The Kingdom of Dahomey

The Kingdom of Dahomey was a West African kingdom located within present-day Benin that existed from approximately 1600 until 1904. Dahomey developed on the Abomey Plateau amongst the Fon people in the early 17th century and became a regional power in the 18th century by expanding south to conquer key cities like Whydah belonging to the Kingdom of Whydah on the Atlantic coast which granted it unhindered access to the tricontinental triangular trade.

The Military of the Kingdom of Dahomey

The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful military state, and its army was known for its ferocity and discipline. The army was composed of both men and women, and the women warriors, known as the Agojie, were feared by their enemies. The Agojie were trained in hand-to-hand combat and were armed with spears, swords, and bows and arrows. They were also skilled in the use of firearms.

The 2022 movie, The Woman King, has highlighted the powerful women warriors that the kingdom hosts. The depiction of the Agojie women in The Woman King was largely accurate. However, the film does take some liberties with the historical record. For example, the film portrays the Agojie as being opposed to the slave trade, when in reality, the Agojie were involved in the slave trade. Additionally, the film portrays the Agojie as being more independent than they actually were. In reality, the Agojie were still under the authority of the king of Dahomey.

The Agojie women or the Dahomey Amazons

The Agojie were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey that were founded in the early 17th century and existed until the late 19th century. They were the only female army in modern history and were known as highly skilled in combat and as being feared by their enemies. They were named Amazons by Western Europeans who encountered them, due to the story of the female warriors of Amazons in Greek mythology. In fact, they are often referred to as the Dahomey Amazons. This all-female warrior unit was instrumental in protecting the kingdom of Dahomey from its enemies. 

The Agojie were recruited from all over the kingdom of Dahomey. They were trained in hand-to-hand combat, archery, and the use of firearms. They were known for their bravery and ferocity in battle.  The Agojie were disbanded in the early 20th century. These exceptional warriors are a muse to this day, inspiring the fictional and fearsome Dora Milaje in the Marvel movie Black Panther and depicted in the 2022 American movie The Woman King.

The Woman King movie depictions

The Woman King - The Dahomey KingdomThe Woman King is a 2022 American historical drama movie set in the Kingdom of Dahomey directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood  and written by Dana Stevens, based on a story she wrote with Maria Bello. The film stars Viola Davis as Nanisca, the general of the Agojie, who fought against the French and other European invaders in the 1800s. The film also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and John Boyega. From people to costumes to story, everything in The Woman King is a faithful representation of the Agojie warriors, while also being adapted for the film. They are a powerful visual representation of the strength and courage of these women.

Some critics have praised the film for its strong performances, its action sequences, and its historical accuracy. Others have criticized the film for its slow pacing, its lack of character development, and its historical inaccuracies. In general, there is nothing new about cinematography, in the United States or elsewhere, giving itself some artistic licence. The movie highlights a piece of important history that needs to be taken into account while being aware of the dramatic licence.

The Economy of the Kingdom of Dahomey

The Kingdom of Dahomey was also a wealthy state, and its economy was based on agriculture, trade, and the slave trade. The kingdom was a major producer of palm oil, and it also traded in ivory, gold, and other goods. The slave trade was a major source of income for the kingdom, and it is estimated that Dahomey exported over 1 million slaves during its history.

The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful and influential state, and it played an important role in the history of West Africa. The kingdom was conquered by the French in 1894, but its legacy continues to this day. The Kingdom of Dahomey is remembered for its military prowess, its economic power, and its rich culture.

The Golden Age of Dahomean history

The Golden Age of Dahomean history is generally considered to be the period from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. During this time, the kingdom of Dahomey experienced a period of great prosperity and expansion. The kingdom’s military was strengthened, its economy grew, and its culture flourished.

One of the most important events of the Golden Age was the expansion of the kingdom’s territory, through the conquest  of the neighboring kingdoms of Allada and Whydah by King Agaja in the late 18th century. This expansion gave Dahomey control of the Atlantic coast, which allowed the kingdom to participate in the transatlantic slave trade.

The slave trade brought great wealth to Dahomey. The kingdom used its profits to build a strong military, which further expanded the kingdom’s territory. Dahomey also used its profits to improve its infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and palaces.

The end of the Golden Age

The Golden Age of Dahomean history came to an end in the early 19th century. The kingdom’s involvement in the slave trade led to international condemnation. In addition, the kingdom’s military was weakened by a series of internal conflicts. In 1894, Dahomey was conquered by France.

Despite its short duration, the Golden Age of Dahomean history left a lasting legacy. The kingdom’s military prowess, its economic power, and its rich culture are still remembered today.

Notable Kings of the Kingdom of Dahomey

Symbol of King Tegbessou - Adoscam, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia CommonsHere are some of the notable kings of Dahomey:

  • King Gangnihessou (1600-1620)
  • King Wegbaja also seen wriiten as Houégbadja and Houegbadja (reigned c. 1645–1685)
  • King Akaba (reigned 1685–1708)
  • King Agaja (reigned 1708–1732)
  • King Tegbesu also seen written as Tegbessou (reigned 1732 or 1739–1774)
  • King Kpengla also seen written as Kpingla (reigned 1774–1789)
  • King Agonglo (reigned 1789-1797)
  • King Ghezo (reigned 1818-1858)
  • King Ghezo’s son Glele (reigned 1858–1889)
  • King Behanzin (reigned 1889–1894)


The Kingdom of Dahomey was a fascinating and complex state, and its history is worth learning more about. Like every kingdom before and since, it teaches us lessons, through its successes and failures, through its innovations and its scandals. Movies on the subject help to bring it back to the attention and that is a positive thing. However, it is important to know the fact and not to let the inevitable dramatic license an romanticisation of movies and the times we live in, distract us from the positive and negative historical facts of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Sources and references

  1. Dahomey Amazons on Wikipedia
  2. Symbols and dates of the Kings of Dahomey: King Gangnihessou, King Wegbadja, King Behanzin, King Agonglo, King Akaba, King Kpingla