The empires of Africa, before colonialism, "Washington Post," Jan. 13, 2014. This map spans 2,000 years from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., so these empires were not concurrent; some existed centuries apart. Sub-Saharan Africa was rich with vast and powerful empires long before the Europeans arrived. The Songhai Empire, at its peak in the 14th century, was a global center of culture and learning, based in the still-famous mosques of Timbuktu.