Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (2023)

Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptian civilisation grew for thousands of years intact because the Nile River Valley and Mediterranean and Red Sea border kept foreigners and their ideas away.

The Nile River was very important to Egyptian civilisation. The Nile provided a communication and trade route across a huge and harsh land. Yearly flooding of the Nile nourished the dry surrounding farms. People had always built their homes in towns and cities along the banks of the Nile. The earliest inhabitants of this region were Stone-Age hunter-gatherers who found the area rich in wildlife. Big shifts in climate led to the change from the nomadic way of life to one of settled farming communities.

The Nile River

The Nile is the biggest river in Africa. The river comes from the meeting of three rivers from Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia. It starts in south (Upper) Egypt and ends at the country's northern border with the Mediterranean Sea (Lower Egypt).

The ancient Greeks saw Egypt as a gift of the Nile. Egypt's existence was made possible by the river. The ancient Egyptians settled on the narrow strip of rich alluvial soil along both banks of the Nile. This strip provided good agricultural soil. Egyptians always lived close to the Nile as it was an abundant water source providing protection against the surrounding harsh desert environment.

Egypt was split into two regions. These were the higher ground and narrower river valleys in the south and the flat flood plains in the north by the sea. Another natural boundary, the Red Sea, extends roughly parallel to the Nile lies to the East. These two seas ensured that the Egyptians were the only people of the ancient world able to control both western and eastern foreign trade.

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Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (1) Egyptian Pyramids. Image source


The majority of buildings were built using sun-dried bricks made from river clay. These walls lasted long because they were protected from weathering by an external stone face. There are many kinds of stone in Egypt, and it was the first region in the ancient Middle East to develop a monumental stone architecture.


The Egyptian nation was stretched along a very long river. Boats were used for transporting goods and allowing communication. These were made from imported wood, because there were no forests and trees to be found nearby.


Egypt has only spring and summer seasons. Rain is rare and the climate is warm and pleasant. The large farming population was freed up during the flood months. The ruling group was able to use these people on massive building projects.


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Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (2) The triangular shape of the pyramids shows the control of one person over many.

Ancient Egyptian religion remained mostly the same over thousands of years. Although the Egyptians claimed to be monotheistic (believing in one God), in practice they were polytheistic (worshipping many Gods). Religion was organised by powerful priests. The Pharaoh or king was considered to be God's second in command. In this way the ancient Egyptian beliefs supported the political and social way of life at the time.

Egyptians had a very long ritual for the after-life. This included the embalming( preserving) of bodies to be put into a special room or tomb inside huge structures such as the pyramids.. Kings and nobles were the only people who could afford this ritual. It led to the creation of the monuments of ancient Egypt, like the famous pyramids.

Using the food cultivated by a favourable climate and forced labour, the Pharaohs financed huge pyramids that would eventually contain their embalmed bodies and worldly riches for the after-life. A very large staff of trained craftsmen and an army of peasant, slave and prisoners of war built these pyramids during the flood period in summer.

Social structure

Ancient Egyptians are said to be the first people to have a dictator. Social relations and work instructions were determined by priests and scribes under a powerful Pharaoh, who played the role of god, king and high priest. The Pharaoh owned all land and controlled the country with an iron fist.

A day in the life of an Egyptian (click here).

The royal family, priests and those in charge of the management of the people were all free from hard work. These people's children automatically inherited the same position of privilege. This privileged group made a huge contribution in their studies of mathematics and the development of writing (on clay and papyrus).

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The civilisation of Nubia

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (3) King Sabacus. Image source

The civilisation of Nubia lay in today's Sudan south of Egypt. Much is known about Egyptian civilisation but few people know about a civilisation that ruled Egypt for as many as a hundred years. The black race pharaohs in Egyptian history were actually Nubian or Sudanese kings. The two civilisations lived side by side for a long time and share many similarities. Nubia had pyramids similar to ones in Egypt. There are 223 pyramids in Sudan, over half the number of those in Egypt. The Nubian civilisation was known as the Ta Seti kingdom and its kings ruled Egypt in 712-657 BC as the 25th dynasty. It is believed that the first Nubian king to rule Egypt was Sabacus. After Egypt regained independence from the Nubians, the Nubian civilisation continued for 1000 years in Sudan.

