Bruce Morrison » African Civilizations, 1500 B.C.-A.D. 700

African Civilizations, 1500 B.C.-A.D. 700

African cultures adapt to harsh environments, spread through major migrations, and establish powerful kingdoms.


Section 1: Diverse Societies in Africa

Section 2: Case Study: Migration

Section 3: The Kingdom of Aksum


Section 1: Diverse Societies in Africa

African peoples develop diverse societies as they adapt to varied environments.


A Land of Geographic Contrasts


Geography of Africa

  • Large continent but coastline has few ports, harbors, or inlets


Challenging Environments

  • Africa has many deserts, including huge Sahara
  • The southern edge of the expanding Sahara is called the Sahel
  • Rainforests found near central part of continent


Welcoming Lands

  • Northern coast and southern tip of Africa have Mediterranean climates
  • Savannas, or grasslands, cover almost half of Africa


Early Humans Adapt to Their Environments


Nomadic Lifestyle

  • Earliest people are nomadic hunter-gatherers
  • Herders drive animals to find water, graze pastures


Transition to a Settled Lifestyle

  • Agriculture probably develops by 6000 B.C.
  • As the Sahara dried up, farmers move to West Africa or Nile Valley
  • Agriculture allows permanent settlement, governments to develop


Early Societies in Africa


Societies Organized by Family Groups

  • Extended families made up of several generations
  • Families with common ancestors form groups known as clans


Local Religions

  • Early religions usually include elements ofanimism—belief in spirits


Keeping a History

  • Few African societies have written languages
  • History, literature, culture passed on by storytellers calledgriots
  • Cultures in West Africa are advanced long before outsiders arrive


West African Iron Age


Learning About the Past

  • Artifacts reveal how people lived in the past
  • Evidence of sub-Saharan cultures producing iron around 500 B.C.


The Nok Culture

  • Nok—West Africa’s earliest known culture—made iron tools, weapons



  • From 600–200 B.C., cities begin to develop near rivers, oases
  • Djenné-Djeno—Africa’s oldest known city (250 B.C), discovered in 1977
  • Bustling trade center; linked West African towns, camel trade routes


Section 2: Migration -CASE STUDY: Bantu-Speaking Peoples

Relocation of large numbers of Bantu-speaking people brings cultural diffusion and change to southern Africa.


People on the Move



  • Migration—permanent move to new place; a pattern in human culture


Causes of Migration

  • Push-pull factors—Conditions that push people out of an area or pull them in


Effects of Migration

  • Brings diverse cultures into contact; changes life in the new land


Tracing Migration through Language

  • One way to trace migration is to study how languages spread
  • Africa has many complex language families


Massive Migrations


Bantu-speaking Peoples

  • Bantu-speaking peoples—early Africans who spread culture and language
  • Originally lived in savanna south of Sahara; now southeastern Nigeria
  • The word Bantu means “the people”


Migration Begins

  • Bantu speakers migrate south and east starting about 3000 B.C.
  • Live by slash-and-burn farming, nomadic herding
  • Share skills, learn new customs, adapt to environment


Causes of Migration

  • Bantu speakers move to find farmland, flee growing Sahara
  • Need iron ore resources and hardwood forests for iron smelting
  • Within 1,500 years they reach southern tip of Africa


Effects of the Migration

  • Bantu speakers drive out some inhabitants; intermix with others
  • Bantu migrations produce a great variety of cultures
  • Language helps unify the continent


Section 3: The Kingdom of Aksum

The kingdom of Aksum becomes an international trading power and adopts Christianity.


The Rise of the Kingdom of Aksum


Aksum’s Geography

  • Aksum—kingdom replaces Kush in East Africa; blend of Africans, Arabs
  • Located on Horn of Africa, modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea
  • Trading kingdom linking Africa and Indian Ocean trade routes


The Origins of Aksum

  • Land first mentioned in Greek guidebook in A.D. 100
  • Rulers take control of areas around Blue Nile and Red Sea
  • Dynasty of Aksum rules until 1975; ends with death of Haile Selassie


Aksum Controls International Trade

  • Aksum is hub for caravan routes to Egypt and Meroë
  • Adulis, chief port, has access to Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean


A Strong Ruler Expands the Kingdom

  • King Ezana—strong ruler of Aksum from A.D. 325 to 360
  • He conquers part of Arabian peninsula, now Yemen
  • In 350 conquers Kushites and burns Meroë to ground


An International Culture Develops


Aksum Culture

  • Blended cultural traditions of Arab peoples and Kushites
  • Adulis population: Egyptian, Arabian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian
  • Greek is international language; Aksumites trade gold to Rome


Aksumite Religion

  • Believe in one god, Mahrem, and that king descended from him
  • Areanimists—worship spirits of nature and ancestors
  • Exposed to Christianity by traders


Aksum Becomes Christian

  • Young King Ezana educated by Christian man from Syria
  • As ruler, Ezana declares Christianity as kingdom’s official religion
  • Aksum, now part of Ethiopia, still home to millions of Christians


Aksumite Innovations

  • Written language, minted coins, irrigation canals and dams
  • Aksumites invent terrace farming due to hilly location
  • Terraces—steplike ridges constructed on mountain slopes

The Fall of Aksum



  • Aksum kingdom lasts 800 years; witnesses rise ofIslamreligion
  • Followers of prophetMuhammadconquer all of Arabia by 632


Islamic Invaders

  • Between A.D. 632 and 710,Islamicinvaders leave Aksum alone
  • In A.D. 710, they attack port city of Adulis, causing Aksum’s decline


Aksum Isolated

  • As Islam spreads, Aksum rulers move capital to northern Ethiopia
  • Isolation, soil erosion, deforestationcause loss of remaining power