WRITTEN BY: MALIK BRADLEY
Welcome back to our assessment of the greatest Kingdoms in African history. In our last entry, we covered who we believed to be the greatest Kingdoms throughout West African history. Please keep in mind that I am by no means summing up the entirety of Africa and its people because African history itself has been greatly undermined, misrepresented, and ignored throughout history. Many of her people’s accomplishments are only just now being recognized. This is due to the recent resurgence of knowledge that has either been kept away from Africans about who they are or by the uncovering of knowledge through technological development.
East Africa in particular has the most extensive historical documentation out of any other region in Africa. This is due largely to this region being the birthplace of humanity, as well as writing, religion, and Mathematics. Making this entry was extremely tough because the volume of history in this region can hardly be done justice in this one article but hopefully this will help serve as a source of knowledge for those willing to seek it and where to look. Again we will be observing the Who, What, When, Where, and How these kingdoms are ranked as our top. Observing their culture, accomplishments, military, and infrastructure we will see which one of these kingdoms uphold the greatest of African ideals as well as how effective they were in fighting off foreign invaders.
5. Ancient Nubia
Nubia not only deserves to be on this list due to its renown throughout history and its undeniable achievements. Nubia is one of the main Ancient Black civilizations we have to thank for leaving so much evidence behind that they were black that even to this day more evidence is still being uncovered thousands of years later. With all the unnecessary controversy surrounding Egypt and who its original people were, the Nubians can time and again be looked upon as undeniable evidence of Dynastic Black rule in Egypt existing well before any renowned European civilization.
The Nubian Civilization is so ancient that their original tribe’s name has been long forgotten. Archaeologists have named this group of people “A-Group” signifying their originality in that region. A-Group was the earliest group who developed a system of hierarchy with strong rulers forming out of the Neolithic tribes and cultures of the Nile River Valley. A-Group was greatly known for its burials, burial rites, cemeteries, artifacts, and rock art which to this day can be found all along the Nile River Valley especially in a region of the valley called Kubaniyyaa. The A-Group was heavily a trading society connecting the entirety of NorthEastern Africa to the Levant. With its prime location it had access to gold from the east, Carnelian (a mineral of Quartz or glassy stone) from the Western Desert, and exotics like Ivory, Incense, and ebony from further south along the Nile.
Although historians still attempt to argue that at the time of Ancient Nubia’s height Egypt was still an emerging state. A-Group formed into a civilization known as “Ta-Seti” meaning “The Land of the Bow”. This was an ancient Egyptian name for Nubia; In many ways the Nubian kingdom fathered the world renowned Egyptian civilization as it is known today. The A-Group continued to flourish as a civilization until around 3100 B.C when emerging Egypt turned upon Nubia and it was utterly destroyed by the Pharaohs of the First Dynasty of Egypt. Nubians still continued to exist regardless as was evident later on in the Dynasty of Egypt.
4. The Sultanates of Somalia
Following the decline of several of the great ancient era African Trading Kingdoms of East Africa including but not limited to the Kingdom of Punt, the Kingdom of D’mt, and The Kingdom of Axum in Ancient Ethiopia; the new availability of trade routes opened up greatly to many kingdoms emergent out of the Horn of Africa. One of these emergent trading kingdoms that reached true greatness and power during and throughout the middle ages in Africa was a conglomeration of Sultanates in Somalia known as The Sultinates of Somalia.
From the early middle ages all the way up to the time of European domination in that region, the Horn of Africa experienced a cultural development that transformed the region into a reputable and feared trading conglomeration. However at no point throughout history was the region ever ruled as one centralized state. Throughout the era Somalia experienced the rise and decline of several trading sultanates whose cultures were deeply rooted in Islam unlike the previous kingdoms in Ethiopia who were up until this point mostly Christian and African Animist.
One of these powerful Sultanates was known as The Sultanate of Mogadishu. The Sultanate of Mogadishu was an important trading empire that lasted from the 10th century to the 16th century. It maintained a vast and highly aggressive trading network which dominated regional gold trade and also even minted its own Mogadishu currency. Their lustor was evident through the extensive architectural works left as a legacy still existent in present-day Southern Somalia.
The Ajuran Sultanate emerged between the 13th and 17th centuries. They rightfully maintained their aggressive stance over the local trade of gold and other resources off the coasts of the Horn of Africa. Their stance towards invaders was noticeably more aggressive during this time citing several wars with the Oromo peoples of Ethiopia as well as effectively resisting a Portugese naval invasion with their own navy! The Ajuran Sultanate defeated Portugal twice decisively at the battles of Benadir and Barawa.
