What Was the Social Structure of Ancient Songhai?

There was a distinct difference between the social classes in ancient Songhai, with the emperor being at the top surrounded by wealthy, political and intellectual individuals; common citizens in the class below them; and slaves at the lower end of the social structure. At its peak, the Songhai Empire was the largest in existence in Africa, consisting of thousands of tribes.

Based on a caste system, Songhai society predominantly looked to the emperor for leadership. His authority presided over social, religious and political matters. Those with links to the imperial family were considered to be leaders in their fields, such as governors, educators, ministers and educators. While not actually belonging to the government, the elite class heavily influenced governmental affairs.

The citizen caste primarily worked in the agricultural industry or within the military. They had the option to change their social standing by earning their way into elite society via apprenticeships, religious training or working for the civil service.

Slaves were the lowest class of society and were often traded, although they could sometimes obtain their freedom and become part of the citizen caste.