This sculpture below was for a Nubian Ruler. The Nubian rulers in Egypt were known as powerful rulers and their power can be seen in the monuments built for them by the Egyptians.

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (4) Nubian Ruler. Image source

The Nubian kingdom was advanced with a written language. Nubia culture existed in a harsh environment with little rain. The River Nile could not support large numbers of people as it did in Egypt. However, the region was rich in gold, ivory, and ebony.

The Nubian people converted to Christianity in the year 540. The influence of Christianity can be seen in the buildings and culture. Christian religious books were translated into the Nubian language. The Nubians also wrote down their laws, letters and other documents. These writings are a precious record of this culture and language. It is also believed that because of this early conversion to Christianity, the Nubians were among the first people to spread the faith in Europe. Before converting to Christianity, the Nubian religion was similar to that practised in Egypt. For example, they also believed in war gods like the one below.

The Nubian rulers grew weaker as time passed and in the 15th century the kingdom finally dissolved.

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The Arabs took over the region bringing with them their own culture. However, in some areas of southern Egypt and northern Sudan the Nubian people kept their culture and traditions until the present day.

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (5) An example of Nubian writing and the lion headed war god Image source

Swahili civilisation

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (6) Map showing the location of Swahili civilization in Africa. Image source

The Swahili civilisation lay on the east African coast, from Mogadishu in the North towards Sofala (today Beira) and Inhambane in the South. This civilisation existed from around 100 A.D. Swahili civilisation came about through the mixing of the original local people with foreigners with whom they traded, especially the Arabs. The cultures of many groups blended together to form a new language and culture, called ‘Swahili’ by the Arabs. It means ‘people of the coast’ in Arabic. They were called this because they lived in the coastal towns, which made it easy for them to trade with the Arabs who came across the ocean in boats to trade. Unlike the Egyptians and Nubians, the Swahili people did not build a single kingdom or empire to rule all the Swahili people and coastal towns. These coastal towns or city-states were independent from each other and they sometimes competed for control of trade. The Swahili people also traded with other African kingdoms like Mapungubwe in southern Africa.

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (7) Swahili Mosque at Lamu Island North Of Mombasa, Kenya. Image source

A traveller's handbook, the Periplus, written by a Roman traveller between 40 and 70 A.D, gives some picture of what Swahili people and their lives were like. It describes the ports that were visited, the goods traded and what the coastal traders were like. The Periplus was written to show the people of Rome that there were many trading opportunities with East Africa. This information was useful for writing the history of the Swahili people before Islamic scholars put together their records on the Swahili people.

Trade with the Arabs and the immigration of Arab people to the East coast influenced the area. Stone-wall buildings can be found that follow Arabic Asian designs. These are different from the buildings found further inland. These buildings combined African and Arabic building styles. Many Swahili rulers adopted Islamic religion and political titles like ‘Sultan’. They used Islam and the new Swahili language to unite the people and create a new culture unique to the East coast of Africa. Like the Egyptians and Nubian heritages, the Swahili people also wrote down their history. As a result, we are able to learn the history of the Swahili from these writings.

(Video) Lost Kingdoms of Africa 1 of 4 Nubia

Early African civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Swahili (8) Image: City of Mogadishu. Image source

The Swahili civilisation came to an end after the Portuguese conquest in the early 1500s. In conquering Swahili towns, the Portuguese destroyed and looted many buildings. The Portuguese were searching for gold and ivory and knew that the Eastern coast was rich in these. Ivory and gold was used to decorate buildings in Swahili coastal towns. Despite Portuguese conquest, Swahili culture and traditions are still practised today.


What were the first 3 civilizations in Africa? ›

Africa's First Civilizations: Egypt, Kush & Axum.

What are the four early African civilization? ›

The civilizations usually include Egypt, Carthage, Axum, Numidia, and Nubia, but may also be extended to the prehistoric Land of Punt and others: Kingdom of Dagbon, the Empire of Ashanti, Kingdom of Kongo, Empire of Mali, Kingdom of Zimbabwe, Songhai Empire, the Garamantes the Empire of Ghana, Bono state, Harla Kingdom ...

