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  • 7C h a p t e r

    1500 B.C.A.D. 1500

    Flowering of AfricanCivilizations

    > Movement Migrations of Bantu-speaking people influence Africascultural development. Section 1

    > Cultural Diffusion Africas tradecontacts with Europe and Asiaaffect African cultures. Section 2

    > Innovation East African city-statesdevelop a new culture based onAfrican and Arab cultures.Section 3


    The YorubaWest Africans living by the Niger River

    gather each winter to hear storytellers recount a legend that tells

    of how their ancestors struggled to clear their land with tools

    made of wood and soft metal. Even orishas, or gods, could not

    cut through vines or trees with these tools until the god Ogun

    appeared, carrying his bush knife.

    He slashed through the heavy vines, felled the trees and

    cleared the forest from the land. So [the people] made [Ogun]

    their ruler. He built forges for them and showed them how to

    make spears, knives, hoes, and swords.

    Legends such as this describe experiences that early people

    valued most. Early Africans built civilizations that have left rich

    traditions for todays peoples.

    How did early Africans use the natural resources oftheir environment to develop trade networks? What impactdid their cultures have on other lands?

    Historical Significance


    Chapter Themes

  • Chapter 7 Flowering of African Civilizations 183

    Prehistoric cave art from Tassili NAjjer Plateau, AlgeriaArt&


    Consult a historical atlas, and drawan outline map of Africa showing earlyAfrican kingdoms, the dates when theyexisted, and major trade routes. Writeand answer questions based on the mapsdata.

    Your History Journal

    Chapter Overview

    Visit the World History: The Human ExperienceWeb site at andclick on Chapter 7Chapter Overview to preview the chapter.

  • A fricas earliest civilizations left fewwritten records of their existence. Itwas through oral traditionsleg-ends and history passed by word of mouth fromone generation to anotherthat early African peo-ples communicated knowledge about their culture.Thus, archaeologists and historians have had torely on legends and artifacts to learn about the cul-ture of African civilizations between 1100 B.C. andA.D. 1500.

    Archaeologists have discovered that earlyAfrican cultures developed technologies and tradebased on regional natural resources. Civilizationsrose and declined, and were influenced by themovement of people and by the way in which nat-ural resources were developed.

    Geography and EnvironmentAfricas geography and climate are a study in

    contrasts. Africa, the worlds second-largest conti-nent, is three times larger than the United States.Within its huge expanse lie desolate deserts, loftymountains, rolling grasslands, and fertile river valleys.

    Regions of AfricaThe African continent can be divided into five

    regions based on location and environment: NorthAfrica, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, andSouthern Africa.

    North Africa consists of a thin coastal plain,bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and an inlanddesert area. Coastal North Africa has mild temper-atures and frequent rainfall. In contrast, the areasouth of this green belt is a vast expanse of sand:the Sahara, the worlds largest desert. Extendingmore than 3,500 miles (5,630 km) across the conti-nent, the Sahara is a region of shifting dunes andjagged rock piles.

    > Terms to Defineoral tradition, plateau, savanna, matrilineal, age set

    > People to MeetPiankhi, Ezana, the Nok

    > Places to LocateNubia, Kush, Axum

    African oral tradition contained stories full ofwisdom, to be enjoyed by all. For example, wheredid death come from? A myth from Madagascargave this answer. One day God asked the first cou-ple what kind of death they wanted, one like that ofthe moon, or that of the banana? The couple waspuzzled. God explained: The banana creates youngplants to take its place, but the moon itself comesback to life every month. After consideration, thecouple prayed for children, because without chil-dren they would be lonely, would have to do all thework, and would have no one to provide for. Sincethat time, human life is short on this earth.

    freely adapted fromThe Humanistic Tradition,Gloria K. Fiero, 1992

    S e c t i o n 1

    Early Africa



    Read to Find Out Main Idea A variety of societies andcultures emerged in early Africa.

  • The SahelSouth of the Sahara, the continent of Africa is

    dominated by a great central plateaua relativelyhigh, flat area known as the Sahel. This regionreceives moderate rainfall to sustain the savannas,or treeless grasslands, that cover the plateau. Thesavannas south of the Sahara constitute about 40percent of Africas land area.

