African kings typically have remarkable and fascinating historical origins, reigns, and, sometimes, deaths. From birth prophecies to life-changing events, heroic choices, and even winning battles and gaining territories. There have been many influential African kings that wrote their names in the sands of time.
Some of these kings lived as great warriors, nation-builders, and political reformers. Interestingly, others went on to become gods to their people after passing on. Unfortunately, the supreme authority of the African rulers has been replaced and limited by the offices and roles of presidents, prime ministers, heads of state, and other present-day political offices.
But not all African kings were good. Some instilled immorality and fear in their subjects, while others simply ruled with a strong hand. Regardless, there are many lessons to be learned from the tales of the ancient African kings, and they also make for fascinating reading. Also, if you’ve ever wondered where some gods in particular African traditions, came from, you’ll probably learn more in this article.
10 Influential African Kings You Should Know
Do you know your history? As an African, here are ten of the most influential African Kings that have impacted history the most.
Mansa Musa – Ninth ‘Mansa’ of Ancient Mali Empire
Mansa Musa was unquestionably one of the most influential African kings in history. Even after his death several centuries ago, he is still the richest person to have ever walked the earth’s surface. Mansa Musa was the ninth ‘Mansa’ of the ancient Mali empire, and under his reign, Mali became one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with riches supplied by their production of gold, enterprising trade, salt, and agriculture.
Apart from being the aforementioned, he was also an inventive military leader who captured and extended his territory to regions that are now known as Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and so on.
One of his well-known adventures was his pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa traveled with 60,000 men wearing brocade and Persian silk, alongside 12,000 slaves who carried 1.8 kg of gold bars each, and heralds dressed in silks who carried gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Not only did he feed the animals and humans that were with him on this journey, but he also gave out his gold for free to people and countries he passed on his way while he exchanged some for souvenirs.
Oba Oduduwa – Founder and Ruler of Yorubaland
In Yoruba mythology, Oba Oduduwa was a divine king. And he was one of the most influential African kings. His impact on the Yorubas, a major tribe in Nigeria and Africa, cemented his place in the history books. Historical accounts say Oduduwa originated from Mecca through his father, Lamurudu, a king. As a prince, Oduduwa migrated to Nigeria with two children.
Oduduwa was the Olofin of Ile-Ife. This African king was so influential and powerful that he became deified as a god after his death. Today, he is recognized as one of the Yoruba primordial gods.
According to history, Oba Oduduwa had 16 children. Each of them was dispatched to his conquered lands before his death to establish independent authority there. This resulted in the establishment of the Yoruba dynastic family line’s Ila, Oragun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo, and Oyo kingdoms.
Amenhotep III – Most Successful Ruler of the 18th Egypt Dynasty
Amenhotep III was one of Egypt’s finest pharaohs and the most prosperous of the 18th Dynasty. He was the father of the renowned “heretic pharaoh,” Akhenaten, and the grandfather of King Tut. Egypt experienced prosperity, tranquility, and stability under his rule.
He ordered the first man-made lake outside his palace in Malkata for his wife, the Great Queen Tiye. He also oversaw a number of spectacular construction projects and monuments. Amenhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye, oversaw Egypt’s remarkable influence in foreign politics and diplomacy during his rule.
The renowned Amarna letters from Assyria, Babylon, Mittani, and Hatti are evidence for this claim. When Amenhotep III passed away, he left behind a nation that was at the pinnacle of its authority and power, commanding enormous respect globally.
His many successes not only made him the most successful ruler of the 19th Egypt Dynasty but also one of the most influential African kings ever.
Osei Kofi Tutu – Ashanti Kingdom (Ghana)
Ashanti was a wealthy, powerful, and intensely political West African kingdom. It was one of the first sub-Saharan militaries to include weapons in its arsenal. The kingdom’s wealth was derived from the substantial salt and gold resources dug up in their area, which they traded through the trade routes of the states of continental Africa.
