Ancient Tribes of Africa

Instructor: Jessica M Lathrop

Jessica has a master's degree in history with a focus on ancient and classical civilizations.

Ancient African tribes are steeped in culture, with many unique characteristics in each region of Africa. This lesson explores the diverse and beautiful societies that formed ancient Africa.

Ancient African History

Traditional African Dress
Traditional African Dress

There were several ancient 'tribes' or civilizations of Africa. Africa is a very large continent, with a wide variety of geography such as the rainforest, savanna and desert. Each different region had a culture that was unique to match. We are still learning about ancient Africa; much of what we know about the cultures in Africa comes from the stories that have been passed down orally throughout the centuries. Oral storytellers, called griots, hold the special responsibility of remembering and transferring the history of their culture- much like a historian. They have preserved the stories of their people for hundreds of years and still exist today, passing history down in stories and songs.

Ancient African Kingdoms

This map shows the location of ancient African civilizations
Map of Ancient African Tribal Locations

Some of the largest cultures and kingdoms from ancient Africa are:

  • The Kingdom of Kush

The Kingdom of Kush was located just below Ancient Egypt along the Nile River. They existed from around 1070 B.C.E. to approximately 300 C.E. The Kush people were famous for their bows and arrows, and archery helped give them the upper hand in battle. Most people in the Kush region were farmers of cotton, wheat and barley. Women were important in the Kush culture and had many queen leaders.

  • The Kingdom of Aksum

The Kingdom of Aksum lasted from around 400 B.C.E. to approximately 940 C.E., making it one of the longest civilizations in Africa. Located along the coast of the Red Sea, the Aksum people were significant traders and merchants, becoming an important trade port for African and Egyptian merchants as well as traders from India and Persia. Their culture was very diverse as a result of the many different cultures that passed through their ports.

  • The Kingdom of Ghana

The Kingdom of Ghana was in the western part of the continent, in the savanna grassland, from about 300 to 1100 C.E. The Ghana people were mostly farmers, but they were known for their iron and gold, often considering metalsmiths to be powerful magicians within their culture. These 'magicians' worked with fire to craft strong weapons out of the iron and gold, making them great warriors.

  • The Kingdom of Zimbabwe

The Kingdom of Zimbabwe did not become powerful until around 1200 C.E., making it one of the later ancient African civilizations. The Zimbabwe people lived in the southern region of Africa, with a strong trade presence and impressive architectural skills. Although they only lasted for about 200 years, they built towers and large stone walls which can still be seen today.

  • The Egyptian Kingdom

Ancient Egypt is by far the longest lasting and most influential civilization, located along the Nile River in the northeast region of Africa. Ancient Egyptian people were very advanced in science, math and writing, even practicing medicine. Ancient Egypt lasted from approximately 3150 B.C.E. to 30 B.C.E., when it fell under the control of Rome, although it had also been controlled by the Assyrians, Persians and Greeks (Alexander the Great) in the third and fourth centuries B.C.E. before then. The culture in Ancient Egypt was very advanced, with beautiful clothing, art, and complex religious systems.

Daily Life in Ancient Africa

Ancient African Dwelling
Ancient African Dwelling

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