in which these cities were to be built, enhancing sanitation, livability, and overall beauty of the new cities and towns. Reforms to the military were again made with the introduction of an age-based recruitment system, as well the development of a series of logistical and financial policies to sustain the military forces. Additionally, Ewuare introduced into law the standard method of city-building that he wished the empire to implement so as to maintain neat and orderly cities that could house tens of thousands of subjects in sanitary conditions.
Major reforms and Kuzirism
Oba Ewuare's reign is best remembered as a period of growth and expansion of the empire from the small, but densely-populated state of the Niger Delta, to a massive regional empire home to tens of millions of people. Likewise, his most lasting achievement was the introduction of the religion known as Kuzirism, which helped to propel the ideology and worldview he wished Benin to maintain after his death. Seeking to bring his people's spirituality into the new world as well, Oba Ewuare called for a cadre of Catholic and Islamic theologians to his capital, to discuss the matter and convince him of which religion was the best for his people. However, unconvinced of either religion's doctrines, Ewuare sent both parties away, with a plan of his own. Not a year after his father had died and he took the throne, Ewuare took advantage of his position as the absolute spiritual and temporal ruler of his people, and as the mouthpiece of his religion and edicts, passed a number of religious doctrines which would form the faith known today as Kuzirism. While there was some resistance to his ideas by tribal lords who wished to maintain individual control over their people's spirituality, Ewuare got his way and as the penultimate spokesperson for Benin's religion, founded the Kuzir faith in 1415. The faith was adopted by all subjects of Benin, and though some may have believed that it was impossible for this to happen, one would remember that the Oba was viewed with reverential awe, as a tool of the gods and the means by which they spoke to man, granting Ewuare enormous sway over the religious future of his people.
Reforms made by Ewuare in politics was his decision to exploit his new found power and backing from the military to curb the influence the uzama had over the Oba. For centuries the advisory council would interfere in state affairs, making it impossible for the Oba to act unilaterally. However, Ewuare put an end to those days when he put into law the independence and absolute authority of the Oba, and reorganized Benin into a theocracy. The bureaucracy that supported Benin's expansion and stability were transformed into the Kuzir clergy, which came to run the government and manage the spiritual affairs of the state, turning Benin into effect, a massive church-state. A social hierarchy was introduced as a clear-cut caste system, with the clergy, warriors, merchants, artisans, and laborers from top to bottom. However, Ewuare preached of how all three were equally valuable in the eyes of God for their contributions to the stability of the state and the outworking of his will. The military conquests of Ewuare were also of great note, as they expanded exponentially the wealth and power of Benin. In 1415, Ewuare embarked upon what historians have called the Northern Campaign, a war against the three northern tribal kingdoms of Nupe, Igala, and Borgu, all of which were long-time rivals of Benin. The conquests were quick and bloody, and saw all three conquered by Benin within the span of a year.
Benin's conquests did not cease with the three kingdoms. Three years later, Songhai, having heard of the expansion of Benin, began to conquer several kingdoms around such as Mossi, Jenne, Mena, Ghana, and the lands of the the Tuareg. Fearing an invasion from the northern, Benin struck first, invading the lands of Songhai with over 200,000 warriors. The war was relatively short, but saw many of the cities of Songhai sacked and captured by Benin, and the ruling powers of the state expelled from the empire. Ewuare was keen to protect the stores of intellectual knowledge in Timbuktu and Gao, and forbade any use of fire or siege-works that many damage the city. His efforts were rewarded with the preservation of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts which recorded the knowledge of art, medicine, philosophy, and science from the Islamic world, all pieces of the still ongoing Islamic Golden Age. In but a single year, Ewuare had gathered more knowledge from Timbuktu than what took the European crusaders two centuries to gather from the Middle East, and even then in fragments of books and second-hand knowledge. Likewise, with the conquest of Songhai, Benin had more than doubled its lands, and took over the wealthiest region in Africa and indeed, even the world. Hundreds of tons of gold, silver, ivory, copper, salt, ebony woods and textiles, were all under the control over a single empire, on top of the vast supplies of those products from Benin itself.
With the access to these resources in abundance, Ewuare took a novel approach that the rulers of Songhai and Mali had not considered nor bothered to entertain. Ewuare took the vast wealth he had under his control and invested them into the expansion and development of his empire. While most other kings and emperors had limited worldviews and narrow visions of their legacy, Ewuare embarked on a project to leave an empire as his legacy to not just his people, but too the world. Leveraging the knowledge he and his people gathered from the documents gained from Timbuktu, Ewuare introduced such concepts as irrigation, crop rotation, the use of tools and beasts of burden, and road building to Benin in full force. All were promoted as means of enriching the empire and the people, and helped to solidify Ewuare's image in the eyes of his subjects. The agricultural lands of Benin were reorganized into large grid-based tracts of state-managed land leased to farmers, all of whom received a wage from the local merchant who managed the land on the state's behalf. This helped to reduce costs to the government, while helping to develop poorly farmed lands of Benin, especially along the Niger River. The navy of Benin was also expanded by the Oba, who wished to increase trade with the north, using the port of Tangier as the main center of trade between Benin and the European and Arab powers. With the use of sea lanes rather than the Sahara, the speed of trade and thus the profitable return was quadrupled, as the dangerous month-long journeys through the Sahara, could be made within a week by sea from Eko to Tangier.
