Biggest cities in Sub Saharan Africa (500-1500)

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,178
Canary Islands-Spain
The wikipedia article for Mbanza Congo said the 100,000 including the surrounding area, with 30,000 up in the mountains. So 100,000 is for the urban area, the city proper would have less, probably the same number as the Portuegese city of Evora. The 100,000 gives a slightly distorted view, since when we give a population of an equivalent European city of the time, those numbers are usually for the city proper.

This is true. We should look for more info about this city, but it's true also that notions of urbanism as we know in medieval Europe doesn't work well in other cultural enviroments.

For instead, Great Benin had walls measuring 13,000 kms, which enclosed 6,500 km2 of territory in different sections. This "city" was a wonderful complex of farms, grouped houses and fortified areas all together.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,658
Benin City, Nigeria
For instead, Great Benin had walls measuring 13,000 kms, which enclosed 6,500 km2 of territory in different sections. This "city" was a wonderful complex of farms, grouped houses and fortified areas all together.
Frank81, those "walls" of 13,000 km surrounded much more than just the city. The city itself was enclosed by a smaller, more limited wall (the city was not 6,500 sq km in extent).

https://books.google.com/books?id=0I1oAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA263

The Europeans who visited it described it as a proper city with a large population that was densely populated. The kingdom itself was not densely populated, especially when compared to Allada (a smaller kingdom to the west of Benin) and some other areas in the modern day Republic of Benin, but the capital city definitely was.
 
Aug 2014
1,170
Portugal
This is true. We should look for more info about this city, but it's true also that notions of urbanism as we know in medieval Europe doesn't work well in other cultural enviroments.

For instead, Great Benin had walls measuring 13,000 kms, which enclosed 6,500 km2 of territory in different sections. This "city" was a wonderful c
From the book: "Relatione del Regno di Congo et delle circonvince contrade tratta dalli scritti e ragionamenti di Oduarte Lopez Portuguese" by Filippo Pigafetta and Duarte Lopes (16th century) Mbanza Kongo is described with 10 miles and 100 000 inhabitants.

There was also a king's road which was broad and well maintained. The houses were made of pebble and wood.

The king, nobles, and the portuguese ambassadors/soldiers lived in a walled inner city. The nobles, even within the city lived in "villas", farm houses and palaces. Each of these nobles lived in their own" gated community", near the king.

From that description it seems to me that Mbanza Kongo was to some extent as you say a "complex of farms, grouped houses and fortified areas all together."

The city was built in that particular place for 2 reasons according to the authors of the book:

1 - Central location in the Kingdom (its armies could quickly march to any province).

2 - It was at the top of a hill, easy to defend.

So it was from here that the Kongo elites used the coercive force of a centralized state ;). The Catholic Church soon joined them and had its head also in the "acropolis" of the city, near the king, his nobles and the portuguese.
 
May 2016
186
US
The list is usefull.
Let's say, wich are the cities below the line of equator?
Not trying to be combative here, but if Sub Saharan Africa starts that low that would mean that most African Americans ancestors originate from North Africa. As Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Central Republic of Africa, etc are all above the equator if I remember correctly.
 
Aug 2014
1,170
Portugal
Not trying to be combative here, but if Sub Saharan Africa starts that low that would mean that most African Americans ancestors originate from North Africa. As Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Central Republic of Africa, etc are all above the equator if I remember correctly.
The Kingdom of Kongo/Angola was a great source of Slaves to the Americas. Maybe one of the greatest sources of slaves.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,658
Benin City, Nigeria
I think he brought up an even lower upper bound (the equator) because cachibatches mentioned some Saharan cities and stated that he wasn't sure about the definition of sub-Saharan.

Sub-equatorial and sub-Saharan are indeed quite different in extent though. Sub-saharan Africa is indeed significantly larger than just sub-equatorial Africa on its own.
 
May 2016
186
US
The Kingdom of Kongo/Angola was a great source of Slaves to the Americas. Maybe one of the greatest sources of slaves.
Yeah, I know, most DNA tests seem to point to most African Americans being more so from the regions I've listed though along with Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and to a lesser extent places like Mali, Guinea Bissau, etc. My family in particular comes primarily from regions that primarily held Igbo slaves. Also, some of what I've read indicates that most Kongo/Angolan peoples may have be sent to Latin American regions. It's not a big deal though. Plus I don't want to derail this topic.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
This is true. We should look for more info about this city, but it's true also that notions of urbanism as we know in medieval Europe doesn't work well in other cultural enviroments.

For instead, Great Benin had walls measuring 13,000 kms, which enclosed 6,500 km2 of territory in different sections. This "city" was a wonderful complex of farms, grouped houses and fortified areas all together.
If we are going to use different definitions than what is commonly used, it is deceptive not to tell the reader that fact, and gives a false impression, and it makes any comparison meaningless.

If Evora was only 11,000 and Mbanza Congo was a similar size according the Portuguese who visited it, and Mbanza was maybe the second largest city in Sub Saharan Africa, then the cities in Sub Saharan African at the time don't seem that big.


What would make the Great Benin classified a city at all? Putting a wall around an area doesn't make all the area enclosed one city, anymore than the Great Wall of China means we should regard China as one supercity.

Having walls around a region does not make it a city.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,658
Benin City, Nigeria
If Evora was only 11,000 and Mbanga Congo was a similar size according the Portuguese who visited it, and Mbanga was maybe the second largest city in Sub Saharan Africa, then the cities in Sub Saharan African at the time don't seem that big.
Mbanza Kongo was the second largest city in Sub-Saharan Africa according to who? Evora was the second largest city in Portugal at the time, but I don't know of any source that states that Mbanza Kongo was the second largest city in sub-Saharan Africa in the late 15th century.

What would make the Great Benin classified a city at all? Putting a wall around an area doesn't make all the area enclosed one city, anymore than the Great Wall of China means we should regard China as one supercity.

Having walls around a region does not make it a city.
Read my response to Frank's post. As I pointed out, that characterization of Benin City is in contradiction to what the descriptions of it actually state. European visitors from different countries did not all just erroneously call it a large city for four centuries.
 
Jan 2014
1,789
Portugal
Not trying to be combative here, but if Sub Saharan Africa starts that low that would mean that most African Americans ancestors originate from North Africa. As Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Central Republic of Africa, etc are all above the equator if I remember correctly.
I think he brought up an even lower upper bound (the equator) because cachibatches mentioned some Saharan cities and stated that he wasn't sure about the definition of sub-Saharan.

Sub-equatorial and sub-Saharan are indeed quite different in extent though. Sub-saharan Africa is indeed significantly larger than just sub-equatorial Africa on its own.
It brought that up for a simple reason my friends...
I'm familiarized with great cities like Gao, Timbuktu, Benin... Not so much with Southern Africa.
I know that Subsaharan Africa starts in Sahel strip, it's just because I'm more interest in Southern Africa, but don't want to ignore other cities in northern latitudes.