Nok sculpture

This was first discovered in 1928 when some unique terracotta artefacts were unearthed by tin miners in the southern part of Kaduna state in central Nigeria. Further research into the Nok showed that they may have been the first complex civilization in West Africa, existing from at least 900 BC until their disappearance in around 200 AD.

The Nok were believed to be very advanced, with a complex judicial system having classes of courts used for adjudicating civil and criminal cases.

They were also said to be advanced in metal works, forging spear points, small knives and bracelets. What stands out of their creations were their terracotta statues, which were largely people with elongated heads and hollow looking eyes.

Many theories have suggested that these unusual statues were used as charms to prevent illness and crop failure, while others believe that they stood for influentials who were worshipped by the people.

In 200 AD, the Nok population declined under mysterious circumstances. But some historians have attributed their disappearance to famine and climate change.

Songhai Empire

Formed in the 15th century from some of the former regions of the Mali Empire, this kingdom was considered as one of the greatest empires in the world.

It spanned thousands of miles across much areas in Western Africa and was said to be even larger than Western Europe. The empire flourished due to the wealth it gained from trading in gold and salt and the control it had over the lucrative trans-Saharan trade routes and other trade centres at Gao and Djenné.

It also had control over several other cultures, which were all held together by a bureaucratic system of government. With a new currency created by the empire, these cultures were able were united in their activities.

In the early 16th century, the Empire came under the rule of King Muhammad I Askia, who conquered new lands and set up scores of Islamic schools in Timbuktu. Historians say that the size of the Songhai empire contributed to its downfall, as it became too difficult to control.

By the end of the 16th century, the empire had stumbled into civil war. The Sultan of Morocco eventually attacked the kingdom, leading to its collapse.

Located in modern-day Tunisia, the ancient city-state of Carthage, which covers much of the Mediterranean, was founded by the Phoenicians on the coast of North Africa around 814 BCE.

The empire achieved commercial success due to its geographical location and trading activities that occurred around the Sahara desert.

The empire was also noted for its purple dye and fine textiles, with skills in crafts. It is said that their Roman rivals even tried to copy their designs but failed.

In terms of agriculture, the Carthaginians used irrigation and other methods of husbandry to grow wheat and other crops in abundance. They sold their agricultural produce in ports across the Mediterranean.

Carthage further put in place a sophisticated system of governmental checks and balances, wrote a constitution, and managed an extensive library. History says most of their literature was destroyed or given as gifts to Numidian kings.

Carthage was unfortunately burned and plundered by the expansion of the Roman Empire.

The Romans had then regarded the Carthaginians as the most dangerous of all their enemies mainly because of the presence of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War and the greatest military strategist of all time.

Founded by Sundiata Keita, otherwise known as the Lion King, the empire was a major African civilization that blossomed between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Located near present-day West Africa, the empire reached its peak under Mansa Musa in the early 1300s. Musa made his fortune through Mali’s supply of gold, salt and ivory to most of the world during that time.

He was estimated to have been worth the equivalent of $400 billion in today’s currency, which makes him the richest man on earth.

In 1324, he became the first Muslim ruler to make the four-thousand-mile pilgrimage, where he met rulers from the Middle East and Europe, putting Mali on European maps. He brought back scholars from his pilgrimage to improve Islamic education while building many mosques that stand till now.

He also played a huge role in the development of Timbuktu and its famous university, the University of Timbuktu, which has since been a major learning institution for Africa and the rest of the world.

In 1593, the empire was invaded by Morocco which eventually led to its collapse.

Described as one of the greatest empires to ever exist in Africa, the Kingdom of Aksum lasted from around 100 AD to 940 AD, and extended across East Africa and beyond, including modern-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan.

Located in the northern province of Tigray, Aksum remained the capital of Ethiopia until the seventh century CE.

At its peak, the kingdom controlled territories as far as southern Egypt, east to the Gulf of Aden, south to the Omo River, and west to the Cushite Kingdom of Meroe.

Aksum was situated in a strategic position in the middle of a large trade route that extended from Rome to India. It was involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean (Rome, later Byzantium), exporting ivory, tortoiseshell, gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices.

As it dominated trade routes due to its strategic position, Aksum became one of the first African empires to issue its own coins.

Apart from having its own alphabet known as the Ge’ez, the kingdom is famous for its tall stone cut towers known as obelisks which were tombstones that were built to mark graves and underground burial chambers.
Historians have attributed the decline of Aksum to several causes. For some, climate change, resulting in deforestation and erratic rainfall caused the Kingdom’s downfall.

Others also base the Kingdom’s decline on external political factors, like the rise of other large empires including the Persian and cities like Alexandria and Byzantium (now Istanbul), as well as, the growing power of the Arabs, who were beginning to dominate the Red Sea trade routes that were before then ruled by Aksum.