Benin was an influential city-state in northwest Africa generally from the 15th to 17th century. It was founded by the Edo or Bini people in the 13th century, and by the early 14th century a royal court was in place. It was always ruled by a powerful king who was usually a former war leader. The kings, however, later became a more religious figure. The kingdom has been though to extend throughout what is presently southern Nigeria. One of its most successful kings was Ozoula. During his reign, from about 1480 to 1504, Benin established many commercial and diplomatic relations with Portugal. The kingdom participated in a lot of trade with Europe. Some of the goods they traded included palm oil, ivory, pepper, and textiles. Another industry Benin took place in was the slave trade. Mostly POW's and women were traded, but in the early years, men of the tribe were also given away. Gradually, the power of the kingdom decreased as the 18th and 19th centuries passed. Eventually, in 1897, the area was annexed to British Nigeria. While tribesmen still led the area, the real control was in the hands of the Europeans.
One of the richest arts that originated in Africa are some of the hand cast bronzes that came out of the kingdom of Benin. These became known as the Benin Bronzes. The casting of brass was strictly a royal art and anyone found casting brass without royal permission was faced with execution. Whenever a king or a major figure died, a beautiful commemorative head was cast out of bronze in his honor. These heads were displayed at shrines found all throughout the royal palace. Also found in the royal palace were eight wall- sized bronze plaques. Each plaque depicted kings, chiefs, and great warriors in battle. They each depict a different event in Benin's history. Many things including utensils and weapons have also been found, each hand cast with brass. As you can see, the Beninian people were very gifted in this fine art and it is one of the richest parts of their culture.