By this period, Benin's population had gone from just eight million in 1400 to more than than sixteen million by 1420. Harvests under the well-organized and maintained agricultural system in Benin were far more abundant than in the centuries prior, and the peaceful conditions that were brought to the region from the Niger Delta to the Sahel under Benin and Oba Ewuare, allowed for a flourishing of wealth and intellectual development on a scale never before witnessed. The growth of the road networks from the capital city of Edo to the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, saw trade between the northern and southern portions of the empire to flourish as well. In 1420, Oba Ewuare outlawed the practice of slavery, after coming to view it as a limiting force on the growth of economic and industrial outlets. With the lack of slaves to cut costs on lands and in trade centers, the subjects of Benin were forced to adopt or develop new cost-saving and labor-saving measures. The outlawing of slavery in Benin is credited with having led directly to the wide-scale adoption of windmills and watermills in the empire, as the need to increase production of grains with the loss of slaves became paramount to merchants. This in turn, ironically, led to the Great Harvests throughout the 1420s, as agricultural production skyrocketed. With no slaves to compete with, laborers saw an increase in wages as their work became more valuable and profitable per capita. With the newfound wealth came greater tax returns for the state, allowing for the first time the ability by Benin to maintain a regular standing army outside of the Royal Regiment of Edo.
Technological growth continued under Ewuare's reign during the 1420s, when a member of Benin's Kuzir clergy, Dari Sadiki Abubakar, developed gunpowder locally in Benin when seeking to create a substance that would enhance the heating capacity of forges located in the empire. The explosive powder was refined over a period of years, until a proper mixture was developed by Abubakar in the mid-1420s. Dari Abubakar's efforts who assisted, at that time, by Benin's growing network of educational centers, which would seven years later lead to the adoption of cannons by Benin in 1427. After transferring many of Timbuktu's manuscripts to Edo for translation, the translated copies of that information were distributed to schools of higher education throughout Benin as part of Ewuare's plans for an enlightened empire of intellectual warrior-kings. The development of the esuku, a Kuzir place of worship, as the main vehicle of that goal, allowed for Bini subjects from a young age to be educated in the ways of scientific thought and deep understanding of natural laws. The concept of the "peace dividend", the rewards of prosperity that come after a period of war, was formalized in Benin as a result of the economic and political stability of Benin during the reign of Ewaure. 25% increases in crop production, and nearly 30-40% increases in the real wages of the after African under Benin's authority were witnessed during the Ewaure era, giving rise to the validity of the peace dividend theory.
Instability and civil war
By the mid-1420s, Benin's social hierarchy, political system, military structure, and economic practices, were almost alien to the Benin prior to 1400. The nearly three decade long shift into a non-traditional way of thinking and living had been, for a lack of a better word, rammed through the dissenters and naysayers and forced upon the people of Benin. Thus, in spite of all the good that resulted from the changes and process made in Benin, for many it was too many changes at too fast a pace. In 1427, Oba Ewuare died suspiciously in spite of having been in perfect health and only in his late-30s. Most subjects of the empire blamed everyone from Mali, believing them jealous of Benin's overshadowing role in the region, to the Songhai people, angry for their defeat and conquest not more than a decade earlier. Seizing the opportunity to strike, reactionaries within Benin's old social hierarchy attempted to move against the regency council of Ewuare's elder brother, Uwaifiokun, and his twelve-year old heir, Kayin. They stated the youth and inexperience of the heir as a reason for rebelling, and garnered significant support from the warriors who wished to return to the old land-based reward system that granted them far more wealth that the salaried positions they held within Ewuare's reformed military.
Exacerbating this crisis was the rebellion of many Songhai cities at the same time beyond the cities of Timbuktu and Gao. Many saw the opportunity to wrest control of the region away from Benin, and re-establishing their sovereignty as an empire. With a war on two front, Uwaifiokun devoted his attention, first to the rebels near the capital of Edo, and later against the rebels in Songhai. Having feared this would happen as a result of his brother's numerous sweeping reforms, Uwaifiokun wisely maintained a strong garrison of loyal troops in Gao, while ensuring that the loyalty of the Royal Regiment of Edo was with the heir and his regent rather than with the reactionaries. Striking out from the numerous odi fortifications throughout the empire, the loyalist forces quickly gained the upperhand against the reactionary forces predominately in the Niger Delta region, and later on in the rest of Benin. The quelling of the Songhai rebellion took much longer, necessitating a multiple year campaign that went from east to west across the breath of the empire. However, Uwaifiokun was thorough in his search for rebels and traitors, and had entire villages of Songhai people burnt to the ground in retribution for their insolence.