What was the earliest Civilisation in Africa? ›

The first civilization in Africa was Egypt, and it was accelerated by the river Nile which provided the Egyptians with water for farming grains. In 3100 BCE, King Menes united the upper and lower parts and formed a united kingdom of Egypt.

What ancient Civilisation was in Africa Egypt? ›

Africa's first great civilization emerged in ancient Egypt in c. 3400 BC. Carthage was founded by Phoenicians in the 9th century BC. Ancient civilization, based around the River Nile in Egypt, which emerged 5,000 years ago and reached its peak in the 16th century BC.

What were the 3 ancient kingdoms in Africa? ›

While the ancient North African Empires are far better known, the civilizations of Nok, Kush, and Aksum are all crucially important to world history.

What were the 2 first civilizations to develop in Africa? ›

It is usually accepted that two major civilisations developed in African antiquity: one around the Nile River in the northeast and the other, somewhat younger, around the Niger River in the west. Ancient Egypt and Nubia are prominent in history textbooks. West African civilisation has not become as prominent.

What are 5 historical civilizations that existed in Africa? ›

7 Influential African Empires
  • The Kingdom of Kush. Meroë is an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile app. ...
  • The Land of Punt. Papyrus showing preparations for an Egyptian journey to Punt. ( ...
  • Carthage. Tunisia, Carthage. ( ...
  • The Kingdom of Aksum. Coins from Aksum. ( ...
  • The Mali Empire. ...
  • The Songhai Empire. ...
  • The Great Zimbabwe.
Jan 11, 2017

Who were the 4 most advanced early civilizations? ›

Only four ancient civilizations—Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus valley, and China—provided the basis for continuous cultural developments in the same location. After the Minoan society on Crete was destroyed, its cultural traditions and legends passed into the life of mainland Greece.

What is the oldest civilization in Africa other than Egypt? ›

1. The Aksumite Empire. Also known as the Kingdom of Aksum (or Axum), this ancient society is the oldest of the African kingdoms on this list. This kingdom spread across what is today Ethiopia and Eritrea in an area where evidence of farming dates back 10,000 years.

What were the earliest African kingdoms? ›

The earliest kingdom in Africa was ancient Egypt. It was also one of the first civilizations in all of human history. The kingdom developed about 3000 bc in the valley of the Nile River. The achievements of the ancient Egyptians are remarkable.

What was Africa called in the Bible? ›

Cush, Cushitic and Cushi

In the Major Prophets, the terms used to refer to Africa and Africans appear more than 180 times. Cush appears also as a geographical location.

Is Nubia older than Egypt? ›

Is Nubia older than Egypt? Nubia was the name of a region in the Nile Valley below ancient Egypt that was known as kush. Egypt is the oldest civilization not Nubia as The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt had its start around 3100 BCE while the Nubian history beginning can be traced from c. 2000 BCE.

What civilization was in Africa before colonization? ›

Some notable pre-colonial states and societies in Africa include the Ajuran Empire, Bachwezi Empire, D'mt, Adal Sultanate, Alodia, Dagbon Kingdom , Warsangali Sultanate, Buganda Kingdom, Kingdom of Nri, Nok culture, Mali Empire, Bono State, Songhai Empire, Benin Empire, Oyo Empire, Kingdom of Lunda (Punu-yaka), Ashanti ...

What civilization predates Egypt? ›

The Badari culture and the successor Naqada series are generally regarded as precursors to dynastic Egypt. The earliest known Lower Egyptian site, Merimda, predates the Badarian by about seven hundred years.

What are 2 of the 3 major civilizations in Africa? ›

Between 600 BCE and 600 CE, two more major African civilizations emerged: the Kingdom of Nubia and Aksum in the Northeastern part of the sub-Saharan region.

What is the oldest civilization in the world? ›

Mesopotamia, 4000-3500 B.C.

Meaning “between two rivers” in Greek, Mesopotamia (located in modern-day Iraq, Kuwait and Syria) is considered the birthplace of civilization.

