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Benin was a large and varied kingdom. Some people lived in villages and small towns, but most people lived and worked in Benin City.


The most important person in the kingdom was the king, known as the Oba. Hundreds of men and women lived at the royal court, and devoted their lives to looking after the Oba and his family. Some people at court had very special jobs, working as acrobats, sorcerers or leopard hunters.

Most people in the countryside worked as farmers but there were also potters and blacksmiths. They made simple pots, weapons and tools for the villagers.The people of Benin traded with merchants from Europe and with other African kingdoms. Instead of using money they exchanged goods.


Many people in Benin lived in villages in the rainforest. They cleared away the trees to grow vegetables and they built their houses from mud, wood and palm leaves.

Benin was famous for its craft workers. Specialists in a craft (like ivory-carvers) formed groups called guilds. All the members of a guild lived and worked together.

There were more than 40 guilds in Benin City and each guild had to perform a special duty for the Oba. Not all the guilds were for craft workers. Doctors, drummers, acrobats and dancers had their own guilds too.


Men from all over the kingdom served the Oba as soldiers. Warriors went into battle armed with swords, spears and crossbows, and by the 1600s they had guns as well. Some brave boys trained as hunters. They started their training very young and the bravest of all became elephant hunters.