The civil war lasted until 1432, when the last Songhai rebels had been killed or captured near the border with Mali, and their families either executed or handed out as trophies to the loyalist forces of Uwaifiokun. The experience established that the prosperity of the empire was fragile, and that the diaspora of voices within Benin could and would lead to a civil war at any moment. However, with the deaths of the rebel elements in Edo and the near extermination of the Songhai as a people, a period or respite was purchased for the empire for the time being. Uwaifiokun spent the next few years rebuilding the empire for his nephew, Kayin, and reorganizing the military into elements that would be far more manageable in large-scale combat as had been experienced in the past five years of civil war. Also made into policy was the adoption of the unspoken but widely practiced method of demographic conquest and redistribution of non-Bini populations by the state. Warriors and settlers of Benin would be given the wives and young children of enemy combatants and foreign populations, and the non-Bini male population gelded or killed, while all the elderly with links to the defeated nation's past were exterminated. The indoctrination of the youth into Bini schools and monasteries would greatly benefit the empire in assimilating entire populations almost overnight following their conquest by Benin.
Recovery from the civil war was relatively swift, as it allowed for the old and rotting infrastructure of much of the empire's newly-conquered lands to be torn down and rebuilt in the image Benin sought to build from the ruins. Many demographic changes were made in the following year as well, as the Bini warriors were quick to establish new families and grow existing ones out of the captured female population they now possessed. Children who once spoke Songhai, Mandinka, or Mossi, were taught the Edo language and the Kuzir religion, as well as Benin's laws and customs, with no opposition at home from their domineering Bini warrior stepfathers, and submissive and obedient mothers, saw their new way of life as the nature way of things in the land. Those children who had been taken into Bini homes in the late-1410s after the conquest of Songhai, were now adults by the post-war era, and their education and upbringing saw them adopt fully the culture of their new nation and their Bini stepfathers. Viewing this as the most effective means of assimilating newly-conquered nations, it was adopted as a state practice in the 1430s, to take the youth of the conquered lands and force into their lives the culture and traditions of Benin under the watchful eye of adoptive Bini families.
The Kuzir religion spread quickly following the civil war, as the use of the sword to cow entire population centers into submission gained the religion a measure of respect from the tribal allies of Benin and the religion that had them treat the people with no quarter while preserving alive those who sought to obey the new laws of the land. The combination of strength and justice in measured amounts saw groups that at once would not have considered Kuzirism as a faith to follow, converting en masse as the wished to emulate the clear regional power of West Africa. Where Islam once dominated the lands of the region, Kuzirism came to replace it as the penultimate faith of the land. Following the conflict, it was apparent that Kuzirism was there to stay, and that it had weathered the first of its great challenges. The ability of the clergy to adapt itself to the needs of the state, as they were the state, allowed for the religion to survive intact in spite of what was a major crisis of identity in Benin. With the concept of the Core Truths that drove the religion, Kuzir warriors and leaders understood that certain methods of warfare and destruction were simply wasteful to the needs of the state post-war, limiting the effect the war had on the economy of the nation as a whole.
The government of Benin is best described as a theocracy in which the Oba of Benin reigns supreme and as the spiritual leader of the Kuziri faith. His rule is maintained by a system of administrative divisions and imperial institutions spread out to ensure the best management of Benin's lands and resources. At the top of the government is the Oba, the current monarch being Isokan, who has reigned since 1431. The Oba alone possesses the power to declare war and peace, sign treaties, and levy a tax upon the imperial subjects of Benin. All government policies and decisions must go through the Oba first and foremost, though in his absence, the Crown Prince of Benin may act in the name of the Oba. The current ruling house of Benin is the House of Eweka, which has be in power over Benin since 1200 AD. All members of the royal family, and any heirs to the throne of Benin, must come from the Eweka dynasty as per the royal decree of the Oba.
Uzama and Eghaevbo
The imperial council of the Oba is known as the as the Uzama, is made up of seven members, each selected from the most powerful nobles in Benin plus the Crown Prince of Benin. The Uzama is in accordance with the decree of Oba Ewuare, "constitute the three great orders of chieftaincy which, between them, are responsible for the continuity and government of the state". Thus, primary role of the Uzama is to serve as political advisers to the Oba, assisting in times of crisis, maintaining the traditions of the state, as well as governing the country in the absence of the Oba or in times of regency. The Uzama is often chaired by political rivals of the Oba to silence opposition to his rule though the council has long been defanged since the reign of Oba Ewuare in the 1413. Above the Uzama is known as the Iyase, who serves as the prime minister of Benin, the supreme commander of Benin's military forces on behalf of the Oba, and the leader of the Eghaevbo n’Ore. The Iyase has the power of investiture of titles, allowing him to appoint new nobles and hand out lands on behalf of the Oba.
