The earliest recorded civilisation began at about 3300 BCE (Before our Common Era), where North Africa’s Egyptian society rose to acclaim in the annals. The Pharaonic civilisation saw the rise of literacy at this time, enabling them to make accurate and multiple records of major events. Ancient Egypt held its powerful position in Africa and, indeed, the world from 3300 BCE until 343 BCE. This domination was strong in North Africa, but was somewhat negotiated (although never negated) in some other places in the world. Its power spread to areas such as Libya, Crete, Canaan, Aksum and Nubia.
It was when Alexander the Great liberated Egypt (formally under Persian control) in 332 BCE that the European influence began. He was the founder of the Ptolemaic capital, Alexandria. When the Romans conquered the entire Mediterranean coastline of North Africa, Egypt was integrated into their system in terms of Roman economic systems and the cultures they boasted. The Romans moved down into the area, mainly into Tunisia. This also brought Christianity into the region, and as far south as Ethiopia. Christian doctrines were very different to the worship of the ancient Egyptians, who had been worshipping pagan gods, nature and even the Nile River.
Islam was introduced in the seventh century BCE as the Arabian Islamic Caliphate entered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The Berber tribes that were indigenous to the area adopted Islamic worship and formed Arab tribes. The capital city of Damascus, Ummayad, fell in the eighth century, and the Islamic capital moved from Syria to Qayrawan. Because Islam formed and affected so many smaller tribes, the Islamic worship in North Africa was diverse, differing from one sub-society to the next. As these tribes migrated south and established trade with other areas in Africa, their customs and doctrines spread as well.
African civilisations, in general, developed from one another. From as far back as 12 000 BCE (as fossils and other, non-written records have born evidence of), they have fought one another, amalgamated, conquered and submitted. Civilisations were most often set up in certain places in response to environmental amenities, such as water and food for humans and animals. Some communities established themselves along the coastline to facilitate effective trade and transport.
The information that is currently available about the earliest civilisations in Africa has been gleaned from a combination of written records and valuable archaeological findings, such as fossils, tools and rock paintings. Societies and kingdoms (such as Kush, Great Zimbabwe and the Swahili Coast) displayed a variety of customs, economy and cultures, and were dispersed throughout Africa. Some were farmers, others traders, and yet others aristocrats. A common ideal within these established societies, however, was the communal ownership of land. No one citizen owned a specified area of land. Rather, the entire community worked together to cultivate the land they occupied for the common benefit of their families and friends.
The workers that sustained the land and the tradesmen that bought and sold goods were recognised for the function they fulfilled. The leaders of these societies set certain rules in place to protect their community and promote the work that sustained them. The governments that existed were obeyed out of obligation and loyalty, rather than out of fear of the consequence. This led to voluntary obedience and a sense of communal pride and cooperation.
However, this time of early African civilisation was also a time of slavery. Many of the major empires in the world of that time (e.g. Greece and China) relied on slaves from Africa to build the infrastructure of their cities and kingdoms and to cultivate / farm their land in order to provide for the societies living in these cities. Even the pyramids were built by slaves. When the Portuguese, followed by other Europeans, arrived in Africa, they began to trade guns, textiles and silver for African resources, including slaves. It was in this way that Africans entered Europe in the 14th century. The slave trade dissipated many of the smaller civilisations of ancient Africa as families were broken up and communities shattered. With the decreased labour force within these kingdoms, farming and trading became less supported and more difficult for those left behind.