A Crash-Course on The Ancient African Kingdoms

Created Creatively By Jacob Witman

General Info on Empires That Rocked


600 BC - 600

Again, Aksum (also spelled Axum) was one of those Empires where you could argue the start date, depending on if you want it to be a real Empire, or just a tribe holding sway over an unusually large swath of land (for a tribe at these times). If you want to go by when it was renowned as a real Empire, the start date would be about 1 AD. Aksum was located In Eastern Africa, largely along the Red Sea, mostly in modern day Ethiopia. This kingdom was renowned for being Christian, along with the usual things, such as trade of gold, salt, and ivory. Before I continue, remember that Aksum was on the African side of the Red Sea, which is remarkably close to the Middle East, which is where the Islamic Holy City, Mecca, is located. In the 600s, Muslims invade from across the Red Sea. The largely promoted reason was because the people of Aksum practiced the "blasphemous" religion Christianity, but another reason was the Muslims wanted the vast hoards of treasures the Empire possessed. This invasion was basically the fall of the Kingdom.


300 - 1250

The people called the Soninke founded the kingdom by 300 AD, but it did not take off as a fully fledged empire until around 450 AD. It was renowned for it's extremely plentiful salt and gold trade. It was located in the Sub-Saharan Savanna, in West Africa. Ghana was also the first major West African Trading Empire, and thrived until it's fall.


700 - 1500

The Kilwa City-State was located on the Eastern African Coast, surrounded by Savanna. Kilwa was known for trade of gold, porcelain, and ivory. It was the only Sub-Sahara Empire to mint it's own coins. The Empire fell in the 1500s due to Portuguese colonization.


900 - 1896

Right of the bat, please note that while I have said Benin lasted until 1896, it was largely unimportant well before that. The Kingdom was located in the West African Rainforest, and traded works of art, bronze, carved masks, ivory, copper, and brass. The Empire, at one time, was fairly massive but after it peaked, around 1600, it was gradually losing territory. The Empire was already greatly weakened by European contact and the Mid-Atlantic slave trade, but it did not completely fall until 1896, when a misunderstanding between the Obas (leaders of Benin) and British troops resulted in the British pillaging and burning the Capitol.

Great Zimbabwe

1000 - 1400

The Great Zimbabwe City-State was in the region known as Zimbabwe. However, this city stood out from the rest of the local villages near it. It's biggest accomplishment was perhaps it's massive wall, commonly referred to as The Great Enclosure. It was a wall approximately 36 feet tall and 860 feet long. This made it the largest structure South of the Sahara. When first discovered by Europeans the cities obvious beauty and grandeur was attributed to foreign influence, but upon further archaeological research it was found too be unmistakably ancient and African.


1100 - 1300

This Kingdom was founded in 1100. It was located in East Africa, in the Savanna. The Empire of Lalibela is by far most famous for it's massive churches. They were not super huge traders, unlike basically every other Kingdom we talk about. This doesn't sound very significant until you realize that these churches were built around 1200 AD, there are 13 of them, and they are all HEWN OUT OF THE GROUND. This made them impressive pieces of architecture, even for today, but they were built almost 900 years ago. These monoliths still stand and are used for worship today.


1100 - 1350

Very, very little is known as fact about Ile-Ife. This is because rain washed away or rusted much of the ancient ruins, there were almost no written records, and the modern day city is built directly on top of the ancient one. The city was located in the West African Rainforest. It became the capitol of Benin in 1150 and it's peoples taught the rest of the empire how to work bronze and other such materials to make wonderful works of art. The city was supposedly so beautiful it was considered the place where the world started. The title Oni was bestowed upon the leader of Ile-Ife. It was considered to not only be a major trading center of goods, but also of culture.


1200 - 1450

Mali came about to replace the Ghana Empire at the end of Ghana's rule. Under the rule of it's first leader, Sundiata, (who's name literally means "The Lion King") it took over the smaller, remaining parts of Ghana, and took control of the salt and gold trade. After the rule of Sundiata Mansa Musa came to power. Mansa Musa was the leader of such a great empire he is now known as the richest man ever. when he made his Hajj (Muslim religious journey to the holy city of Mecca) he brought so many people and so much gold with him he and his entourage personally inflated the economy in Cairo because of the massive amount of gold he spent. As far as the Kingdoms of West Africa go Mansa Musa's rule was pretty much as god as it gets. Mali was located in the Sub-Saharan Savanna, West Africa, and generally controlled the region previously presided over by the Ghana Empire. Please note that by the end of the Empire, Mali was much larger than Ghana had been.


1400 - 1500

The Songhai Empire took over West Africa when Mali fell. It was, in fact, a big reason why Mali fell in the first place. The Kingdom took over the trade routes, and was very successful. However, it never had had any really strong or renowned leaders, and this is a possible reason for its fall. The other major reason being that the Moroccans, who coveted their riches, swooped down upon the Empire from the North, using technologies from Europe to easily defeat the squabbling Kingdom. Chief among these technologies were guns and cannons. Songhai also ruled a mostly Savanna land.