Ancient African Leaders

Because the history of Ancient Africa is so long and varied, there have been a great number of famous leaders there, and they rarely ever ruled the same places! The number of different kingdoms, empires, and royal territories found in Africa’s history is astounding, so it’s impossible to list all the different leaders who helped to shape the continent’s history; but it’s clear to see who some of the most important were by examining with kingdoms and empires had the most impact.

The Ancient Egyptians had a great influence on the development of African society, and similarly had a profound impact on the rest of the world as well. The government and religion of Ancient Egypt were very closely connected, and the head of the government was called “the Pharaoh.

” It was believed that the Pharaoh was the “divine representative of the gods,” meaning that the Ancient Egyptians believed that the Pharaoh was a human the gods chose to act as a special servant. Some of the most famous Pharaohs of Egypt were the boy king, Tutankhamun, and the Pharaoh Queen Cleopatra VII.

As the Pharaohs were holy figures, they were often associated with different gods – Cleopatra was named the “new Isis” (Isis was the goddess of magic) by her people, for example, while Tutankhamun was sometimes associated with the god “Amun” (Amun is sometimes called the King of the Gods.)

Kente cloth patterns

After the fall of the Egyptian Empire, the next most important leader to emerge was the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca. Hannibal Barca was born in 247 BC in Carthage, North Africa, and went on to become one of the greatest, cleverest and most powerful generals in the history of the world.

He helped to spread the Carthaginian (which is a long word for from Carthage) Empire to Europe, and almost defeated the Roman Empire before being beaten in battle! His journey across Europe with a huge army (including horses and battle elephants) is the subject of many stories and books, particularly his crossing of the Alps.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
The Lion King of Mali, Sundiata Keita was born in West Africa around 1217. He ruled the Mali Empire from 1235-1255 and helped to make it the dominant power of the West African Region. Born a prince of the Malinke tribe, Sundiata would go on to overthrow the rule of the previously powerful Sosso Kingdom and the smaller Ghana Empire, and expanded his empire’s territory greatly through the conquering of nearby kingdoms and nations.

Under his rule, the Mali Empire became the largest and most prosperous ever seen in West Africa. Even after his death, the Mali Empire stayed as the dominant powerhouse of Africa for several hundred years.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
After the Mali Empire collapsed in the 16th century, it would be another two hundred years before another African kingdom of its size would again rise. Shaka Zulu, who would later turn out to be the founder of the Zulu Empire, was born into the South African clan of the Zulus in 1787.

Shaka revolutionized the warfare of his country (the first warrior to re-introduce the concept of close-quarters fighting in centuries) and became ruler of a massive empire as he conquered country after country in Africa.

His reign was cruel, though – records show that he sentenced 7,000 people to death in a year for “not mourning his mother enough,” and he was eventually killed and replaced by his brothers as ruler of the Empire.

Despite the sudden end his rule came to, however, it’s clear that Shaka Zulu played a huge role in the development of the Zulu people; and without them, it’s unlikely that the tribe would ever have been more than just another individual tribe!

Facts about the Leaders of Ancient Africa:

  • Many Ancient African cultures had an enormous impact on the rest of the world outside Africa.
  • Because of this, the most important Ancient African leaders are those who oversaw the work of these kingdoms/empires.
  • There were many famous pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – some of the most famous were Tutankhamun and Cleopatra VII, and there have been many movies and books made about both.
  • The Carthaginian Empire was a dominant force in Africa 2,000 years ago.
  • The founder of this empire was called General Hannibal Barca, and his army’s legendary journey from Spain to Italy is the subject of many songs and poems.
  • Another important leader was the founder of the Mali Empire: Sundiata Keita. His establishment of the Mali Empire allowed for the kingdom to flourish, and it lasted for hundreds of years after his death.
  • His nickname, “The Lion King,” is where the Disney movie of the same name took its inspiration from!
  • Shaka Zulu was the founder of the Zulu Empire, another significant African Empire, which originated in the 16th/17th century.
  • Though Shaka Zulu became a tyrant later in his rule, the Zulu people flourished under him for a time, and massively increased the tribe’s important in the African political landscape.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region


Name two African Empires.

– The Mali Empire/the Zulu Empire.

Name two famous pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

– Tutankhamun/Cleopatra.

When was Sundiata Keita born?

– 1217.

What empire did Sundiata Keita found?

– The Mali Empire.
Who did the Carthaginian Empire almost defeat in battle under General Hannibal Barca, a feat no other empire had accomplished previously?

– The Roman Empire.