Sunday, November 9, 2008

African Civilizations

The continent of Africa is three times bigger than the United States. This vast landmass provides a varied landscape of forests, river valleys, deserts, and grasslands. Over the centuries many different peoples and cultures have made Africa their home. Indeed it is believed by many archeologists that Africa is the birthplace of the human race. Early African peoples did not usually leave a written record. Instead, they passed on their histories through oral traditions and stories.

African Civilizations

This lack of written histories has made the task of studying these peoples more difficult. Archeologists have had to learn as much as they can by collecting these oral traditions, and by studying ancient artifacts.


The first civilization to appear in Northern Africa was that of the Nubians. The Nubians lived in villages along the Nile River, just south of Egypt around 3000 B.C. The fertile soils and endless fresh water from the Nile made Nubia the perfect location to build a city. The city they built was one of the most sophisticated of the time. Nubian kings, noblemen, and merchants grew wealthy through trade with Egypt and other peoples. Elaborate Nubian tombs have been found, showing that the kings of the time were as wealthy as the Egyptian kings of the same era.

Numbian Temple

The Kingdom of Kush

After a thousand years, Nubia gradually evolved becoming larger and more powerful. By 2000 B.C. Nubia was known as the Kingdom of Kush. The people of this kingdom traded Ivory and other treasures from Southern Africa with the peoples who lived further North.

Kush Ruins

Around 1500 B.C. Egyptian leaders sent armies in to overpower Kush. For nearly 500 years, Kush would be controlled by the Egyptians, and would be forced to pay the Pharaoh a tribute. Eventually however, around 1000 B.C. Kush was able to turn the tables, winning their freedom from Egypt. Then in 724 B.C. lead by a Kushite king named Piankhi a large and well trained Kushite army was able to invade Egypt, and control it.

In 671 B.C. the Assyrians, who had superior weaponry were able to run the Kushites out of Egypt, and rule it for themselves. The Assyrians used iron weapons, which were harder and more powerful than the bronze weapons that the Kushites used.

After leaving Egypt and returning to their original borders, the Kingdom of Kush entered a golden age. For the next 150 years, the Kushites grew wealthy. They were able to build large comfortable homes, and plan beautiful cities. This golden age was however brought to an end by a people known as the Axums, who invaded around 500 B.C. from the East.


The Axums controlled a territory along the Red Sea that allowed them to prosper from trade. After defeating the Kingdom of Kush, Axum was able to control trade into and out of much of Africa. Cargo ships from Rome, India, Persia, and Egypt brought goods in, and took Ivory and other goods out to the rest of the known world.

Kingdom of Axum

Around A.D. 330 the king of Axum was converted to Christianity by a pair of shipwrecked missionaries. This king declared that Christianity was to be the official religion of the nation.

The Christian nation of Axum thrived until the A.D. 600s when Muslim raiders and bandits began seizing Axum goods and territory. Unable to adequately fight back, the Kingdom of Axum became smaller, and less influential. Gradually, the people of Axum began calling their kingdom Ethiopia.

The People of Nok

Around 700 B.C. a small civilization emerged in the Niger River Valley, known as the Nok People civilization. Very little is known about this people or about their culture. They were not as wealthy as the Kingdoms of the North. They lead a quiet life of farming and family. The few artifacts that have been found show that they used iron tools to plow and farm the land.

Nok People Artifacts

The Bantu Peoples

Around 1000 B.C. much of Africa was covered in small villages of primitive peoples who shared languages that were similar to one another. Because the languages they shared are known as Bantu, these people are referred to as the Bantu peoples.

Bantu Peoples

The Bantus lived in small villages that were governed by a chief, council, or by elders. These villages were typically made up of extended families, but marriage among people of different villages was common.

The locations of Bantu villages was temporary. They tended to remain in one location until the resources in that area were exhausted. As life became more difficult, or the ground less fertile, they would move on to a new location.

The Kingdom of Ghana

Around A.D. 300 a new and powerful kingdom emerged in West Africa. This kingdom was known as Ghana. Between A.D. 300 and A.D. 1200 Ghana controlled the export of salt, and gold. They were also able to prosper from the collection of taxes on the many merchant caravans that traveled through their territory as they brought goods from one area to another.

Ghana Ruins

Ghana controlled a vast area of over 100,000 square miles. A Ghanan king was referred to as the ghana, just like a Egyptian king was referred to as the pharaoh.

The Kingdom of Mali

Around A.D. 1200 a small city-state controlled by Ghana was able to win its independence. This city-state was named Mali. During the A.D. 1300s Mali expanded its territory, and influence. By the late A.D. 1300s Mali controlled all of the former Kingdom of Ghana, as well as much of the territory around it.

Mali Ruins

This new kingdom faced many threats from both its neighbors, as well as the people they had conquered. By the mid A.D. 1500s the peoples they had conquered began to rebel against their control. At the same time, attacks from outside forces weakened the armies of Mali, causing the kingdom to split into several smaller city-states.

The Kingdom of Songhai

Around A.D. 1400 a strong military leader by the name of Sunni Ali lead his forces in a succession of battle victories. Through these victories, Sunni Ali conquered much of the former Kingdoms of Ghana and Mali.

Songhai Ruins

Upon his death, Sunni Ali left rule of his kingdom to his son. Sunni Ali was Muslim, but his son was not. The people rebelled against their new non-muslim king, and instead installed their own king, a man named Askia Muhammad.

In A.D. 1528 Muhammad was overthrown by his son. Following this event, the Kingdom of Songhai entered a period of war and decline. This war weakened the kingdom, so that by A.D. 1589 they were unable to defend themselves against invading armies from Morocco.

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