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Old January 3rd, 2016, 07:23 PM   #1

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Why Africa did not have native "great empires"?


Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires were large by African standards, but they were "small" in comparison with the various Chinese dynasties, Persian Empires, Indian empires, (not to say the vast empires such as the Mongolian empire, British Empire, Spanish Empire.)
Algeria is larger than any native African empires.
A few "empires" sound like rather sorry excuses for empires: Wolof empire (no bigger than modern Senegal), Benin Empire, Asante Empire, etc.
I remember the trend about "smallest empires", though.
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Old January 3rd, 2016, 08:05 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by VHS View Post
Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires were large by African standards, but they were "small" in comparison with the various Chinese dynasties, Persian Empires, Indian empires, (not to say the vast empires such as the Mongolian empire, British Empire, Spanish Empire.)
Algeria is larger than any native African empires.
A few "empires" sound like rather sorry excuses for empires: Wolof empire (no bigger than modern Senegal), Benin Empire, Asante Empire, etc.
I remember the trend about "smallest empires", though.
It isn't that Mali or Songhai or Ghana were particularly small, it is simply that the empires you mentioned were very big.

The reason behind this was simple. China, India, and Persia all had similar ethnic groups and have natural geographic features that help condense those ethnic groups, where as the geographic features of Africa divided its many, many ethnic groups.

Africa was and is incredibly diverse, and in modern day we fail to realize this because, let's face it, we marginalize the entire continent as being some tribal backwater of war and poverty. The truth is that, through all of history, Africa had been home to many cultures. The various cultures of medieval Europe had far more similarity to each other than the cultures of Africa in that same time period. Trying to conflate, say, West Africans to South Africans is erroneous. That diversity hampered the ability of geographically large empires to unite.
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Old January 3rd, 2016, 08:09 PM   #3

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Originally Posted by VHS View Post
Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires were large by African standards, but they were "small" in comparison with the various Chinese dynasties, Persian Empires, Indian empires, (not to say the vast empires such as the Mongolian empire, British Empire, Spanish Empire.)
Algeria is larger than any native African empires.
A few "empires" sound like rather sorry excuses for empires: Wolof empire (no bigger than modern Senegal), Benin Empire, Asante Empire, etc.
I remember the trend about "smallest empires", though.
Africa is a huge continent. Coupled with lesser transportation and communications means.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 01:28 AM   #4

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Tin hats on.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 01:46 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by VHS View Post
Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires were large by African standards, but they were "small" in comparison with the various Chinese dynasties, Persian Empires, Indian empires, (not to say the vast empires such as the Mongolian empire, British Empire, Spanish Empire.)
Algeria is larger than any native African empires.
A few "empires" sound like rather sorry excuses for empires: Wolof empire (no bigger than modern Senegal), Benin Empire, Asante Empire, etc.
I remember the trend about "smallest empires", though.
Egypt is in Africa. Lasted longer than other empires combined too.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 02:19 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by VHS View Post
Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires were large by African standards, but they were "small" in comparison with the various Chinese dynasties, Persian Empires, Indian empires, (not to say the vast empires such as the Mongolian empire, British Empire, Spanish Empire.)
Algeria is larger than any native African empires.
A few "empires" sound like rather sorry excuses for empires: Wolof empire (no bigger than modern Senegal), Benin Empire, Asante Empire, etc.
I remember the trend about "smallest empires", though.
For the most part, western authors were the ones who labeled certain historical states as being empires (though some later non-Western historians working under the influence of western education or western historiography did also use such terminology). I am not saying that there are no non-Indo-European languages which have words that are more or less the equivalent of "empire" (I do not know the vocabulary of all languages and could not possibly make that claim) but I am saying that one should keep in mind that much of the classification of certain states as empires arose primarily from "Occidental" historical writing. The designation of states like Benin or Asante as empires was mostly done by Europeans and some of these designations occurred while these states were still existing (this was certainly the case for Benin and Asante). So it cannot be about "African standards" in cases like those, but would most likely have to be about "European standards" for what constituted an empire. If multiple European writers thought these states were empires at some point, they probably were not just determining this by "African standards."

Songhai, Mali, Kush, Aksum, Kanem-Bornu, and possibly Egypt, Ghana, and Gao would have been considered large states pretty much anywhere in the world when they were at their greatest extent, but the reason they were considered empires probably had more to do with the fact that these states had an organized central government that had sovereignty over many diverse peoples, rather than because they met some exact geographic requirement about size. A geographically large kingdom ruling only one group of people who all have the exact same language and culture is really not an empire in the strict sense of the word, while a geographically smaller state in which the central government has political power/influence over numerous different peoples practicing different cultures probably would be considered an empire in most cases.

People still refer to the Assyrian empire, Akkadian empire, Babylonian empire, etc. as "great empires" and these were either the same size as or geographically smaller than most of the aforementioned African states. The "Austro-Hungarian empire", "Carolingian empire" and "Swedish empire" in Europe and some other empires in Asia are still called empires and they were also geographically smaller than some of the largest historical African states (the ones I mentioned in the paragraph immediately above). These states might be viewed as not meeting some people's ideal geographic requirements for what constitutes an empire, but many other people all around the world still describe these states as empires anyway.

And this is besides the point, but I should state this just for the record: if the estimates for sizes of empires given on various internet sites (which mostly derive from estimates in academic sources, presumably) are basically correct, then it would actually be incorrect to claim that Songhai and Mali were smaller than all of the various Indian and Chinese dynasties - the very largest ones were larger, sure, but not all of them, actually.

As for Algeria (which is mostly empty desert, anyway), it is barely larger than the DR Congo, and both countries are larger than multiple historical states from around the world that have been designated "empires", not just those from Africa.

Last edited by Ighayere; January 4th, 2016 at 03:46 AM.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 04:24 AM   #7

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zulu empire for one. then theres a couple ancient ones like egypt and mali. the african people weren't really with interaction with the rest of the world, leading it to small changes in development.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 10:33 AM   #8

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zulu empire for one. then theres a couple ancient ones like egypt and mali. the african people weren't really with interaction with the rest of the world, leading it to small changes in development.
Several parts of Africa did interact with the rest of the world significantly.
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Old January 4th, 2016, 03:53 PM   #9

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I swear we have these threads every freaking time!
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Old January 4th, 2016, 04:24 PM   #10
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I swear we have these threads every freaking time!

Not to fret. Since all humanity is from Africa therefore it follows all empires are African!
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