Civilization IV The Civilizations: Mali

Once one of the great centers of Islamic culture and wealth, Mali (which is among the continentís most ancient states outside of North Africa) owes much of its reputation to both its position as a major trading center, and the tax that is levied on its trans-Saharan route. The Mali Empire was located on the Mandinka plateau in West Africa, situated in the southern part of the modern Republic of Mali. It was founded by Sundiata Keita, a Mandinka who led a revolt against the Soso Kingdom, which had dominated the area. Sundiata's life is commemorated in the Epic of Sundiata, a poem of the Mandinka people. It is said that after his victory over the Soso, Sundiata Keita converted to Islam as a gesture of goodwill to the Islamic traders who brought his country wealth. After defeating the Soso, Sundiata pursued an expansionist policy, and soon the Empire covered not only modern Mali, but also extended west to the ocean across what is now Senegal. During war, the Mali often fought as "skirmishers" - soldiers who fanned out in loose formation to protect the main force's flanks or front. The Mali skirmishers were lightly-armed archers in that force, famed for their courage and marksmanship.

The Mali Empire reached its zenith under the rule of Mansa Musa (1312-1337) in the early 14th century. Previously, it had been part of the empire of Ghana, which flourished between the seventh and eleventh centuries, based on the trade of gold from the interior for salt from the coastal regions. Mansa Musa made a famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, laden with gold and slaves to proclaim Mali's prosperity and power. It is said that he lavished so much wealth along his route that the price of gold was depressed for years afterwards. During Mansa Musa's rule, Muslim scholarship reached new heights in Mali, and cities such as Timbuktu, Djenn, and Jenne became important centers of trade, learning, and culture.

After the decline of the Mali Empire, the territory became part of the Songhai Empire, which occupied an area covering parts of modern-day Guinea, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria. Songhai was brought to an end and its territory usurped by the Moroccan invasion of 1591. With the decline of the trans-Saharan trading routes, in favor of naval commerce, the area enjoyed little strategic importance and was divided into small kingdoms for the next two centuries, until the arrival of French colonists. Mali was absorbed into French West Africa in 1895. In 1960, together with what is now Senegal, it achieved independence as the Federation of Mali, although Senegal seceded after a few weeks.