Benin Imperial Army
Benin warriors
Benin warrior and attendants, brass plaque, court of Benin, Edo culture
Active 1180–Present
Country Flag of the Benin Empire Benin
Branch Army
Size 480,000 (1490)
Unit types Imperial Guard, Imperial Army, Metropolitan Army
The Benin Imperial Army is a standing force maintained by Benin, and tasked with defending its lands and subjects. It was originally established as the army of Benin during the age of the Ogisos during the 12th century, though it was reorganized into the partially standing army of the empire during the reign of Oba Ewuare in 1413, and later into a truly professional army in 1431 under Oba Isikhuan. Under the reformer Isokan, the army was transformed into a multi-faceted, caste-driven fighting force made up of professional soldiers with regular wages, standardized armor and weaponry, and permanent combat units stationed across the empire.

The original purpose of the army was that of expanding the borders of Benin to capture slaves which formed the backbone of the empire's economy and wealth. However, a series of reforms under Oba Ewuare saw the Royal Regiment, the precursor to the Imperial Guard, transformed into the standing army of Benin, which was augmented by the Metropolitan and District Regiments of Benin during wartime. A series of conflicts with the nations of Oyo, Igala, Nupe, and Songhai witnessed a marked evolution in the transformation of the army of Benin in each war. The roles of the warriors as well as their fighting tactics developed with each conflict, and the method of managing and training these warriors, as well as their interaction with the conquered lands, saw them blossom into the fighting force they are today.

By the modern day, the Benin Imperial Army was divided into ogun, or "hosts", each of which consists of about 5,500 fully-armed and armored men in total. Currently, there are 45 ogun in Benin, all of which can be deployed to a region at a moment's notice. Each of these units was named and numbered, and stationed throughout the empire as a garrison, with the Metropolitan Army protecting the land and the Imperial Army serving as the mobile force during wars and lengthy campaigns. Almost all of the military forces as of the reign of Oba Isikhuan are stationed along the borders of the empire, with the exception of the Imperial Guard, which operates in and around the capital city of Edo, as well as the surrounding districts.

Military units

Imperial Guard

Imperial Army

Metropolitan Army

The forces of the Metropolitan Army serve as part-time auxiliary units within the Benin Imperial Army, and are organized into units known as fipamo, the large sub-unit within the much larger ogun of the Imperial Army. Metropolitan Army warriors are stationed throughout the empire as defensive units, protecting bridges, tolls, city walls, public facilities, and warehouses which store food, armor, and weaponry for the military. Like their Imperial Army counterparts, Metropolitan Army units are primarily all-infantry formations (ewu), with the exception of the all-cavalry formations (agbo) maintained by the force on behalf of the Imperial Army. Because of their defensive nature, the warriors of the Metropolitan Army do not wear the full-body scale armor of the oguns, but rather enter battle with only helmets and shields, granting them greater mobility but little to no physical protection. This does, however, greater reduce the costs of maintenance of metropolitan ewu, which do not need to maintain a laborious system of armor cleaning and repair on their bases.

During wartime, any number of fipamo may be raised for the purpose of augmenting the forces of the Imperial Army ogun going off to war. The equipment of the fipamo are similar to that of the ogun, only with the lack of armor and the diverse range of weapons an Imperial Army warrior would normally carry. The average metropolitan warrior in the all-infantry units carry a sword and shield along with a bow and arrows, while those of the all-cavalry units carry a lance and shield with a sword as a backup weapon. The size of an fipamo is 1,000 warriors strong for the all-infantry formations, and 500 strong for the all-cavalry formations. There are currently 65 agbo (cavalry) and about 75 ewu (infantry) formations stationed across Benin, ready to augment ogun formations or be transferred to any hotspots requiring a military presence in the empire.

Ranks and pay

The ranks, roles, and pay of an ogun with modern equivalents, may be summarized as follows:

OGUN: Ranks, Role and Pay (1490)
(X basic)
Ogun rank
(ascending order)
in ogun
Role Social
Approx. modern
rank-equivalent (U.S.)
1 Ivbiyokuo
Commoners Private
1.5 Oluso
Iye bannerman
Commoners Corporal
2 Oluri 225 Apakan commander Commoner Sergeant
5 Alafose
Oluwa II
Ogun bannerman
Iye second-in-command
Commoners Sergeant major
10 Oluwa I 75 Iye commander Commoner Second lieutenant
20 Olota Iyokuo 5 Ire commander Commoner Captain
25 Onidajo
Okakao II
Ogun staff officers
Ewu second-in-command
Knights Major
50 Okakao I 3 Ewu commander Knight Colonel
100 Enigie 1 Ogun commander War chief General


Salary of Benin Imperial Army personnel (1440)
Remuneration Imperial Army
amount (mina)
—— Metropolitan Army
amount (mina)
Ekunwo (annual salary) 660 330
Less: Food and equipment deduction 75 75
Less: Mandatory savings deposit 220 110
Net disposable pay 365 145
Plus: Ajeseku (bonuses)
(bonus for services every five years)
200 100
Total disposable income 565 245
Biinu (Savings discharge package) 4,400 2,200




