​​African Kingdoms

~Katie Lacy and Gina Murphy
map of ancient kush (kharkov)


The African kingdoms of Kush, Ghana, and Mali, were significant because of their culture, political systems, and military. From the way that they painted to the way they built their military, they are definitely civilizations that stood out in the ancient world.

At first the Kushites were nomadic cattle herders. They roamed in savanahs speaking Egyptian and herding Longhorns. Another African civilization is the Ghana. The Ghana is one of the most famous Ancient kingdom in Africa. It had the most prosperous economy. It traded with many countries including Egypt. Suddenly, other cities wanting the land that Ghana had taken over, had attacked. The Ghana army had fought them off long enough for them to leave but eventually Ghana had been weakened and broke into many small cities. One of which was Keita, it eventually grew strong to form the kingdom of Mali, another very famous civilization. Mali was well known for their gold. These are the three famous civilizations in ancient Africa that stood out to the world.


African kingdoms had a very unique, artsy, and structured culture. They had religion, adapted from the Egyptians. They had arts that were purely theirs, which were very cool. There also was some very interesting architecture.


One important aspect of the Kush culture is religion. Other civilizations have used the Egyptian traditional religious rituals and practiced Egyptian religion. To make the religion feel like their own they changed some of the gods' names and some of the gods' visual images. Take, for example, the three headed lion god. The Kush changed many other gods to fit their own religious beliefs (Sonneborn, 48-50). Kush had not used all Egyptian gods. People had liked reading the bible and had heard stories from passing traders about the other civilizations' religion. From hearing the traders' stories, the Kush became interested and had become Christian. Sometimes on rare rituals they would perform dances to honor the gods. They had large gatherings for people coming to worship thier gods.( source 7,Ancient Kingdom of Kush)
The Mali and Ghana believed in a "creator god". The "creator god" put everything on earth and made everything on earth, but did not interfere with humans. They had also believed in spirits that controlled nature. So, they had to worship the spirits to get good weather or harvest. Furthermore, the Mali and Ghana believed in dead relatives having a link to the spirit world and could talk to spirits. Diviners were believed to be people with strong spiritual links. The Mali, Ghana, and Kush had a very exotic religion. (Shuter, 16-17)
Graph of Gods and Goddesses
god of sun and creator of all things
Goddess of protection and wife of Apedemak
Warrior god associated with moon
Goddess associated with motherhood
God of life, air, and wind
Goddess of love and beauty. protected women during childbirth
Protector god of dancing and singing
Protector goddess of dead, associated with the hawk
God associated with afterlife and dead rulers
Goddess of harmony and balance
God of crafts people and artists
Goddess of chaos and anger
god of moon associated with language and wisdom
Protector goddess of women

(Sonneborn, 49)


The Kushite arts were inspired by the Egyptians but drastically African. The Kush had a special way of painting that hadn't been seen before. They were called reliefs. Reliefs are almost like carvings on walls of palaces or pyramids but they are a little more three dimensional. The cuts that are on the walls are deeper and more strategic than Egyptian hieroglyphics. There are many reliefs scattered across the land of Africa. They mostly depict African day to day life scenes or animals. Rare reliefs have battle scenes or kings on them. (Sonneborn, 60-61)
painted Kush pot (timeline of art history)

Another very important art that the African kingdoms practiced was pottery. The Ghana and Mali did pottery as well. The way that they spun the pottery was they made clay shaped bowls or pots and then they painted them. There were many different colors painted onto thee bowls and vases. Most pottery was made for the rich and wealthy. Later on, many commoners had pottery in their household also. Some types of pottery had stamped designs but most had a painted pattern. Lots of geometric patterns and plant inspired designs were painted. The best pottery had animals such as giraffes, antelopes, frogs, crocodiles, snakes, and a variety of birds. One weird thing the Kush did was not paint gods or powerful rulers on their vases. Isn't that interesting? Overall pottery in Africa is a very valuable and luxurious good.


Africans had also used Egypt’s architectural idea of building Pyramids. The main difference, though, was the fact that the Kushite pyramids were built above the underground graves, whereas the Egyptian graves were inside the pyramid. The kings' tombs were bigger pyramids made of stone. For a short time, the Kushite kings were mummified. The citizens had much smaller pyramids also made of stone. (Sonneborn, 52).
Palaces were often made of sandstone. The regular houses were made of red brick with walls covered in either tile or paintings. The tiles were usually blue or yellow. At the temples to worship Amun, there would usually be stone ramps leading to the doors. (Greenblatt, 130).
Most people didn't live in cities. The cities had about 50 people living in them. The people mainly lived in villages outside the cities. They were designed to be kind of like suburbs. They did this so that not everyone would be jammed in a city and so lifestyle Each village had a circular plaza in the center with compounds leading off. Compounds were little huts that people used for storage. The chiefs of the villages would have many wives and at least one compound used for their animals. The less important people would have fewer compounds. (Shuter, 20). The ancient African architecture was very unique and beautiful.