What were the two earliest civilizations? ›

Civilizations first appeared in Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq) and later in Egypt. Civilizations thrived in the Indus Valley by about 2500 B.C.E., in China by about 1500 B.C.E. and in Central America (what is now Mexico) by about 1200 B.C.E.

When did Nubia fall? ›

There were a number of large Nubian kingdoms throughout the Postclassical Era, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization of much of the Nubian population.

What are the two oldest civilizations? ›

The oldest recorded civilization in the world is the Mesopotamia civilization. Overall, the 4 oldest civilizations of the world are Mesopotamia Civilization, Egyptian Civilization, Indus Valley Civilization, and Chinese Civilization.

What was the largest civilization in Africa? ›

Founded in 1464 out of the ruins of the Malian Empire, Songhay was the largest of the indigenous empires in Africa. At its zenith, it covered around 540,000 square miles, stretching east-west for 1,200 miles along the River Niger with the Sahara to the north and the Sudan savannah to the south.

What are the 4 main ancient civilizations? ›

The four oldest civilizations are Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus valley, and China as they provided the basis for continuous cultural development in the same geographic location.

What are the six pristine civilizations? ›

Generally, the six pristine civilizations recognized by archaeologists and historians are in the following areas: Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica (which includes parts of Mexico and Central America), the Andean region and the Indus Valley.

What were the 3 greatest civilizations? ›

Three of the most famous, and therefore most commonly confused, civilizations south of the U.S. border are the Aztecs, the Mayas, and the Incas.

Who were the first people in Africa? ›

The San tribe, one of the most intriguing people in this world, are the region's earliest inhabitants (it is estimated that they have been living here for the last 30,000+ years) and are still settled in many parts of Southern Africa. The San people are the first people of Africa.

What was Africa original name? ›

In Kemetic History of Afrika, Dr cheikh Anah Diop writes, “The ancient name of Africa was Alkebulan. Alkebu-lan “mother of mankind” or “garden of Eden”.” Alkebulan is the oldest and the only word of indigenous origin. It was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans (Carthagenians), and Ethiopians.

Was the Garden of Eden in Africa? ›

The real Garden Of Eden has been traced to the African nation of Botswana, according to a major study of DNA. Scientists believe our ancestral homeland is south of the Zambezi River in the country's north.

Why Africa was called the Dark continent? ›

Africa was called the dark continent because of the obstacles encountered while attempting to explore its interior. The plateau rim of the continent extends to the coast and in the north, the Sahara Desert was a formidable obstacle to reach the interior.

Who gave Africa its name? ›

All historians agree that it was the Roman use of the term 'Africa' for parts of Tunisia and Northern Algeria which ultimately, almost 2000 years later, gave the continent its name. There is, however, no consensus amongst scholars as to why the Romans decided to call these provinces 'Africa'.

What race were the Nubians? ›

They are descended from an ancient African civilisation that ruled over an empire stretching, at its height, across the north-east corner of the continent. Most Nubians lived along the Nile river in what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan—a region often referred to as Nubia.

What language did Nubians speak? ›

Nobiin, also known as Halfawi, Mahas, is a Northern Nubian language of the Nilo-Saharan language family. "Nobiin" is the genitive form of Nòòbíí ("Nubian") and literally means "(language) of the Nubians". Another term used is Noban tamen, meaning "the Nubian language".

Was Kemet the first civilization? ›

Kemet was the most advanced ancient civilization, but not the oldest, though it remains part of the discussion.

Who discovered Africa first? ›

Portuguese explorer Prince Henry, known as the Navigator, was the first European to methodically explore Africa and the oceanic route to the Indies.

How long did Africa rule the world? ›

In ancient times, the Oracle of Amon at Siwah was the most celebrated, and Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes, were representatives of the best of Egyptian civilization and culture.

Who had the first colony in Africa? ›

The port of Walvis Bay, which was seized by the Dutch, was then used as a slave port. The Dutch established a colony in Africa before many other European countries. It is also the first colonial country which came to South Africa.

Which is older Babylon or Egypt? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Babylonian Empire did not predate the birth of civilization in Egypt. Most historians and archeologists put Egyptian civilization beginning sometime around 3100 BCE, some 12 centuries before the rise of the Babylonian Empire.

