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Ancient Africa

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"Princes shall come of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."

Africa, but back when the fabulous wealth and towering achievements of its civilizations left the known world in awe. Though Egypt is by far the best known of these, other sophisticated and literate empires on the continent, such as Kush, Axum, and Meroe, flourished for centuries south of the lands of the pharaohs. In fact, at one point the kingdom of Kush actually spread beyond the Sudanese Nile and conquered and ruled Egypt for about a century as its 25th Dynasty (ca. 734-664 B.C.). Meanwhile, to the west, complex cultures like the Nok and Dar Tichitt cultures laid the groundwork for the vast west African empires that would arise in later centuries. In the Maghreb, Phoenician colonists in conjunction with Berber kingdoms would give rise to the powerful Carthaginian empire which struggled with Ancient Rome for domination of the Mediterranean world. In the northern reaches of the Sahara Desert there developed a sophisticated society of people known to us as the Garamantes who used elaborate tunnel networks to exploit underground water resources for their cities in otherwise unforgiving desert.


How have others seen Ancient Africa? When the Ancient Greeks referred to Africa they tended to focus on Egypt or Ethiopia as mystical, exotic civilizations. In Ethiopia, Axum quickly rose from city-state to empire, and for a time spread all the way into southern Arabia, where the exploits of its kings would earn a mention in the Quran. In third century Persia, Axum was even named as one of the great four empires that dominated the world by Mani, the founding prophet of Manichaesm. In the medieval era, tales of wealthy West African Empires like Ghana and Mali, mingled with rumors of Ethiopian kings that fueled the legend of Prester John in Europe. The ancient Chinese on the other hand would be more familiar with the Swahili city-states that dotted the East African coast and plied the high seas of the Indian Ocean. More modern depictions in Western fiction may not differentiate between modern and ancient tribal Africa. Depictions may also reference African Mythology.


In reality, Africa has a history as stocked full of rising and falling empires, artists, intrepid merchants, heroes, power-mad lunatics, and epic battles as anywhere else in the world.

Since the popularity (and public knowledge) of Egypt far surpasses that of the rest of the continent, see Ancient Egypt for tropes solely dealing with it. See also Darkest Africa and UsefulNotes.Africa.

Works set in this time period are:

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     Comic Books  
  • One Hellboy story features a retelling of the story of the Senna Culture Hero Makoma, a superhuman guy with a hammer who perishes after a Double KO with a 7-headed monster.
  • The backstory of Hillbilly involves an alliance between the hill folk (a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to rural Appalachia) and the people from "the land across the sea", which appears to be a High Fantasy utopian take on Ancient Africa. James Stoneturner, one of the main characters of the comic, is descended from a powerful wizardess from across the sea who decided to stay in the hill country long ago.

  • The opening narration of Black Panther tells how the fictional country of Wakanda was empowered with the Vibranium brought on Earth by a meteor in ancient times and went to hide itself from the world, and how the nation's protector, the Black Panther, came to be.

  • The setting for Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a somewhat dark EpicFantasy take on this sort of setting, complete with dense political intrigue and werehyenas.
  • One of the The Royal Diaries was set in Angola; supposed to be a diary of a young Queen Nzingha (of Ndongo and Matamba), it is truly quite lacking in stereotypes about Africa and presents an interesting picture of the continent during the 1500s (colonization and the slave trade), particularly for a book written for a YA audience.
  • Lots of Robert E. Howard stories are set here, with visits by characters such as Conan the Barbarian or Solomon Kane typically involving Eldritch Abominations terrorizing the countryside.
  • In the middle of the futuristic Zimbabwe of The Ear, the Eye and the Arm is Resthaven, a sacred country where the old ways note  are preserved — "the spiritual heart of Africa." Even airplanes aren't allowed to fly overhead, and the people who live inside of it have only the vaguest notion of the outside world — most of them.
  • Axum is a major player in the Belisarius Series. While its warriors bear a resemblance to the ones in Zulu they are also capable of building palaces, ships, and cities, forming an elaborate system of political checks and balances, dominating the trade in the Indian Ocean, and negotiating as equals with great empires. In the altered timeline of the series, Axum ends up a key ally to a resurgent Byzantine Empire and expands across the Red Sea into Arabia, its existence ensuring Africa remains a world power long into the future.
  • Wilbur Smith's The Sunbird is partially set in a lost kingdom in the area of modern Botswana, and partially set in the present day, following the archaeologists who are beginning to uncover its remains.
  • The kingdom of Great Olorum, City and Nation, in the novellas The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey sounds a lot like a fantastic mix of ancient African kingdoms such as Kush.
  • Imaro is kind of an Africanized version of the aforementioned Conan the Barbarian, taking place in a Constructed World called Nyumbani that is heavily modeled on various ancient African cultures and empires.