The average Bini warrior wears a tall steel helmet known as an ibori, which a conical shape and various patterns upon it. The ibori is largely plain in terms of protective features, protecting the top and sides of the head, with a strap that wraps around the bottom of the chin keeping the helmet upright. Ibori typically have intricate designs, usually denoting the forge which manufactured them, but are easy to mass produce given the straightforward design of the helmet itself. The helmet comes in five variants, one for the Imperial Guard, one for the Metropolitan Army, and three for the Imperial Army. Metropolitan Army ibori are generally simplistic with metal studs sticking from the helmet. The names of the wearer as well as the name and number of their assigned unit, is stamped onto the lower half of the helmet on the rim, for ease of identification by superiors and fellow warriors.



Logistics and supply

The sheer size of the Benin Empire and the imperial military is such that a complex system of supply routes and warehouses are required to sustain the army during times of war. Because of the vast fertile lands of West Africa, feeding a large army is not an issue, especially when factoring in an organized foraging system. During intense campaigning, foraging can become an unreliable means of supplying Bini troops with their needed food and equipment, meaning that the need for a supply network is crucial to the survival of the army in the field. The complex system of roads, warehouses, and armories means that the Benin Imperial Army can campaign during all seasons of the year, even if the enemy should employ "scorched earth" policies on their lands.

Supply organization

The army's supply networks and auxiliary personnel are managed solely by the Ministry of Personnel, which oversees the management of the army's lifelines within the empire. The head of the ministry has control over the civilian trade networks which can be harnessed to maintain the imperial military during times of war. Because of the size of the empire, control over certain sections of this network are delegated to local governors who store excess supplies of food and clothing from military factories in heavily-guarded warehouses throughout Benin. These warehouses can often times contain up to three or four months of dried food and enough weaponry to supply up to five imperial ogun, or about 15,000 men. Because of the importance of these supplies, units from the Metropolitan Army are stationed at these warehouses as security, though many warehouses are located within the walls of a Metropolitan Army base, or that of an Imperial Army base, where the goods can be stored without fear of theft.

Supply transportation

Perhaps the most crucial aspect for any military is that of the transportation of food and supplies. The location of the Benin Empire along the width of the Niger River has been a major boon for the Benin Imperial Army. While the road network contributes enormously to the ability of the army to sustain combat operations for prolonged periods far from home, the location of the Niger has also contributed equally as much, as it allows for few resources to be devoted to the movement of military goods throughout the empire. For instance, a single vessel staffed by a crew of ten men, can move up to about 50 tons of cargo, while the land equivalent would require about 75 wagons and 300 oxen, not counting manpower, food and fodder, and security for the supply train. The time was also cut down as well as the men on the boat could sleep and sail without fear of attack, while the supply train had to stop and rest, and then reorganize itself across a span of hours before moving again. Thus, use of the rivers of the empire are far more economical for transportation of men and equipment than that of overland routes, which require far more effect and resources to accomplish.

Military industry

All of the weapons, armor, and equipment produced for the Bini military are sourced from entirely state-owned ihamọra (armories), which are located primarily on the grounds of ogun bases and odi. Because of the highly centralized manner of arms production, almost all equipment is standardized, giving the troops are uniformed appearance and improving camaraderie as a result. All ihamọra are staffed by warriors and their families, with civilian access strictly prohibited by the imperial government. Furthermore, all such establishments are located far from the cities on military bases where the equipment can be quickly and easily transferred to the local or neighboring units in need of resupply. Ihamọra tend to be specialized, producing swords, spears, bows, arrows, and body armor, or in some rare instances, all pieces at the largest of ihamọra.



Day-to-day responsibilities

Garrison duties

All warriors take part in daily chores and responsibilities when on-base throughout the empire during peacetime. Washing of clothes, weapons and armor, digging of ditches, maintenance of base fortifications, and feeding of pack animals and horses, are just some of the many duties Bini warriors are expected to perform. Because of the military and religious requirements expected of the warriors, good hygiene and cleanliness are expected from all warriors, and sanitary facilities are a critical part of all bases built by the army. Latrines are built by the warriors near the edge of the base, typically opposite of the barracks, and remain flushed of waste by intricate drainage systems allowing water to move through the latrine system, and out into rivers or underground waste pools. Digging wells is another important role warriors partake in, ensuring that a plentiful stream of fresh water is supplied to the base.

Other duties the warriors have on-base include the production of armor and equipment for their units, as well as farming outside of the base to feed themselves. The brewing of alcoholic beverages and tanning of leather are also other roles the warriors take part in, typically for the benefit of the base. However, some of the excess products are usually sold off to local towns and cities, and the proceeds divided among the warriors or used to pay for base maintenance. Other items produced on the base grounds also includes the production of glass, nails, pipes, bricks, wagons, and clothing, and if located nearly mining sites, the assistance of mining operations in the area. Because of their role as state employees, imperial army warriors serve the state as extra manpower and drivers of local industry and finance, benefiting the local population through their physical presence.