Osei Kofi Tutu, the ruler of the tiny Akan city-state of Kumasi, contributed to the establishment of the Ashanti Empire in 1701 by uniting all Akan tribes under the Golden Stool (Ashanti Seat of Power). He persuaded the other Akan to oust the Denkyera, the dominant Akan tribe, and to capture a number of other adjacent states. The unified Akan people took on the name Ashanti and incorporated various Akan provinces, increasing Ashanti riches, power, and influence.
The Ashanti continued to hold authority at the Golden Stool until the British Imperial Government insisted that the Ashanti cede their sovereignty to Britain as their “protectorate.” This then led to the “War of the Golden Stool.”
Sundiata Keita – Founder and First Ruler of the Ancient Mali Empire
Sundiata Keita was the founder and first king of the Ancient Mali Empire (1235-1255). His efforts marked the foundation of a powerful and wealthy Mali empire. During his reign, his empire (Mali Empire) produced the first oral charter for human rights, the Manden Charter, which included the abolition of slavery, education, food security, smooth trade, and so on.
This great African king’s territory comprised present-day Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal.
Oba Ewuare – First King of the Benin Empire
Oba Ewuare, also known as Ewuare the Great, is referred to as the father of the Yoruba race. He was the first king of the Benin Empire, and he ruled from 1440-1473. A great warrior, mighty in battle, Oba Ewuare subjugated about 201 surrounding towns and villages.
Together with his son, Oba Ozolua, who would eventually succeed him, he expanded international trade in Benin, erected opulent palaces, and developed a number of strategic plans that benefited his power. During his rule, Benin’s artistic development flourished, and a number of cultural customs and festivals were established.
Shaka Zulu – Founder and First King of the Zulu Empire
Shaka Zulu, who was originally named Sigidi kaSenzangakhona, was the founder of the Zulu Empire in South Africa. He is renowned for assembling these tribes into a potent fighting force. Shaka Zulu’s soldiers engaged their adversaries with standardized weapons. He created a number of weapons, including a small spear for stabbing. Over the course of his terrible rule, Zulu’s soldiers killed 2 million adversaries. This African king led an army of bloodthirsty warriors who killed several people (solely for reforms and innovations), but his reign was labelled as a terrible one due to extreme bloodshed.
Also, the name “Shaka” is thought to have come from his father’s assertion that Nandi, his mother, wasn’t pregnant with him but rather had an intestinal ailment brought on her by the ishaka insect.
Taharqa – Last 25th Dynasty Nubian King
The 25th Egyptian dynasty was led by this Nubian monarch, who ruled from 690 to 664 BCE. He created the then-largest African empire by merging the Egypt and Nubia kingdoms. Taharqa also re-established the country’s peace and stability, revitalized the arts, and oversaw numerous construction initiatives.
For better references, this great African king was mentioned in the Bible as the Cushite King of Egypt who fought Sennacherib, king of Assyria (check Bible verses 2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9).
Ezana – Ethiopian King
King Ezana was king of the kingdom of Aksum (present-day Eritrea). He is well known and honoured as the first Ethiopian king to embrace Christianity and saw to the conversion of his people. He played a major role in founding the Ethiopian Church. Ezana is renowned for putting a stop to the strong rival kingdom of Meroe. He predicted the construction of various unusual buildings and obelisks (tall, pyramid-like monuments). Additionally, this king expanded world trade, which boosted Axum’s economy. His coins have been found in Greece and India.
Sonni Ali – Songhai Empire
Sonni Ali ruled the Songhai Empire, which was made up of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Guinea from the 15th to the 16th century. The Songhai Empire grew to be the biggest Muslim West African empire ever with Sonni Ali in charge. Sonni oversaw the largest imperialist operation in West Africa and was a brilliant military thinker.
His troops were amphibious and could attack and patrol on both lands and in the Niger River. Throughout his rule, the Songhai Empire rose to its highest point, overtaking the Great Mali Empire and capturing its lands and the renowned city of Timbuktu. During his leadership, Islam grew in both rural and urban areas.
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