Ancient African Literature

Ancient African literature begins with the first rock art that is believed to be 27,000 years old. Many pieces of ancient African rock art found contain chronological scenes created by using symbols.

When put together the scenes tell a story of something good or bad. Some ancient rock art explain a battle between tribes, religious ceremonies, hunting, dancing, or danger in the immediate area.

Origins of ancient African literature

The origins of ancient African literature begin with oral traditions. The traditions were taught to children from their elders.

Many times specific tribes and villages had a person or a shaman that was the keeper of stories.

The stories were also engraved on rocks known as petroglyphs as well as painted on rocks known as pictographs.

The stories told on rock art relied heavily on symbols, animals, humans, and events.

Once ancient African writing was developed around 5,000 B.C.E. ancient African literatures began to appear on rocks. Ancient African writers were masterful at rock art and telling their stories.
Ancient Egyptian Literature

Development of ancient African writing and literature

Around 5,000 B.C.E. several ancient African writing systems were developed including three in ancient Egypt.

Other important ancient African writing systems like Ge’ez in Nubia or present-day Ethiopia, Nsibidi in West Central Africa, and Tifinagh in North Africa were developed between 5,000 to 800 B.C.E.

Ancient African literature surged with the advent of ancient African writing systems. The literature at first was short magical quotes which gained in size through 800 C.E.

The themes of ancient African literature varied from life stories to myths to legends to religious literature.

Much of ancient African literature occurs in North Africa after the conquest of the Romans and Greeks. Many pieces of ancient African literature are centered on the Christian Church from 400 B.C.E. until 400 C.E.

Researchers believe that during this time frame many of the biographies and autobiographies of early African saints were written.

One of the most notable ancient African writers of this time period was Saint Augustine who was born in Algeria and spoke Tifinagh.

After learning Latin, he wrote many pieces of literature in ancient Africa with regards to Christianity.

Other important ancient African literature was composed in Latin by notable authors like Apuleius, Tertullian, and Arius.

Ancient African literature sites

One of the most well-known ancient African literature sites on the continent resides in Aksum. There are numerous stelae at Aksum that are carved from granite and tower into the sky 100 feet.

The stelae at Aksum explain the origins of the kingdom in Nubia and depict stories of war, wealth, health, and religious ceremonies.

There are more than 14,000 known rock art sites in Africa that tell a story. Each one of the sites is unique in nature and is considered by most researchers as a part of ancient African literature.

Important facts about ancient African literature

  • The earliest form of ancient African literature is rock art.
  • Ancient African literature created on rocks relied heavily on symbols, animals, humans, and events.
  • Oral traditions were converted to ancient African literature with the advent of ancient African writing systems.
  • Ancient African literature surged with the development of hieroglyphics and other written languages like Ge’ez, Nsibidi and Tifinagh.
  • Ancient African literature told stories about life, events, myths, legends, and religious ceremonies.
  • Aksum is an important archeological site for ancient African literature.
  • After the conquest of North Africa by the Romans, ancient African literature concentrated on Christianity.
  • Saint Augustine, Apuleius, Tertullian, and Arius were notable ancient African writers.


  1. What was the first type of ancient African literature?

Rock art

  1. What is the most important archeological site for ancient African literature?


  1. What did ancient African literature concentrate on after the Roman conquest of North Africa?


  1. What happened to oral traditions after the development of ancient African writing systems?

They became ancient African literature