Ancient Cities of Africa

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Ancient Africa was home to many great cities. These include the Egyptian cities of Memphis and Thebes as well as Carthage, home of the great warrior Hannibal, and Alexandria, known for its legendary library.

Ancient Africa

The continent of Africa has been inhabited by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. For a large amount of that time, most of the people of Africa lived in nomadic tribes, but Ancient Africa was also home to many great cities. These cities primarily thrived along the northern coast of Africa, near the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Africa, Europe, and Asia. These cities often grew from trade along the sea and frequently came into contact with inhabitants of European and Asian cities.

Perhaps the most famous ancient African cities are Memphis and Thebes, which at different times served as the capital cities for the kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. However, Ancient Africa also had other famous cities including Carthage, whose famed warrior Hannibal successfully attacked Rome. And the city of Alexandria later became an important port city and home to a legendary library.

Memphis and Thebes

The city of Memphis was the center of the civilization that we now call Ancient Egypt and is home to the Pyramids of Giza, perhaps the most famous symbols of Ancient Egypt. It is located at the mouth of the Nile delta, the area in which the great Nile river opens into the Mediterranean Sea. This is an important location because its proximity to the Mediterranean made it an important trading port and the fertile land around the delta made it perfect for agriculture.

The Pyramids at Giza

During the Old Kingdom period, Memphis was both the economic and political center of Egypt, home to the pharaohs, the monarchical rulers of Egypt, and their court. After the pharaohs moved south to Thebes in the Middle Kingdom, Memphis remained Egypt's main trading port.

Thebes essentially became Egypt's capital city beginning with the Middle Kingdom. It is located farther south down the Nile from Memphis. It also became Egypt's main religious center and is home to temples and other sacred sites that were important parts of Egypt's religious practices, including the famous Luxor complex and the temple at Karnak. It would serve as Egypt's political capital on and off throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms.


Though Egypt was the most dominant African civilization throughout most of the ancient period, the city of Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia, rose to prominence in the first-century BCE and became a major power in the Mediterranean region, competing with Rome, which was then beginning to dominate the region. It would eventually come under Rome's control, making it Rome's first outpost in Africa.

Carthage is best remembered today for its general Hannibal, who fought Rome in the Second Punic War. Hannibal's famous defeat of Rome after crossing the Alps and attacking from the north, instead of coming across the Mediterranean from the South, led to a 15-year period of Carthaginian domination of much of the Italian peninsula. However, Rome defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War, which ended with the destruction of much of the city at the Battle of Carthage and enslavement of thousands of Carthaginians.


The last of the great African cities on the Mediterranean is Alexandria, which was founded by the Greek general and conqueror Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. Alexander's conquest of much of North Africa and western Asia led to the spread of Greek culture and religion, giving rise to what is known as Hellenic civilization throughout the area. Alexandria was for many centuries the center of Hellenic civilization in Africa.

Alexandria is a port city and became a center of trade in the region. To accommodate the many ships coming in and out, it built its great Lighthouse, which was one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.

Lighthouse of Alexandria
Lighthouse of Alexandria

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