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It has been suggested that this article be merged into List of kingdoms in pre-colonial Africa. (Discuss) Proposed since November 2023.
Diachronic map of pre-colonial African kingdoms

African empires is an umbrella term used in African studies to refer to a number of pre-colonial African kingdoms 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 and their respective capital cities.

Historical development

Sahelian kingdoms

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

From the 15th century until the final Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century a number of empires were also established south of the Sahel, especially in West Africa.

West Africa

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]

Central Africa

Further information: History of Central Africa

Southern Africa

Further information: History of Southern Africa

The ancestors of the Kalanga/Karanga and Venda people found in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe today would intermarry with San Bushmen around the region of Limpopo, forming the first ever drystone walling[citation needed], which dates back to 200 BC and is still found in Chiredzi today. The purpose of this drystone walling was to protect the king from dangers related to population increase and agricultural expansion. This drystone walling eventually lost its original purpose of protecting the king; thereafter it became a symbol of unity of the people and of the power of the king[citation needed]. This would give rise to the Kingdom of Mapungubwe[clarification needed], which was a sister city to the contemporaneous city Great Zimbabwe. The Mutapa Empire would rise in 1450[citation needed]. 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.

East Africa

Further information: History of East Africa

North Africa

Further information: History of North Africa

Ancient North African empires
Ancient Carthage and its dependencies in 264 BC

Pre-Islamic empires of North Africa:

Islamic North African empires


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 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: Kingdoms (such as the Ashanti Union) where the external affairs are regulated by a council of elders headed by the king, who is simply primus inter pares.

See also


  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. ^ "Empire of Kitara: One of the oldest African Empires that existed since 900 AD to date". 2 May 2021.
  11. ^ Owuor, Bethwell; Wycliffe, Wanzala; Martin, Gakuubi; Ndondolo, Shiracko (2016-01-01). "A survey of ethnobotany of the AbaWanga people in Kakamega County, western province of Kenya". Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. 15: 93–102. Retrieved 20 April 2021.


Further reading