South and East African Civilizations

The continent of Africa is one of the most diverse places on earth. It is home to many different forms of life and holds much of humankind’s history. Some of the earliest evidence of the human species is found in Africa. It is the second-largest continent in the world spanning over 12 million square miles. Much like the civilizations in Mesopotamia, India, and China, empires rose and fell throughout Africa. In South and East Africa, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe dominated the region and was one of Africa’s largest empires at its height from the 12-16th century.

The empire’s capital city, Great Zimbabwe, was founded by a Bantu ethnic group called the Shona. Great Zimbabwe is one of the oldest and largest pre-colonial cities of large stone houses and structures in Southern Africa. Scholars believe that Great Zimbabwe was built by members of the early Gokomere culture, ancestors of the modern-day Shona. Since the early 4th and 7th centuries, the Gokomere or Ziwa cultures farmed the valley, established small communities, and practiced metalworking of iron and copper. Construction of Great Zimbabwe did not begin until the 11th century and continued to grow and expand for over 300 years. It is most noted for its large walls, some as high as 36 ft. tall and 820 ft long. At its peak, historians believe Great Zimbabwe housed around 10,000 people.

Great Zimbabwe became a center for trading in South and East Africa. Their trade network reached far and wide. Some artifacts such as coins from Arabia, pottery from China, and other items like beads and glass that were not of local origin have been found in Great Zimbabwe. It also had a strong local trade network with a nearby trading center in Sofala, where gold from Great Zimbabwe would be brought in.

Great Zimbabwe began to decline in the 15th century when it’s trading networks ceases as a result of exhausting the gold deposits. They faced several environmental issues such as the overworking of land, deforestation, and crisis resulting from a series of droughts. Many of the Shona migrated and formed new states, essentially abandoning the city. Great Zimbabwe was eventually succeeded by the Torwa, and the Munhumutapa states.