Ancient African nations

As the origin of humankind, Africa has been the home of many nations and kingdoms. While ancient North African civilizations such as ancient Egypt and Carthage are famous in Europe and elsewhere, most pre-colonial nations of sub-Saharan Africa are not well-known outside the continent, leading to the misconception among most Westerners that pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was comprised exclusively of hunter-gatherer cultures. This article describes destinations from the early Neolithic up until the European and American colonization of Africa in the 19th century.


The Neolithic revolution of agriculture began in ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. Farming and livestock herding spread slowly across the African continent with difficulties of different climates.

Since classical antiquity, North Africa has been part of the Mediterranean cultural sphere, under ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Islamic Golden Age and the Ottoman Empire.

The Sahel and West Africa have seen many kingdoms rise and fall, such as the Songhai and Mali empires. They were famous for their trans-Saharan caravans and as centres of Islamic scholarship.

East Africa have seen exchange with the Middle East and has an Islamic heritage. Ethiopia is one of the world's oldest Christian nations, famous for resisting European colonialism well into the 20th century.

International interest in pre-colonial African history has been on the rise in the 21st century, with many locations earning status as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Map of Ancient African nations
  • 1 Great Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe). One of the best known archaeological sites in southern Africa, built by the ancestors of Shona people, and lending its name to the modern country of Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe (Q209217) on Wikidata Great Zimbabwe on Wikipedia
  • 2 Senegambian stone circles. A collective UNESCO World Heritage Site across Senegal and the Gambia; the world's largest cluster of stone circles, built across a period across 1500 years. Senegambian stone circles (Q846901) on Wikidata Senegambian stone circles on Wikipedia
  • 3 Twyfelfontein (Near Khorixas, Namibia). A UNESCO World Heritage site of ancient rock engravings, displaying one of the largest concentrations of rock petroglyphs in Africa. Twyfelfontein (Q754791) on Wikidata Twyfelfontein on Wikipedia
  • 4 Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata (Mauritania). A UNESCO World Heritage site including a cluster of trans-Saharan trading posts from the 11th and 12th century. Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata (Q2845953) on Wikidata Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata on Wikipedia
  • 5 Bassari Country (Senegal). A UNESCO World Heritage site with a well-preserved multicultural landscape. Bassari Country (Q2916296) on Wikidata Bassari Country on Wikipedia
  • 6 Chongoni Rock Art (Malawi). A UNESCO World Heritage site with 127 sites of rock art. Chongoni Rock Art Area (Q832262) on Wikidata Chongoni Rock Art Area on Wikipedia
  • 7 Lopé National Park (Gabon). A natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage site known for its petroglyphs. Lopé National Park (Q9055976) on Wikidata Lopé National Park on Wikipedia
  • 8 Agadez (Niger). A trans-Saharan trading post, home of the Tuareg people. Agadez (Q320049) on Wikidata Agadez on Wikipedia

West Africa[edit]

  • 9 M'banza-Kongo (Angola). A UNESCO World Heritage Site with remnants from the Kongo kingdom. M'banza-Kongo (Q500189) on Wikidata M'banza-Kongo on Wikipedia
  • 10 Kumasi (Ghana). Capital of the Ashanti Empire. The city itself was razed to the ground by the British in a series of wars at the end of the 19th century as part of their colonisation efforts in Africa, and hardly anything remains of its former glory. However, several traditional Ashanti buildings survive in some of the nearby villages, and these have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kumasi (Q182059) on Wikidata Kumasi on Wikipedia
  • 11 Benin City (Nigeria). Capital of the Benin Kingdom, and one of the most impressive cities in pre-colonial Africa, with its city walls that said to be four times as long as the Great Wall of China. It was razed to the ground by the British during their conquest of the city in 1897, during which the famous Benin Bronzes were looted by the British; they are today on display at the British Museum in London. The Ogiamien Palace is the only building that survived the British expedition, and thus is the last remaining pre-colonial building in the city. Benin City (Q320704) on Wikidata Benin City on Wikipedia
  • 12 Abomey (Benin). The capital of the Dahomey Kingdom, perhaps the most notorious of the slave-trading West African kingdoms during the Atlantic slave trade. The Royal Palaces of Abomey have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Abomey (Q189685) on Wikidata Abomey on Wikipedia
  • 13 Ancient Ferrous Metallurgy Sites of Burkina Faso. A UNESCO World Heritage site with remnants of ancient ironworking. Ancient ferrous metallurgy sites of Burkina Faso (Q65685157) on Wikidata Ancient Ferrous Metallurgy Sites of Burkina Faso on Wikipedia
  • 14 Koumbi Saleh (Mauritania). Believed to be the ruins of the capital of the Ghana Empire, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Koumbi Saleh (Q682728) on Wikidata Koumbi Saleh on Wikipedia

