The cradle of humanity in South Africa is the scene of humanization, of human evolution. From the African continent, Homo sapiens moved all over the world. In Central America, the Mayas built impressive temples, and during ancient times, Greeks and Romans influenced people far beyond the Mediterranean. Already before, Ancient Egypt heralded the time of the African kings in the delta of the Nile. Apart from the kingship of Egypt, there were several other kingdoms in Africa that are rarely heard of. Even today, many tribes maintain millennia-old traditions. We introduce some African kingdoms that you should definitely know.
The Aksumite Empire
Period: circa 100 – 960 AD
The Aksumite Empire is the oldest in our list. Researchers in Ethiopia and Eritrea have found indications that agriculture was already practiced in this region 10,000 years ago. The African kingdom played a central role in the flourishing trade between Rome and ancient India. In addition, it was one of the four largest powers of its time together with China, Rome and Persia. Without a doubt, the 24-meter-high Obelisk of Axum is one of the most impressive monuments of this era. After 70 years in Rome, culture lovers admire the obelisk again in Eritrea. It is believed that in addition to the granite stele and the Ark of the Covenant is located in Aksum.
The Kingdom of Ghana
Period: around 700 – 1240 AD
Wagadu – the legendary kingdom of Ghana is one of the most important in medieval West Africa. Despite a limited water supply, between 15,000 and 20,000 people lived in the empire, which linked communities in the Sahel region with Mediterranean trading venues. One of the changing capitals, Koumbi Saleh, was the largest sub-Saharan city at the time. The successful trade in gold and kola nut contributed significantly to the glorious rise of the Kingdom of Ghana. At the time, nobody knew that the kola nut would become the secret ingredient of the world’s most famous soft drink.
The kingdom Mali
Period: circa 1235 – 1670 AD
With the downfall of the Kingdom of Ghana, the kingdom of Mali rose to fame and fortune. Instead of trading gold, the Kingdom of Mali has specialized in mining gold itself. At the end of the 13th century, around 50 percent of the world’s gold came from the African kingdom. Mansa Musa, one of the rulers, is even considered by today’s standards one of the richest people in history.
Period: circa 1430 – 1591
As one of the largest states in African history, most associate the Songhaireich with one of its most prominent cities: Timbuktu. It was once the most important center for teaching and working in the region. Academics and workers came from all corners of the continent, the Middle East and even from Spain to study and work in the city. The Songhaireich developed from the decline of the empire Mali and was responsible for establishing and expanding various trade routes through the Sahara.
Kingdom of Zimbabwe
Period: circa 11th century – 1450
The Kingdom of Zimbabwe owes its present glory to the former capital of Greater Zimbabwe. Africa’s largest historical building after the pyramids in Egypt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once home to around 18,000 people spread over seven square kilometers. Researchers believe that the Kingdom of Zimbabwe developed as early as the 11th century. Its heyday reached around 1220. The monopoly on gold and ivory trade from the southeast of Africa made the kingdom prosperous. In addition, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe was known as a specialist in the extraction of copper, iron and gold.
The Munhumutapa Empire
Period: 1430 – 1760
A surprisingly large area once included the Munhumutapa Empire: it extended from the rivers Limpopo and Sambesi to the Indian Ocean. Today it would take parts of as many as six states in southern Africa. According to legend, a warrior prince from the kingdom of Zimbabwe established the Munhumutapa empire. Within a generation, the new smaller empire managed to overshadow that of Zimbabwe. Thus, the Portuguese involuntarily became intermediaries between India and the Kingdom of Africa, which controlled trade in the region. The Munhumutapa empire gained so much influence that it required a 50 percent tax on imported products from any captain operating in Portuguese Mozambique. The end of the kingdom began in the early 17th century, when the tide turned and the kingdom became more and more a vassal state of Portugal.
The Empire of Abyssinia
Period: circa 1137 – 1975
The longest existing African Empire was the Empire of Abyssinia. From the Middle Ages to the Cold War, it survived some of the most dramatic events in history. From the Ottoman to the Italian and Egyptian armies – the Empire managed to defy all enemies. Some rulers of Abyssinia allegedly descended from King Solomon. During the colonial period, the empire of Abyssinia defended itself successfully against Italy in the Abyssinian war. The descent began with the defeat of the Second Abyssinian War in 1935. The monarchy was abolished in 1974 by the military.
The Kingdom of Congo
Period: circa 1390 – 1914
Before European countries divided Africa among themselves, the two present-day countries of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo formed the Kingdom of Congo. To this day, the exact boundaries of the empire are uncertain, but it is known that the Kikongo fighter Luken Lua Nimi expanded the empire with military and political means in both Congolese states and today’s Angola. This kingdom was practically a feudal dominion, while its economy profited from various trade routes along rivers in the region. Textiles, pottery, copper and ivory were in particular demand.
The Kingdom of Benin
Period: circa 1180 – 1897
The kingdom Benin in today’s Nigeria was considered until its annexation by the British as one of the oldest and most modern states of West Africa. During the reign, famous artists created impressive works of ivory, bronze and iron. The Kingdom of Benin maintained a strong trade relationship with Portugal. Especially palm oil, pepper, ivory and firearms were sought after goods. Britain’s first voyage of discovery to Benin took place in 1553, creating a partnership-based commercial partnership. This existed even in the 16th and 17th centuries, until Benin suspected that the British were looking for more control. Dutch, British and Portuguese explorers fascinated the people of Europe with numerous stories of beauty, wealth and sophistication in Benin.