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Dahomey was an African kingdom situated in what is now Benin. The kingdom was founded in the seventeenth century and survived until the late nineteenth century, when it was conquered by French troops from Senegal and incorporated into France's West African colonies.
The origins of Dahomey can be traced back to a group of Aja from the coastal kingdom of Allada who moved northwards and settled among the Fon people of the interior. By about 1650, the Aja managed to dominate the Fon and Wegbaja declared himself king of their joint territory. Based in his capital of Agbome, Wegbaja and his successors succeeded in establishing a highly centralized state with a deep-rooted kingship cult of sacrificial offerings, including human sacrifices, to the ancestors of the monarch. All land was owned directly by the king, who collected taxes from all crops that were produced.
Economically, however, Wegbaja and his successors profited mainly from the slave trade and relations with slavers along the coast. As Dahomey's kings embarked on wars to expand their territory, they began using rifles and other firearms traded with Europeans for captives, who were sold into slavery in the Americas. Under King Agadja (ruled 1708-1732) the kingdom conquered Allada, where the ruling family originated, thereby gaining direct contact with European slave traders on the coast. Nevertheless, Agadja was unable to defeat the neighbouring kingdom of Oyo, Dahomey's chief rival in the slave trade, and in 1730, he became a tributary of Oyo, though he still managed to maintain Dahomey's independence.
Even as a tributary state, Dahomey continued to expand and flourish because of the slave trade and later through the export of palm oil from large plantations that emerged. Because of the economic structure of the kingdom, the land belonged to the king, who had a virtual monopoly on all trade.
Dahomey was finally conquered by France in 1892-1894. Most of the troops that fought against Dahomey were native African, and it has been surmised that their hostility to the kingdom, particularly among the Yoruba, led to its downfall.
Kings of Dahomey
- Gangnihessou ???? - 1620
- Dakodonou, 1620-1645
- Houegbadja, 1645-1685
- Akaba, 1685-1708
- Agadja, 1708-1732
- Tegbessou, 1732-1774
- Kpengla, 1774-1789
- Agonglo, 1789-1797
- Adandozan, 1797-1818
- Ghezo, 1818-1856
- Glele, 1856-1889
- Behanzin, 1889-1894
See also: Rulers of the Fon state of Danhome
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