Historically, the Malians were known for their very progressive society that put emphasis on education; it was one of the largest educational centers in the world that brought scholars from China, the Middle East, and Europe. To highlight this achievement, their team bonus increases the research speed for University technologies.
West African cultures (especially the Dahomey Kingdom) held women in high esteem, with local women even participating in the military. This is highlighted with their unique unit, the Gbeto, which is noted as the only trainable female military unit. In real history, Gbetos or Dahomey Amazons were usually equipped with rifles. Although in-game Gbetos do not use rifles as their weapons, the Malians have access to various gunpowder units.
The Mali and Songhai empires were known to be some of the wealthiest kingdoms in Africa; this was primarily due to the enormous natural wealth at their disposal from gold and salt mines, as well as their effective control of the trans-Saharan trade routes that carried valuable resources to and from the region. To reflect this, Gold Mines last 30% longer.
West Africa and the Sahel have sparse vegetation, with few trees. These limited resources meant that the Malians did not have as much of a reliance on lumber in their architecture (instead primarily utilizing clay and mud bricks). This is represented in-game with a -15% wood cost for all Malian buildings (except farms). Famous examples of this architectural style include the University of Sankore and the Great Mosque of Djenne (the Malian Wonder).
Horses played an important role on Western African cultures for centuries, with the Malians known for their tactical use in combat; while Malian cavalry was not as well equipped as their European counterparts, their effective leadership and raiding tactics made them a force to be reckoned with. This is represented in-game with Farimba which gives their Stable units +5 attack. In history, Farimba was a title for the military nobility of the empire, which commanded the cavalry in Malian armies.
Many foot soldiers in West Africa were fierce in combat, and often won battles with their superior coordination and maneuverability. Therefore, their infantry units from the Barracks gain additional pierce armor.
The Malians are an infantry civilization. Despite this, they lack key infantry features with the Halberdier and Blast Furnace. Still, their infantry is excellent due to the increased pierce armor and the access to Gbetos that can be a devastating force especially against melee units. Their cavalry is also excellent because of Farimba that gives their Stable units a massive attack boost resulting in their Cavaliers getting a more powerful attack than Paladins and their Light Cavalry and Heavy Camel Rider are the strongest of all civilizations as well. The archers are also good, but suffer from the lack of Bracer. And so does their navy, that is very underwhelming with Galleons and Elite Cannon Galleons also missing. The siege weapons are below average, most notably Siege Rams and Siege Engineers are missing. The Monks are good, only Illumination is missing. Their defensive structures are average, their economy is good.
The Malians have a campaign devoted to their civilization: Sundjata. They also appear in:
The African Kingdoms
Rise of the Rajas
Dawn of the Dukes
In-game dialogue language
In-game, Malian units speak Eastern Maninka that belongs to the Mande branch of the Niger-Congo language family. It was the administrative language of the Malian Empire
AI player names
Throughout the Middle Ages, many city-states and kingdoms emerged in West Africa as a result of the lively trans-Saharan trade of salt and gold. The constant struggle to dominate commerce in this part of the world went hand in glove with the rise and fall of great empires that were able to conquer and unite the scattered kingdoms into one state.
Between the 4th and 11th centuries AD, the Soninke people were the first to monopolize the gold trade and expand their rule over a vast area. At its largest extent, the Empire of Ghana covered present-day western Mali and southeastern Mauritania. However, by the end of the 11th century, the Berber Almoravid Empire had assumed control of the gold trade. Whether or not this was achieved through an invasion led by Amir Abu-Bakr Ibn Umar is still unclear. In any case, the loss of a major resource, combined with overgrazing and periodic droughts, led to the disintegration of the Empire of Ghana. In AD 1203, the Sosso people, former vassals of Ghana, conquered the capital city, Kumbi.
In the following decades, the Sosso people continued their military campaign. According to oral tradition, king Sumanguru Kante conquered several small Mandinka chiefdoms. However, an exiled prince, Sundjata, united the different kingdoms, spurred a rebellion, and eventually defeated the Sosso army at the battle of Kirina in AD 1235. Five years later, Sundjata annexed Ghana and its important gold mines and trade routes, thus founding the Mali Empire.
Further expansions led by successive Mansas (kings) extended the boundaries of the empire to Gao in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Especially under Mansa Sakura (AD 1285-1300), a freed slave, territorial conquest was significant. In order to defend and control this vast region, the Mali Empire maintained a full-time army, consisting of up to 100,000 soldiers of which the majority was infantry. Each tribe was expected to supply a certain number of freemen with their own weapons to serve. Only from the 14th century onwards, when the empire came increasingly under pressure, did the Mansa also rely on slaves to fight.
Under the reign of Mansa Musa (AD 1312-1337), the Mali Empire reached its zenith. Due to his remarkable pilgrimage to Mecca he was and is probably the best-known Mandinka ruler: with an entourage of 500 slaves and 100 camels carrying 30,000 pounds of gold, Musa attracted attention everywhere he went. After his return, the king ordered the construction of two madaris (universities) in Timbuktu, namely the famous Sankore and Djinguereber mosque. For two centuries, these remained international centers of learning, housing books and scholars from all over the world.
Although the different Mandinka tribes initially had their own animistic beliefs, Islam slowly spread throughout the empire due to Muslim involvement in the trans-Saharan trade. By the 14th century, the Mansas had converted to Islam, but never forced their subjects to do the same. Consequently, the Mali Empire was home to many religions, often mixed with local rituals and traditions.
Starting in the late 14th century, the power of the Mandinkas began to decline. Internally, the governing lineage was plagued by intrigue and weak rulers, while the state was threatened externally by invasions and rebellions. Most importantly, Berber invasions and the rise of the Songhai Empire (AD 1464-1591) resulted in the loss of the northern and eastern regions, including Timbuktu, and control over the Sub-Saharan trade. In response, the Mali Empire shifted its attention to the southwestern provinces, where Portuguese explorers had arrived in 1455. However, the tide could not be turned, and by 1600 the Mali Empire gradually disintegrated completely back into several chiefdoms.
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