Empires of the Forgotten Continent: 8 Fascinating Medieval African Kingdoms

Empires of the Forgotten Continent: 8 Fascinating Medieval African Kingdoms

By Stephanie Schoppert
Empires of the Forgotten Continent: 8 Fascinating Medieval African Kingdoms

Stories of European medieval kingdoms abound with tales of crusades, knights, wars, and rulers. There are tales of Asian heroes and medieval legacies and the Byzantines ruling throughout eastern Europe. There are even numerous stories of central American medieval kingdoms, with the Aztecs ruling massive cities. But very little attention is paid to the great kingdoms that flourished throughout Africa during the Middle Ages. Here are some of the major medieval African kingdoms that are as fascinating as those of Europe, Asia, and the Americas.


The ancient Aksumite Kingdom lasted from the 1st to the 8th centuries CE. The Kingdom had tremendous influence in the world as a trading partner because it stood on the crossroads of three continents: Africa, Arabia, and the Greco-Roman World. Fleets from Aksum controlled trade on the Red Sea through its main port of Adulis and through the inland routes of north eastern Africa. The kingdom rested in the present-day location of Eritrea and the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

The ruins of the city of Aksum. Whc.unesco.org

The Aksum culture had a significant number of achievements. They had their own alphabet and currency to facilitate their trade. They were also known to build massive obelisks to mark the graves of emperors and nobles. The most notabl is the Obelisk of Askum, which is 1,700 years old and stands 79 feet tall.

The people of Aksum made their fortunes through agricultural products. The rich, fertile soil allowed for wheat and barley, which was then traded throughout the surrounding continents. There was also money to be made from hunting wild animals for ivory. Minerals were also in abundance for the Aksum people and they were able to trade gold, iron, and large quantities of salt in order to keep the kingdom prosperous into the 8th century.

The Aksum kingdom was one of the four great powers of the region during its height, rivaling that of Persia, Rome, and China. Prior to their conversion to Christianity in the 4th century CE, they were a polytheistic people. The kingdom fell into decline when the Islamic Empire spread to the Red Sea and took over much of the Nile, which then isolated the once vibrant trading culture from the rest of the world. This, coupled with climate changes, caused the Aksum Kingdom to fall into decline and it ceased to be sometime around 940 CE.