Daily Living

Ancient Kingdoms of Africa had very different lives than the people in the modern world. They had many customs to follow and ways of life. One important thing that the Africans did was learn to write in Meroitic. Meroitic was an important aspect that the Kush and other civilizations learned. The Kushites wanted a writing system that wasn't hieroglyphics so they created meroitic writing. Barely anybody knew how to write and read Meroitic. The unique thing about Meroitic writing was that it had 23 glyphs to represent different sounds. The fancy way they wrote it was on pots and that was in cursive. (Sonneborn 63-65)
chart of meroitic writing (historical alphabets)

The people also looked different then we do. They had dark skin, flat noses and very long, tangled, woolly hair. They had a sort of burnt appearance when thye were born. Most of their beards and hair were very curly. One Interesting thing that they did was barely wear any clothes! The average citizen was naked! When they would dress up to go out they wore aprons woven with their own hair. The rich commoner swore tunics, loincloths, and belts. Only the kings wore sandals. Everyone else was barefoot. The women liked to dress up and e fancy so they would paint their hair and nails. They also wore lots of eyeshadow and jewelry. (66)
Even thought the Kush did lots of trade, they also made their living off of farming. Most of the Kush citizens were farmers. The Kush only kept a few animals on their farms. Farming was very difficult in Africa. Since the The Nile didn't flood it couldn't bring good soil to the area. The reason why the Nile didn't flood was because it was much to high for the Kushites. There wasn't enough water on occasions. The fluctuation in rainstorms sometimes caused the crops to die and wilt. Irrigating and harvesting the land was backbreaking for the Kushites. So, they invented a new machine that used a wooden wheel that moved loops of rope with pots attached to irrigate the land. The pots collected the excess material for harvesting.( The Africans grew many different crops including millet, sorghum, nuts, rice, and cotton. They also rarely grew fruits and vegetables. All the other food they ate was purchased form traders from other parts of the world. Other tools they used were digging sticks, and sickles. These tools were used for harvest and digging soil holes for plants. The crops needed very careful watering.
diggin sticks (texas beyond history)

Political Systems

In Africa, the political systems are both advanced and one of its kind.


The rulers also known as kings in Africa take on a lot of responsibility. One of the more famous kings of Kush was Kashta. He left Kush around 750 BC to conquer Egypt. His son, Piankhi, had to finish conquering Egypt, though. This dynasty lasted about 70 years. (Greenblatt, 129-131).
Queens and kings were often of equal status. An example is Queen Amanitore and King Natakamani. They were both looked up to and neither one was more powerful than the other. (Sonneborn, 23-25).
Kings were worshiped like gods. Kushites believed they were given power by Amun. Kings were diplomats, religious leaders, and strong in battle. Rulers often times had to protect Kush from invaders. A common way to do that was to show other countries (such as
Rome) that they were not worth invading. This strategy turned out to be very successful. (... 30-31).
Traditional clothing for a king of Kush was a white robe. They would through a red shawl over their right shoulder. Knee length skirts were also worn as part of their war costume. Both kings and Queens wore earrings, necklaces, and armlets (or bracelets). They also had over 20 different types of crowns. Many were modeled after Egyptians'. Typically, it would be a cap of metal or leather with uraei. Uraei were two sacred serpents that were believed to protect the king. (...29).


In the government, the priests were in many ways more powerful than the kings. Kings were believed religious rulers and they watched over the priests' work. Priests maiintained the temples and made sure that relious ceremonies were done correctly. Priests also taught kings of the important matters of state. Priests could also basically order a king's death. See, priests were also believed to be guided by Amun, and if a king didn't seem to be a good ruler, then the priest could order the death of the king. Kings were almost forced to commit suicide. One king, however, killed the priests who ordered his deaqth instead of himself. This was King Arkamani-quo. (Sonneborn 31-32, 45).
Conspiracies were not easily raised against the king. This is because the king had a close group of unfailingly loyal associates. These associates were forced to commit suicide when the king died. Therefore, they wouldn't want to plan to kill the king, because that would mean they would have to die as well. (...29)
The priests' mainly had a good amount of political power, were in charge of temples throughout the kingdom, and they were also usually close relatives to the king. Kushites believed that priests interpreted Amun's wishes. Therefore they could influence the rulers. That is also why people would believe that a ruler was deserving of death; they believed that that wish came from Amun. Also, the High Priestess of Thebes was thought to be the wife of Amun.(...45).


Kush, Ghana, and Mali were all highly affected by their economy. Nearly all the ancient African kingdoms were big trading civilizations.


Almost all of the ancient African kingdoms were essentially trading civilizations. For the Kushites, Their capital Meroe was their center of trade. They traded with people around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and other parts of Africa. Gold, ivory, ebony, slaves, skins, and feathers were all traded.Oxen, donkeys, horses, and camels were all used to move the goods from place to place. (source 4). Most goods were made from natural rescources. Skins, feathers, gold, all natural! Caravans with goods were often sent to Egypt. (Greenblatt 129-131).

