The continent of Africa has a rich, complex, and interesting history. Africa has proven to be the root of human civilization. The continent is famous for its rich soils and diverse cultures. Interestingly, there were many ancient African kingdoms spread out across the continent that have remained unknown.
The ancient map of African kingdoms gives a glimpse of the various political dynasties that existed in Africa. This way, you are able to understand the various empires that ruled in Africa. Find out some of the kingdoms that remained superior over their counterparts and what made them powerful.
Top 10 African kingdoms and empires
Most of these empires acted as powerhouses over their kingdoms. Get to learn which African empires made a walk down the history lane. Here is a list of African kingdoms for you.
1. The Aksumite Empire
This kingdom was also known as the Kingdom of Aksum or Axum. This was one of the East African kingdoms in existence and dated back to 100 CE to 960 CE. Today, the empire is spread across Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Aksumites were vital players in the commercial trading routes that existed between ancient India and the Romans.
The empire was considered one of the four great powers during its time alongside empires such as Persia, Rome, and China. The Kingdom controlled Northern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Southern Egypt, Southern Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Djibouti.
During the pre-Christian time, the people put up several stelae to act as monuments. One notable monument is the Obelisk of Axum, which is approximately 1700 years old and is found in Ethiopia. However, after their conversion to Christianity, the people created the foundations for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church. Today, the empire is believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
2. The Kingdom of Ghana
This popular empire is spread out across parts of what is today Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali. The empire was in existence between 700 CE – 1240 CE. It was commonly known as Wagadu and was a crucial stop along the trans-Saharan trade route which brought together African communities. The empire was home to about 15,000 to 20,000 people, despite having a limited supply of water.
The empire was known as the Land of Gold as they specialized in the trade of gold and kola nuts. It is believed to have possessed large armies and a sophisticated method of taxation and administration. The empire derived its power from gold mining, and the embrace of camels increased their gold trade.
3. The Mali Empire
The Kingdom is today spread across parts of Guinea, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Mauritania. The empire existed between 1230 CE – 1670 CE. The people mined gold from their mines, and as a result, their ruler, Mansa Musa, was the richest.
4. The Songhai Empire
This popular kingdom is today spread out across parts of Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania. The empire existed between 1000 CE and 1591 CE. Being one of the African kingdoms before colonization, it was termed as the largest state in the African continent.
One of its most prominent cities is the Timbuktu and was one of the learning centres in the region. The empire rose out after the decline of the Mali Empire and was behind the growth of several crucial trans-Saharan routes during that time.
5. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe
This kingdom existed between 1220 CE – 1450 CE. It is one of the African kingdoms today and claims its capital as Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The empire was home to about 18,000 people who were spread across an area of about 7km. The empire had a monopoly on the trade of gold and ivory from the Southeastern coast of the continent to its interior. They also mined iron and copper.
6. The Kingdom of Mutapa
The empire was spread across what is now South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland. This empire existed between 1430 CE – 1760 CE and is one of the South African kingdoms that existed. It encompassed a vast area of Southern Africa which covered the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers to the Indian Ocean coastline.
It is believed that a warrior prince from the Kingdom of Zimbabwe established the Kingdom of Mutapa. Ultimately, the Portuguese became the middlemen between India and the Mutapa’s smaller kingdoms in a bid to control the region’s trade. Within a short time, the empire had acquired such immense power as they had a subsidy from every captain who took office in Portuguese.
7. The Ethiopian Empire
It spread across various parts of today Eritrea and Ethiopia, during circa 1137 CE – 1975 CE. The empire lasted from the middle ages to the cold war era in the African kingdoms map. It was strong as it resisted various enemies that tried encroaching its territories. Some of these armies included the Egyptians, Italians, and the Ottoman.
It is believed that some of its rulers descended from King Solomon. The monarchy was abolished after the Italians defeated them during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in 1935.
8. The Kingdom of Kongo
This empire cut across parts of today's DRC, Angola, Republic of Congo, and Gabon. It existed during circa 1390 CE - 1914 CE, which was before the European powers began their scramble for Africa. It was overseen by a Kikongo warrior named Luken Lua Nimi. His political and military prowess was highly recognized as he dominated central Africa. The empire dealt in ivory, copper, pottery, and textiles.
9. The Benin Empire
This kingdom cut across modern-day Nigeria during 1180 CE and 1897 CE. It was considered one of the oldest and most developed among the various West African kingdoms. It traded in bronze, ivory, and iron, pepper, and palm oil for firearms and manila. It is also one of the African kingdoms that were defeated by the British Empire.
10. The Kingdom of Kush
This empire stood as a regional and robust power in Africa for more than a thousand years. It cut across modern-day Sudan and is often overshadowed by its Egyptian neighbours to the north. The empire ruled over a large swath of territory along the Nile River.
Most of what is known about it is believed to come from the Egyptian sources. They traded in gold, iron, ivory, and incense. Interestingly, they built their pyramids and worshipped some of the Egyptian gods. They also mummified the dead.
Frequently asked questions
With so much vital information on Africa in the dark, many historians and researchers want to learn everything about Africa and its rich history. Here are some of the sought-after questions that you should know.
What are the three kingdoms of Africa?
There were many kingdoms in Africa. Some of them managed to rule for an extended period while others only lasted for a short period and were overthrown by either their rival kingdoms or colonials. Some of them include The Aksumite Empire, The Mali Empire, and The Kingdom of Ghana.
How many kingdoms are there in Africa?
From among the many African kingdoms that existed, only three have maintained their monarchical significance. These empires still rule as the government or head of state. These are Swaziland, Morocco, and Lesotho.
What is the largest kingdom in Africa?
The largest and most powerful empire was the Songhai Empire. It is believed to be the largest state in African history. The empire existed between 1000 CE and 1591 CE and came to an end as a result of the Moroccan musketry.
What was the first African kingdom?
The Aksumite Empire is believed to be the first African kingdom. They are believed to date back to 100 CE and 960 CE. Today, the empire is spread across Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The above read on some of the ancient African kingdoms will enlighten you. These kingdoms that made their mark in history gives a glimpse of the rich African history that has remained untold in world history.
Briefly.co.za earlier reported on the 12 African kings and queens' history and pictures. These African kings and queens led their kingdoms with power and meticulousness, which is why they left lasting histories.
Even the current African kings and queens draw heavily from the experiences and leadership styles of those before them. Surprisingly, some of the kings were not all African warriors who led troops to battle. Some of them were scholars while others were tradesmen.