List of kingdoms in pre-colonial Africa

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Pre-colonial states

There have been a number of historical African states of varying size and influence:


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 religion or group.
  3. incorporative kingdoms: kingdoms where the king only 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 such as the Ashanti Union. kingdoms where the external affairs are regulated by a council of elders headed by the king, who is simply primus inter pares.

The Islamic empires of North and Northeast Africa do not fall into this categorization and should be discussed as part of the Muslim world.

List of African kingdoms[edit]

Listed below are known pre-colonial empires with their capital cities on the African continent.

North Africa[edit]

Ancient North Africa[edit]

Ancient Carthage and its dependencies in 264 BC.

Pre-Islamic empires of North Africa.

Islamic states[edit]

Horn of Africa[edit]

Domains of the Aksumite Empire and the Adal Sultanate.

Sahel and West Africa[edit]

Nok culture[edit]

  • The Nok Civilization is considered to be one of the most advanced ancient sub-Saharan civilizations in African history. Beginning some time around 500 BC, it was largely concentrated in what is now Nigeria but produced some of the first sub-Saharan iron smelting and terracotta architecture. Mysteriously died out around 200 AD.

Medieval kingdoms[edit]

Main article: Sahelian kingdom
Mali Empire c. 1350.

The Sahelian kingdoms were a series of medieval empires centred on the West African sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara.

  • The first major state to rise in this region was the Kingdom of Ghana. Centered in what is today Senegal and Mauritania, it was the first to benefit from the introduction of pack animals by Arab traders. Ghana dominated the region between about 750 and 1078. Smaller states in the region at this time included Takrur to the west, the Malinke kingdom of Mali to the south, and the Songhai Empire centred on Gao to the east.
  • When Ghana collapsed in the face of invasion from the Almoravids, a series of brief kingdoms followed, notably that of the Sosso; after 1235, the Mali Empire rose to dominate the region. Located on the Niger River to the west of Ghana in what is today Niger and Mali, it reached its peak in the 1350s, but had lost control of a number of vassal states by 1400.
  • The most powerful of these states was the Songhai Empire, which expanded rapidly beginning with king Sonni Ali in the 1460s. By 1500, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb, the largest state in African history. It too was quite short-lived and collapsed in 1591 as a result of Moroccan musketry.
  • The Mossi Kingdoms emerged in the 14th century in central Burkina Faso, and expanded to include most of the central and southern areas of the modern country of Burkina Faso, and the northern half of what became the modern state of Ghana.[1][2][3] They remained one of the only significant non-Islamised states of the Sahel (except in the case of the Mossi sub-states of Mamprussi and Dagomba). The Mossi Kingdom remained until it was sacked by the French in 1896.[4]
  • Far to the east, on Lake Chad, the state of Kanem-Bornu, founded as Kanem in the 9th century, now rose to greater preeminence in the central Sahel region. To their west, the loosely united Hausa city-states became dominant. These two states coexisted uneasily, but were quite stable.
  • In 1810 the Fulani Empire rose and conquered the Hausa, creating a more centralized state. It and Kanem-Bornu would continue to exist until the arrival of Europeans, when both states would fall and the region would be divided between France and Great Britain.
  • Wolof Empire (1350–1889)
  • Shilluk Kingdom (1490–1865)
  • Alodia (7th century – 1504)
  • Nobatia (350–c. 650)
  • Kingdom of Makuria (4th century - 1312)
  • Bonoman (11th century – 19th century)

Empires of Transition Age Africa[edit]

From the 15th century until the final Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, a number of empires emerge also south of the Sahel, especially in West Africa, prospering on the Transatlantic slave trade of the period.