Swahili Coast[edit]

The Swahili Coast refers to what is today the coastal areas of Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros and Northern Mozambique, which are mainly inhabited by Swahili people. It was never a unified kingdom in the pre-modern era, but instead comprised of several powerful and prosperous city-states, which nevertheless shared close cultural and linguistic ties.

  • 15 Zanzibar (Tanzania). East Africa's gateway to Asia, and perhaps the most powerful city-state of the Swahili Coast. Zanzibar Islands (Q1774) on Wikidata Zanzibar on Wikipedia
  • 16 Kilwa Kisiwani (Tanzania). Today in ruins, but historically one of the most important city-states of the Swahili Coast. Kilwa Kisiwani (Q1741475) on Wikidata Kilwa Kisiwani on Wikipedia
  • 17 Lamu (Kenya). Kenya's oldest town, and one of the oldest Swahili settlements. Lamu old town (Q272799) on Wikidata Lamu on Wikipedia
  • 18 Mombasa (Kenya). Historically an important Swahili city-state, and today Kenya's most important port city. Mombasa (Q225641) on Wikidata Mombasa on Wikipedia
  • 19 Malindi (Kenya). Formerly a city-state on the Swahili Coast that was visited by the explorers Zheng He and Vasco da Gama, the old town is still to home well-preserved examples of traditional Swahili architecture. Malindi (Q271411) on Wikidata Malindi on Wikipedia

The medieval Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta visited this region and wrote of it; his book was widely read throughout the Islamic world.


Modern-day Mali was once the centre of the powerful Mali Empire. Mansa Musa, the ninth king of the Mali Empire, is widely regarded as the richest person in the history of the human race.

  • 20 Timbuktu (Mali). The legendary trading post in the Sahara, once the capital of the Mali Empire, during which it was also a major centre of Islamic scholarship. Timbuktu (Q9427) on Wikidata Timbuktu on Wikipedia
  • 21 Djenné (Mali). A UNESCO World Heritage Site at the trans-Saharan caravan route. Its Great Mosque was built in the 13th century, but fell into ruins. The current Mosque was finished in 1907. Djenné (Q213507) on Wikidata Djenné on Wikipedia
  • 22 Gao. Once the capital of the Songhai empire, famous for the tomb of Askia. Gao (Q188904) on Wikidata Gao on Wikipedia
  • 23 Bandiagara Escarpment (Mali). Home of the Dogon people. See also Dogon Country. Bandiagara Escarpment (Q650546) on Wikidata Bandiagara Escarpment on Wikipedia

The medieval Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta visited this region and wrote of it; his book was widely read throughout the Islamic world.


See also: Churches in Ethiopia
  • 24 Axum (Ethiopia). Once the capital of the Aksum empire. Axum (Q5832) on Wikidata Axum on Wikipedia
  • 25 Harar (Ethiopia). A centre of commerce since ancient times. Harar (Q190184) on Wikidata Harar on Wikipedia
  • 26 Lalibela (Ethiopia). A mountain town famous for churches carved from rock. Lalibela (Q207590) on Wikidata Lalibela on Wikipedia


  • 27 Kerma (Sudan). The presumed capital of what would be the first centralised Nubian state. Kerma (Q1107569) on Wikidata Kerma on Wikipedia
  • 28 Meroe, Sudan. Former capital of the Kingdom of Kush, and home to the Nubian pyramids. Meroë (Q5780) on Wikidata Meroë on Wikipedia

See also[edit]

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