When I first watched the marvel movie, Black Panther, a few years back, I was in awe. It is a science fiction film that purely celebrates African culture and the continent. In the film, Africans live in a beautiful and advanced kingdom, and African people are shown in a positive light. It instilled a lot of pride in me.
Rediscovering African history made me realize that as great as fictional African kingdoms are, there are fascinating and incredible African kingdoms from African history. From the advancements, they made to the way of life, culture and much more!
So I thought it would be great to explore five ancient African kingdoms. Kindly note that this list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many more kingdoms not included. These are just five kingdoms to get started.
Let us explore these kingdoms, shall we?
The Kingdom of Kush
The Kingdom of Kush, also known as Nubia, was a powerful ancient kingdom that occupied the region of Upper Egypt and what is now Sudan.
Initially, the kingdom of kush was an Egyptian colony. However, as the New Kingdom in Egypt disintegrated, Kush Kingdom emerged and gained its independence with Napata city as its capital. Later on, the capital of the kingdom changed from Napata to Meroe.
Kush became an economic centre and traded in ivory, gold, iron, and incense. Some historians and scholars have argued that the kingdom of Kush had a redistributive system. A redistributive system means there was the collection of taxes and would redistribute the taxes to the people. Due o the trade and tax collection, the kingdom became quite wealthy. The kingdom of Kush grew and even ruled Egypt as the 25th dynasty. Kushite kings became pharaohs, and Kushite princesses ruled the land.
Arguably, the most intriguing historical fact about Kush is that they built their pyramids. In fact, Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.
It is estimated that there are between 200-255 pyramids in Sudan.
The Kushite capital, Meroe, was invaded by the kingdom of Axum and burnt to the ground.
The Kingdom of Axum
The kingdom of Axum is also referred to as the kingdom of Aksum. It occupied present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The kingdom of Axum reached its peak between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE.
The kingdom flourished due to a variety of reasons. They include agriculture, cattle herding, and trading. After conquering the kingdom of Kush, Axum now controlled the trade of gold and ivory.
The kingdom of Axum was remarkable because it had developed coins. The Aksumite coins were one of the major global currencies in the ancient world. Additionally, the Askumites also created their own written script known as Ge'ez, which is still used in Ethiopia to date.
The kingdom of Aksum also adopted Christianity and helped introduce it to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian states in the world.
Pictured above is the King Ezana's Stele, an obelisk that is still standing from the Kingdom of Axum.
The Kingdom of Benin
Switching gears to a powerful kingdom in West Africa, let us look into the Benin kingdom. The Edo people formed the Benin Kingdom. The Benin empire flourished from the 13th century to the 19th century.
The kingdom of Benin reached its highest peak under the rule of king Ewuare. He expanded the territory and built massive walls to protect the kingdom. The walls were massive and are in the Guinness World Book of Records as the largest earthworks carried out before the mechanical era.
Benin Kingdom also thrived in trade which made the kingdom wealthy. The Edo people developed a good relationship with the Portuguese and traded gold, ivory, and pepper.
Lastly, the Benin kingdom is famous for its artwork. Artisans made bronzes made out of ivory, bronze, and brass. The Edo people are one of the best, if not the best, bronze casters in the world. Unfortunately, many bronzes were stolen from the kingdom by both colonizers and explorers. You can find these bronzes in various museums across Europe and the United States.
A Benin bronze that was commissioned to honour Queen Mother Idia from Benin.
The Mali Kingdom
The Mali Kingdom was the largest empire in West African history. It was also one of the wealthiest in African history. It spread from the Atlantic Coast to the central parts of the Sahara desert.
Sunjata, also known as Sundiata, founded the Mali kingdom by uniting 12 towns, which became known as the Twelve Doors of Mali. Sunjata created a government to make laws to govern the kingdom. Additionally, under Sunjata's reign, there was the proclamation of the first-ever charter of human rights, known as the Mandén Charter.
The kingdom's economy was based on the trade of salt and gold. One of the cities in the kingdom, Timbuktu, became known as the learning centre of the world. Timbuktu had a gigantic library, more than 170 schools, and two universities. Timbuktu is renowned for its Djinguereber Mosque and the esteemed Sankore University.
The Djinguereber Mosque
Did you know Mansa Musa is said to be the richest man to have lived in modern history?
The Kingdom of Zimbabwe
Last on our list is the kingdom of Zimbabwe from Southern Africa. It flourished between 1220 - 1450 CE in modern-day Zimbabwe. The capital was called Great Zimbabwe.
The kingdom mainly relied on trade and was known for its trade routes. They traded ivory, leopard skin and gold. Archaeologists have also discovered glass beads from Persia, porcelain from China, and coins from Arabia. It indicates that the kingdom traded widely and internationally.
One of the main achievements of the kingdom of Zimbabwe was its architecture and stone masonry. They were expert stonemasons, which can be seen through the fact that some of the stone artefacts are still standing. Building structures alongside other artefacts have survived all these centuries later.
Stone ruins that still stand from the kingdom.
There are eight unique Zimbabwe birds carved from soapstone that are still standing. They are approximately 16 inches tall, and historians suggest they symbolized a royal presence.
It is fascinating reading about ancient African kingdoms and all the advancements made by our ancestors. What other kingdoms would you add to the list? Feel free to comment below!