Once a powerful city-state, Benin exists today as a modern African city in what is now south-central Nigeria. The present-day oba (King) of Benin traces the founding of his dynasty to A.D. 1300. The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial Edo state. Until the late 19th century, it was one of the major powers in West Africa. According to one eye witness report written by Olfert Dapper, “The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples. . . . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal.”
When European merchant ships began to visit West Africa from the 15th century onwards, Benin came to control the trade between the inland peoples and the Europeans on the coast. When the British tried to expand their own trade in the 19th century, the Benin warriors killed their envoys.