African Archaeological Review

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 59–85 | Cite as

An Ethnographic and Space Syntax Analysis of Benin Kingdom Nobility Architecture

  • Joseph NevadomskyEmail author
  • Natalie Lawson
  • Ken Hazlett
Original Article


The Benin kingdom is noted for its sophisticated brass art, large earthwork system, and complex political hierarchy. The kingdom style of nobility architecture has endured for hundreds of years, and a few structures may still date to ca. ad 900–1200. The complex floor plans of these large compounds appear to be based upon traditional kingdom social organization that is fast changing, however. Since most structures are still residences, some renovated, a study utilizing both ethnographic fieldwork and the technique of space syntax analysis proved useful to examine historical room meanings and functions and room access. This paper discusses a particular World Heritage site, Ogiamien’s Palace, and other Benin kingdom chieftaincy sites. It describes the symbolic and ritual meanings of residential room use and room plans that on observation show seemingly wide layout variation. The results of the cultural analysis are then compared against the permeability plans and the quantitative formulas of space syntax analysis, to confirm the traditional social nature of spatial use in chieftaincy palaces of the former kingdom and suggest an adherence to an underlying ideological paradigm. This paper takes the additional step of employing the software GraphPad Prism to determine real correlations among calculated values; the results indicate a strong cognitive consistency of design and use for the structures over time in spite of visible layout variability.


Space syntax analysis Access analysis Benin kingdom Vernacular architecture Nobility architecture Nigerian palaces Edo (Bini) 


Le Royaume du Bénin est connu pour son art sophistiqué en laiton, système de gros travaux de terrassement et hiérarchie politique complexe. Le style de Royaume de l'architecture de la noblesse a enduré pendant des centaines d'années et quelques structures pourraient encore remonter à c. AD 900-1200. Les plans de ces composés de grands complexes semblent reposer sur l'organisation sociale de Royaume traditionnel qui est en évolution rapide, cependant. Étant donné que la plupart des structures sont toujours des résidences, certaines rénovées, une étude utilisant les ethnographique sur le terrain et la technique d'analyse de syntaxe spatiale s'est avérée utile pour examiner les significations de la salle historique, fonctions et accès à la chambre. Cet article discute un site du patrimoine mondial en particulier, Palais d'ouattara et autres sites de chefferie de Royaume de Bénin. Il décrit les significations symboliques et rituelles de l'usage résidentiel salle et salle de plans sur la variation d'observation Voir la disposition apparemment large. Les résultats de l'analyse culturelle sont ensuite comparées contre les plans de la perméabilité et les formules quantitatives d'analyse de la syntaxe d'espace pour confirmer la nature sociale traditionnelle d'utilisation spatiale dans les palais de la chefferie de l'ancien Royaume et suggèrent une adhésion à un paradigme idéologique sous-jacent. Ce document prend une étape supplémentaire d'employer le logiciel GraphPad Prism pour déterminer la véritables corrélations entre les valeurs calculées ; les résultats indiquent une forte cohérence cognitive de conception et d'utilisent pour les structures au fil du temps, en dépit de la variabilité de la mise en page visible.



The authors wish to thank the Department of Anthropology, California State University, Fullerton, for providing the software that made this analysis possible, the National Commission on Museums and Monuments, Benin City, for unlimited access to Ogiamien’s Palace, and the chiefs who permitted entry into their residences.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Nevadomsky
    • 1
    Email author
  • Natalie Lawson
    • 2
  • Ken Hazlett
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyCalifornia State University, FullertonFullertonUSA
  2. 2.CH2M HILLSanta AnaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhysicsCalifornia State University, FullertonFullertonUSA

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