The first town was the home of the king and included the royal palace. The second was home to Muslim merchants and traders.

The royal palace was surrounded by a complex of domed buildings. Here, in a court noted for its wealth and splendor, the king of Ghana presided over elaborate ceremonies. To his people, the king was a godlike figure who administered justice and kept order. In the second town of Kumbi Saleh, prosperous Muslim merchants from north of the Sahara lived in luxurious stone buildings. Lured by the gold wealth of Ghana, these merchants helped make Kumbi Saleh a bustling center of trade.

Islam's Influence

Even before the rise of Ghana, Muslim traders had brought their faith to West Africa. As Ghana flourished, Muslim merchants and traders came to play an important role in the kingdom. The king employed Muslims as counselors and officials. Over time, Ghana's rulers adapted some military technology and ideas about government and law from the Muslim world.

The gold-salt trade and other trade with the Muslim world brought other ideas and customs to West Africa. Muslim merchants introduced their Arabic language and writing, coinage, and business methods. From the Islamic world came an emphasis on education and learning. Islamic clerics and scholars traveled with Muslim traders into West Africa and other parts of the continent. Muslim scholars built libraries and schools. Educated Muslims became advisors to West African rulers. Some rulers embraced Islam, which led their people to convert to the new religion. Many African converts to Islam combined aspects of their new faith with some of their traditional beliefs.

Illustrated map written in medieval Latin letters, with icons of palaces and destinations. A light skinned man in a turban riding a camel is shown approaching an African man wearing a crown, seated on a throne and holding a gold coin.

Draw Conclusions

In this 1325 world map, Mali ruler Mansa Musa is offering gold to a trader. What does this image say about Mansa Musa and the Mali empire?

As Islam spread across Africa, its teachings and beliefs based on the Quran influenced how people lived. For example, some African Muslim rulers imposed the zakat, or a yearly tax on certain kinds of property that was used for charitable purposes. The zakat reflected the Islamic practice of alms giving, or charity.

Ghana Declines

About 1050, the Almoravids (al muh RAH vuds), pious Muslims from North Africa, launched a campaign to spread their form of Islam and seize control of Ghana's trade routes. After conquering parts of North Africa and Spain, they pushed south across the Sahara. The Almoravids conquered Ghana, but were unable to maintain control over their extended empire for long. Ghana survived, but its empire declined in the late 1100s. In time, it was swallowed up by a rising new West African power, the kingdom of Mali.


Amid the turmoil of Ghana's collapse, the Mandinka people on the upper Niger suffered a bitter defeat by a rival leader. Their king and all but one of his sons were executed. According to tradition, the survivor was a sickly boy named Sundiata, regarded by his father's enemies as too weak to be a threat. By 1235, however, Sundiata had become a great king and crushed his enemies, seizing control of the lucrative gold trade routes, and founding the empire of Mali.

Mansa Musa: Mali's Greatest Ruler

Mali is an Arab version of the Mandinka word that means “where the king dwells.” The mansas, or kings of Mali, expanded their influence over the gold-mining regions to the south and the salt supplies of Taghaza. Where caravan routes crossed, towns such as Timbuktu mushroomed into great trading cities.

The greatest Mali ruler was Mansa Musa (MAHN sah MOO sah), who came to the throne around 1312. He expanded Mali's borders westward to the Atlantic Ocean and pushed northward to conquer many cities.

During his 25-year reign, Mansa Musa worked to ensure peace and order in his empire. He converted to Islam and based his system of justice on the Quran.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments