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Ghana's Ancient History & Civilization

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Wagadou Empire - known most commonly as the Ghana Empire - flourished monetarily, politically and culturally. The first of three great West African empires, Ancient Ghana developed thriving urban centers and became a major trading power unlike any other civilization in the region during that time period.

The Start of a Great Empire

Imagine an ancient civilization that had so much wealth dogs wear gold collars, horses slept on custom expensive carpets, and rulers are considered the wealthiest in the entire world. No need to imagine, such a place certainly existed at one time, and it is known today as Ancient Ghana.

Called the Wagadou Empire by the natives of this ancient empire, Ancient Ghana existed from around 750 to 1235 C.E., although exact years are not known. Ancient Ghana was located in present-day Mauritania, Senegal and Mali.

Map of Ancient Ghana
Ancient Ghana map

Believed to have been established by the Mandé people - also known as the Soninke -Ancient Ghana was the first of three grand, ancient empires. The two that followed were the Mali and Songhai Empires.

Government, Economy and Trade

The union of the Soninke tribes under Dinga Cisse, their ruler or Ghana, formed the ancient empire around 750 C.E. Ghana was the title given to the kingdom's rulers, which meant 'warrior king.' The high king ,or king of kings, who ruled over the entire empire had many local rulers under him, which he appointed. Together they formed a feudal government in which land was given in exchange for military service.

Think of the US government. The 'high king' is our national president and the 'rulers' of the smaller areas or states are governors and town mayors. Of course, there are various logistical differences, but the overall concept holds true - a big ruler governs over smaller rulers. In a time way before computer technology, cellular phones, and international news, information moved mostly through people. As travelers came and went from the empire, word spread that its government was quite secure and stable.

The primary source of wealth for the empire was gold and iron. Iron was used in the manufacturing of weapons and tools. This strong metal helped make the empire strong as well. Resources, such as livestock and fabrics, were traded to the empire in exchange for gold. Talk about an expensive chicken!

Camels were used to transport goods across the great Sahara Desert. A strong trading relationship was firmly established between the Empire of Ghana and those in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe, allowing Ancient Ghana to become the epicenter of trade in the region.

Gold beads from Ancient Ghana
Ancient Ghana gold beads

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