The civilization of Great Zimbabwe was one of the most significant civilizations during the medieval period. Great Zimbabwe is extraordinary because of the magnificent scale of its structures. Its most striking edifice, referred to as the Great Enclosure, has walls as high as 36 feet extending approximately 820 feet, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert.
In the 1800s, European explorers, imperialists and colonizers were stunned by Great Zimbabwe’s grandeur and cunning workmanship, so they attributed the architecture to Portuguese travelers, Arabs, Chinese, Persians, or even biblical characters, such as King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, archaeological investigations conducted during the first decades of the 20th century have dismissed those attributions and confirmed both the antiquity of the site and its African origins. It was built by the ancestors of the indigenous Shona people in the 11th century, long before the first Europeans ever set foot in Zimbabwe.
2. Ancient Nubia (4500 B.C. – 500 A.D.)
Ancient Nubia, also known as Kush, was a region along the Nile River, located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It was home to some of Africa’s earliest kingdoms. Known for rich deposits of gold, Nubia was a major trading port for luxury goods that came from sub-Saharan Africa, such as incense, ivory, and ebony.
The first monarchy of recorded history was established in Nubia. The Nubians were also known for their exceptional archery skills that provided the military strength for their rulers. Kings of Nubia ultimately conquered and ruled Egypt for about a century. Monuments still stand—in modern Egypt and Sudan—at the sites where Nubian rulers built cities, temples and royal pyramids.
In the 1800s, the Western world’s interest in Nubia was awakened by the rediscovery of the ancient empire’s monuments, which were reported almost simultaneously by individual British, French and American explorers. Many of them found it difficult to credit indigenous Africans for building such a civilization.
During the 1840s, German Egyptologist, Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884) asserted confidently that the Greek term “Ethiopian,” when referring to the ancient civilized people of Kush, did not apply to “negroes,” but was used to describe reddish-skinned people closely related to the Egyptians, who “belonged to the Caucasian race.”
Again, in 1852, when the American diplomat Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) visited Sudan and gazed upon the temple carvings of gods and rulers with clearly African features, he also found it inconceivable that they could have been created by black-skinned Africans. Rather, he asserted, echoing Lepsius, they must have been created by Egyptians or immigrants from India or Arabia, or an “offshoot” of the white race.
3. Carthage (813 B.C. – 146 B.C.)
Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. on the Gulf of Tunis. From the 6th century onwards, it developed into a great trading empire covering much of the Mediterranean and was home to a brilliant civilization. In the course of the long Punic Wars, Carthage occupied some of Rome’s territories before finally being destroyed by its rival in 146 B.C.
In his book, World’s Great Men of Color, Volume 1, history scholar J.A. Rogers asserts, “The Carthaginians were descendants of the Phoenicians, a Negroid people, and that in fact until the rise of the doctrine of white superiority, Hannibal was traditionally known as a Black man.”
Today, many encyclopedias classify the Carthaginians as whites or Semites, but ancient Greek and Roman eyewitness accounts paint a different picture.The indigenous peoples of Carthage were called the Afers. Ancient Roman poet Vergil in his poem “Moretum” speaks of a woman from the Afer [Afar/Afra] race. He says of her:
“And all her figure proves her native land. Her hair was curly, thick her lips, and dark her color.”
In Library of History Book XX, Greek historian Diodorus mentions a Greek lieutenant named Agathocles, who defeated a people in the area of present-day Tunisia, who were the same hue as Ethiopians.
The eyewitness accounts are corroborated by physical anthropology. L. Bertholon and E. Chantre, both well-noted French anthropologists, documented their examination of skeletons throughout North Africa in all periods. They note that the remains of both upper and lower class individuals of ancient North Africa were representative of the Negroid race.
4. Numibia (202 B.C. – 46 B.C.)
Numidia was another great Black Berber-Libyan nation in northern Algeria during the time of the Romans and Carthaginians. It began as a sovereign state, and later alternated status between Roman province and Roman client state. It is considered to be the first major state in the history of Algeria and the Berber world.
Numidia has also been classified by European and Arab historians as a Caucasian- or Semetic-built civilization. However, in his book, The Destruction of Black Civilization, Chancellor Williams declared that Libya was once so nearly all-Black that to be called a Libyan meant that one was Black.
The Greek historian Herodotus, writing about Libya in his Histories (Book Four), stated:
“One thing I can add about this country: so far as one knows, it is inhabited by four races, and four only, of which two are indigenous and two are not. The indigenous peoples are the Libyans and Ethiopians, the former occupying the northerly and the latter the more southerly parts; the immigrants are the Phoenicians and the Greeks.”
One of the most famous Berber-Moors of the Roman times was Masinissa, the king of Numidia (238-148 BCE), who assisted the Romans against the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars.
The coin depictions and statutes of King Masinissa confirm without doubt, that this great Berber leader and king of the Moors was phenotypically a Black African man with woolly hair (similar to the West African type). Syphax, king of the Masaesylians in Numidia, a contemporary and great rival of King Masinissa, was also depicted in his coinage as a phenotypically Black African.
5. Axum (100 A.D. to 940 A.D.)
The Kingdom of Axum was a powerful Ethiopian-Eritrean empire, located in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. It developed its power by controlling the Red Sea trade routes.
Axum was ruled by the “negus nagast,” the kings of kings. Under King Ezana, Axum was the most powerful empire in northeast Africa and in 350 C.E. sacked the Nubian Kingdom of Meroe.
In the latter part of the 4th century, Axum invaded the southern part of the Arabian Penninsula and occupied Yemen from 335 to 370. At its height, Axum included the surrounding Ethiopian highlands, Beja, Noba, Kasu, and Arabian kingdoms Himyar and Sabar.
The Kingdom of Axum was prosperous from 100 A.D. to 700 A.D. It was contemporary with the Roman Empire and according to the Persian religious leader Mani (April 14, 216 — 274) , the Axumite civilization was third among the four greatest of the time, on par with Rome, Persia, and China.
A theory about the origins of Axum was that it was founded by Semitic-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from South Arabia (modern Yemen). However, scholars now agree that Sabaean influence was negligible and kingdom was founded by indigenous Africans.