Africa is the cradle of humanity. It was there that modern man evolved, which then spread across the globe. However, some civilizations full of wealth and culture are little known to most of us.
Hundreds of small kingdoms have emerged throughout the continent’s history, with some eventually turning into powerful empires.
A Phoenician settlement, the ancient city-state of Carthage was located in present-day Tunisia and covered much of the Mediterranean. Its strategic location and abundance of commerce allowed it to be quite rich.
The Carthaginian civilization was extremely skilled in the elaboration of furniture, cushions and mattresses, and its beds were an expensive luxury. At one point in history, their Roman rivals tried to copy their designs without success.
Carthage also created an intricate governmental system, wrote a constitution, and owned an extensive library. Unfortunately, most of his literature was destroyed or given away to the kings of Numidia. Only one book still exists – a manual on agricultural technique, translated into Greek.
Eventually, Carthage was burned and plundered by the expansion of the Roman Empire. However, the city-state left an indelible mark as a rich trading empire and a powerful force in Africa.
Kingdom of Punt
Probably located in present-day Somalia, the Kingdom of Punt was considered the “Atlantis” of Africa. Unlike most African civilizations, people in this “land of the gods” were described as having a dark red complexion and long hair, and their citizens lived in reed huts suspended on stilts above the water.
Trade between Egypt and Punt was common, including the first documented exchange of flora, when Queen Hatshepsut traded trees during her famous expedition to Punt. Several types of products were exchanged with Punt, from incense to ivory to dwarfs.
Although the exact location of Punt is still debated, the kingdom has been described as being lush and green. Sailors were supposed to catch up with him traveling through the Red Sea or sailing the Nile in small sailboats.
Many people believe that Punt had a huge influence on Egyptian culture, from literature to religion. Despite this, some historians question whether Punt even existed.
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The rise of the Zulu Empire would not have happened without a jumping up close. The beginning of the kingdom was stimulated by Shaka Zulu, illegitimate son of the chief Senzanganoka. After avoiding several assassination attempts and bloody family disputes, Shaka became chief of the Zulus.
Using his innovative military tactics, Shaka left the empire rich and famous, in addition to making it one of the most feared African civilizations during the colonial period. He trained his warriors so well that he eventually defeated the British invasion.
After a period of power and violence, around 1900, the Zulus were absorbed by the Cape Colony. Today, parts of the empire form the modern country of South Africa.
Kingdom of Cuche
Relatively unknown outside Africa, the Kingdom of Cuche was located in present-day Sudan. This civilization was very similar to Egypt and ruled as the Pharaohs. They also mummified their dead, built pyramids as cemeteries, and worshiped various gods.
However, there were several important differences between the two cultures. Iron had become a great resource for the cuches, while the Egyptians were still discovering the wonders of this metal. Women also played a much larger role in Cuche society – queens often succeeded kings. In fact, one of the greatest pyramids in the kingdom was built to honor a woman ruler.
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The first vestiges of this mysterious civilization were discovered in 1928 by a group of Nigerian tin miners. As archaeologists discovered ceramic fragments, paintings and tools, they were shocked to realize how advanced this previously unknown culture was.
During its existence, from 900 BC to 200 AD, the Nok culture created a complex judicial system centuries before the moderns were invented. Using several different classes of courts, they dealt with subjects such as robbery, murder, adultery, and family disputes.
The Nok people were also the first manufacturer of full size terracotta statues. His works represented people with long heads, almond eyes and separate lips.
The Noks were also advanced in metal handling, forging small knives, spearheads, and bracelets. In the year 200, the population declined rapidly, for no apparent reason. Hunger, excessive dependence on resources and climate change were proposed as explanations for its disappearance.
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Empire of Mali
The Empire of Mali was a large African civilization that flourished between the 13th and 16th centuries. Founded by a man named Sundiata Keita (also known as King Lion), the empire was located in the region of present-day West Africa.
While the Lion King was an impressive ruler, the empire flourished more under the command of Mansa Musa, who holds the title of richest man in history. His fortune was estimated at a whopping $ 400 billion, an amount that shames even Bill Gates.
Musa created Timbuktu, the capital of Mali, and Africa’s leading center of education and culture, allowing scholars from across the continent to learn there.
Like Benin, Mali was successful in trade because of its location on the Niger River. However, it was plundered by invaders from Morocco in 1593. This weakened the empire, and Mali soon ceased to be an important political entity.
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Empire of Ghana
In ancient Ghana, seated on a huge gold mine, there was such a rich kingdom that even their dogs wore necklaces made of precious metal.
With strategic planning, powerful leaders and an abundance of natural resources, the Ghanaian Empire had great influence. He traded with Europeans and North Africans, importing books, cloths and horses in exchange for gold and ivory. Arab traders often spent months trying to get to the kingdom to do business.
If someone was accused of violating the law in Ghana, that person was forced to drink an acrid mixture of wood and water. If she vomited the mixture, she was considered innocent. Otherwise, she was found guilty and punished by the king.
Despite preventing many invasions, the empire eventually collapsed in 1240. Isolated from trade and weakened by its rivals, Ghana was absorbed by the growth of the Mali Empire.