From its foundation in the 4th century, the Ghana Empire grew into a prosperous regional power, owing its wealth to its position between gold-rich lands to the south and incoming Berber and Arab salt traders. The king imposed taxes on commodities traded within the empire, which grew to incorporate the gold producing regions. Islam had spread to the Ghana Empire by the 12th century when its power began to decline. Pressure, initially from the Almoravids in the north and then the rising power of the Mali Empire in the east, led to gradual loss of territory. The Mali Empire was founded when the Mali state and its two smaller allies, Mema and Wagadou, won a local power struggle, after which it became the premier regional power. The Mali Empire’s first emperor, Sundiata Keita, was an almost mythical figure who supposedly claimed direct ancestral lineage from one of the Prophet Muhammad’s close advisors.
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