Oyo Empire was a great Yoruba empire that possessed almost a territory known today as a south western part of modern day Nigeria, and south eastern part of modern day Benin Republic.
The Oyo Empire came into being since around the 14th century, and remained in existence until its declined in the 19th century. In terms of its mighty, the Empire has been one of the great and powerful states in the history of West Africa.
Foundation of the Oyo Empire
The Oyo Empire was founded by an Ile-Ife Prince called Oranyan or Oranmiyan. Prince Oranmiyan made an attempt of raiding people to the north of the Ile-Ife Kingdom. However, his attempt failed, and therefore refused to returned back to his Kingdom of Ile-Ife. He founded the Oyo Kingdom in an area north west of Ife. He also crowned himself the first king of the Empire with the title “Alafin”.
The location of the Oyo Empire of being at the northern edge of the forest region and bordering the savannah region gave its an advantage of being at the center between the forest and the savannah. This strategic location made the Empire a center of Yoruba commercial activities attracting even the traders from the Sudanic states of Hausa.
In terms of territorial acquisition and strength, the Oyo Empire expanded into every angle at the expense of the neighboring Kingdoms
In the late 14th century, the Empire of Oyo came into a war with its neighboring Kingdom of Nupe. By the mid of the 1500s the Nupe army under Tsoede defeated and and occupied much of the Oyo.
By the late 1600s, Oyo Empire was reviving its strength and reconquesting its former territories. This time around, the Empire developed a large army and a good system of government. Oba Ofinran built new capital at Oyo-Igboho.
In 1720, the Oyo army began expanding westward. By 1723, the army conquered the Dahomey Kingdom and forced the Kingdom to pay tribute.
Political and Military Organization
The Oyo Empire has one of the very good political and military organization in the history of west African kingdoms.
Alafin of Oyo
At the top position of leadership in the Empire was the “Oba” or “Alafin” which means King or owner of the palace in Yoruba language. Alafin was was the supreme leader of the empire. His word is authority and was expected to be obeyed by everybody.
Oyo Mesi and Ogboni
The Oyo Mesi was a king makers of the Oyo Empire. Their responsibility was to select the new Alafin. The leader of the Oyo Mesi was called “Bashorun” who acted as a Prime Minister of Empire.
While, Ogboni was like a cult body and has a responsibility of being like a judges who overlooked justice in the Empire.
Both Oyo Mesi and Ogboni worked as a check and balance tools to the power of the Alafin.
The military organization of the Empire was also a strong and well organized. The Oyo army was devided into two : infantry and cavalry. The head of the army was called “Are-Ona-Kakanfo” who was responsible of commanding the Oyo army in the battlefield.
By the mid-18th century the Oyo Empire began to decline when internal strife started in the Empire. The political struggle between the Bashorun Gaha and the Palace continued to bring chaos and weakened the Empire. On his part, Bashorun Gaha used his influence and conspired to get total power which led to the suicide of about three Alafins. However, Gaha’s threat was eliminated by the Alafin Abiodun who killed him. Internal strife and instability continued in the Empire when Alafin Abiodun was killed by his own son Awole.
On the other hand, the war commander Are-Ona Kakanfo Afonja gradually became powerful and seceded from the Empire by making Ilorin his new Kingdom. This attempt by Afonja also led to the war between his army and the Oyo’s army.
The final collapsed of the Oyo Empire began with the Fulani Jihad. One of the Jihadist Shehu Alimi took the advantage of the internal strife in the Oyo Empire by leading his Jihadist army to conquere the Empire. In 1823, Alimi killed Afonja and succeeded in capturing Ilorin. This victory gave the Alimi’s army an advantage of raiding other parts of the Oyo Empire which eventually led to the capturing and destroying of the Empire’s capital Oye-Ile. And finally, the people of the Empire where pushed further south into the forest.