Songhai or Songhay [key], largest of the former empires in the western Sudan region of N Africa. The state was founded (c.700) by Berbers on the Middle Niger, in what is now central Mali. The rulers accepted Islam c.1000. Its power was much increased by Sonni Ali (1464–92), who occupied Timbuktu in 1468. Songhai reached its greatest extent under Askia Muhammad I (c.1493–1528). He was deposed by his son, and in the subsequent conflicts among his successors the empire slowly began to decline. The breakup of the state was accelerated by a Moroccan invasion in 1591.
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