British art historian Dr Gus Casely-Hayford explores the pre-colonial history of some of Africa’s most important kingdoms.
The African continent is home to nearly a billion people. It has an incredible diversity of communities and cultures, yet we know less of its history than almost anywhere else on earth.
But that is beginning to change. In the last few decades researchers and archaeologists have begun to uncover a range of histories as impressive and extraordinary as anywhere else in the world.
The series reveals that Africa’s stories are preserved for us in its treasures, statues and ancient buildings – in the culture, art and legends of the people.
Episode 1: Nubia
The first episode looks at Nubia, in what is now northern Sudan, a kingdom that dominated a vast area of the eastern Sahara for thousands of years. Its people were described as barbarians and mercenaries, and yet Nubia has left us with some of the most spectacular monuments in the world.
Casely-Hayford traces the origins of this fascinating kingdom back to 10,000 BC. He explores how it developed and what happened to it and its people, discovering that its kings once ruled Ancient Egypt and that it was defeated not by its rivals but by its environment.
Episode 2: Ethiopia
When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the Ethiopian military in 1974, an ancient kingdom came to an end. According to tradition, the imperial dynasty stretched back virtually unbroken to 950 BC and its origins had links to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
The legitimacy of Haile Selassie and the foundations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church rested on this claim, but was it true?
Casely-Hayford searches for the evidence and discovers why faith in the legend has lasted for centuries. He traces Ethiopia’s heritage back in time, investigating its astonishing secrets and legends.
Episode 3: Great Zimbabwe
In 1871, European explorers stumbled across an astonishing ruined city deep in the African interior. Great Zimbabwe has been a source of fascination and controversy ever since, a symbol of African genius and a fascinating insight into the empires which once dominated southern Africa.
Casely-Hayford goes in search of the roots of this immense kingdom. He traces the trade in gold and precious goods that sustained it and uncovers the kingdoms that grew up around it.
Episode 4: West Africa
When magnificent 16th-century bronze casts were discovered in the kingdom of Benin in 1897, many could not believe they had been made by Africans. It was thought West Africa lacked the technical development required to make them.
Dr Casely-Hayford travels to present-day Nigeria and Mali in search of the truth, exploring what the bronzes mean, how the technology to make them developed, and what it reveals about the lost kingdoms of West Africa.
Episode 5: The Berber Kingdom of Morocco
Episode 5 explores the Moroccan empire known as the Berber Kingdom, a vast African Kingdom that stretched from northern Spain to the heart of West Africa.
Ruled for centuries by two dynasties that created tremendous wealth, the Berbers commissioned fabulous architecture, and promoted sophisticated ideas.
But art historian Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford reveals how the very forces that forged the kingdom ultimately helped to almost eradicate its indigenous African identity.
Episode 6: The Zulu Kingdom
In this episode, Dr Casely-Hayford travels to South Africa to explore the history of one of Africa’s most famous kingdoms.
Visiting some of the most evocative sites in Zulu history, he examines the origins of the Zulu in the 17th century, their expansion under controversial military leader King Shaka and their brutal encounters with the Boers and the British. He also searches for the secrets behind the Zulu’s cultural power and legendary military strength, and why Zulu identity continues to endure.
He also searches for the secrets behind the Zulu’s cultural power and legendary military strength, and why Zulu identity continues to endure.
Episode 7: The Kingdom of Asante
In the final episode, Dr Casely-Hayford travels to Ghana in West Africa, where a powerful kingdom once dominated the region. Asante was built on gold and slaves, which ensured its important place in an economy that linked three continents.
He reveals how this sophisticated kingdom emerged from the unlikely environment of dense tropical forest and how it was held together by a shared sense of tradition and history – one deliberately moulded by the kingdom’s rulers.
- Release date2013
- Full runtime
- Director(s)David Wilson