The Journal of African History

Research Article

The mid-fourteenth century capital of Mali

J. O. Hunwicka1

a1 University of Ghana

For over a century scholars have been attempting to locate the area and, if possible, the actual site of the capital of the Mali empire in its period of greatness. Since the 1920S attention has been focused on an area near the Sankararni river, a tributary entering the Niger from the south, upstream from Bamako. Over recent years a Polish-Guinean archaeological expedition has been digging a site there, but with inconclusive results so far.

A close reading of the few descriptions we have of the capital of Mali, and in particular of the route taken by Ibn Battūta, who visited the capital in 1352, suggests that the city lay on the left bank of the river Niger somewhere between Segu and Bamako. This is in fact a ‘logical] site for the capital of an empire whose tributaries lay mainly in the savannah and Sahel belts, and in whose armies cavalry played a significant role. For this reason, and a number of others, the recent hypothesis of Claude Meillassoux, suggesting a location for the capital south of the R. Falémé (and perhaps also of the R. Gambia), seems doubtful. The proper name for the capital is also discussed.