There have been a number of pre-colonial African kingdoms
of varying size and influence:
- Iron Age empires of North Africa
- Medieval (8th to 13th century) Islamic empires (caliphates) in North Africa
- the medieval Sahelian kingdoms
- The Ethiopian Empire is notable as an empire in continuous existence from the 13th to the 20th centuries, succumbing neither to the Islamic conquests nor to European colonialism.
- empires of the "transitional period" of the 15th to 19th centuries.
Vansina (1962) discusses the classification of Sub-Saharan African
kingdoms ,mostly of Central, South and East Africa, with some additional data on West African (Sahelian) kingdoms distinguishing five types, by decreasing centralization of power:
- despotic kingdoms: kingdoms where the king controls the internal and external affairs directly. Examples are Ruanda, Nkore, Soga and Kongo in the 16th century
- regal kingdoms: kingdoms where the king controls the external affairs directly, and the and internal affairs via a system of overseers. The king and his chiefs belong to the same clans or lineages.
- incorporative kingdoms: kingdoms where the king only controls only the external affairs with no permanent administrative links between him and the chiefs of the provinces. The hereditary chiefdoms of the provinces were left undisturbed after conquest. Examples are the Bamileke, Lunda, Luba, Lozi.
- aristocratic kingdoms: the only link between central authority and the provinces is payment o tribute. These kingdoms are morphologically intermediate between regal kingdoms and federations. This type is rather common in Africa, examples including the Kongo of the 17th century, the Cazembe, Luapula, Kuba, Ngonde, Mlanje, Ha, Zinza and Chagga states of the 18th century
- federations such as the Ashanti Union. kingdoms where the external affairs are regulated by a council of elders headed by the king, who is simply primus inter pares.
The Islamic empires of North and Northeast Africa do not fall into this categorization and should be discussed as part of the Muslim world.
List of African kingdoms
Listed below are known pre-Colonial empires
with their capital cities on the African continent.
Ancient North Africa
Pre-Islamic empires of North Africa.
All of North Africa fell under the rule of successive Islamic empires following the Islamic conquests of the 8th century.
The Sahelian kingdoms were a series of medieval empires centred on the sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara.
- The first major state to rise in this region was the Kingdom of Ghana. Centered in what is today Senegal and Mauritania, it was the first to benefit from the introduction of pack animals by Arab traders. Ghana dominated the region between about 750 and 1078. Smaller states in the region at this time included Takrur to the west, the Malinke kingdom of Mali to the south, and the Songhai Empire centred around Gao to the east.
- When Ghana collapsed in the face of invasion from the Almoravids, a series of brief kingdoms followed, notably that of the Sosso; after 1235, the Mali Empire rose to dominate the region. Located on the Niger River to the west of Ghana in what is today Niger and Mali, it reached its peak in the 1350s, but had lost control of a number of vassal states by 1400.
- The most powerful of these states was the Songhai Empire, which expanded rapidly beginning with king Sonni Ali in the 1460s. By 1500, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb, the largest state in African history. It too was quite short-lived and collapsed in 1591 as a result of Moroccan musketry.
- Far to the east, on Lake Chad, the state of Kanem-Bornu, founded as Kanem in the 800s, now rose to greater preeminence in the central Sahel region. To their west, the loosely united Hausa city-states became dominant. These two states coexisted uneasily, but were quite stable.
- In 1810 the Fulani Empire rose and conquered the Hausa, creating a more centralized state. It and Kanem-Bornu would continue to exist until the arrival of Europeans, when both states would fall and the region would be divided between France and Great Britain.
- Wolof Empire (1350 AD - 1889 AD)
The Ethiopian Empire existed from approximately 1270 (beginning of Solomonid Dynasty) until 1974 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'etat. It was the only native African nation to successfully resist the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers during the 19th century.
Empires of Transition Age Africa
From the 15th century until the final Scramble for Africa
in the late 19th century, a number of empires emerge also south of the Sahel, especially in West Africa
, prospering on the Transatlantic slave trade
of the period.
