Ancient Ghana Empire

by: Fareeda Zikry and Xixi


The ancient empire of Ghana, also called the Wagadou Empire was located around what are now southeastern Mauritania and western Mali between 790 and 1076 AD. The capitol was Koumbi Saleh. It was inhabited by the Soninke people.


The Ancient Empire of Ghana, was a trade based empire. It was also located near major gold and salt mines. Ancient Ghana derived its power from trade. Ghana became prosperous due to trans-Saharan trade with Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Sonikes traded gold and silver for textiles, beads, and manufactored goods. The Ancient Ghanaian people also introduced the use of camels. They used these camels to trade across the desert. Furthermore, the Ghanaian people also had superior weaponry, such as spears with iron tips, which they used to subdue neighboring civilizations, who only had weapons made of wood, stone or bone. This complex weaponry allowed Ghana to control gold and salt mines in neighboring countries. These trade routes not only allowed Ghana to grow rich, but it was responsible for providing historical documentation of the region. Trade was one of the many factors which contributed to a stable economy in Ghana for many centuries. ghanaghana.jpg


Ghana was a kingdom. There were three kings in total, Majan Dyabe Cisse, Ghana Bassi, and Soumaba Cisse. While the government was headed by a king, he also had a council of elders. Ghana was divided into districts, each of which was controlled by a district leader, who enforced the laws.



In the sevenh and eighth centuries C.E., Islam began to spread across Northern Africa. The religion reached the Kingdom of Ghana in the ninth and tenth centuries when Saharan traders introduced their new religion to the region. The Islamic community in Kumbie- Slaleh had its own mosques and schools, but the King retained traditional tribal beliefs. However, he drew on the bookkeeping and literary skills of Muslim scholars to help run the administration of the territory.

Daily Life

Market surpluses allowed urban centers to develop, where inhabitants could live comfortable lives through specialized occupations. Most of the people were farmers, miners, or artists. For recreation. stories were often told by griots when people gathered in the evenings. One of the most well-known African folk-tales, Anansi the Spider, was told in ancient Ghana. Most homes in the El Ghaba section were built from wood and stone, while poorer sections of the town contained houses made of wood and clay. Flanked on all sides by a stone wall, the El Ghaba side of town also contained a sacred grove of trees that was used in religious ceremonies. The other section of the town, whose name has not been preserved in historical record, was considered a trading center. It functioned as the business district of the town, and it was inhabited almost entirely by Arab and Berber merchants. Due to the fact that Islam was the prominent religion on this side of the town, more than dozens of mosques were located within the trading center. At its height Kumbi Saleh boasted a population of over 30,000 inhabitants.


Ghanaian people also made numerous art, such as dyed carpets, gold-cast sculptures, and traditional masks and figurines, like the ones shown below.


There were numerous reasons for the decline of the Ghana empire. The King lost his trading monopoly, at the same time drought began and had a long-term effect on the land and its ability to sustain cattle and cultivation. Almoravid Muslims from North Africa also invaded Ghana. In 1056 C.E. the Almoravids launched a movement northward and captured the city of Sijilmasa. Following that movement, the Almoravids crossed the straits of Gibraltar and took over Muslim Spain, A southern portion of the Almoravid movement, led by Abu Bakr. He launched an attack against Ghana. The attack against the Kingdom of Ghana finally suceeded in 1054 C.E., when the city of Audaghost fell to the Almoravid attack. After the death of Abu Bakr in 1087, the province of Ghana broke apart into independent states.

Golden statue of Ananasi the spider, the Ghanaian folktale.
Mask made by ancient Ghanaians