What are the six cradles of civilization? ›

Civilisation is said to have originated independently at six different points on the globe known as the “Six cradles of Civilisation” (Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, China, Egypt, Peru and Mexico).

Which is older Egyptian or Indian? ›

Scientists from IIT-Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have uncovered evidence that the Indus Valley Civilization is at least 8,000 years old, and not 5,500 years old, taking root well before the Egyptian (7000BC to 3000BC) and Mesopotamian (6500BC to 3100BC) civilizations.

What were the first 3 major civilizations? ›

The oldest recorded civilization in the world is the Mesopotamia civilization. Overall, the 4 oldest civilizations of the world are Mesopotamia Civilization, Egyptian Civilization, Indus Valley Civilization, and Chinese Civilization.

What was the first 3 civilization? ›

Civilizations first appeared in Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq) and later in Egypt. Civilizations thrived in the Indus Valley by about 2500 B.C.E., in China by about 1500 B.C.E. and in Central America (what is now Mexico) by about 1200 B.C.E. Civilizations ultimately developed on every continent except Antarctica.

What were the first 3 countries to colonize Africa? ›

By 1900 a significant part of Africa had been colonized by mainly seven European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

What were the 3 civilizations? ›

Eventually, these ancient peoples made the shift from hunting and gathering to farming, which resulted in the settlement of permanent communities in North and South America. This gave rise to three great indigenous civilizations in the Americas—those of the Maya, the Aztec, and the Inca.

What are the 6 original civilizations? ›

The 6 Earliest Human Civilizations
  • Mesopotamia, 4000-3500 B.C. ...
  • Ancient Egypt, 3100 B.C. ...
  • Ancient India, 3300 B.C. ...
  • Ancient China, 2000 B.C. ...
  • Ancient Peru, 1200 B.C. ...
  • Ancient Mesoamerica, 1200 B.C. ...
  • 7 Foods Developed by Native Americans.
Aug 9, 2022

What are the 7 first civilizations? ›

Eight distinct civilizations emerged in the ancient world: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Maya, India, China, Rome, Greece, and Persia. What common characteristics did these ancient societies share? What made them unique?

What did all 3 civilizations have in common? ›

The similarities between early civilizations fall into five facets including agriculture, socialization, and hierarchy, industry, architecture and religion.

Which of the 3 early civilizations in the Americas is the oldest? ›

The Caral-Supe civilization is the oldest known advanced civilization in the American continents discovered to date.

What are the 5 pristine civilizations? ›

Generally, the six pristine civilizations recognized by archaeologists and historians are in the following areas: Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica (which includes parts of Mexico and Central America), the Andean region and the Indus Valley.

What are the names of 3 former colonies in Africa? ›

Britain's colonies in West Africa included Nigeria (1884), Gold Coast (now Ghana, 1874), Sierra Leone (1808), and Gambia (1888).

Who was Africa first colonized by? ›

Ancient and Medieval colonisation

North Africa experienced colonisation from Europe and Western Asia in the early historical period, particularly Greeks and Phoenicians. Under Egypt's Pharaoh Amasis (570–526 BC) a Greek mercantile colony was established at Naucratis, some 50 miles from the later Alexandria.

Who originally colonized Africa? ›

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a physical presence in Africa, in the 1480s, but through the 1870s European outposts were restricted to ports along the African coasts focusing on trade and diplomacy.

What is the earliest known civilization? ›

The Sumerian civilization is the oldest civilization known to mankind. The term Sumer is today used to designate southern Mesopotamia. In 3000 BC, a flourishing urban civilization existed.

What are the 4 ancient civilizations of Latin America? ›

Ancient Americas. Ancient America was home to sophisticated civilizations such as the Maya, Inca, Olmec and Aztec societies, and mysterious ruins like Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, Serpent Mound, Tikal, Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines.

What are the 3 ancient empires of Mesopotamia? ›

They were the Akkadian Empire, the Babylonian (bah-buh-LOH-nyuhn) Empire, the Assyrian (uh-SIR-ee-un) Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire.


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