7 Great Pre-colonial African Kings You Should Know About

Before colonial rule, Africa was ruled by great kings. Some of these kings will forever be remembered for their leadership qualities and achievements. check out some of them.

1) Endubis 270ce. -300ce Axum (Ethiopia) Axum was a powerful North East African Empire which rose to power after the decline of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Axum is credited with conquering and bringing the ultimate end of the Kingdom of ancient Meroe (Nubia). Axum controlled the horn of Africa to across the Red Sea into the Arabian plateau. Endubis was the first king of Ancient Africa to mint coinage, and following Endubis, all Axumite (Ethiopian) Emperors  minted their own coinage: gold, silver and bronze pieces with their faces and motto.


Endubis or Endybis, King of Axum ca 270-300 AD

2) Musa Keita I (Mansa Musa which translates as, “Kings of Kings” or “Emperor” of Ancient Mali) Keita 1 was the 10th Musa of the Mansa Dynasty. Under his rule, Mali became one of  the  wealthiest countries in the world. From their gold and salt production, agriculture and imperialistic nature and dynamic trade location, the kingdom flourished. Forbes named him the richest man of all time. Musa Kieta I Is famed with enriching the great trading city of Timbuktu, establishing the library and Islamic Universities. His legendary pilgrimage to Mecca with over 60,000 attendants and lavish outpouring of gold to the poor across Sahel region, Egypt and the Middle East was chronicled by many and is suspected as what drew the attention of the Spanish crown and initial attraction of Europeans to West Africa. Made famous by the Spanish map, which shows him holding a golden orb, Mansa Musa is also credited with initiating extensive building projects in Mali from palaces, Mosques and urban developments.

A photograph of Mansa Musa on a map of North Africa circa 1375.

.3) Amenhotep III (Egypt) 18th Dynasty 1388-1351 BC. Father of the famed “heretic Pharaoh,” Akhenaten, and grandfather to the famous King Tut, Amenhotep III was one Egypt’s greatest pharaohs and the most successful of the 18th Dynasty. During his reign, Egypt enjoyed wealth, peace and stability. There were several exquisite building projects and monuments he commissioned as well as the first man-made lake outside his palace in Malkata for his wife, the Great Queen Tiye. During his reign, Egypt had exceptional influence in foreign policy and diplomacy, which he handled along with his wife, Queen Tiye. Proof of this lies in the renowned Amarna letters coming from Assyria, Babylon, Mittani and Hatti. When Amenhotep III died, he left behind a country that was at the very height of its power and influence, commanding immense respect in the international world.


4) Taharqa (Egypt & Nubia) 25th Dynasty Reign 690 – 664 BCE. Taharqa was the one of the Great Napatan Nubian kings/Pharoahs. After his father, Piye, successfully conquered Egypt in battle, Taharqa united the two kingdoms to form the largest African empire at the time. His empire spanned from the 5th Nile Cataract in Nubia, throughout all of Egypt, up into the Middle East in Palestine. Taharqa is credited with bringing new peace and stability to Egypt, resuming building projects and arts in Egypt and Nubia, which were lost for centuries, at the time. Biblical scholars believe he is referenced in the Bible book of Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 as the great King of Kush who waged war against Sennacherib, King of Assyria. There are several monuments to Taharqa, and recently, in January of 2015, a great tomb sanctuary to the Egyptian God Osiris was unearthed in Upper Egypt. Its construction was traced back to the 25th Dynasty, possibly during Taharqa’s reign.Nubian    

Nubian Statue of Taharqa

5) Ezana Axum (Ethiopia) 333 – c. 356. Ezana is celebrated as the First Ethiopian King to embrace Christianity and convert his entire kingdom. He helped establish the Ethiopic Church. He is also credited with bringing the powerful rival kingdom of Meroe (Nubia) to an end. Under his rule, the Axumite kingdom flourished. Under his reign, several unique structures and obelisks were erected. International trade was also increased. His coinage has been unearthed in locations like India and Greece.

Ezana on the face on an ancient Axum coin


6) 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 Benin City and one of the first warrior kings of West Africa. It’s chronicled that during his reign, he conquered and absorbed at least 201 surrounding towns and villages. Together, Ewuare and his son and successor, Oba Ozolua, were responsible for establishing a viable foreign trade in Benin, building substantial palaces and creating several strategic policies, one of which removed the conquered town’s chieftains from absolute power but allowed them power in a congressional committee. He also created a patrimonial bureaucracy in which freemen served as military and administrative chiefs. Outside of war and politics, Ewuare is described as a charismatic leader. He established several cultural traditions, communal events and festivals. Under Ewuare, the tradition of Beninese arts flourished.

A Benin Bronze head for display at a shrine to the Obas, a tradition under Ewuare

7) Oba Oduduwa – Oyo Empire (Yorubaland, Nigeria) N/A 700-AD? Oduduwa is considered the progenitor of the Yorubaland and Yoruba Dynasty. He is a national folk-hero and considered a primordial God in Yoruba culture. There is much debate on where Oduduwa originally came from or when exactly he founded the Yorubaland and language; however, he and his clan descended on the lower region of Nigeria and defeated several existing settlements to establish Yorubaland. Legend has it that he had 16 sons and daughters, and before he died, he sent each one to the centers of his conquered territories to rule autonomously, where they founded the kingdoms of Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo and Oyo. Oranmiyan thus established the Yoruba dynastic family line.

Head statue of Oduduwa in the British Museum

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