Timeline: Ninety-Five Theses (Map Game)
OTL equivalent: Nigeria and Cameroon
Location of Benin
(and largest city)
|Regional languages||Igbo and Yoruba|
|Ethnic groups||Edo and Yoruba|
|Demonym||Beninese, Bini, Edo|
|-||Total|| 162,581.8 km2
62,773 sq mi
|GDP (PPP)||1540 estimate|
|Currency||Zuruoke (3·383 g gold coin)
Mpempe (25·984 g silver coin)
Benin (Edo: , tr. Igodomigodo) is a large nation-state located in West Africa. It is the largest of the West African states in the region, as well as the most populous with nearly 14.5 million inhabitants living across 162,581.8 km2 (62,773 sq mi) as of 1538. Benin was founded in 1180 as a small city-state by Ogisos of the Edo people, primarily under the rule of Igodo, the first Ogiso of Edo. It transformed from a city-state into a legitimate empire during the reign of Ewuare during the mid-1400s, and establishing control over much of the Niger Delta, over which it currently reigns.
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.
Transition to an empire
Centuries after the rise of the first Oba in 1180, Ewuare, better known as Ewuare the Great to the Edo people, would be crowned Oba of Edo in 1440. Ewuare took the throne after defeating his brother, Uwaifiokun, in a civil war. Following his victory, Ewuare would be responsible for the transformation of Edo into a true empire, reorganizing the government of the small city-state and its military forces into a true force in the region. Prior to his reign, the Oba's power was largely regulated by the influence of the uzama, a powerful body of Edo nobles made up of hereditary chieftains located throughout the kingdom. Such was the council's power, was that it could appoint the next Oba and counter any attempts of the current Oba to stop them. The Oba could not act independently of the uzama, and made any efforts taken by the monarch unnecessarily difficult. This practice would be discontinued under Ewuare.
The account of Ewuare's actions remain mired in legend and folklore thanks to the lack of written documents, but the tale is most commonly known to go as this. Ewuare's rise to power was legendary. Ewuare was born to a powerful chieftain named Ohun, during which time, Ewuare was known as Prince Ogun. When Ewuare's father died, the uzama appointed Ogun's younger brother, Uwaifiokun, as the new Oba of Benin, and exiled Prince Ogun to another kingdom. Rather than live out his days in exile, Ogun instead decided to travel the region and visit the many kingdoms surrounding Benin. Ogun returned many years later with an army, and conquered the city of Edo after a period of civil war, and assassinated his brother Uwaifiokun, solidifying his position as the new Oba of Benin. At the end of the war, Ogun took on the name Ewuare, meaning "the trouble has ceased", and began his rule in Edo. It would be later on that the honorific Ogidigan, meaning "the Great", would be added to his name, making him Ewuare Ogidigan or Ewuare the Great.
Oba Ewuare would begin reforming the government of Benin to weaken the influence of the uzama after their role in the civil war. With their position vastly weakened following the civil war, Ewuare was easily able to consolidate the political and military authority in Edo under the control of the Oba, and position himself as the undisputed authority in Benin. Ewuare removed the ability of uzama to appoint the next Oba, and made the line of succession for the Oba hereditary, so as to forever deal with the matter of succession. The title of Edaiken for the crown prince, taken from a legend of Ewuare assisting the city of Iken after its conquest, was given to the eldest son of the Oba, clarifying the next in line for the throne of Benin. Ewuare would then create the administrative system for Benin under the system of Eghabho n'ore (town chiefs) and Eghabho n'ogbe (palace chiefs), the administrative officials for Benin's towns and villages. Under these two directly appointed bodies of officials, it would be their responsibility to collect tribute, deal with legal issues, and generally take part of the affairs of state.
Ewuare later took to the act of conquest, conquering many towns and villages throughout the region of the Niger Delta, personally leading his armies against the neighboring kingdoms, and uniting the Edo people under his rule. Ewuare later turned his attention to conquering the lands of the Yoruba, gaining the major cities of Akure and Owo for his empire. The oral history of the Edo recorded a total of 201 victories for Ewuare over the various cities and towns in southern Nigeria. With these victories, Ewuare centered the rule of this new empire in his capital city of Edo, which he redesigned significantly. Under Ewuare's rule, the massive walls and moats of Benin, of which to date there is no equal, were built to defend the capital city. Large boulevards were constructed within the city limits, and several districts clearly designated for different crafts taking place within Edo. In the center of the city was Ewuare's palace, which was separated from the rest of Edo by a massive wall was well.