Benin's imperial government is highly complex, with its leadership divided into two groups that make up the Eghaevbo, or "councilors of state". These are the hereditary Eghaevbo n’Ore, or "town chiefs", and the non-hereditary Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, or "palace chiefs". The Eghaevbo n’Ore serve as the civil authority of Benin, administrators and judges in the empire, while the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe serve as the palace bureaucracy, enacting and enforcing the laws of the Oba. While the Oba has supreme and absolute power over his realm, he would be wise to heed the advice of the Uzama, and consult both the Eghaevbo n’Ore and Eghaevbo n’Ogbe before making political decisions that would effect the realm as a whole. All members of the Uzama must go through the Iyase to deal with the Oba. The Iyase's loyalty to the Oba has historically been absolute and beyond doubt, and those dealing with the Iyase can be assured of the Iyase's word and fealty to the Oba of Benin.
The Eghaevbo n’Ore maintain the village fiefs of the Oba, and serve as the body from which all village and town leaders are pulled. Each chief's title is a hereditary position, as well as the lands which he governs. However, the chiefs do not reside on their land, with their sons, members of their households, slaves and servants, all settled there permanently as their representatives and acting on their behalf. This prevents strong ties between the lords and their vassals from solidifying, and maintaining loyalties to the Oba directly. The Oba collects his taxes through the Eghaevbo, who in turn collect their tribute from the many villages and towns under their direction. The system has been streamlined to ensure the highest collection per region, and cutting back on excessive taxation to prevent revolts. Failure to collect the taxes expected of a member of the Eghaevbo may result in a number of punishments based on the severity, from removal from position, exile from Benin, to execution if the crime is deemed grave enough to warrant the punishment.
One of the most important members of the Eghaevbo n’Ore is the Iyoba, or Queen Mother, a title established by Ewuare near the end of his reign. Because of the manner of Benin political dynamics, the Iyoba is a permanent member of the Eghaevbo n’Ore. The Iyoba resides in the Eguae-Iyoba, or "Palace of the Queen Mother", and serves as a special imperial adviser to the Oba, who calls upon her experience with past Obas to assist him during his reign. She is also an important power broker and mediator, dealing with rivalries between noble households to prevent internal strife and conflict. Furthermore, she is the political and spiritual protector of the Oba, and therefore wields considerable power in her own right. The Iyoba has her own military regiment known as the "Queen Mother's Own Regiment", which serves as her bodyguard and personal levy of warriors, and maintains her own own domain and fiefs as an equal to the other nobles of Benin. However, in spite of her vast powers, the Iyoba is ultimately answerable to the Oba of Benin.
All territorial divisions in Benin are divided according to regional boundaries and settled locations. Each city, town, and village is governed by a local chief from the location, a hereditary position passed down from father to son. The basic political unit in Benin is the village, which is entirely beholden to the paramount political authority of the Oba. Each village is governed by a village chief, who is responsible for maintaining order in his village, collecting taxes and tribute, enforcing imperial law, and raising his village regiment for battle when called upon the War Council of Benin to do so. All village fiefs are allowed limited autonomy, but are ultimately kept in check by the imperial bureaucracy out of the capital city of Edo. Likewise, each village chief is allowed some measure of "personal authority", establishing villages, farm settlements or camps in the name of the Oba of Benin.
As the largest military power in Africa, Benin naturally maintains an equally vast system with which to manage its military forces. The armies of Benin are divided into multiple groups and regiments, with a complex system of ranks and titles within them. There are three levels to the army of Benin. The first is the Ivbiyokuo Oredo, or the "Imperial Army"; the second is the Ekaiwe and Isienmwenro, or the "Imperial Guard"; and third is the Ivbiyokuo Ikinkin Agbon-Edo, the "Metropolitan Army". The Imperial Army is the foremost of the three armies, divided into ogun and further into iye. The Metropolitan Army are the constituent regiments of Benin, serving as auxiliaries for the Imperial Army. Though metropolitan regiments may maintain close ties to the villages they were raised from, Benin's military organization is highly centralized, preventing the federation of villages into groups large enough to threaten the empire. All villages look to the Oba as their supreme spiritual and temporal head, as well as supreme lawgiver, and owe him tribute not just in material wealth, but in service as well. As of 1490, the military budget for Benin was MN 2,136,772,910, or 40% of the imperial budget for that year (or 6% of the national GDP).
