African Kingdoms facts

The greatest African Kingdoms included Mali, Benin, Ife, Ghana (later known as Songhai), Kanem Bornu, Ethiopia and Great Zimbabwe.

European and Muslim visitors were very impressed with the richest of the great African Kingdoms.

In the North, the warriors who guided the kings were kitted with gold swords and shields.

 In the South, The Benin and Ife Kingdoms were very rich from trading and craft work.

 In the East, the rulers traded with Arabia, India and China and had their places decorated with carpets from Persia and Chinese ceramics.

 Timbuktu in the Sahara was famous for its gold and salt trade.

Mathematicians in Timbuktu had chartered the movements of the planets 200 years before Galileo did.

African rulers traded in gold, ivory, salt, cloth and linen, luxury goods and slaves. These made them very rich.

In addition each kingdom specialised in particular craft which their worksmen perfected for example the Kingdom of Benin skilled metal workers used The Lost-wax process to make bronzes of superb quality. The Benin bronzes are still very sought after today.

The main trading currency was the cowrie shells. They also bartered goods, negotiating for long periods to get good deals. As there were many cultures and languages, they did not usually understand what the other was saying so they traded without speaking in 'silent trading'.


In the Kingdom of Benin, skilled craftsmen excelled in metal working.

Craftsmen also excelled in wood carving.

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