In ancient African culture, Kings were an epitome of power, great wealth and royalty. Only the brave and selfless people qualified to rule as Kings.
However, in modern day Africa, Kings are regarded as traditional rulers without much authority. For some the word “King” seem to be nothing more than clichés. Usually, the only glimpse of great kings come from ancient Egypt and Nubia more than 4,000 years ago.
Below introduces 10 great pre-colonial African kings.
Endubis 270ce – 300ce Axum (Ethiopia)
Axum was a powerful North East African empire that emerged after the decline of ancient Egypt and Nubia. Axum is believed to have conquered and brought the end result of the ancient Meroe (Nubia) Kingdom. Axum controlled the horn of Africa to across the Red Sea to the Arab plateau. Endubis was the first king to mint coins in ancient Africa. After Endubis, all Axumite (Ethiopian) Emperors minted their own coins: gold, silver and bronze with their faces and mottos printed on them.
Musa Keita I (Mansa Musa, meaning “king of kings” or “emperor” in ancient Mali)
Keita I was the tenth Musa of the Mansa dynasty. Under his rule, Mali became one of the richest countries in the world. Due to its gold and salt production, agricultural and imperialist nature, and vibrant business location, the kingdom flourished. Forbes called him the richest man ever. Musa Kieta I is famous for the rich and great commercial city of Timbuktu and established an Islamic library and university. More than 60,000 people participated in his legendary pilgrimage to Mecca, and he gave generously to the poor in the Sahel region, Egypt, and the Middle East. Many people are telling his story and is suspected that, that caused the Spanish royal family and Europeans’ initial attraction to West Africa. Mansa Musa is famous for the Spanish map, which shows him holding a golden ball, and was praised for launching a wide range of construction projects for palaces, mosques and urban development projects in Mali.
Founder of the former Mali Empire (The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal) 1210-1255. The Mali Empire took charge after the Almorvarids Berber kings of Morocco destroyed the Ghana Empire.
Sundiata Kieta is the famous heroic prince of the Mandinka people. The prince’s fame is recorded in the poem “The Epic of Sundiata” traditionally narrated by “Griots”. This poem tells the origin of the legend of Sundiata and describes in detail his destiny to become king, the formation of the Mali Empire and the conquest of his empire that began with the victory of the Battle of Kirina on the Niger River.
After that, he went ahead and conquered all the territories of present-day Senegal, the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. The route of the dynasty he founded became one of the richest and most powerful ancient empires in West Africa.
Amenhotep III (Egypt)
The 18th Dynasty 1388- 1351 BC. Amenhotep III was the father of the famous “heretical Pharaoh” Akhenaten and the grandfather of the famous King Tut. He was one of the greatest pharaohs in Egypt and the most successful pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. During his reign, Egypt enjoyed wealth, peace, and stability. He commissioned various architectural projects and exquisite monuments, and built the first man-made lake outside the palace in Malta for his wife, the great Queen Tiye. During his reign, Egypt had an extraordinary influence on foreign policy and diplomacy, and he dealt with these issues together with his wife, Queen Tiye. The famous Amarna letters from Assyria, Babylon, Mittani and Hati are proof. When Amenhotep III died, he left behind a country at the peak of power and influence, and earned great international respect.
Taharqa (Egypt & Nubia)
25th Dynasty Reign 690- 664 BCE. Taharqa was one of the Great Napatan Nubian Kings/ Pharaohs.
Taharqa united two kingdoms forming the largest African Empire at the time, after his father, Piye, successfully conquered Egypt in battle.
His empire covered the 5th Nile Cataract in Nubia throughout Egypt to the the Middle East in Palestine. Till date, he’s famous for bringing peace and stability into Egypt, constructing building projects and arts in all of Egypt and Nubia which were lost for centuries at the time.
Biblical scholars believe he is referenced in the book of Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 as the great King of Kush who waged war against Sennacherib, King of Assyria. Several monuments of Taharqa are made. In January 2015, a great tomb sanctuary to the Egyptian god Osiris was unearthed in Upper Egypt with it’s construction is believed to have been traced to the 25th Dynasty.
Ezana Axum (Ethiopia) 333 – c. 356.
Ezana is known as the first Ethiopian king to convert to Christianity with his entire kingdom. He helped establish the Ethiopian Church. He is also praised for ending the powerful rival kingdom of Meroe (Nubia). Under his rule, the Kingdom of Axum flourished. Several unique buildings and obelisks were built. International trade has also increased. His coinage has been unearthed in India and Greece.
Oba Ewuare (also Ewuare the Great) Benin Empire (Edo, Nigeria) 1440-1473.
Oba Ewuare is known as the first king of the Benin Empire, the reformer of the city of Benin, and one of the first warrior kings of West Africa. According to records, during his reign he conquered and annexed at least 201 surrounding towns and villages. Together with his son and successor Oba Ozolua, Ewuare was responsible for establishing viable foreign trade in Benin, building a large number of palaces, and enacting a series of strategic policies, one of which eliminated the absolute power of the heads of the conquered cities but allowed them to take power in Congressional committee. He also created a hereditary bureaucracy, in which freemen served as military and administrative chiefs. Outside of war and politics, Ewuare is described as a charismatic leader. He has established various cultural traditions, community events and festivals. Under the rule of Ewuare, the tradition of Benin art flourished.
Sonni Ali Songhai Empire 15th century (Senegal, Nigeria, The Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Guinea)
Under Sonni’s helm, the Songhai Empire became the largest Muslim empire in West Africa ever. Sonni was an excellent military mind and led the biggest imperialist mission in West Africa. His forces were amphibious, conducting attacks and patrols on land and water along the Niger River. During his reign, the Songhai Empire reached its peak, overtaking the Great Mali Empire, annexing its territory and the famous city of Timbuktu. Islam also spread like wide fire through rural and urban areas.
Oba Oduduwa – Oyo Empire (Yorubaland, Nigeria) N/ A 700AD
Oduduwa is considered to be the ancestor of the Yorubaland and Yoruba dynasties. He was a national folk hero and is considered the primitive god in Yoruba culture. There is a lot of debate about the origin of Oduduwa or when he founded the Yorubaland and language. However, he and his clan reached the lower regions of Nigeria and defeated several existing settlements to establish Yorubaland. Legend has it that, he had 16 sons and daughters. Before his death, he sent each son and daughter to the center of his conquered territory for an autonomous government, where they established the kingdom of Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo and Oyo. Hence, the Oranmiyan established the Yoruba dynasty family line.
Osei Kofi Tutu 1660 – 1717 Ashanti Kingdom (Ghana)
The Ashanti Kingdom was a highly politicized, wealthy and powerful West African kingdom even till date. The Ashantis were one of the first sub-Saharan armies to include firearms in their arsenal. Their source of wealth comes from the large amount of salt mines and gold deposits mined in their territory which they trade within the trade routes of countries on the African continent.
The Ashanti empire werea group of organized and disciplined Akan people. The Akan people are ethnic/linguistic groups that speak Akan or Twi. There are several Akan Prefectures. In 1701, Osei Kofi Tutu, the leader of Kumasi, a then small Akan State, helped form the Ashanti Empire by unifying other Akan tribes under the Golden Stool (Ashanti Power of Seat). He influenced another Akans to overthrow the dominant Akan group, the Denkyera, and conquered several other neighboring states. As the Ashanti people defeated various Akan territories, they expanded Ashanti’s wealth, power and influence. Until the British Imperial Government demanded the Ashanti’s sovereignty be transferred to Britain as its “protectorate” the Golden Stole remained Ashanti’s center of power. This led to the “War of the Golden Stool”.