The Benin Imperial Army is the largest of its kind in Africa, rivaled only by the legions of Ethiopia in the far eastern portions of Africa. During wartime, the Oba of Benin can call upon the services of some 480,000 warriors, drawn from the ighele age group of the male population between the ages of thirty to fifty. The army itself is divided into the Imperial Guard which serves as the bodyguard and personal army of the Oba of Benin, the Imperial Army which is the professional standing army of Benin, and the Metropolitan Army which is made up of warriors who defend the borders and interior of Benin part-time as well as augment the strength of the Imperial Army. The Imperial Guard itself consists of some 25,000 warriors, which under the rule of Oba Ewuare, was reorganized to be equipped with standardized armor and weaponry as per the standards of the imperial forges in the capital of Edo. The Oba has exclusive command over this force, though the Edogun of Benin is handed day-to-day control of the Imperial Guard during peacetime.
The Imperial Army consists of 247,500 warriors divided into 50 ogun, or "hosts", which operate as permanent military formations throughout Benin. So as to maintain a level of security and readiness, a number of castles known as odi dot the landscape, and are home to imperial warrior garrisons and their families. Odi also house a number of forges for the produce and maintenance of weapons and armor, as well as stables for couriers and loyal oloye in the region. The Metropolitan Army consists of 107,500 warriors, who are stationed throughout Benin in smaller units known as fipamo, or "reserved". Likewise, the army also maintains a force of about 32,500 cavalry known as oloye, which are raised primarily from the northern plains regions of the empire. These units operate along the borders of Benin as well as the interior districts of the empire as part-time reservists, who work the land they are assigned to with their families, and join up with Imperial Army units during times of war. They patrol and protect the roads and cities of the empire, while the Imperial Army operates as the main combat force for Benin.
Benin's naval forces, officially known as the Benin Imperial Navy, are the maritime branch of the legions of Benin. Comprising the largest naval force in Africa, the Benin Imperial Navy consists of 4,400 sailing vessels with the following composition as follows: 800 akakan (carrack-esque ships), 1,400 oké (five-masted ships), 2,200 epeepe (four-masted ships), and hundreds of smaller single-sail canoes often co-oped by the imperial military for logistical purposes along the nation's many rivers and lakes. Benin's shipbuilding capacity is localized around the cities of Dakar, Serekunda, Ominira, Apata in western Benin, and Eko, Mahin, Bioko, Kalabari, and Warri in southeastern Benin, where the largest shipyards in the empire are located. Many traditional riverside shipbuilders existed throughout the empire, and often serve as extra manpower for the shipyards, though these are typically focused on building small vessels for riverine trade and warfare. The navy is evenly divided into two fleets known as the Western Fleet and Southern Fleet. The Western Fleet consists of 2,200 ships (400 akakan, 700 oké and 1,100 epeepe), while the Southern Fleet consists of 2,200 ships (400 akakan, 700 oké and 1,100 epeepe).
- 4,400 ships (1490)
- 800 akakan (carrack-esque ships)
- Length: 65.5 meters (97.5 meters)
- Crew: 350 men (200 sailors and 150 warriors)
- 1,400 oké (five-masted ships)
- Length: 49.5 meters (64.5 meters)
- Crew: 250 men (150 sailors and 100 warriors)
- 2,200 epeepe (four-masted ships)
- Length: 30 meters (40.5 meters)
- Crew: 150 men (100 sailors and 50 warriors)
- 800 akakan (carrack-esque ships)
The military forces of Benin are governed by the War Council, which consist several military leaders which include: the Oba as the head, the Ezomo from the Uzama, the Iyase, Ologbosere, and Imaran from the Eghaevbo n’Ore, and the Edogun and Ekegbian hailing from the noble families of Benin. Furthermore, the non-military members of the War Council include the Oliha, Edohen, Ero, Eholo n'Ire, Oloton, and Edaiken from the Uzama; the Esogban, Eson, Osuma, Esama, and Osula from the Eghaevbo n’Ore; the Iyoba (Queen Mother), Isekhurhe and Ihama (royal recorders) from the nobility; and the Uwangue, Eribo, Osague, Aiyobahan, Esere, Obazelu, Akenuwa, Ine, Osodin, Obazuaye, Uso n'Ibiwe, and Ezuwako from the Eghaevbo n'Ogbe. Altogether, the War Council consists of 33 members, the Oba included, all of whom are responsible for meticulously planning each military campaign for the armies of Benin before any conflict is begun.
