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Great Kingdoms of Africa

John Parker, David Adjaye


An essential overview of great kingdoms in African history and their legacies, written by world-leading experts

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From the ancient Nile Valley to the savannas of medieval West Africa, the highlands of Ethiopia and on to the forests, lakes and grasslands to the south, African civilizations have given rise to some of the world’s most impressive kingdoms. Yet Africa’s history is often little known beyond the devastation wrought by the slave trade and European colonial rule. In this groundbreaking new book, nine leading historians of Africa take a fresh look at these great kingdoms and empires over five thousand years of recorded history.

How was kingship forged in Africa and how did it operate? Was dynastic power maintained by consent or by coercion? Did kings – and queens – display and project that power for all to see, or did they hide it away, as beneath the fringed crowns that concealed the faces of sacred Yoruba rulers? In what ways have African peoples themselves recorded, celebrated and critiqued the deeds of their kings? Great Kingdoms of Africa explores some of the most important questions in the continent’s deep past.

As elsewhere in the world, absolute monarchy in Africa has been on the wane in the modern era. Yet kingship continues to thrive within many present-day African nations, preserving deep-rooted ideas about culture, identity and sacred power. Presenting exciting developments in the understanding of how states and societies have interacted with each other across time, this book shows how powerful and sophisticated kingdoms have shaped the course of African history – and continue to do so in the present day.

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'A contemporary reawakening of the rise, fall and remains of African ancient kingdoms … Illuminates the many myths and histories that make the continent magical. This book is useful in invigorating new interests in the understanding of Africa’s past and present, especially its history of creativity'
RA Magazine

'An enlightening non-colonial history … One would hope the “noble savage” trope was debunked decades ago, but were any more nails required for that particular coffin, then this book provides them'

'Fascinating … Great insight into the breadth and depth of African history - in particular the history before Europeans arrived on the scene'
Popular History Books

'With contributions from an array of leading historians, this is a vital work that corrects the tendency to define Africa’s past by European colonisation'
The Irish Times

'There is much that is insightful, new, and useful to commend this book'
The Past

'A new book, drawing on the work of a younger generation of African historians, sheds light on why Africa’s historic kingdoms matter in the new world order'
The Africa Report

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 336 pp

Illustrations: 59

Publication date: 16 March 2023

ISBN: 9780500252529

Contents List

Introduction: Kings, Kingship and Kingdoms in African History
John Parker

1. Ancient Egypt and Nubia: Kings of Floods and Kings of Rain
David Wengrow

2. The Sudanic Empires: The Gold, the Arts, the River
Rahmane Idrissa

3. The Solomonic Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia
Habtamu Tegegne and Wendy Laura Belcher

4. The Yoruba and Benin Kingdoms
Olatunji Ojo

5. The Kongo Kingdom
Cécile Fromont

6. Buganda
John Parker

7. From Hausa Kingdoms to the Sokoto Caliphate
Muhammadu Mustapha Gwadabe

8. The Akan Forest Kingdom of Asante
John Parker

9. The Zulu Kingdom
Wayne Dooling

About the Author

John Parker taught the History of Africa at SOAS University of London from 1998 to 2020. He is the co-author of African History: A Very Short Introduction (2007), co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Modern African History (2013), and the author of In My Time of Dying: A History of Death and the Dead in West Africa (2021).

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