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An African Classical Age

Eastern and Southern Africa in World History 1000 BC to AD 400
Christopher Ehret

BUY Paper · ISBN 9780813920573 · $30.00 · Mar 2001

In An African Classical Age, Christopher Ehret brings to light 1,400 years of social and economic transformation across Africa from Uganda and Kenya in the north to Natal and the Cape in the south. The book offers a much-needed portrait of this region during a crucial period in which basic features of precolonial African societies and cultures emerged.

Combining the most recent findings of archaeology and historical linguistics, the author demonstrates that, from 1000 B.C. through the fourth century A.D., eastern and southern African history was invigorated by technological change and intricately reshaped by the clash of distinctive cultures. Contrary to common presumption, he argues, Africans of this period were not isolated actors on their own historical stage, but direct and indirect participants in the major trends of contemporary world history, such as the Iron Age and the first great rise of long-distance commercial enterprise. In telling their important story, Ehret shows how powerful yet delicate a tool language evidence can be in detecting both the details and the long-term contours of the past.

The culmination of twenty-five years of research, this sweeping historical survey fundamentally challenges how we view the place not only of eastern and southern Africa, but of Africa as a whole, in the early eras of world history. Now available in paperback, An African Classical Age has become an essential resource for scholars of linguistics, archaeology, world history, and African studies.


This is an ambitious, imaginative, and impressive book. Using especially the evidence and methods of historical linguistics, Ehret reconstructs a remarkably rich social and cultural history of eastern and southern Africa, from 1000 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. He provides broad, provocative interpretations of social, cultural, and economic developments and interactions over this long period among the major ethnolinguistic groups [and] on the historical stage--Khoisan gatherer-hunters, Central Sudanians, Eastern Sahelians, Southern Cushites, and the various Bantu-speaking communities that spread throughout the region.... This is a major work.


Ehret has written a fabulous African history book, furthering a genre far from the seemingly ubiquitous slavery studies and trendy colonial social history. Future studies of the African classical age will benefit and so will researches on A.D. 1000-1900. With flair, Christopher Ehret has applied the concept of longue durèe to east-southern African history.

The Historian

An African Classical Age will itself become a classic and shape future scholarship in early African history for many years to come.

The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Ehret gives us rich insights into big questions of world history, while also showing how prehistory can be deciphered with a method termed linguistic archaeology.


About the Author(s): 

Christopher Ehret is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 (Virginia).

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