A pageant of African heroes, by Leo and Diane Dillon

Four Great African Empires That Astonished the World

Who ruled Africa while Rome ruled Europe? How did they come to be forgotten?

A quick scan of online message boards will tell you that worldwide awareness of African history — aside from ancient Egypt — is seriously limited, to say the least.

A Quora commenter asks, “Why hasn’t a single prominent civilization come out of Africa?” On Reddit, someone poses (or rather, begs) the question, “Why were there so few empires in Africa?” Although responders quickly mopped the floor with those commenters’ loaded questions, millions of other people around the world have never bothered to ask in the first place.

But this knowledge gap is a fairly new phenomenon.

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt actively exchanged goods and ideas with the southern kings of Kush, who were “proud of their black faces.” The Ethiopian kings of Aksum, who traded as far afield as India and China, were the most powerful rulers between Byzantium and Persia. Centuries later, an emperor of Mali would become —

The richest person in all world history.

Oh, but this goes back much, much further. Once you start digging into the history of Africa, you begin to encounter ages and dates that are really hard to wrap your mind around — and yet, there they are.

But first, a quick announcement.

I’ve decided to centralize all my history and culture writing — including some articles you may have seen here on Medium, as well as many others you’ve never seen before — on my site The Strange Continent.

All these stories are still going to be as freely available as ever — it’s just that I’m phasing out Medium in favor of my own blog, for a variety of reasons.

Follow me there, where you’ll find this full article, along with all kinds of other juicy historical tidbits.