Kingdom of Dahomey

Kingdom of Dahomey was a west african kingdom founded in the seventeenth century, located in southern Benin. It was a major supplier of slaves.


During the seventeeth century, a small group of Aja from the Allada coastal kingdom moved north among the Fon. The Aja was fleeing coastal states Takin, Whydah, and Grand Popo, who raided interior territories for its slave trade with Europeans. The Aja began to assert authority over the Fon, founding a new Kingdom of Dahomey, with its capital a Agbome. An Aja king named Wegbaja centralized the polity in 1650, and developed its enduring institutions. Wegbaja declared all lands property of the state, which would be taxed. He established promogeniture, the eldest son would inherit the throne. This diminished the authority of village elders, who would have input on the selection of the king. Wegbaja also established a kingship cult. Each year a captured slave would be sacrificed to the royal ancestor.

Under King Agaja(1716-1740) the Kingdom of Dahomey was expanded. During the 1720s, the Kingdom of Allada and the Kingdom of Whydah came under Dahomey. This gave Dahomey direct access to the coast where they could profit from the slave trade directly and aquire firearms for further expansion and conquest. Agaja initially wanted to ban the slave trade, but the need for European firearm proved too enduring. Trade rivalry was intense between the other power of the slave coast Oyo and led to clashes. Oyo invaded Dahomey four times, during the 1720s. Dahomey eventually became a tribute paying state under Agaja in 1730 to the alafin of Oyo. The kingdom continued to thrive despite its subordinate position. 

Under the rule of Gezo(1818-58), Dahomey reached its pinnacle. The kingdom began winning numerous battles; to the point, they cease being a tribute paying state. In 1818, he declared independence from Oyo, and in 1840, he tried to gain Yoruba territory.

During the reign of Glele(1858-1889), the french took over Porto Novo. Glele resisted French encroachment. In 1889, he attacked the French, and the entire French merchant class fled to nearby British territory. His successor Benhazin wanted trade with the French on condition that Dahomey remain independent. The French in 1892 initiated an all out assault on Dahomey. In 1894, the king Benhazin(1889-1894) was forced to surrender and exiled to Martinique.


Initially, the king ruled with a set council, that balanced his authority. By 1700s, the latter  arrangement changed. The authority of the king became absolute, after the 1730s. He appointed all members of the council. 

The empire was broken into six district run by an administrator. The "king wives", assigned by the king,  kept track of the activities of the administrators. The "king wives" assigned women to the administrators to verify their activities. 


Dahomey initially profited mainly from the trade in slaves. War captives were sold into slavery to Europeans for cowries and firearms. Some slaves were put to work on agricultural plantations used to feed the nobility. Dahomey had numerous independent slave traders with the king being the biggest trader. The government taxed almost everything and taxed collectors abound in the kingdom. During the nineteenth century, the kingdom turned to producing palm oil for trade with Europeans. The average Dahomeyan were typically peasant farmers who lived in dispersed villages. The slave trade had little affect on them.

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, pp. 550-551. ISBN 0-465-00071-1. 

Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa. Revised 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 192-193. ISBN 0-333-59957-8