To designate the different social classes within Ewuare's new empire, was a system of scarification for freeborn citizens, creating a visible mark for each citizen under Ewuare's rule and separating them from the slave population. Another legend for the system of scarification has roots in the story that Ewuare's eldest son, Kuoboyuwa, ruler of the city of Iken, prohibited sex in the kingdom for three years, leading to many of his subjects migrating to different lands. Ewuare overturned the decree, but when few people returned to the land, Ewuare forbade the neighboring kingdoms from taking in his subjects, and instituted a system of scarification so as to make the finding and capture of Edo subjects easy to perform as well as easy for other lands to stop and turn around fleeing Edo people from Benin. Either way, scarification became a major part of Edo culture under Ewuare's reign as Oba.
Expansion in West Africa
Government and politics
The government of Benin is best described as an absolute monarchy in which the Oba of Benin reigns supreme. 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 Xadreque I, who has reigned since 1504. 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 mid-1400s. 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 Uaama 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 Xadreque I early in 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 West Africa, Benin naturally maintains an equal 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 "metropolitan army"; the second is the Ekaiwe and Isienmwenro, or the "royal army"; and third is the Ivbiyokuo Ikinkin Agbon-Edo, the district and village armies. The metropolitan army is the foremost of the three armies, divided into regiments and further into companies. The village armies are the constituent regiments of Benin, each dealing directly with the Oba. Though 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.
The army of Benin 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 180,000 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 Royal Regiment which serves as Benin's standing army during peacetime, the metropolitan regiments of the towns and cities of Benin, and the district regiments which are drawn from the numerous villages in the district territories of Benin. The Royal Regiment itself consists of some 12,000 warriors, which under the rule of Oba Xadreque I, has been entirely modernized so as to be equipped and trained according to European standards, with the troops consisting of two-thirds carrying firearms and one-third pikes. The regiment also has a total of 36 cannon, most produced in the foundries of Europe, though increasingly produced in Benin. The Oba has exclusive command over this force, though the Iyase of Benin is handed day-to-day control of the Royal Regiment during peacetime. The rest of the warriors of Benin's army carry a mixture of firearms and pikes as well as traditional weaponry, though the trend of modernization within the military is such that most regiments contain some number of firearms already.
Benin's naval forces, officially known as the Imperial Navy of Benin, are the maritime branch of the legions of Benin. Comprising the largest naval force in West Africa, the Imperial Navy of Benin consisted of 94 sailing vessels with the following composition as follows: three royal ships, ten great ships, and 32 middling ships, and 49 small ships, as well as two hundred war canoes of varying lengths as of 1536. Benin's shipbuilding capacity has been meteoric, with the once iron age nation modernizing under the wing of Portuguese, Venetian, and Genoese instructors, to the point where it has developed the ability and local base needed to produce its own warships and merchant vessels, the latter of which are sturdy enough to be called into war when needed.
The largest drydock in the empire is located in the city of Eko, though other drydocks for the purpose of shipbuilding exist, principally in the cities of Mahin and Njos to the east. Expansion of the navy as a priority of Benin's government has been the primary goal of the Oba, and continuous expansion of the shipyards in Benin as well as the production of new ships have been the official policy of Benin. The construction of a new drydock in the southern city of Nwayoo has been planned and the resources shifted to make that a reality. The city of Oji-Ala in the southern-most part of Benin is also the site for the construction of a major drydock, with the aim of expanding Benin's naval influence in Central Africa.
Imperial Navy combatant ships are divided into the Benin rating system as follows:
- Royal ships mounting 42–56 guns, 600 to 700 men, and 1000 tons burden
- Great ships mounting 38–40 guns, 400 to 500 men, and 700 tons burden
- Middling ships mounting 30–32 guns, 200 to 300 men, and 500 tons burden
- Small ships mounting less than 30 guns, 50 to 100 men, and <200 tons burden
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 Royal Regiment 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 Royal Regiment 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.