The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial empire located in what is now southern Nigeria. Its capital was Edo.
The original people and founders of the Benin Empire, the Edo people, were initially ruled by the Ogiso (Kings of the Sky) dynasty who called their land Igodomigodo. The rulers or kings were commonly known as Ogiso. Igodo, the first Ogiso, wielded much influence and gained popularity as a good ruler. He died after a long reign and was succeeded by Ere, his eldest son. In the 12th century, a great palace intrigue and battle for power erupted between the warrior crown prince Ekaladerhan son of the last Ogiso and his young paternal uncle. In anger over an oracle, Prince Ekaladerhan left the royal court with his warriors. When his old father the Ogiso died, the Ogiso dynasty was ended as the people and royal kingmakers preferred their king’s son as natural next in line to rule.
Capital Benin City (then called Edo)
• 1180–1246 Eweka I 
• 1440–1473 Ewuare (1440–1473) would expand the city-state to an empire
Ovonramwen (exile 1897)
• 1978–2016 Erediauwa I (post-imperial)
• 2016- Ewuare II (post-imperial)
• Established 1180
• Annexed by the United Kingdom 1897
• 1625 90,000 km² (34,749 sq mi)
Preceded by Succeeded by
Southern Nigeria Protectorate
Today part of Nigeria
Benin Edo or Benin is the name for the place, people and language of an ethnic group in Nigeria. Similar languages are spoken from the following ethnic groups that include the Esan, the Afemai, the Owan among others. The Edo are also referred to as “Bini” or as the “Benin ethnic group”, though currently the people themselves prefer to be simply called “Edo”. The Edo are the descendants of the people who founded the former Benin Empire, which was located in South/Mid-Western Nigeria, encompassing what is now the Edo State of Nigeria, as well as surrounding areas.
The name “Benin” is gotten Portuguese, ultimately from the word “Ubinu”, which came into use during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great, c. 1440. “Ubinu” was used to describe the royal administrative centre or city or capital proper of the kingdom, Edo. ‘Ubinu’ was later corrupted to ‘Bini’ by the mixed ethnicities living together at the centre; and further corrupted to “Benin” around 1485 when the Portuguese began trade relations with Oba Ewuare. See Oba of Benin
How did Benin become an empire?
This brass plaque shows the Oba, or King, of Benin and his attendants. Why do you think the Oba is shown to be much bigger than the other people?
Around 1440, Ewuare became the new Oba of Benin. He built up an army and started winning land. He also rebuilt Benin City and the royal palace.
Oba Ewuare was the first of five great warrior kings. His son Oba Ozolua was believed to have won 200 battles. He was followed by Oba Esigie who expanded his kingdom eastwards to form an empire and won land from the Kingdom of Ife. Ozolua and Esigie both encouraged trade with the Portuguese. They used their wealth from trade to build up a vast army.
The fourth warrior king was Oba Orhogbua. During his reign, the empire reached its largest size. It stretched beyond the River Niger in the east and extended west as far as present-day Ghana.
Oba Ehengbuda was the last of the warrior kings. But he spent most of his reign stopping rebellions led by local chiefs. After his death in 1601, Benin’s empire gradually shrank in size.
How did the kingdom end?
Benin belonged to the British Empire until 1960. Then it became part of the independent country of Nigeria. Today, the Oba of Benin leads religious ceremonies, but he no longer rules his people.
By the 1860s Benin was no longer a powerful empire and the Obas struggled to rule their people.
Benin was also under threat from Britain. The British wanted to gain control of Benin so they could get rich by selling its palm oil and rubber. The Oba tried to stop all contact with Britain, but the British insisted on their right to trade.
In 1897 a group of British officials tried to visit Benin. They were sent away because the Oba was busy with a religious ceremony, but they decided to visit anyway. As they approached the borders of Benin, a group of warriors drove them back and several British men were killed.
This attack made the British furious. They sent over a thousand soldiers to invade Benin. Benin City was burnt to the ground and the kingdom of Benin became part of the British Empire.