Evidence of African civilizations


Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
I created this thread for the purpose of sharing what pre-colonial African civilizations had which showcased their existence and to address many of the misconceptions. Now I have a feeling that some might feel the urge to use a roundabout way to put the focus on what African civilizations lacked, and I must insist that this is not the thread for that. Anyone and everyone are welcome to share about what African civilization had.

Kingdom of Aksum (one of the first Christian empires, adopting Christianity around the time of Constantine)

Remains of the biggest Aksumite stele:

The Kingdom of Aksum had many of these steles, with stories inscribed on it:

For example this stele tells how Ezana converted to Christianity as well as his military achievements:

Model of the Ta'akha Palace:

Zagwe Church at Lalibela:

They used the Ge'ez scrip such as in this early 14th century prayer book:

Early 16th century Bible in Ethiopia:

The above Bible belonged to the Church of Gefu´ Giyorgis, which is shown here:

Kilwa and Songo Mnara:

from a Persian Manuscript(Al-Maqamat) -1237 C.E :

More structures around the Swahili coast:

The structure at the upper left shows that they understood how putting arches adjacent to each other would offset the tension caused by the adjacent arch.


Laws of Commerce in Verse: This volume delineates the obligations of parties to commercial exchanges and contracts. The author focuses on sales and how individuals loaning money are to be protected in commercial transactions. Verse is used to aid in memorizing the text.

Structure of the Heavens: This text was written to train scholars in the field of astronomy, a science that Islamic tradition traces back to Adam and to the Prophet Idris. The author discusses how to use the movements of the stars to calculate the beginning of the seasons and how to cast horoscopes, among many other aspects of astronomy. Displayed is a diagram demonstrating the rotation of the heavens.

Source: Exhibition - Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu | Exhibitions - Library of Congress

Architecture in Somali:
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Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
It should be mentioned that a lot of these pictures came from pointers by Ighayere and JeanDukeOfAlecon.

The following is from Ighayere's post on a credit system:

"Since de Marees makes clear not only that Africans on the Gold Coast were pressing Europeans for credit in the early seventeenth century, but also that credit was already being used in local markets there, the inference is that, here at least, it was the Dutch who were conforming to African practice and expectations rather than vice versa. It is quite possible, of course, that the extension of credit had been introduced earlier into the West African trade by the Portuguese - other evidence indicates that they had initially given credit in Warri, but that the Dutch refused it when they began trading there in the 1640s. But even if this is so, it may be that the idea of credit originated in the domestic economy and was extended from there into the European trade. At any rate, it is striking that the earliest recorded instance of the offering of credit in the West African trade, at Benin in 1553, came from the African rather than the European side. The king of Benin then offered English traders credit until their next voyage, should their goods prove insufficient to pay for a whole cargo of pepper." - Robin Law, "Finance and Credit in Precolonial Dahomey", from Credit, Currencies and Culture: African Financial Institutions in Historical Perspective (1999), p. 24

The "Laws of Commerce in Verse" shown in the above post also describes the credit system as well.

In another post Ighayere mentioned:

In 1137 AD, long before Timbuktu was even a center of scholarship or had any learned men, the geographer/historian Al-Zuhri had noted that in Ghana (the empire of Ghana, centered in what is now Mauritania, not the modern Republic of Ghana) they had "scholars, lawyers, and Koran readers" and that some of them "have become pre-eminent in these fields. Some of their chief leaders have come to al-Andalus". Even earlier than that, the Andalusian scholar Al-Bakri mentioned, in 1068, that in the Muslim part of the capital of Ghana, there were "salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurists and scholars." The Andalusian geographer Ibn Sa'id (1214-1286) in his Kitab al-Jughrafiya (The Book of Geography) noted of the ruler of the empire of Kanem that "he has scholars around him". Once again, this is well before the rise of Timbuktu as a center of learning. It was never true that Timbuktu was the sole center of scholarship in Muslim west Africa. It is just the most famous name. That is all. A scholarly work that you can read which has some discussion of how learning and scholarship in Muslim west Africa went well beyond just Timbuktu is the book Beyond Timbuktu (2016) by Ousmane Kane.
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Mar 2012
I never researched this but something else that is interesting is that the "Rock Hewn" temples in the Ancient Egyptian tradition first appears in Nubia. The Egyptians incorporated this tradition into their own after the "colonized" Nubia during the 12th Dynasty. The most famous Rock Hewn temple is Abu Simbel built by Ramses in Nubian Soil to impress the Nubians where his wives and princess were depicted wearing Nubian wigs, at the same time showing enemy Nubians and Asiatics being crushed and enslaved. Abu Simbel is a very interesting temple given its political and cultural message and heritage, hence its my favorite Temple in Egypt. Its basically Ramses trying to out Nubian the Nubians..

Anyways Ive always wondered in "Rock Hewing" was a tradition that stemmed somewhere in East Africa or along the Nile and spread independently to Nubians and Ethiopians. IDK maybe Im over thinking it.

Regarding the Axumite churches, do we know why they were cut into rock?
Mar 2012
Big Ups to Ighayere for dropping knowledge as usual, I had no idea the Ethiopians built bridges...

