Great Benin Bronze

EDE N'ERHENA VBE EDO

The Walls of Benin: 


They were a combination of ramparts and moats, called Iya in the local language, used as a defense of the historical Benin City, formerly of the now defunct Kingdom of Benin and now the capital of the present-day Edo State of Nigeria. It was considered the largest man-made structure lengthwise and was hailed as the largest earthwork in the world. It is larger than Sungbo's Eredo.[citation needed] It enclosed 6,500 km² of community lands. Its length was over 16,000 km of earth boundaries. It was estimated that earliest construction began in 800 AD and continued into the mid-1400s...

.......Wikipedia

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The Benin moat [Iya]:

The Benin moat, also known traditionally as Iya,is the largest man-made earthworks in the world. One of the wonders of the world. It predates the use of modern earth-moving equipment or technology in these parts. The moat encircles the old perimeter precincts of the City and was constructed as a defensive barrier in times of war. A great defence wall ever build by African civilization. {5th} Oba Oguola {about 1280-1295} dug the first and second moats to fortify the City from invaders, including the Imperial European invaders, who at the time were hunting for African slaves labourers, Oba Oguola further decreed that important towns and Villages should build similar moats as defence systems around their communities.This gave rise to twenty of such moats around Benin City and its environs. An extension of the moat was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of {12th} Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473 CE). The Benin moat is over 3200 kilometers long. .

Defensive Fortification of Ancient Benin City: The Benin Moat

Edo, the people of Igodomigodo famously known for almost a millennium as Benin, had built a moat complex to protect themselves in the wars they fought. The defensive fortification of Benin City, the capital,
consisted of ramparts and moats, call iya, enclosing a 4000 square kilometer (2485.5 miles) of community lands. In total, the Benin wall system encompasses over 10,000 kilometers (6213.7 miles) of earth boundaries. Patrick Darling, an archaeologist, estimates that the complex was built between 800 and
1000 up to the late fifteenth century (Keys 1994: 16). Advantageously situated, the moats were duged in such a manner that earthen banks provided outer walls that complemented deep ditches. According to Graham Connah, the ditch formed an integral part of the intended barrier but was also a quarry for the material to construct the wall or bank (Keys 1994: 594). The ramparts range in size from shallow traces to the immense 20-meter-high (66 feet) around Benin City (Wesler 1998: 144). The Guinness Book of World Records describes the walls of Benin City as the world's second largest man-made structure after China's Great Wall, in terms of length, and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earthwork in the world.

During the second half of the 15th century, Oba Ewuare the Great (ruled 1440-1473 AD) ordered a moat to be dug in the heart of the city. The earthworks served as a bastion and also afforded control of access to
the capital which had nine gates that were shut at night. Travel notes of European visitors also described the Benin walls (e.g. Pacheco Pereira 1956: 130-147; Dapper 1668). It was finalized around 1460, at that time being the world's largest earthwork. (See historical photos of Benin City).

Early European visitors never failed to be impressed with the Benin City's grandeur and level of organization. Benin as it appears in documents of the seventeenth century the natural reflection of centralized
wealth was its magnificent capital city Benin. Reports from the anonymous. Dutchman D.R. (c. 1600) and David van Nyendael (some fifty years later) described Benin City as an extraordinarily extensive and flourishing city which easily matched the European metropolis of it time (Hodgkin 1960: 119-120;
Ben-Amos 1995: 42ff). The Portuguese compared it with Lisbon, the Dutch with Amsterdam or Antwerp, the Italians with Florence, and the Spaniards with Madrid (Kea 1971: 187). Its size was matched by dense habitation; houses built close to each other along long, straight streets. The royal palace, a city within the city, was also impressive, with countless squares and patios and innumerable
doors and passageways, all richly decorated with the art that has made Benin
famous. The city was orderly, well laid out, and sparkling clean so that the
walls of the houses appeared polished (Dapper 1693: 122). The people clothes;
some are dressed in white, others in yellow, others in blue or green; and the
city captains are regular judges who resolve lawsuits, debates and
conflicts. 