The War Council is responsible for necessary preparations for any military campaign launched by Benin, ranging from logistics, to military intelligence, to supplies and reinforcements. The elaborate preparations taken beforehand ensure that Benin's efforts on the battlefield are well-planned and enacted to the letter, with clear goals and a chain of command well established before the fighting begins. Any failure during the war is thus blamed on the problem of command and control of the warriors in battle, rather than any fault of the War Council itself. All commanders for war are appointed by the Oba on the recommendation of the War Council, ensuring that a commander is chosen to lead the troops based on skill and experience rather than personal connections with the Oba or any member of the War Council.
Benin is markedly different from its neighbors in that it possess a clearly defined military structure with clearly defined roles and ranks within its military. The metropolitan and village armies offer separate services, but function within a framework which demonstrate administrative and directive competence to a degree sorely lacking in neighboring territories. The Oba is the Supreme War Commander of Benin, granting him a monopoly on the mobilization of as many troops as needed wherever he may need them in his realm. He traditionally leads his troops into battle, though he may send the Iyase in his place as needed. As he maintains the sole monopoly on the mobilization of troops in Benin, the Oba has little to fear from local rulers withholding troops from him during times of war, allowing the Oba to respond to immediate threats in a prompt fashion.
A large civil administration exists to govern the affairs of the military, mobilizing troops for warfare in a moment's notice as needed by the Oba. While Benin maintains a vast military force as a rule, the state itself lacks a standing army, with only the regiments under the direct control of the Oba ready to serve where needed. These are divided into the Ekaiwe (royal troops) and Isienmwenro (royal guard), which together constitute the Imperial Guard of Benin. Both have the appellation of Asaka no s’Okhionba, meaning the "soldier ants that sting the king’s enemies", effectively classifying them as the personal army of the Oba of Benin. The commander of the Imperial Guard is the Edogun, who answers directly to the Oba. The Iyase, on the otherhand, serves as the primary commander of all troops raised by Benin in the Oba's steed as needed.
The economy of Benin is large agricultural as a pre-industrial state, with more than half of the population lives off of substance farming. Despite this, the empire maintains a largely laissez-faire approach to economics, believing that people are most financially capable when the government stays out of economics. Because of the free trade policies promoted by the imperial government, Bini merchants and commoners have been able to flourish under a system that grants them the freedom to spend and invest their disposable income however they wish. Cities in Benin are centers of trade and commerce, and local commercial and industrial activities have been able to flourish following the two decade "peace dividend" era, so styled by Dari Sadiki Abubakar in 1423, under the reigns of Oba Orobiru and Oba Ewaure. The conquests of Benin allowed for the reorganization of land use throughout most of the empire, allowing for the crop surplus which allowed for food security throughout much of Benin, as well as agricultural specialization of some land along the Niger River. With the urban planning laws instituted by Oba Orobiru in the early-1400s, the development of a thriving construction industry was made possible as many cities under Bini governance were rebuilt and reorganized in line with government laws.
Economic growth has also be spurred on by the military supply contracts for food, equipment, industrial goods, and so on, tying together the economies of local regions into that of the greater national economy. The military contributes heavily to the economy by providing goods such as bricks, pipes, tanned leather, glass, and alcoholic beverages which are consumed by the general population. Army units also take part in public works such as canal and road building, which further fuel the growth of economies the military's units are located in. The heavily-monetized economy of Benin is best described built around economic rationalism, in which deregulation of the economy is preferred as a way of promoting growth and prosperity. Social mobility in Benin has become more of a reality because of these policies, with the average Bini subject able to move upwards financially and socially without relying upon birth, patronage, or prestige, a far cry from the extremely rigid social system Benin once possessed prior to Oba Orobiru's reign.
Currency and banking
Mining and metallurgy
Even before the introduction of advanced Islamic sciences and the military expansion of Benin, the metallurgy skills of the Bini were highly advanced for centuries. The ability to work with metal, gold, and silver had long been developed and refined within Benin prior to the 15th century, and access to mineral ores was a major source of the wars in the Niger Delta region prior to the reign of Oba Orobiru. The provinces of Akan, Orun, and Lilo are Benin's most productive gold-mining provinces, and provide more than half of all the gold mined in Benin. Ivory is produced in the Niger Delta provinces, where the heartlands of the empire are located. Gold is mined at an annual rate of 3,500 tons, making Benin are largest gold-producing nation in the known world. Most of the gold in Benin is located in easily accessible riverlands, where the gold sits very close to the surface, and can be mined with little cost or danger to the state.
Transportation and communication
Benin maintains a large network of paved roadways extending from the port city of Dakar in to far west on the Atlantic, to the city of Kalabari in the southeast of Benin near the fringes of the empire. The Niger River is also an important vein for movement as it stretches through the entire length of the empire, allowing for switch transportation of goods and personnel in Benin. Due to the vast size of the empire, communication plays an important role in the affairs of the state whether it be for governing, trade, or defense. Relay stations are located throughout the empire along the imperial roads, and help to maintain communication between cities, provinces, and military forces. Relay stations are located ten miles apart from one another, and are typically located in villages, trading centers, or military posts, and all are fashioned with stables, inns, and refreshment for both the rider and the horse. An èro is a special resting station for travelers and merchants to stop and stay during the nights, and are usually protected by local Metropolitan Army forces. The location of these èro are based on the distance a wagon can cover during a day. Accommodations such as food and drink, prostitutes, recreation, and security are all provided at such centers.