Around this time also existed The Warsangali Sultanate centralized in northeastern Somalia, this Sultanate was known as one of the largest ever established in the area. Also existing at this time was the Sultanate of Ifat led by the Walashma dynasty, its centers were the cities of Zelia and Shewa. This Sultanate was perhaps the greatest of the dynasties, at its height holding territories of what is now eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Northern Somalia.
3. The Aksumite Empire
The Kingdom of D’mt is believed to have been the first kingdom to have existed in the region known today as Ethiopia. Its capital at Yeha was the site of a Sabean-style temple built around 700 BCE. It rose to power around the 10th century BCE, but little is known today about why the kingdom fell to decline. One of the successors to this kingdom would be one of the greatest kingdoms not only in Africa but throughout the world. The Aksumite Empire was once regarded by Manichaei (Sassanid) Prophet Mani as “one of the four great powers” of his time.
As mentioned earlier with the Sultanates of Somalia, the Aksumite Empire dominated trade in this region in Africa throughout the rest of the Classical Era. The Aksumite Empire acted as a middle-man in the trade between the Eastern Roman Empire to the rest of the East particularly India, this made it THE most wealthy kingdom of the time. At its height the Empire of Aksum held territories in the modern day countries of Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eretria, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The Aksumite Empire was Christian but at around 960 CE. an anomaly happened.
A Non-Christian female ruler known only as Yodit, according to Ethiopian historians, seemingly rose up almost out of nowhere and single handedly managed to wipe out all the males of the Aksumite Dynasties hierarchy promptly ending one of the greatest Empires Africa had ever seen.
2. The Zagwe Dynasty
With the Zagwe Dynasty you can think of this Empire as part II to the story of what happened after the tragic end of the Aksumite Empire. After over a century of Yodit and her successors miraculous rule over most of Ethiopia a young Agaw lord named Mara Takla Haymanot rose an army and finally overthrew the last of Yodit’s successors. He then founded the Zagwe Dynasty in 1137 a profound year marking the real beginning of The Ethiopian Empire known also as Abyssinia. The Zagwe Dynasty established its capital at Roha, the historic city known today as Lalibela where a series of monolithic churches were built by later descendants. The Zagwe continued their forefathers traditions and righteously returned back to the ways of the Aksumites who came before them restoring Ethiopian culture. Generally the Zagwe ruled in peace and were not majorly engaged with any conflicts although the European Crusades were raging at this time just to the north in the Levant. Unlike the Aksumites who came before them the Zagwe preferred to stay out of European affairs which is why they were almost completely isolated in East Africa at this point and getting surrounded by Islam fast. As the Crusades started to die out in the 14th century Ethiopian King Wedem Ar’ad dispatched a thirty-man expedition to Europe in which they traveled to Rome to meet the Pope to appeal for aid against the impending Islamic encroachment in the Horn of Africa. At this time the papacy was in a scandal and they did not care to help Africans deal with their problems even though they just got finished fighting Eight Crusades in the Levant. Of course by this, the Ethiopian mission was insulted and in spite quite comically so went to Avignon on the same trip after visiting the pope in Rome, and visited the Anti-Pope. In retrospect, this was probably for the best although that would not hold for too much longer.
1. The Solomonic Dynasty
Finally, for this list we have chosen none other than The Solomonic Dynasty as our number one East African Kingdom due to a number of reasons. By now as you’ve probably noticed, Ethiopia’s name has appeared throughout this list. Ethiopia’s influence on not only East African history but world history simply cannot be denied. The sheer volume of Kingdoms who rose and fell out of this region from the beginning of time all the way into the modern era give the best accounts of African Fiefdom and unique culture not seen anywhere else in the world.
By the year 1270 ADE. a new dynasty was forming in the Abyssinian Highlands under the leadership of Yekuno Amlak, who by this point deposed the last of the Zagwe kings and married one of their daughters. According to historical legend the new Dynasty were claimed to be male-line descendants from those who were thought to have been totally eliminated 300 years before by Yodit. The central provinces of this dynasty were in Tigray (Northern Ethiopia), Amhara (Central Ethiopia), and Shewa (Southern Ethiopia). The main seat of government however was maintained in Amhara or Shewa where the ruler exacted tribute from the other provinces, when he could. At this point Ethiopia was ruled much in a similar way to how the Sultanates of Somalia were in that most often the provinces would come together to face a general threat but they were also often at fierce competition with each other sometimes resulting in war.
