African empires

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African empires is an umbrella term used in African studies to refer to a number of historical states in Africa with multinational structures incorporating various populations and polities into a single entity, usually through conquest.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Listed below are known African empires with their capital cities on the African continent.

Sahelian kingdoms[edit]

Main article: Sahelian kingdoms
Mali Empire circa 1350.

The Sahelian kingdoms were a series of medieval empires centred on the sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara.

Empires of 15th–19th Century Africa[edit]

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.

West Africa[edit]

Further information: History of West Africa

The West African empires of this period peaked in power in the late 18th century, paralleling the peak of the Atlantic slave trade. These empires implemented a culture of permanent warfare in order to generate the required numbers of captives required to satisfy the demand for slaves by the European colonies. With the gradual abolition of slavery in the European colonial empires during the 19th century, slave trade again became less lucrative and the West African empires entered a period of decline, and mostly collapsed by the end of the 19th century.[9]

Great Lakes[edit]

Further information: History of East Africa


Southern Africa[edit]

Further information: History of Southern Africa

The Mutapa Empire or Empire of Great Zimbabwe (1450–1629) 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 capital are found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

North Africa[edit]

Ancient North Africa[edit]

Ancient Carthage and its dependencies in 264 BC.

Pre-Islamic empires of North Africa:

Islamic empires[edit]

Horn of Africa[edit]

Domains of the Aksumite Empire and the later Adal Sultanate.


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:

  1. despotic kingdoms: kingdoms where the king controls the internal and external affairs directly. Examples are Ruanda, Nkore, Soga and Kongo in the 16th century
  2. regal kingdoms: kingdoms where the king controls the external affairs directly, and the internal affairs via a system of overseers. The king and his chiefs belong to the same clans or lineages.
  3. 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.
  4. aristocratic kingdoms: the only link between central authority and the provinces is payment of 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
  5. 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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cultural Atlas of Africa, pp. 48 (Dr. Jocelyn Murray, 1998)
  2. ^ Guide to African history. pp.9 (1971, by Basil Davidson)
  3. ^ Mwakikagile, page 206
  4. ^ Writing African History pp. 303 (2007, ed John Edward Philips, art Dr Isaac Olawale Albert)
  5. ^ African empires and civilizations: ancient and medieval (1992, by George O Cox)
  6. ^ African glory: the story of vanished Negro civilizations pp. 77, (Prof. John Coleman De Graft-Johnson, 1954)
  7. ^ Africa in History (1995, Basil Davidson)
  8. ^ Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. ISBN 081392085X. 
  9. ^ Bortolot, Alexander Ives (May 2009). "The Transatlantic Slave Trade". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  10. ^ Chrétien, Jean-Pierre; Scott Strauss (October 2006). The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. MIT Press. 


External links[edit]