Daily Life

Kushites lived off of their land and raised farm animals, they were farmers. It was hard for them to farm because when the Nile River flooded every year, it overflooded Kush. The Nile River flooded once every year and that helped the Egyptian agriculture because there was just enough water to help fertilize the soil. This was not true for the Kushites, though. The Nile would overflow and there would be too much water to properly fertilize.
Farmers in Kush used a tool called a haqia. It was a vertical wooden wheel. It would move loops of rope (that were connected to pots) in order to irrigate their land. This was a simple tool that made a farmer's life a lot easier. (Sonneborn, 69).


The military in the African Kingdoms played a big role in keeping the kingdoms alive. They not only protected the village, but also kept it alive.

One very important aspect in the military was the armies. They were one of the most well built army at the time.They could withstand almost anything that challenged them. One interesting thing that the armies of Africa did was ride elephants and horses into war. They were the first people to use this tactic. The Africans treasured their elephants. The Kush were known as great horse trainers. People loved their horses so much that when a citizen died, their horse was buried with them. They also decorated and pampered their horses by giving them beautiful turquoise and jade necklaces. (Sonneborn 39-40) On these horses and elephants were warriors, some of the strongest on the continent. These warriors wore specific clothing suited for battle. The normal soldier wore a panther or lion skin pelt. They carried long bows up to six feet in length. At the tip were small pointed arrowheads. They also used clubs and javelins made of antelope horn. If not wearing a pelt or skin, they went naked. Half of their body's were smeared with white chalk while the other half was covered in red pigment. One interesting method they used with bows and arrows was that they had stone rings on the end so that their hands, while pulling back the arrow, wouldn't get cut!
nubian army (kidipede)


Another aspect that helped the military win battles and protect the country was their vast amount of weapons. These weapons were very simple but effective. One very often used weapon was a warrior arrow. The arrows had stone points that were so sharp that they could penetrate any hide or skin. Most were made of stone, very few were metal. Another unusual belief that the Kush had was that copper arrowheads had the magical power to make the iron arrowheads more deadly. so when there was a copper arrow in battle, usually the men would all have iron arrowheads. metal and copper were also used as bells or warning bells. There were warning bells, attack bells, and musical bells. When scientists and historians looked at the arrowheads, there was a very odd coloration on them. Most of the historians and scientists suspected it was poison. So the Kush had used poison arrows to defeat and fend off intruders. (36-38) The Ghana used iron tipped spears in their battles. Their enemies usually had bone weapons. The iron was superior to the bone, wood and stone weapons that the enemy's had. Iron was their stock in trade. Or in other words, the weapon they most frequently used. The last weapon they used, which were required, was a shield. Most were iron, one of the most sturdy and useful metals at the time. (Source 5, 5)

Significant Battles and Outcomes

Many significant battles took place in Africa and the outcomes affected people there too. One of the first major conflicts in the Kingdom of Kush was the battles between them and Egypt. Tet. They had been rivals since they had first met. One of the main disputes they had was over land and that Egypt had wanted the Kush to be slaves. The Egyptian army had conquered the Kush people for about five hundred years. The Kush eventually rebelled against the Egyptians and became their own country. Although the Kush hated being slaves to the Egyptians they learned many things from them. They learned to worship Amanke,work copper and bronze, to write Egyptian heiroglyphics. THey eventually changed the heiroglyphics to fit their own language. After Kush had gained their independence back from Egypt, they set up a capital in Napata. Kush never forgot how cruel the Egyptians were to them, so around 750 b.c. the Kushite king, Kashta, set out to conquer Egypt. THey had partly succeeded and taken some land from Egypt. Later on, Piankhi, Kashtas son, created a dynasty that ruled for twenty years. After that, the Assyrians invaded where Piankhi had settled and drove the Kush back south. (source 4, 129-131) They became successful in protecting thier countries' borders after that for one thousand years. The kingdom of Kush had been most powerful between 747 and 656 b.c. They had ruled Egypt and Nubia. Piankhy had created the worlds largest empire in ancient Africa. (Sonneborn 40-42)
Another civilization was the Songhai. In 1464 b.c. , the Songhai had taken over the kingdom of Mali. They became the largest and most prosperous kingdom of west Africa. But somewhere in 1580 b.c., the Songhai people began to fight against thier government leaders. This weakened the kingdom. In 1591 b.c. the Moroccans attacked. They won because of their advanced weaponry and because the kingdom was weakened. The Songhai kingdom was dead. (source 5)


The ancient African kingdoms were interesting and unique civilizations. Nearly all of them were known as trading countrys. Their cultures were also artsy and slightly influenced by the amazing Egyptians. The Africans, as well, had a strong military . The political system was very unique in their method of choosing rulers and controlling their kingdoms. Furthermore, Almost every citizen was important to the kingdoms. They all helped in farming to keep their crops alive in the sultry enviornment. All in all, the African kingdoms were connected all over the continent and helped eachother in the well beings of life.





The Ancient Kushites, Liz Sonneborn, Scholastic, 2005

History of the World Africa, Mary Di Ianni, Rain-tree, 1915

Empires of Medieval Africa, David C. Conrad, Facts on File, 2005

Human Heritage a World History, Mirrian Greenblatt Peter S Lemmo, Mcgrawhill, 2004

Ancient West African Kingdoms, Jane Shuter, Reed Educational & Proffesional publishing, 2003