History Files


African Kingdoms

West Africa




Kingdom of Dahomey / Dahomania
AD 17th Century - 1894

Situated in western Africa, the kingdom of Dahomey (or Abomey in its earliest years) was formed by a mixture of various local ethnic groups on the Abomey plain. The tribal groups, possibly forced to move due to the slave trade, coalesced around a highly centralised, strict military culture which was aimed at securing and eventually expanding the borders of the small kingdom. It also practised human sacrifice in large numbers and traded captives to the slave traders who prospered along its coastline, which was part of the notorious Slave Coast.

The kingdom covered the southern third of the modern republic of Benin, and it bore its name until 1975, when it was neutrally renamed the republic of Benin to appease the large number of ethnic groups which formed part of the relatively new state. Dahomey bore no relation to the Benin empire. It was the kingdom of the Fon people, one of the groups which formed the modern Benin state.

When the Nubians conquered Meroë at the start of the sixth century BC, some of the Meroë fled west and ended up establishing themselves in what is now Nigeria and Benin. This is known because the priesthood in these countries uses technical words which are Semitic. One of these is 'Al' as a prefix, used in the names of their spirits (angels). The word also lent itself to the name of the medieval state of Alodia.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson.)

by c.1650

A group of Aja from the coastal kingdom of Allada had previously moved northwards to settle amongst the Fon people of the interior, and by this date they have gained dominance and declare a kingdom.

? - 1620


Declared the founding of the kingdom.

1620 - 1645



Ganye Hessu

1645 - 1685

Houegbadja / Wegbaja

1685 - 1708


m Hanebe, who apparently co-ruled.

1708 - 1740


Agadja conquered the kingdom of Allada,


Despite conquering his ancestral homeland in Allada, the king is unable to defeat the neighbouring kingdom of Oyo, and Dahomey becomes tributary to it, although in all other respects it retains its independence.

Dahomey tribes people
Dahomey tribespeople were photographed for Hubert Howe Bancroft's The Book of the Fair, published in Chicago in 1893, by which time Dahomey was the subject of extreme interest by the French, and its former status as a regional power was eroded

1740 - 1774


1774 - 1789


1789 - 1797


1797 - 1818


1818 - 1856



The British presence along the West African coast is formalised with the creation of the Gold Coast crown colony. This not only helps to keep the competing French and their Ivory Coast territory from expanding eastwards, but also gives Britain a foothold in influencing the affairs of the Asante kingdom. Only grass and bush separate the French West Africa territories to the north from Asante, and the kingdom of Dahomey borders Asante to the east so the French focus their attentions here instead.

by 1850

Dahomey increasingly loses its status as the regional power.

1856 - 1889


1889 - 1894


1892 - 1894

The French begin take control of the territory during the Dahomey War using mainly African troops, quite possibly from neighbouring tribes only too happy to end the kingdom's dominance of the region.

1894 - 1898

Agbo Agoli

French vassal.

1894 - 1958

Dahomey is incorporated along with many other West African states into France's West Africa colony.


Civilian governorship of French Sudan is temporarily ended when the entire colony is reorganised so that eleven of the southern districts are parcelled out to various French coastal territories, including Dahomey, French Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The remainder is split into two administrative regions - Middle Niger and Upper Senegal - which are subservient to the authority of other French colonies.

1933 - 1934

Jules Marcel de Coppet

French governor. Also in Somaliland, West Africa, & Madagascar.

1938 - 1940

Armand Léon Annet

French governor. Also in Somaliland, & Madagascar.


The state is granted autonomy as the republic of Dahomey, followed by full independence two years later. A period of instability follows, with Marxism-Leninism being adopted as the official ideology.

Modern Dahomey / Benin
AD 1960 - Present Day

The kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa was ended by French colonial occupation in 1894, after they took control during the Dahomey War of 1892-1894. The state was granted autonomy as the republic of Dahomey in 1958, followed by full independence in 1960. A period of instability followed, with Marxism-Leninism being adopted as the official ideology. However, the country continued to bear its old name until 1975, when it was neutrally renamed the republic of Benin to appease the large number of ethnic groups which formed part of the relatively new modern state. The name came from the Bight of Benin, which itself gained its name from the Benin empire.

Today the country is one of Africa's most stable democracies, although it is severely under-developed and corruption is rife. Elements of voodoo, which are still practised in countries such as Haiti, originated from the West African coast which includes Benin. The religion is celebrated on the country's annual Voodoo Day. Today the country is bordered by Togo in the west, Burkina Faso to the north-west, Niger to the north-east, and Nigeria to the east.


The country has experienced almost continuous strife following independence, overseen by a democratic government which has seen frequent changes in ruler. In 1972, a military coup led by Mathieu Kérékou overthrows the ruling council and establishes a Marxist government.

1972 - 1991

Mathieu Kérékou

Dictator. Stood down after free elections.


Kérékou renames the country the People's Republic of Benin.


Kérékou's Marxist military council is dissolved and elections take place, albeit with Kérékou as the only candidate allowed.

Mathieu Kérékou
Mathieu Kérékou, dictator of Dahomey who oversaw its change of name to Benin, is seen here in 2006, after the conclusion of his successful term as the country's democratically elected president

1989 - 1990

The country has undergone an economic crisis in a decade which forces Kérékou to abandon Marxism in favour of a parliamentary system. The following year the country's name is changed on 1 March to the Republic of Benin.


Kérékou loses free elections to Nicéphore Soglo and steps down. He later stands for the 1996 elections, which he wins, and governs fairly, without attempting to change the new 1990 constitution to allow him to remain in power.


Fully free and fair multi-party elections in the country draw international praise.