- The Oyo Empire (1400 AD - 1895 AD) was a West African empire of what is today western Nigeria. The empire was established by the Yoruba in the 15th century and grew to become one of the largest West African states encountered by colonial explorers. It rose to preeminence through wealth gained from trade and its possession of a powerful cavalry. The Oyo Empire was the most politically important state in the region from the mid-17th to the late 18th century, holding sway not only over other Yoruba states, but also over the Fon kingdom of Dahomey (located in the state now known as the Republic of Benin).
- Benin Empire (1440 AD - 1897 AD), a large pre-colonial African state of modern Nigeria.
- Kaabu Empire (1537 AD - 1867 AD), a Mandinka Kingdom of Senegambia (centered on modern northeastern Guinea-Bissau but extending into Casamance, Senegal) that rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former province of the Mali Empire. After the decline of the Mali Empire, Kaabu became an independent kingdom.
- Aro Confederacy (1690 AD - 1902 AD), a slave trading political union orchestrated by the Igbo subgroup, the Aro people, centered in Arochukwu in present day Southeastern Nigeria.
- Asante Union (1701 AD - 1894 AD), a pre-colonial West African state of what is now the Ashanti Region in Ghana. The empire stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo and Cote d' Ivoire, bordered by the Dagomba kingdom to the north and Dahomey to the east. Today, the Ashanti monarchy continues as one of the constitutionally-protected, sub-national traditional states within the Republic of Ghana.
- Kong Empire (1710 AD - 1894 AD) centered in north eastern Cote d'Ivoire that also encompassed much of present-day Burkina Faso.
- Bamana Empire (1712 AD - 1896 AD) based at Ségou, now in Mali. It was ruled by the Kulubali or Coulibaly dynasty established circa 1640 by Fa Sine also known as Biton-si-u. The empire existed as a centralized state from 1712 to the 1861 invasion of Toucouleur conqueror El Hadj Umar Tall.
- Sokoto Caliphate (1804 AD - 1903 AD), an Islamic empire in Nigeria, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar. Founded during the Fulani Jihad in the early 1800s, it was one of the most powerful empires in sub-Saharan Africa prior to European conquest and colonization. The caliphate remained extant through the colonial period and afterwards, though with reduced power.
- Liberian Republic (1847 AD - 1980 AD)
- The Republic of Liberia was established as a republic under the model of the US; it fully fits the model of empire in its conquest of other polities of different ethnic groups.
- Wassoulou Empire (1878 AD - 1898 AD), a short-lived empire of built from the conquests of Dyula ruler Samori Ture and destroyed by the French colonial army.
- The Sennar Sultanate (1502 AD - 1821 AD) was a sultanate in the north of Sudan, named Funj after the ethnic group of its dynasty or Sinnar (or Sennar) after its capital, which ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa.
- The Adal Sultanate (1415 AD - 1555 AD)was a province-cum-sultanate located in present-day northwestern Somalia, southern Djibouti, and the Somali, Oromia, and Afar regions of Ethiopia. Prior to its invasion of Ethiopia under Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi in 1527, it was a province of the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia. At its height, the sultanate controlled large portions of Ethiopia and Somaliland.
- An Empire of Kitara in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa has long been treated as a historical entity, but is now mostly considered an unhistorical narrative created as a response to the dawn of rule under the Lwo empire, the sole historical record of an organized Nilotic migration into the area.
The Mutapa Empire or Empire of Great Zimbabwe (1450 AD - 1629 AD) was a medieval kingdom located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of Southern Africa in the modern states of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Remnants of the historical capitol are found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
- Hunwick, John O. (2003). Timbuktu and the Songahy Empire: Al-Sa’di’s Ta’rikh Al-sudan Down to 1613 and other Contemporary Documents. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.
- J. Vansina, A Comparison of African Kingdoms, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (1962), pp. 324-335.
- Turchin, Peter and Jonathan M. Adams and Thomas D. Hall: "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires and Modern States", Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol. XII, No. II, 2006