    In East Africa, the Sahel descends into a deepcrack known as the Great Rift Valley. The valleyextends 40 miles (65 km) in width and 2,000 feet(610 m) in depth. It runs 3,000 miles (4,827 km) fromthe Red Sea in the north all the way to SouthernAfrica. Rising above the Sahel plateau east of thevalley are two mountain peaksMount Kenya andKilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro is Africas highest moun-tain, with an elevation of 19,340 feet (5,895 m).

    In West Africa, the Sahel descends to a narrowcoastal plain that has a relatively unbroken coast-line. The major rivers that do flow through thecoastal plainthe Niger and the Zaire (Congo)are navigable only for short distances. The few nat-ural harbors and limited river travel isolated earlyAfrican civilizations and made foreign invasionsdifficult in some areas.

    Central Africa near the Equator has lush tropi-cal rain forests so thick that sunlight cannot reachthe forest floor. Although the rain forest climate ishot and humid, 1,500 miles (2,413 km) farther souththe land again turns into a desertthe Kalahari.Still farther south, the Kalahari gives way to a cool,

    fertile highland in Southern Africa.The African continent has provided rich

    resources for its people. Early cultures developedwhere rainfall was plentiful, or near lakes or alongrivers like the Nile.

    Nubia and KushBy 3000 B.C., a people called the Nubians estab-

    lished a kingdom called Nubia in the southern partof the Nile River valley in present-day Sudan. TheNubian people mastered the bow and arrow andbecame warriors. With their military skills, theyconquered smaller neighboring communities in theNile Valley.

    The Nubians maintained close contacts withEgypt to the north. Archaeologists have uncoveredthe tombs of Nubian kings, which contained pre-cious stones, gold, jewelry, and pottery. These are asornate as those found in Egypt from the same peri-od. Some scholars believe that political ideas, suchas monarchy, and various objects, like boats andeating utensils, reveal the early beginnings of theclose cultural links between Nubia and Egypt.

    By 2000 B.C., the Nubian river civilization haddeveloped into the kingdom of Kush. After defeatin warfare, Kush was under Egyptian rule for 500years. Egyptian pharaohs stationed soldiers in Kushto collect duties on goods moving through the region.

    The people of Kush used their location alongthe Upper Nile River to develop a strong trade

    Chapter 7 Flowering of African Civilizations 185

    Wall painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,New York. Four late Bronze Age Nubian princes offer rings and gold

    to an Egyptian ruler. In what ways did Nubian culture resemble Egyptian culture?


  • economy. The Kushite cities of Napata and Merostood where trade caravans crossed the Nile, bring-ing gold, elephant tusks, and timber from theAfrican interior. This strategic location broughtwealth to the merchants and kings of Kush.

    Around 1000 B.C. Kush broke away from Egyptand became politically independent. In time Kushgrew strong enough that a Kushite king namedPiankhi (peeAHNKhee) in 724 B.C. led a power-ful army from Kush into Egypt and defeated theEgyptians. After this victory, Kushite kings ruledover both Egypt and Kush from their capital atNapata. The city boasted white sandstone temples,monuments, and pyramids fashioned in styles sim-ilar to those of the Egyptians.

    In 671 B.C. the Assyrians invaded Egypt, easilydefeating the Kushites, whose bronze weapons wereno match against Assyrian iron swords. The Kushiteswere forced to leave Egypt and return to their hometerritory at the bend of the Upper Nile. In spite oftheir defeat, the Kushites learned from their enemiesthe technology of making iron. They built a newcapital at Mero that became a major center for ironproduction. Kush merchants traded iron, leopard

    skins, and ebony for goods from the Mediterraneanand the Red Sea regions. They also conducted busi-ness throughout the Indian Ocean area. Merosmerchants used their wealth to construct fine hous-es built around a central courtyard and public bathsmodeled after ones they had seen in Rome.

    For about 150 years, the Kushite kingdomthrived. Then a new powerAxum, a kingdomlocated near the Red Seainvaded Kush andended Kushite domination of northeastern Africa.

    AxumBecause of its location along the Red Sea, Axum

    also emerged as a trading power. During the 200sB.C., merchants from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia,and India sent ships laden with cotton cloth, brass,copper, and olive oil to Axums main seaport atAdulis. Traders exchanged their goods for cargoesof ivory that the people of Axum hauled fromAfricas interior.

    Through trade Axum absorbed many elementsof Roman culture, including a new religion:

    186 Chapter 7 Flowering of African C