Ancient African Kingdoms

By James Francis Flickr/Jeremy Weate
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Ancient African Kingdoms

Africa has been home to numerous ancient civilizations. See gallery

If you turned back the clock to over 2,000 years ago, here are a few kingdoms making their mark on the continent.

Fotopedia/Florence Pouvatchy
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Sao Civilization

600 BC - 1500s AD
Today - Cameroon and Chad

The area around Lake Chad has long been an attractive place for settling down, the most famous being the Sao. This group created a series of towns and cities around the southern part of the lake. Not that much is know about the Sao, but they were a big influence in the region - wars with neighbouring tribes were common. Elements of Sao culture can also be found in surrounding civilisations, suggesting the Sao held dominion over many in the area. There is speculation that the Sao actually built on the remains of an even older group, the Gajigana culture, thought to have existed from 1800 to 400 BC. The Sao reached their peak somewhere around the 1400s, but would eventually disappear under another empire two hundred years later. Still, today many tribes in the region can claim ancestry from this ancient civilisation.

Wikimedia/Jac Strijbos8
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Kingdom of Kerma

2500 BC–1500 BC
Today - Sudan

The Kingdom of Kerma was a major trade and political force in the region, and certainly played a role in Egypt’s early days - monuments to that country’s earliest kings, who ruled Egypt from their courts in Sudan, were discovered in this ancient land. Kerma was eventually occupied by Egyptian forces and disappeared as a distinct society. But less than 500 years later the same region would see the rise of the Kingdom of Kush, which also eventually led to a tipping of power yet again.

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Kingdom of Kush

1070 BC (est) – 350 AD
Today - Ethiopia and Sudan

Covering an area that today would take up parts of northern Ethiopia and southern Sudan - the southern part of the Nile river - the Kingdom of Kush was a major presence. Early on the Kush were ruled by the Egyptian kingdom up north, but this balance later tipped and from 747 to 332 BC Kush ruled Egypt. The Kush maintained a distinct culture and language, but the two societies also influenced each other: the Kush built pyramids and maintained a political class similar to that of the Egyptian pharaohs.

Flickr/archer10 (Dennis)
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202 BC – 46 BC
Today - Tunisia and Algeria

The Berbers are the ancient inhabitants of northern Africa - the nomadic Taureg in Mali count as among their modernday lineage. Numidia was a kingdom that stretched across modern Algeria and part of Tunisia. The territory was first historically mentioned as a neighbor of Carthage, the merchant state that would famously have two major wars with the Romans. At first Numidia was composed of two kingdoms - during the second of the Rome/Carthage wars, called the Second Punic War - one kingdom sided with Rome and ultimately conquered the other kingdom, which was aligned with Carthage. That became the Kingdom of Numidia in 202 BC, but by 148 BC the Romans had divided the land under numerous chieftains and instated a client king. The last time Numidia tried to assert itself as a powerful force was around 19 BC, but it would eventually be crushed by Julius Ceasar.

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Nok Civilization

1000 BC - 300 AD
Today: Central Nigeria

Ruling a territory roughly the size of Portugal, the Nok is considered one of the most advanced ancient societies to have emerged south of the Sahara. But extremely little is known about this civilization - the first hints of its existence only appeared in the 1940s, when an archaeologist noted unusual teracotta statues used by locals. Even the true name is unknown - the name ‘Nok’ comes from a local town. But it is very clear that the Nok were great artisans who made intricate clay statues that survive to this day. They were also among the earliest African civilizations to smelt iron. It’s not entirely clear what happened to the Nok, but new evidence suggest that their technology has been transferred to later tribes such as the Ife.

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Ancient Egypt

3100 BC to 332 BC
Today: Egypt and Sudan

The ancient Egyptians are effectively the symbol of past civilisations - they lived thousands of years before the likes of the Aztecs and left behind massive monuments. The detailed history is much more convoluted, but there have been numerous kings and pharaohs, as well as quite a few conquerors. A unified Egypt first emerged over 5,000 years ago and the last period of Egyptian dynastic rule started around 672 BC, when the Egyptians gained independence after the Assyrians conquered them roughly two hundred years earlier. After 332 BC the region was conquered by Alexander The Great and later by Julius Ceasar. Around 600 AD it was conquered by Arab forces.

Wikimedia/Gilles MAIRET
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City of Djenné

200BC - Today
Today: Mali

The city state of Djenné was settled over 2,200 years ago, but still exists today in modern Mali. The current city, formed around a thousand years ago, is a few kilometers away from the original site and can technically count as a separate entity. Still, the original city, called Djenné-Jéno or Djoboro, was active from 200 BC until the 15th century. Djenné was a major trade hub in ancient Mali, providing gold, slaves, ivory, civet (a perfume fragrance) and gum. The city of Timbuktu, synonymous with trading in that part of the world, was only settled long after Djenné had faded from glory.

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Land Of Punt

2,600 BC - ???
Today: Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia (est)

Nothing is known about the Land of Punt, other than what the Ancient Egyptians wrote about it. That mighty kingdom certainly liked its trading partner, as it would wax lyrically about the place. In fact, the Egyptians sometimes referred to it as ‘Ta netjer’ - the Land of God - and the royalty of Punt have apparently visited the Egyptian royal court on more than one occasion. The Egyptians bought a lot of luxury goods from Punt, including resin, incense, gold, ivory and slaves. It is thought that even one popular Egyptian god may originally have come from there. The exact location of Punt is unknown, but it existed somewhere around the horn of Africa and the southern tip of Arabia. But nobody has found any ancient evidence of this society, other than what the Egyptians recorded.