     Live Action TV  
  • Shaka Zulu
  • Roots (1977) chronicles the author's family line, beginning with his ancestor Kunta Kinte who was taken from his village and made a slave.
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The first Vampire Slayer was an ancient African girl with face-paint and dreadlocks, given powers by a group of misogynist shamans.

  • The Twilight Histories episode "The Blood Ape" takes place in a world where human civilization first developed in East Africa 200,000 years ago.

     Tabletop Games  
  • The Third Party D20 setting Nyambe is based on ancient and pre-colonial Africa, and is clearly designed to be easily importable into your Forgotten Realms campaign alongside that setting's other Fantasy Counterpart Cultures.
  • The Mwangi Expanse is the Pathfinder equivalent of Nyambe, being based heavily around the Congo and other Central African rainforest/jungle cultures.
  • The 'Dark Eras' series of supplements for Chronicles of Darkness include full sections dedicated to playing in Imperial Mali, Ancient Egpyt, and the Empire of Mutapa respectively.

     Video Games  
  • Age of Empires II: The African Kingdoms introduces the Malians, Berbers, and Ethiopians as civilizations.
  • Civilization has accumulated an impressive array of African civs over the series, some of them quite obscure:
    • The Zulu have been playable since the very first game, and tend to be a military powerhouse due to both Impi spam and advanced military organization.
    • Ethiopia is a religious empire that in Civ V is also particularly hard for a larger empire to colonize, due to a special ability that gives all Ethiopian units a combat bonus against a foe that controls more cities than them.
    • Mali is an economic powerhouse thanks to Mansa Musa's leader traits and special Mint building, which given gold's importance in Civ IV lets Mali afford to maximize its research and support a huge army.
    • Songhai can be thought of a weird hybrid of the above civs, and has an improved mosque for its unique building, a unique unit that's better at attacking cities than a normal knight, and a special ability that lets them get more gold from pillaging barbarian camps or rival cities. Also, war canoes.
    • Kongo is a weird type of religious civ in that it can't found its own religion, but it gets the full benefit from any foreign religion introduced to its cities, and get various bonuses from having religious relics in their empire.
    • Nubia is an industrial civ that gets extra production out of mines and builds city districts faster, and can also churn out a swarm of dangerous archers to defend their lands or raid their rivals.
  • Empire Earth II's expansion featured the Zulu and Maasai civilizations, though they only appeared as enemy African mercenaries in the Egyptian campaign. The Maasai do have a campaign, but it's set in the 21st century as a Wakanda expy.
  • Europa Universalis and its sequels, which let you play as an African empire even if your usual fate is to get invaded.
    • On the other hand, a HUGE part of inland Africa is inaccessible to anyone.
  • Guild Wars Nightfall features Elona, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Africa (especially the North).
  • Similarly, Humankind also allows you two play an array of African cultures such as the ancient Nubians, classical Aksumites, and medieval Ghanaians. Fitting for a continent renowned for its wealth, all but one of the games African cultures are Merchant types.
  • The Settlers II had Nubians as one of the four playable civilizations. Of course, since the game has Cosmetically Different Sides (and that only for the buildings. The workers all have the same (Caucasian) sprite no matter the civilization), the Nubians civilization is exactly as developed and complex as the Roman, Viking or Japanese — up to and including sophisticated ship-building and ironworking techniques.
  • Wizard101 does this with the world of Zafaria. However, instead of a Bulungi, certain specific cultures are represented by the different species of Beastmen.

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