Trade and commodities
The people of Benin typically trade goods and services within the empire as a whole, given the generally self-sufficient status of Benin in terms of food, minerals, and resources. However, cash crops, luxury goods, gold, ivory, and slaves, are all traded to nations outside of Benin. Trade with the European and North African states, as well as the Swahili city-states of East Africa, make up a considerable part of the wealth flowing into and out of the Benin Empire. The primary commodities traded within Benin are rice and wheat, while the exports of Benin are gold, ivory, tin, copper, textiles, fruit nuts and peppers, glassware and precious gems such as diamonds, sugar, medical goods, and palm oil. Major imports include coal and iron, which Benin produces within its own borders, but not to the extent required to maintain an extensive industrial base outside of the core regions of the empire. The main ports of Benin were Dakar in the western half of Benin, and Eko, Mahin, Kalabari, Warri, and Kokoro on the southern coastline of the empire.
The GDP per capita in Benin as of 1490 was MN 740, while the national GDP was MN 35.612 billion. The most prosperous region in the empire was the Niger Delta, where the heartland of Benin and the imperial capital of Edo is located. The top 5% of the population holds about 25% of the empire's wealth, and these consist almost entirely of Benin's Kuzir clergy and family members, who own most of the empire's land through the esuku that maintain them. Another 25% of the nation's GDP is located in the hands of the empire's middle-class, which makes up 30% of the total population, while the underclass of Benin, the other 70% of the population, collective control the other 50% of the empire's wealth. Only half of the empire's population live in subsistence conditions however, though their standard of living is much improved compared to the squalid and abysmal conditions of the tribal populations living beyond Benin in the rest of West and Central Africa.
Society and culture
Literature and arts
Prior to 1400, literature was non-existent in Benin due to the lack of writing within its borders. However, journey of Oba Ewuare during his youth to Timbuktu, he created a written script from the Edo language with the explicit aim of allowing all classes of Bini to read and write, which his father, Oba Orobiru, later instituted as the national script. With the later introduction of schooling and mandatory classes for all youth in Benin under the reign of Oba Ewuare following 1414, the literacy rate within the empire skyrocketed. With the introduction of a natural script that suited the Edo language, a scholar from Benin no longer had to learn the complex Arabic script imported from Timbuktu to read and write, allowing for the growth of a native literary culture. The Iwe ti Iwo, the holy text of the Kuzir religion, was the first major work of literature published in the new script by a native author, and was later produced by many other texts that led to the growth of Benin's intellectual societies. Another literary work was the Complete Record of the Great Edo Nation, a detailed record of Benin's complete history dating back to the founding of the nation in 1180, and doing away for good the oral traditions that the people of Benin had relied upon to pass on the history of their civilization.
With the introduction of writing into Benin's culture, the thousands of teachings, stories, myths, poems, and traditions of the Bini people were finally able to be put to pen and paper. This ultimately led to the spread of Benin's ideals and customs to other regions of West Africa, allowing for the assimilation of the non-Edo population foreign to the Niger Delta, and leading to the formation of a much larger and homogeneous society within the empire. The arts ultimately flourished as a result of this spread of Bini traditions, allowing for other cultures brought into Benin's realm to contribute to the growing collection of ideals and philosophical pursuits that took form in the written word. Under the patronage of Oba Isikhuan during the 1430s onward, the abinibi (or "talented") societies which specialized in the arts, sciences, and philosophy, rose up throughout the empire and prospered under the wing of the state's generous imperial grants. The sponsoring of these talented groups of individuals helped to promote Bini culture and intellectual thought as a source of inspiration for neighboring lands, and help to ingratiate the land of Benin in the eyes of foreigners who visited the empire.
The official state religion of Benin is Kurizism. The religion was founded in 1414 by Oba Ewure in the city of Edo, and quickly grew to become the dominate religion in West Africa and in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. More than 98% of all Bini subjects follow Kuzirism and adhere to the teachings of the Iwe ti Iwo, the holy text of the religion. Kuzirism was established on the belief that God was a rational being who created the universe with the intention of having humanity search for him and come into an understanding about his ways. Because of the ingrained spirituality in humans, Kuzir believe that all religions are correct in their desire to explain the nature of God, but that Kuzirism is the true religion in that it actively does that in the correct manner. Thus, adherents of the religion believe in the unity of God, unity of faith, and unity of humanity as the core tenets of their belief. Benin itself is a theocratic state, with the Oba serving as both the head of the empire and the head of the faith as well. As a highly evangelical religion, Kuzir actively preach their religion wherever they go with the blessing of the imperial government of Benin, and currently have 20,000 missionaries as of 1460. Because of the deeply religious state of the empire, it is often said that Benin "isn't a state with a religion, but a religion with a state".
