Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Sub-Saharan Africa



It was not only in the north of Africa that impressive empires developed in the Middle Ages. Especially in western Africa, kingdoms that had become prosperous through trans-Saharan trade with the African north existed for centuries. Maritime trade also made the cities on the Swahili coasts in the east of the continent rich. Their connections reached into the interior of Africa to the kingdom of Zimbabwe, to which they were drawn by the treasures of its gold mines.


West Africa

From the fifth century, several large kingdoms existed south of the Sahara, controlling the caravan routes there.


Various kingdoms emerged along the 1 caravan routes in West Africa in the Early Middle Ages.

1 Caravan in the Sahara

The kingdom of Ghana with its capital Koumbi Saleh developed south of Morocco in Mauritania in the fifth century. In the eighth century, Berbers reigned over black subjects until the latter expelled their overlords. The trade in gold and salt led to wealth, but the Arab traders, who had introduced Islam around 1000, were soon followed by conquerors. Ghana was destroyed in the eleventh century by the North African Almoravids. A war ensued, ending in the Islamization of the country.

In 1203, the Soso people conquered Koumbi Saleh and ruled over Ghana for a brief period, but they were subjugated in the mid-i3th century by the 2 Manlinkas, who had founded a kingdom in Mali.

The Manlinkas also converted to 4 Islam.

2 Shrine of the legendary patriarch
Malinkas, built in the 13th century and
renewed every seven years

4 Mosque in Dienne in Mali, ca. 1400

Under their ruler Mansa Musa, a period of great prosperity that spread from the capital of Niani began at the beginning of the 14th century. However, the kingdom disintegrated in the 1400s and was replaced by the Songhai.

The Songhai originated in the Nigerian northwest, and in the eighth century they spread their territory along the Niger River and built up an economically flourishing kingdom around the capital of Gao. King Kossoi and his subjects converted to Islam around 1000. The city-state league of Kanem-Bornu that developed northeast of Lake Chad and existed into the 19th century converted to Islam in the eleventh century.

Only in the coastal areas on the Gulf of Guinea was Islam unable to gain a foothold. The Yoruba founded several kingdoms there.

Among these, 6 Ife was the political and cultural center between the eighth and 13th centuries.

It was then replaced by the Kingdom of Benin.

The kings, called 5 obas, made numerous military expeditions in the 15th century during which captives were taken; beginning in the 16th century, they began to be sold as slaves to the 3 Europeans.

6 Head of a ruler of Ife,
brass sculpture,
12th-i 5th

5 An oba of Benin on horseback with two servants,
bronze relief, 16th

3 Portugese man with a musket,
bronze relief from the Oba of
Benin's palace, 16th



Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, the ruler of Mali, undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 accompanied by a great caravan; he was reportedly accompanied by 60,000 bearers.

The amount of gold that Musa spent in Cairo alone ruined the Egyptian currency for decades. Musa had a great mosque constructed in Timbuktu and developed an Islamic school that became a center of Islamic learning.



South and East Africa

The East African coast was characterized by trade links reaching all the way to China, and Zimbabwe in southern Africa.


Christian Ethiopia shifted its center from Aksum to the highlands so that it could more easily defend against Muslim attacks. There, the Zagwe dynasty took over power in the tenth century.

The Zagwe rebuilt Ethiopia from their royal residence at 7 Lalibela.

In 1268, they were supplanted by the Solomonic dynasty, which claimed descent from Menelik, the legendary founder of the nation.

They were in permanent conflict with their 11 Muslim neighbors and rebellious provincial princes.

To enforce the state church, which legitimized the rule of the emperor, heretics and Jews were persecuted. In the 15th century, contact was once again established with Europe, primarily with the pope in Rome and Portugal, which actively supported the struggle against the Muslims in the 16th century.

On the East African coast, from the north of Somalia down to Mozambique, a relationship developed between African and Islamic Arab elements, the Swahili culture (from the Arabic sahil, "coast"), whose cities were made wealthy and powerful through their 10 trade on the continent as well as overseas with Arabia, India, and China.

7 Church cut from the rock, dedicated
to the Virgin Mary, Lalibela,
twelfth century

11 Battle between Ethiopians and Muslims, painting ca. 1412

10 Trade in African slaves,
Arabic illumination, 13th century

Kilwa in Tanzania held the leading position among the coastal cities in the 14th century.

Their trading partners in the interior were the Bantu tribes, who primarily delivered copper and ivory. The Bantu people had spread out from the interior of the continent to the south and east shortly after the first century A.D., making their linguistic group one of the largest in Africa.

The Bantu-speaking Shona developed a state system in the region of Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the twelfth century.

Tens of thousands of people resided within the mighty walls that surrounded the capital 12 Great Zimbabwe.

Finds of Chinese ceramic from the Ming period attest to its far-reaching trade connections. Zimbabwe's main exports were ores and gold.

The Shona empire was replaced in the 15th century by the Mozambican 9 Monomotapa, which for a time stretched far to the west.

Great bastions were also erected there, but the kingdom had already come under the control of the Portuguese and its decline and ultimate end in the late 1600s could no longer be avoided.

8 Fort in the harbor of Kilwa, Tanzania

12 Ruins of Great Zimbabwe,
built from the 13th c. onwards

9 King of Monomotapa




The word ban-tu means "person" and has come to signify agreat linguistic family that today is spoken by around 100 million people in southern and central Africa.

Half of this number speak the Swahili language. Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from Nigeria and Cameroon through East Africa down to South Africa.

Traditional housing of the Bantu-speaking Zulu in South Africa




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