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History of Benin

This is the history of Benin. See also the history of Africa and history of present-day nations and states.

Today's Republic of Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms, called Dahomey, governed from the capital, Abomey, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, who state 'From 1625 to 1900 twelve kings succeeded one another at the head of the powerful Kingdom of Abomey.' During the 13th century, the indigenous Edo people were run by a group of local chieftains, but by the 15th century a single ruler known as the 'oba' had asserted control. Under the dynasty established by Ewuare the Great, the most famous of the obas, Benin's territory expanded to cover a region between the Niger River delta and what is now the Nigerian city of Lagos. The obas brought great prosperity and a highly organized state to Benin. They also established good relations and an extensive slave trade with the Portuguese and Dutch who arrived from the 15th century onwards.

The decline of the obas began in the 18th century when a series of internal power struggles began which lasted into the 19th century, paving the way for the French takeover and colonization of the country in 1872. In 1904, the territory was incorporated into French West Africa as Dahomey. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French Community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France. The name was changed to Benin in 1975. From 1974 to 1989 the country was a socialist state; free elections were reestablished in 1991.

Note: For non-West Africans, the historical empire that was governed from the 14th Century until 1897 by the Oba of Benin, from a seat of power sited at Benin City in present-day Nigeria, is easily confused with the modern nation of Benin, formerly the French colony of Dahomey, Nigeria's neighbor to the west.