Because of the faith's spiritual and secular roles being intertwine in every part of Bini life, the Bini as a people are extremely religious, and the faith colors every part of their lives. The Kuzir places of worship known as esuku are built in the hundreds in most cities in Benin, and shrines to Oghodua, the god of Kuzirism, can be found in the thousands in every city, town, and village in the empire. Unlike most other religions, Kuzirism also touches upon the scientific and educational, with the clergy of the religion serving as the scientific community for Benin as well. All education and collegiate degrees provided in Benin are given and obtained through the clergy, which manages the educational system of Benin from top to bottom. Speech in Benin is heavily peppered with religions terms and phrases, and the religion itself is spoken in everyday life with pride. Given the belief that man and not God is responsible for the misfortunes and suffering one might endure in life, the rational outlook by Kuzir adherents means that there exist very little that can cause one to doubt or completely abandon their faith. Thus, the highly devout populace of Benin can best be described as dogmatic, overzealous, and fanatical, with the need to embrace God serving as the core of Bini life.
Through the teachings of Kuzirism, the government of Benin developed the concept of public-funded education as a means of advancing the pantheistic religion. The basic function of the schools is that of promoting literacy and the teaching of the Kuzir religion. All teachers are drawn from the clergy of Benin, which itself forms the government bureaucracy. Because the schools are funded by the state and the promote the state religion, teaching is a well-paid and highly respected occupation within Benin. Every district and every city within the empire has a public school where all children regardless of caste are required to go until the age of twelve, at which point they may be removed and taught a trade. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as farmers who cannot afford to send their children to school and require them on the farm to work with them. The exception is also extended to merchant families who can afford to send their children to private schools paid for and funded by members of that caste. However, the majority of children attend public schools, which adhere to a strict curriculum that imprints religious and societal values on the youth from an early age.
Because of this system of schooling in Benin, the literacy rate among the population, sitting at about 35%, is very high when compared to Europe, where the majority of individual receive no schooling at all. While large pockets of illiteracy exist throughout Benin, these are mostly in highly agricultural communities which exist between major cities. The average city dwelling Bini, however, can read and write, even if only at a basic level. Centers of higher education also exist within Benin, such as the Imperial University in Edo and the University of Timbuktu. The former teaches fundamental sciences and political theory, while the latter specializes in religious education, astronomy, and mathematics. Other vocational schools such as the Imperial Naval Academy in Eko and the Royal Academy of Botany in the capital city, also exist, and deal with specialized trades within the two fields they teach. One notable trait that has been ingrained into Benin because of the empire's extensive education system, is the general lack of superstition within the Bini populace. Most students are taught that that which cannot be explained is simply that waiting to be discovered and examined by mankind.
Law and order
The Bini people are the dominate ethnicity in the Benin Empire, making up 90% of the total population. They are followed by the Mandika, Akan, and Igbo people, who make up the rest of the population, along with a number of minor ethnic groups as well. Decades of government population management has allowed for the empire to maintain a largely homogeneous empire, where the Bini are quickly overshadowing the rest of the ethnic groups in Benin. The combination of enslavement, wife snatching, youth indoctrination, gelding of non-Bini men, and controlled genocide of small ethnic groups, have propelled the Bini into the role of majority population. With some of the world's most fertile lands, the most productive river in Africa, and the centralized management of land grants, have allowed for Benin's population to grow successfully over the decades. The Bini's high birth rate has also allowed for the population to expand with little issue in the region.
The bulk of Benin's population is located along the fertile Niger River, which runs from the Guinea Highlands in western Benin, to the heavily-urbanized Niger Delta region in the southeastern section of the empire. Benin hosts more than a thousand cities, as well as tens of thousands of towns and villages spread throughout, with nearly a third of Benin's population residing in urban areas. As of 1485, the largest cities in Benin were Edo (950,000), Gao (500,000), Eko (250,000), Dakar (210,000), Niani (175,000), Segou (160,000), Oyo-Ile (150,000), Enugu (105,000), Kalabari (85,000), and Apata (70,000). Benin's cities boast superior public health management than those found in Europe, with public baths, hospitals, lavatories, and freshwater wells allowing for a decreased disease outbreaks and mortality rates within the Bini cities. The average life expectancy for a Bini male is about 37.6 years, and the mortality rate for infants is about 35% compared to about 50-60% in Europe and Japan.