By the close of the 15th century Portuguese missions to Abyssinia began. Ethiopia was engaging in military reforms under Amda Seyon (1314-1344) as well as some imperial expansion that left it dominating the Horn of Africa at this time. Portuguese came in search of a man known by the name of Prester John to Europeans. He was believed to be a biblical prophet and important figure from a Christian kingdom to the far east end of Africa. The Artistic and military advancement of this age came together with a decline of urbanization due to the Solomonic Emperors preferring to move around the kingdom in mobile camps rather than having fixed capitals. This was due to most Ethiopian Kings being warrior-kings who most often were directly involved in military engagements and activities.
Portuguese meddling in Ethiopian affairs was increased during this time with several notable characters deciding to stay in Ethiopia for a number of years following the mission to look for Prester John. One such character was a military commander by the name of Pêro da Covilhã who arrived in Abyssinia in 1490. The Solomonic Dynasty was a bation for Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, these religions are believed to have ruled Ethiopia since the 10th century BC. Between 1528 and 1540 armies of Muslims under the charge of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi invaded Ethiopia through the low country in the southeast and overran most of the kingdom. This made the then Emperor Dawit II have to take refuge in the mountains. The Ethiopians enlisted the Portugese again for help. Upon receiving the message Portugal acted upon this request with haste and sent a fleet from India to the port at Massawa. The Portuguese had initial success against the enemies from Somalia, but subsequently at the Battle of Wofla their commander Cristóvão da Gama was captured and executed. Later on in 1543 Al Ghazi was shot and killed by the Portuguese at the Battle of Wayna Daga and his forces were completely routed. Following this victory and the supposed saving of Ethiopia quarrels arose between these “guests” who have overstayed their welcome by this point and the Emperor of Ethiopia. A Portuguese commander by the name of João Bermudes felt it necessary to insist that the Emperor of Ethiopia profess his obedience to Rome. Emperor Dawit II was not pleased and the Portuguese were obliged to leave.
In 1633 upon the death of Emperor Susenyos, his son Fasilides made Gondar his capital building a castle there known as Fasil Ghebbi (Royal Enclosure). During this time literary philosophy was flourishing in Ethiopia with famous Ethiopian rulers like Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat leading the movement. By the 18th century however Ethiopia would face its most challenging and violent period in the region’s history Zemene Mesafint (Era of Princes). Although it sounds nice, this was not an easy time to be a Prince in Ethiopia. This period saw the rapid rise and fall of many young leaders of Ethiopia, some to battles, some to assasination, some to illness or just plain old misfortune. It is unknown to scholars what exactly started Zemene Mesafint mostly pointing at various events likely being the trigger ranging from between 1706-1769 as the beginning of the era. The Emperors of Ethiopia were regarded as little more than figureheads as the commanders in charge of their armies had gone mostly rouge pursuing their own power. This included starting wars without consent from the capital, making treatise without consent from the capital, conflict of interest with the kingdom, and sometimes outright secession.
Also happening within Ethiopia was the more alarming European encirclement that was in full swing throughout the rest of Africa by this point. Most Ethiopians became angered at the Europeans who were now refusing to leave due to them claiming to be Christians and were living in Ethiopia. These tensions persisted throughout the 19th century and by the end Ethiopia fought several wars against foreign invaders repelling them all, starting with the war with Ethio-Egyptian war in 1874 which resulted in a decisive victory. As well as various skirmishes with the British Empire, and finally their big war with the Italian Empire ending with decisive victories at the battles of Dogali (1887) and the famous Battle of Adwa (1896) where the Ethiopian Army of about 120,000 completely destroyed a modern european Italian Army of 20,000 armed with the most revolutionary military equipment against Africans carrying spears, swords, and a few rifles. It completely ashamed and embarrassed Italy leading to wide scale unrest in Italy following the defeat and the removal of their leader.
Ethiopia is also known as the source of the Rastafari and the history that ties many Black West Indians back home to Africa with its inspiration on black icons who were alive during the time of these happenings such as Marcus Garvey. With Haile Selassie I, the last Ethiopian Emperor, visiting Jamaica in 1966 shortly before he was Assassinated in 1975 in his own palace putting an end to the Eight Hundred year old dynasty.
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