Early Leaders And Great Kingdoms Of Africa

Essay, Research Paper

Cleopatra was 17 or 18 when she became the queen of Egypt. She was far from beautiful, despite her glamorous image today. She is depicted on ancient coins with a long hooked nose and masculine features. Yet she was clearly a very seductive woman. She had an enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma. She was also highly intelligent. She spoke nine languages (she was the first Ptolemy pharaoh who could actually speak Egyptian!) and proved to be a shrewd politician. In compliance with Egyptian tradition Cleopatra married her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 12 at the time. But it was a marriage of convenience only, and Ptolemy was pharaoh in name only. For three years he remained in the background while Cleopatra ruled alone. Ptolemy’s advisors – led by a eunuch named Pothinus – resented Cleopatra’s independence and conspired against her. In 48 B.C. they stripped Cleopatra of her power and she was forced into exile in Syria. Her sister Arsinoe went with her. The Ghana Empire was founded along the Niger River between the third and fifth centuries. The Soninke people of West Africa, who quickly developed an economic life comprising agriculture, manufacturing, and international trade, established Ghana. They were superior metalworkers and produced iron swords and other weapons by which they conquered neighboring peoples and maintained control over their territory. The empire’s growth and development were relatively slow until Ghana began to trade with Arab ports on the Mediterranean coast and with other kingdoms of East Africa on the Red Sea. The Mali Empire differed substantially from the Ghana empire. Its rise to power began in the seventh century, when two great African leaders — Sundiara Keita and Mansa Musa, transformed a small Mandingo state on the upper Niger River. Although Sundiata Keita began to transform the state into a great empire, its growth was slow until about I307, when Mansa Musa became ruler. His entourage of sixty thousand persons, including twelve thousand servants, many as five hundred servants each carried a pure gold weighing six pounds. Eighty camels carried an average of three hundred pounds of gold each. For a while, Timbuktu itself had a population of more than one hundred thousand people. It was a busy place where merchants displayed their merchandise to local and international consumers. Caravans from distant places frequently came to Timbuktu to exchange their exotic goods for gold. Mall’s power derived from strong rulers, centralized government, and a successful economic base of agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and amazing wealth in gold. The sons of the king of Gao decisively destroyed the Mali Empire. Their revolt set into motion the formation of another major empire, the Songhai. Although the Songhai Empire inherited a solid economic base from its predecessor, its growth was substantially accelerated when Askia Mohammed, a general who had been prime minister, gained power in I493. In his thirty-six-year quest to make Songhai the most powerful empire in the world, Askia Mohammed embarked on an effort to expand trade to include European countries. It was during his rule that the sale of Black slaves became a major business. He eventually controlled most of West Africa — an area larger than Europe. Askia was a master politician and a superior leader of people. He restructured the army, secured a stronger system of banking and credit, and established the cities of Gao, Walata, Timbuktu, and Nenne as major intellectual centers where scholarship was encouraged. Timbuktu was a grand city of about one hundred thousand residents. Its wealth in gold and its stories of intrigue and mystery made it one of the most celebrated cities of its time. It flourished as a business district with many shops, a religious site with the Great Mosque, and an intellectual center with the University of Sankore.


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