Military duties

Enforcement duties

All policing responsibilities within the empire lay within the scope of operations of the Metropolitan Army. Because of their largely defensive role within Benin, the Metropolitan Army units are typically found operating within the interior of Benin, patrolling roads, collecting toll payments, escorting government officials, and so on. The cavalry units of the Metropolitan Army are responsible for carrying messages between relay stations throughout Benin, allowing for a seamless network of imperial couriers to ensure communication between provinces and bureaucrats. All highways possess garrison units across their entire length, protecting travelers from robbers, and protecting warehouses and munition stores located throughout the empire as well. Cities, public baths, taverns and way stations, and any other public facilities in the empire are protected by the Metropolitan Army. Metropolitan troops are also responsible for the safe transport for money between cities, as well as arrests and tax collection made by officials, enforcing the law wherever they are stationed in accordance with the edicts of the Nla Ilana.

Construction and engineering

Most of the non-combat operations of the army revolve around construction and engineering across the width and breath of the empire. Given the access to hundreds of thousands of physically fit and highly-motivated and disciplined men, the state utilizes the army to work on building projects and infrastructure programs that benefit the entire empire. Typically, these efforts take place in the interior provinces of Benin, where the security allows for the ability of the Imperial Army to focus on construction and engineering schemes set up by the government. With all warriors being paid by the state, it is deemed much easier and cheaper to exploit the labor of the Imperial Army than rely upon the work of private contractors and laborers. Because of this responsibility, most warriors spend most of their time working on building projects than on campaign, keeping them busy and disciplined when not combating the enemies of Benin.

All facilities that are used by the warriors are built by them, cutting down on costs for the payment of non-military personnel, and increasing the appreciation for the places utilized by the warriors. Likewise, most infrastructure built in Benin is constructed by the army during peacetime. These include roads, canals, windmills, bridges, cities and their fortifications. Forest clearing and land preparation for Bini subjects and settlers to new lands are also among the many non-combat roles the Benin Imperial Army conducts, helping to develop the new lands conquered by Benin for its citizens to reside on and exploit to the full. The construction and expansion of existing mines and quarries in Benin are also operations carried out by the warriors, helping to further enhance the financial and industrial capabilities of the empire.

Other facilities constructed by the army include imperial palaces and government buildings, which are often built in newly conquered regions where the government bureaucracy requires places to work out of and administer the new lands. Members of the Imperial Army typically serve as the bulk of the military workforce, while members of the Metropolitan Army protect construction sites and provide additional manpower when and where needed. It is typically common for the families of the warriors from both armies to be present at the sites, and to assist with the building work, speeding up the completion of the project, as well as teaching new and important skills to children, as well as impressing upon all strong moral values and a sense of camaraderie and community among the warriors and their families.

Social life

Because of the long-term campaigns and military posting of the Bini warriors in the empire, it is not uncommon for warriors to develop strong fraternal bonds. With the presence of their families on-base with them, warriors have developed a strong sub-culture within Bini culture as a whole, viewing themselves as a large military family that has the honor of protecting their fellow man from the external dangers that surround them. Warriors almost always refer to one another as arakunrin, or "brother", and correspondence between soldiers at different military bases in different parts of the empire are also a common habit during peacetime. Because literacy courses are required for all warriors within the army, writing is a skill most soldiers possess even if at a basic level. Given that many warriors from different units have served together on campaign, many friendships are built. Thanks to the empire's strict bookkeeping and individual filing record, a warrior is able to find the location of another military unit their acquaintance is serving in and correspond with them through the military postal system, allowing for the maintenance of friendships between oguns regardless of their location in the empire.

List of ogun

There are a total of eigthy ogun in the Benin Imperial Army. Here are those which are currently named.

  • Ogun I Edo
  • Ogun II Warri
  • Ogun III Ondo
  • Ogun IV Urhobo
  • Ogun V Igbo
  • Ogun VI Ijaw
  • Ogun VII Ife
  • Ogun VIII Ijebu
  • Ogun IX Ijessa
  • Ogun X Oyo
  • Ogun XI Awari
  • Ogun XII Egba
  • Ogun XIII Anago
  • Ogun XIV Ketu
  • Ogun XV Onko

  • Ogun XVI Sabe
  • Ogun XVII Idassa
  • Ogun XVIII Mahi
  • Ogun XIX Borgu
  • Ogun XX Nupe
  • Ogun XXI Igala
  • Ogun XXII Idoma
  • Ogun XXIII Osi
  • Ogun XXIV Bida
  • Ogun XXV Mossi
  • Ogun XXVI Tuareg
  • Ogun XXVII Mema
  • Ogun XXVIII Jenne
  • Ogun XXIX Songhay
  • Ogun XXX Akan

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