SOURCE: http://ihuanedo.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-great-benin-moat

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The Nine Ancient Gates of Benin Culture


Benin City, the ancient Edo capital of the Great Benin Kingdom, is still surrounded by a huge mound of earth known as the inner wall. As high and as wide as a two-storey building and ten kilometres long, it surrounds the most important part of Benin. Outside this wall is a ditch as deep and as wide as the wall. The wall and the ditch had only recently been completed when the Portuguese first came in 1472 AD. A massive fortified earthwork entrance gateway guarded travellers’ way in. It was supported by timber and guarded by soldiers with swords slung under their left armpits. A heavy wooden door blocked the gateway.

A traveller bringing goods into the city would usually have to pay a toll before the gate was opened. Ahead of the travellers, as far as they could see, ran a long street, forty metres wide, full of people, and among them the occasional goat or hen, domestic animals. About a kilometre ahead, they would notice a huge tree standing by itself, and beyond that the road running into the distance.

There were high earthen walls, dull red in colour, carefully smoothed into a series of horizontal ripples. The tops of these walls were roofed to prevent them being washed away by the rain. A great thatched gate was guarded by more soldiers and beyond this was a glimpse of steeply sloping roofs and pointed towers. At the top of each of these towers, the evening sunlight gleamed on bronze eagles.

From the main highway ran a number of broad streets, dividing the city into quarters or wards. The streets were clean and free from rubbish. The ward chiefs were responsible for the cleanliness. Each householder was expected to keep his section of the street clean, and the red mud surface of the house walls neat and polished, until, as one European was to say, “it shone like a looking glass”.

The road to Ughoton, Benin City’s port, was a conduit for overseas trade, leading over many centuries to the prosperity and enlightenment that goes with international connections, and had the main gate leading to Benin City on the Oroghotodin Road at the inner moat before Uzebu. The four blacksmith guilds of the city – the Igun Nekhua, the Eyaen-Nugie, the Igun n’ Iwegie and the Igun n’ Ugboha – had endured a permanent metal shortage, working with the small amounts of iron ore which came down from Uneme and Agbede lands. But with new and plentiful supplies of purified metal arriving as rods from the foundries of Europe through the Ughoton gateway, the Edo city guilds were able to embark on accelerated production of agricultural and domestic implements, which were used to sustain the wealth of the Benin Empire. The arrival of guns, gun powder, cannon and lead through the Ughoton gateway also facilitated the extension and maintenance of the Great Benin Empire. The flow of foreign ideas that came with them helped to enrich society. Christianity arrived through the town of Oroghotodin, making Benin the first place where Christianity was preached and made a state religion.

Another gate was situated at the moat near Oguola Avenue, a trade route from Ikpokpan Ugbor and Iyokeogba districts. More gateways in the city walls controlled the access of goods and people from the many other towns and districts in all directions which did business with Benin. Among these were Nana and Warri, Ugu Iyekeorhionmwon, Ugo n’eki, Ika, Urhonigbe, Ukwani and Aniocha. The Oloton gateway controlled the route from Isiuloko, Ogbese and other riverine areas such as Atigiere.

Trade and a lot more besides
In addition to the local tributes passing through the nine gateways into Benin City, the arrival of the Portuguese heralded a period of great political and artistic development. Their impact had many aspects – military, economic, cultural, artistic and even linguistic.

Traders supplied the important luxury items Benin so desired – coral beads, cloth for ceremonial attire and great quantities of brass manillas, which enabled the technology of bronze-casting (for which Benin became famous) to be developed to its fullest extent.

In return for these goods, Benin provided the Portuguese with pepper, cloth, ivory and bronze casting. Benin craftsmen were kept busy carving ivory objects ranging from spoons to carved animals and birds, sold at modest prices to sailors and merchants from far and near.

The Benin-Portuguese ivories blend the high-status imagery of two cultures – from Europe, the Portuguese coats of arms, armillary spheres and scenes of the nobility, and from Benin, the Guild designs reserved for royalty and views of nobles on horseback accompanied by retainers and equipped with swords, elaborate costumes, feathers and other Benin marks of rank and wealth. All these attracted other European communities – the Spanish, Dutch, German and English – to trade with Great Benin.
The currency in which the Benin overseas trade was conducted brought many blessings to the land. In addition to the metal manillas, the sea-shell type of currency – cowries – enhanced the local economy.

The development that all this trade brought to the city, surrounded by the nine gates of the beautiful ancient Benin Culture, was summed-up by the Portuguese ship captain Lorenzo Pinto, visiting in 1674, as follows. “Great Benin, where the King resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the King, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well organised that theft is unknown and people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”

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