Long before European slavery, there were powerful, wealthy kingdoms in West Africa.
Among them were ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhai (sometimes spelled Songhay), which flourished between the eighth and sixteenth centuries. They were located in the western Sudan, where the nations of Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Mali stand now.
Their wealth came from their gold, which they traded to other African and European countries.
The Songhai kingdom was the largest and most important. Its city of Timbuktu, which still stands at the edge of the Sahara, was one of the world’s greatest cities in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a center of culture and learning. Law and medicine were taught at Timbuktu’s great mosque of Sankore, and students came from all over to attend.
Djenne (sometimes spelled Jenne) was another respected Songhai city.
Beginning in the eighth century, Ghana dominated the Sudan for almost 300 years until it fell to a group of Muslim invaders and was succeeded by Mali.
Mali had its heyday between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, and its place was taken by Songhai in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Songhai empire fell by the seventeenth century, after Songhai was invaded by North Africans from Morocco.