Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

Ancient African Civilisations

Image_Ancient African Civilisations (2)Besides the Pharaonicera (more popularly known as the era of the Ancient Egyptians) many other Kingdoms also existed. However, very little is known about them. This article aims to provide a quick run through some of the many Kingdoms that rose and fell in Africa up till the end of the European Dark ages (anera of economic and intellectual decline in Europe).
For example, The Land of Punt, as it was called by the Pharaonics was a trading partner to them: Gold from Punt is recorded as having been in Egypt as early as 2500s BC. Although still under dispute, the Land of Punt is said to have occupied what is today Djibouti, Eritrea, Northeast Ethiopia, Somalia and the coast of Sudan. The Land of Punt produced and exported blackwood, ebony, gold, ivory and aromatic resins.

From 3800 BC, the Ta-Seti kingdom (later the Kingdom of Kerma or Kush) arose, exported precious goods and traded as far as Syro-Palestine and was at points a serious rival to the Pharaonics. The Kingdom of Kush invaded the Pharaonic Kingdom in 730 BCE and so began the Nubian Empire which extended between Palestine and the Nile. Trade links were developed between Nubia and Greece. Pharaoinc writing was replaced with the Meroitic alphabet but the rise of Aksumite Empire in 350 BC (which became one of the four international superpowers of the day) brought with it the Meroitic decline.

Although there is a wealth of information on the rise and fall of Carthage, Aksum, Somalia, Berbers and others in North East Africa, it may be just as interesting to explore West African and Sub-Saharan Empires. From 2000 BCE the Tichit and Oualata, located in present day Mauritania were the precursor to the Ghana Empire. There is evidence of iron-smelting dating as far back as 3000 to 25000 BCE located in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, as well as cites and settlements dating back to the first millennium BCE in Chad and Zilum. Developments in agricultural methods and trade led to several early civilisations around West and Central Africa.

Between 500 and 1800 AD, post the Bantu expansion (the expansion of different peoples through Central and Sub Saharan Africa)several Empires flourished including the Aksum, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Ethiopian, Mossi and Benin Empires whose eras expand from 100 AD to the 20th Century. The Ghana Empire which conquered West Africa between 750 and 1078 AD had sophisticated methods of taxation and administration as well as a great military power and incredible wealth acquired from gold and its transport of it via camels.

The Mali Empire rose where the Ghana Empire fell; West Africa. The area became globally famous as a centre of trade, culture and learning with the Mali city of Timbuktu as the crux filled with Islamic libraries and universities and a meeting place of some of the most famous scholars of Africa and the Middle East. In 1235 the KurukanFuga was established and was one of the world’s first semi-democratic governments. Mali fleets are said to have reached South America as early as 1311 and later developed trade and warfare between the two lands.

The Songhai region broke away from the Mali Empire during its fall and became the largest state in African History covering 1.4 million square kilometres by 1500. Timbuktu under Songhai rule was still a trade and cultural centre attracting Arab, Jewish and Italian traders. The Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia) lasted from 1270 until the 20th century. The Mossi Kingdoms took over Timbuktu and removed the trading centre of the Massina Empire.

The Benin Empire was ruled by a King who, according to Dutch physician and writer, Olfert Dapper (1635-1689), had an incredible influence over his people with possession of “so many beautiful cities and towns”.

It is worth noting that African History was, until quite recently, submerged in Eurocentric racist suppression, distortion and propaganda, which many scholars have had to debunk. For example, the late Dr John Henirk Clarke (1915-1998), and African American pioneer in the organization of Africana studies was one of such scholars who had to assert: ”Nothing in Africa had any European influence before 332 B.C. If you have 10,000 years behind you before you even saw a European, then who gave you the idea that he moved from the ice-age, came all the way into Africa and built a great civilization and disappeared, when he had not built a shoe for himself or a house with a window?”

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