You are on page 1of 15

Early African Societies and

the Bantu Migrations

Sahara desert originally highly fertile region
Western Sudan region nomadic herders, ca.
9000 B.C.E.

Domestication of cattle ca. 7500 B.C.E.
Later, cultivation of sorghum, yams, increasingly

Widespread desiccation of the Sahara ca. 5000

Gradual, predictable
Alluvial deposits
support productive
agricultural society
“Gift of the Nile”

10,000 B.C.E. migrants from Red Sea hills
(northern Ethiopia)

Introduce collection of wild grains, language roots of

5000 B.C.E. Sudanic cultivators, herders
migrate to Nile River valley
Adaptation to seasonal flooding of Nile
through construction of dikes, waterways

Villages dot Nile by 4000 B.C.E.

Legendary conqueror Menes, ca. 3100, unifies
Egyptian kingdom
Sometimes identified with Narmer
 Tradition: founder of Memphis, cultural and political
center of ancient Egypt
 Instituted the rule of the pharaoh

 Claimed descent from the gods
 Absolute rulers, had slaves buried with them from 2600

 Most powerful during Archaic Period (3100-2660 B.C.E.)
and Old Kingdom (2660-2160 B.C.E.)

Symbols of the
pharaoh’s authority and
divine status
A testimony of the
pharaohs’ ability to
marshal Egypt’s
Largest Khufu (Cheops),
2.3 M limestone blocks,
average weight 2.5 tons
Role: burial chambers for

Competition over Nile trade
Military conflict between 3100 and 2600 B.C.E.
Drove Nubians to the south

Established kingdom of Kush, ca. 2500 B.C.E.

Trade, cultural influences continue despite
military conflict

Few pyramids, but major
monumental architectural
Engaged in empirebuilding to protect against
foreign invasion
After New Kingdom, local
resistance drives Egypt
out of Nubia
Kingdom of Kush revives
ca. 1100 B.C.E.
Invasions of Kushites,
Assyrians destroy Egypt
mid-sixth century B.C.E.

Major cities along Nile River, especially at delta

Nubian cities include Kerma, Napata, Meroë

Memphis ca. 3100 B.C.E., Heliopolis ca. 2900 B.C.E.
Located at cataracts of the Nile

Well-defined social classes

Pharaohs to slaves
Archaeological discoveries in Nubia also support
class-based society
Patriarchal societies, notable exceptions: female
pharaoh Hatshepsut (r. 1473-1458 B.C.E.)

Bronze metallurgy introduced late, with
Hyksos invasion
Development of iron early, ca. 900 B.C.E.
Trade along Nile River

More difficult in Nubia due to cataracts
Sea trade in Mediterranean

“Holy inscriptions”

Writing appeared at least by 3200 B.C.E.
Pictographic, supplemented with symbols
representing sounds and ideas
 Survives on monuments, buildings, and sheets of
 Hieroglyphs for formal writing, hieratic script for
everyday affairs used from 2600 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.
 Greek alphabet adopted – demotic and Coptic

Meroitic writing: flexible system borrowed from
hieroglyphs, represents sounds rather than

Principal gods Amon and Re
Religious tumult under Amenhotep IV
(Akhenaten) (r. 1353-1335 B.C.E.)

Introduces sole worship of sun god Aten
One of the world’s earliest expressions of

Death of Akhenaten, traditional priests restore
the cult of Amon-Re to privileged status

Inspiration of the cycles of the Nile
Belief in the revival of the dead

First: ruling classes only, later expanded to include
lower classes

Cult of Osiris
Lord of the underworld
 Power to determine who deserved immortality
 Held out hope of eternal reward for those who lived
moral lives

Bantu: “people”
Migration throughout sub-Saharan regions

Over 500 variations of original Bantu language

Population pressures
90 million speakers

By 1000 B.C.E., occupied most of Africa south
of the equator