The Rise & Fall Of Oyo Empire

The Oyo Empire was a Yoruba empire, and the Largest empire ever existed in West Africa, occupying most of what’s is today Southern Nigeria, expanding its territory to the nearby Republic of Benin.

Oranmiyan founded the Oyo nation after he had established the bini dynasty, making him the first Alaafin (ruler) of the Oyo kingdom.

The kingdom started very humble as some nations had already been established, like the Owus, moreso, Oranmiyan himself was the last son of Oduduwa.

All the kingdoms established in the Yoruba Land practices the Ebi (family) type of government whereby the nation is regarded as the larger version of the family.
Hence they adopted the Agbo-ile (Family’s compound) as the community and the palace as the house. i.e., Ife kingdom’s capital is Ile-Ife, (Home of Ife, or the house of Ife).
In the Oyo kingdom, the same practice was adopted, and Oyo Ile was the capital of the Oyo empire. The monarchy constitutionally reports to Ife.

It is worthy to note that the kingdom of Owu was not included in the Oyo empire, and didn’t pay any tributes to the Oyo nation as Owu was independent.

Rise & Fall Of Oyo Empire
The Rise & Fall Of Oyo Empire (Alaafin of Old Oyo Empire and Sir Walter Egerton)

The two most important places in the Oyo empire are the Aaafin Oba (Palace of the king) and the Oja oba (kings market). 

The first ruler of the Oyo empire after Oranmiyan was Ajaka. He didn’t expand the empire during his first time as the ruler.

Sango, took over the throne from him and he went on many war expedition, expanding Oyo kingdom.

The Rise & Fall Of Oyo Empire

Historians believed it was the foundation that Sango laid that led to the rise of Oyo empire.

However, Oyo empire didn’t reach its peak until the 16th century.

At this time, Oyo empire was powerful with efficient army. The kingdom had expanded across a wide region with minor kingdoms and empires now paying tributes and service to the capital Oyo-Ile.

In 1698, (Allada)-Aja kingdom was attacked and destroyed by Oyo armies, and they started paying tributes to Alaafin.

Dahomey’s economic hardship around 1720 forced them to attack and destroy Aja, not knowing the Oyo army has already conquered Aja

The Dahomey army massacred the small unit of the Oyo army stationed at Aja, and only a few that survived made it back to Oyo to reveal the action that took place.

What makes the Oyo empire unique was her military strength. The Oyo Army attacked and conquered the Dahomey army stationed at Aja, Dahomey kingdom itself, and all other territories controlled by Dahomey. 

The rise and fall of oyo empire
Alaafin Adeniran Adeyemi II with his young Prince who is the present Alaafin of Oyo Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III c 1950


The collapse of the Oyo empire

After Alaafin Ojigi died in 1735, the Dahomey kingdom stopped paying their tributes to the Oyo kingdom.

Agaja was the king of Dahomey at that time.
Alaafin Amuniwaiye sent his armies to Dahomey in a show of strength and to let king Agaja know that the Oyo is still In control.

Some of the (Oyo Armies) settle at the Dahomey kingdom, monitoring the nation’s activities.

After the death of Amuniwaiye, Dahomey once again stopped paying their tributes to Oyo, but at this time, it was easy for the Oyo empire to demand it.

Alaafin Onisile sent his army to support the ones stationed there to bring the kingdom on its knees.

Another event was In 1765 when an Asante army led by Odanqua invaded Oyo territory around Atakpame. Asante troops were in tens of thousands in number, but they were all massacred by the Oyo army.

In 1775, Abiodun teamed up with other chefs, and a civil war started in Oyo-Ile. Abiodun claimed Alaafin Gaha was too weak and too old and wanted to overthrow him as the king.

Abiodun led army attacked Alaafin Gaha, which some early historians believed he was burnt alive by Abiodun. His family members didn’t escape the ordeal as they were killed as well.

Ojo Agunbambaru, one of Alaafin’s sons, was the only survivor who escaped death and ran away.
Under Abiodun’s leadership, the Oyo empire grew in size; it had over 6000 villages.

He was a fearful leader and killed many top warlords in the Oyo army that he saw as a threat.
After he died in 1789, the Oyo empire’s trouble looms in. Awole became the Alaafin after the demise of Abiodun, but he doesn’t’ have the skill of a warrior like Abiodun, and inherited a very weakened army.

His lack of skill of leadership led him to launch an attack against Apomu, a town in Ife and Iwere. Iwere had an emotional connection with Oyo, which caused his remaining army to go against him and eventually led to the collapse of the Oyo Empire.

In 1791, Tapa, and the Bariba cast off allegiance with the Oyo empire.
He killed himself, and the circumstances surrounding his death made it impossible for a new king to be appointed.

Categories: History

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1 Comment


Abosede · August 21, 2020 at 1:36 am

Wow, what a great article, thanks for sharing

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