Anyway heres some Primary sources on first hand account of people who visited African cities during their prime

"fine buildings, spacious houses, churches with much gold, and gardens. There is a quarter in it inhabited by Muslims . . . they have well bred horses and Arab camels. Their religion is Jacobite Christianity and their bishops come from the patriarch of Alexandria ... and their books are in Greek which they translate into their own language.-

Ibn Selim el Aswani,

description of Soba, Alwah(Christian Nubia)

“It seemed to be very big, when you go into it, you enter a great broad street, which is not paved, and seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam [the capital of Holland]. The street is straight, and does not bend at any point. It is thought to be four miles long.
‘At the gate where I went in on horseback, I saw a very big wall, very thick and made of earth, with a very deep and broad ditch outside it… And outside the gate there is also a big suburb. Inside the gate, and along the great street just mentioned, you see many other great streets on either side, and these are also straight and do not bend…

‘The houses in this town stand in good order, one close and evenly placed with its neighbor, just as the houses in Holland stand… They have square rooms, sheltered by a roof that is open in the middle, where the rain, and wind and light come in. The people sleep and eat in these rooms, but they have other rooms for cooking and different purposes…
‘The king’s court is very great. It is built around many square-shaped yards. These yards have surrounding galleries where sentries are always places. I myself went into these court far enough to pass through four great yards like this, and yet wherever I looked I could still see gate after gate which opened into other yards....'

 Dutch traveler O. Dapper-1602

Description of Benin City
Mar 2012
"We ... traveled by sea to the city of Kulwa [Kilwa in East Africa]...Most of its people are Zunuj, extremely black...The city of Kulwa is amongst the most beautiful of cities and most elegantly built... Their uppermost virtue is religion and righteousness and they are Shafi'i in rite."

Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1331

I embarked at Maqdashaw [Mogadishu] for the Sawahil [Swahili] country, with the object of visiting the town of Kulwa [Kilwa, Quiloa] in the land of the Zanj.

We came to Mambasa [Mombasa], a large island two days' journey by sea from the Sawihil country. It possesses no territory on the mainland. They have fruit trees on the island, but no cereals, which have to be brought to them from the Sawahil. Their food consists chiefly of bananas and fish.The inhabitants are pious, honourable, and upright, and they have well-built wooden mosques.

-Ibn Bhattuta

From Tumbuktu I sailed down the Nile on a small boat, hollowed out of a single piece of wood.

I went on . . . to Gawgaw [Gogo], which is a large city on the Nile, and one of the finest towns in the Negrolands. It is also one of their biggest and best-provisioned towns, with rice in plenty, milk, and fish, and there is a species of cucumber there called "inani" which has no equal. The buying and selling of its inhabitants is done with cowry-shells, and the same is the case at Malli [the city of Mali]. I stayed there about a month, and then set out in the direction of Tagadda by land with a large caravan of merchants from Ghadamas.

-Ibn Bhattuta

 The name of this kingdom is a modern one, after a city which was built by a king named Mansa Suleyman in the year 610 of the hegira [1232 CE] around twelve miles from a branch of the Niger River. (1)

The houses of Timbuktu are huts made of clay-covered wattles with thatched roofs. In the center of the city is a temple built of stone and mortar, built by an architect named Granata, (2) and in addition there is a large palace, constructed by the same architect, where the king lives. The shops of the artisans, the merchants, and especially weavers of cotton cloth are very numerous. Fabrics are also imported from Europe to Timbuktu, borne by Berber merchants. (3)

The women of the city maintain the custom of veiling their faces, except for the slaves who sell all the foodstuffs. The inhabitants are very rich, especially the strangers who have settled in the country; so much so that the current king (4) has given two of his daughters in marriage to two brothers, both businessmen, on account of their wealth. There are many wells containing sweet water in Timbuktu; and in addition, when the Niger is in flood canals deliver the water to the city. Grain and animals are abundant, so that the consumption of milk and butter is considerable. But salt is in very short supply because it is carried here from Tegaza, some 500 miles from Timbuktu. I happened to be in this city at a time when a load of salt sold for eighty ducats. The king has a rich treasure of coins and gold ingots. One of these ingots weighs 970 pounds. (5)

The royal court is magnificent and very well organized. When the king goes from one city to another with the people of his court, he rides a camel and the horses are led by hand by servants. If fighting becomes necessary, the servants mount the camels and all the soldiers mount on horseback. When someone wishes to speak to the king, he must kneel before him and bow down; but this is only required of those who have never before spoken to the king, or of ambassadors. The king has about 3,000 horsemen and infinity of foot-soldiers armed with bows made of wild fennel [?] which they use to shoot poisoned arrows. This king makes war only upon neighboring enemies and upon those who do not want to pay him tribute. When he has gained a victory, he has all of them--even the children--sold in the market at Timbuktu.

Only small, poor horses are born in this country. The merchants use them for their voyages and the courtiers to move about the city. But the good horses come from Barbary. They arrive in a caravan and, ten or twelve days later, they are led to the ruler, who takes as many as he likes and pays appropriately for them.

The king is a declared enemy of the Jews. He will not allow any to live in the city. If he hears it said that a Berber merchant frequents them or does business with them, he confiscates his goods. There are in Timbuktu numerous judges, teachers and priests, all properly appointed by the king. He greatly honors learning. Many hand-written books imported from Barbary are also sold. There is more profit made from this commerce than from all other merchandise.

-Leo Africanus