Far away from the well-known ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, great empires also rose up in the lower Nile river valley, across the Sahara desert, and in the forests of what is now Benin. African Kingdoms, for kids, gives them a glimpse into these wealthy and once-powerful kingdoms, which played significant roles in trade and religion across a vast region. This exploration starts with the mighty Egyptian and Kush empires, both of which built pyramids and shared gods and burial customs. Next to come into focus us Ghana, which built its glittering empire around A.D. 300. by trading salt from the Sahara and gold from western Africa.
The rule of African kingdoms, kids will discover, was based not only on their control of trade routes and precious commodities, but also on the fierceness of their warriors, like the Mandinka, who helped Mali become the premier state in Western Africa in the 1200s. Timbuktu, the Mali capital, also became a major center of Islamic learning, and the Songhai Empire, which succeeded Mali, created the first permanent army and full-time navy in the region. Further south, the artisans of Benin left behind priceless bronze sculptures and the Hausa civilization produced the walled city of Zaria that still stands today, even though they were a smaller African kingdom. For kids who enjoy tales of modern kings, a look at the 400-year-old Ashanti Empire, in what is today Ghana, will thrill them with its pageantry and battle history.