West Africa[edit]

Further information: History of West Africa
  • The Kingdom of Nri (1043–1911) was the West African medieval state of the Nri-Igbo, a subgroup of the Igbo people, and is the oldest kingdom in Nigeria. The Kingdom of Nri was unusual in the history of world government in that its leader exercised no military power over his subjects. The kingdom existed as a sphere of religious and political influence over much of Igboland, and was administered by a priest-king called the eze Nri. The eze Nri managed trade and diplomacy on behalf of the Igbo people, and was the possessor of divine authority in religious matters.
  • The Oyo Empire (1400–1895) was a West African empire of what is today western Nigeria. The empire was established by the Yoruba in the 15th century and grew to become one of the largest West African states encountered by colonial explorers. It rose to preeminence through wealth gained from trade and its possession of a powerful cavalry. The Oyo Empire was the most politically important state in the region from the mid-17th to the late 18th century, holding sway not only over other Yoruba states, but also over the Fon kingdom of Dahomey (located in the state now known as the Republic of Benin).
  • Benin Empire (1440–1897), a large pre-colonial African state of modern Nigeria.
  • The Kingdom of Dahomey (1600–1900) was a West African kingdom in part of modern Benin.
  • Kaabu Empire (1537–1867), a Mandinka Kingdom of Senegambia (centered on modern northeastern Guinea-Bissau but extending into Casamance, Senegal) that rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former province of the Mali Empire. After the decline of the Mali Empire, Kaabu became an independent kingdom.
  • Aro Confederacy (1690–1902), a slave trading political union orchestrated by the Igbo subgroup, the Aro people, centered in Arochukwu in present day Southeastern Nigeria.
  • Asante Union (1701–1894), a pre-colonial West African state of what is now the Ashanti Region in Ghana. The empire stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, bordered by the Sahelian Dagomba kingdom to the north (a sub-state of the Mossi), and Dahomey to the east. Today, the Ashanti monarchy continues as one of the constitutionally protected, sub-national traditional states within the Republic of Ghana.
  • Kong Empire (1710–1894) centered in north eastern Côte d'Ivoire that also encompassed much of present-day Burkina Faso.
  • Bamana Empire (1712–1896) based at Ségou, now in Mali. It was ruled by the Kulubali or Coulibaly dynasty established c. 1640 by Fa Sine also known as Biton-si-u. The empire existed as a centralized state from 1712 to the 1861 invasion of Toucouleur conqueror El Hadj Umar Tall.
  • Sokoto Caliphate (1804–1903), an Islamic empire in Nigeria, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar. Founded during the Fulani Jihad in the early 19th century, it was one of the most powerful empires in sub-Saharan Africa prior to European conquest and colonization. The caliphate remained extant through the colonial period and afterwards, though with reduced power.
Republic of Liberia.
  • Toucouleur Empire (1848–1893), established as a jihadist stete bu Al hajj Umar Tall in present Mali, upon the conquest of the kingdoms of Segu and Masina.
  • Wassoulou Empire (1878–1898), a short-lived empire of built from the conquests of Dyula ruler Samori Ture and destroyed by the French colonial army.
  • Kingdom of Bamum (1394–1884), a state in what is now northwest Cameroon that became part of German Kamerun in 1884.

Great Lakes[edit]

Further information: History of East Africa
  • The Sennar Sultanate (1502–1821) was a sultanate in the north of Sudan, named Funj after the ethnic group of its dynasty or Sinnar (or Sennar) after its capital, which ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa.
  • An Empire of Kitara in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa has long been treated as a historical entity, but is now mostly considered an unhistorical narrative created as a response to the dawn of rule under the Lwo empire, the sole historical record of an organized Nilotic migration into the area.[5]

Congo River Basin[edit]

Southern Africa[edit]

Further information: History of Southern Africa

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 capitol are found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.


The Merina Kingdom ruled most of Madagascar from the late 18th century until the island became a French colony in 1896 and the last monarch, Ranavalona III was sent into exile.


  1. ^ ":: EmbassyBurkinaFaso ::". Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  2. ^ "Mossi (people) | Encyclopedia Britannica". Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  3. ^ Olson, J.S. (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Press. p. 405. ISBN 9780313279188. Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  4. ^ Ben Cahoon. "Burkinabe traditional states". Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  5. ^ Chrétien, Jean-Pierre; Scott Strauss (October 2006). The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. MIT Press. 


  • Hunwick, John O. (2003). Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sa’di’s Ta’rikh Al-sudan Down to 1613 and other Contemporary Documents. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 488 Pages. ISBN 90-04-12822-0. 
  • J. Vansina, A Comparison of African Kingdoms, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (1962), pp. 324–335.
  • Turchin, Peter and Jonathan M. Adams and Thomas D. Hall: "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires and Modern States", Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol. XII, No. II, 2006

External links[edit]