History of Nigeria
Ceremonial Igbo pot from 9th-century Igbo-Ukwu.
Early (500 BC – 1500)
The Nok civilisation of Northern Nigeria flourished between 500 BC and AD 200, producing life-sized terracotta figures which are some of the earliest known sculptures in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further north, the cities Kano and Katsina have a recorded history dating to around 999 AD. Hausa kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire prospered as trade posts between North and West Africa.
The Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people consolidated in the 10th century and continued until it lost its sovereignty to the British in 1911. Nri was ruled by the Eze Nri, and the city of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture. Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umeuri clan. Members of the clan trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri. In West Africa, the oldest bronzes made using the lost-wax process were from Igbo Ukwu, a city under Nri influence.
The Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in southwestern Nigeria became prominent in the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively. The oldest signs of human settlement at Ife's current site date back to the 9th century, and its material culture includes terracotta and bronze figures.
Middle Ages (1500–1800)
Royal Bini mask, one of Nigeria's most recognised artefacts. Kingdom of Benin, 16th century.
Oyo, at its territorial zenith in the late 17th to early 18th centuries, extended its influence from western Nigeria to modern-day Togo. The EdoKingdom of Benin is located in southwestern Nigeria. Benin's power lasted between the 15th and 19th centuries. Their dominance reached as far as the city of Eko (an Edo name later changed to Lagos by the Portuguese) and further.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Usman dan Fodio directed a successful jihad and created and led the centralised Fulani Empire (also known as the Sokoto Caliphate). The territory controlled by the resultant state included much of modern-day northern and central Nigeria; it lasted until the 1903 break-up of the Empire into various European colonies.
Benin City in the 17th century with the Oba of Benin in procession. This image appeared in a European book,Description of Africa, published in Amsterdam in 1668.
For centuries, various peoples in modern-day Nigeria traded overland with traders from North Africa. Cities in the area became regional centres in a broad network of trade routes that spanned western, central and northern Africa. In the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to begin significant, direct trade with peoples of modern-day Nigeria, at the port they named Lagos and in Calabar. Europeans traded goods with peoples at the coast; coastal trade with Europeans also marked the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade. The port of Calabar on the historical Bight of Biafra (now commonly referred to as the Bight of Bonny) become one of the largest slave trading posts in West Africa in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. Other major slaving ports in Nigeria were located in Badagry, Lagos on the Bight of Benin and on Bonny Island on the Bight of Biafra. The majority of those enslaved and taken to these ports were captured in raids and wars. Usually the captives were taken back to the conquerors' territory as forced labour; after time, they were sometimes acculturated and absorbed into the conquerors' society. A number of slave routes were established throughout Nigeria linking the hinterland areas with the major coastal ports. Some of the more prolific slave traders were linked with the Oyo Empire in the southwest, the Aro Confederacy in the southeast and the Sokoto Caliphate in the north.
Slavery also existed in the territories comprising modern-day Nigeria its scope was broadest towards the end of the 19th century. According to the Encyclopedia of African History, "It is estimated that by the 1890s the largest slave population of the world, about 2 million people, was concentrated in the territories of the Sokoto Caliphate. The use of slave labor was extensive, especially in agriculture.
A changing legal imperative (transatlantic slave trade outlawed by Britain in 1807) and economic imperative (a desire for political and social stability) led most European powers to support widespread cultivation of agricultural products, such as the palm, for use in European industry.