Medieval Zimbabwe

Home to One of the Greatest Architectural Achievements

Government and Military

The government structure of medieval Zimbabwe was that of a monarchy/kingdom, with a king in charge.

Source: Journey Across Time, 445-447

Major kings of Great Zimbabwe include:

  • Mutota and his son Matope

These two collectively made Zimbabwe into the great empire that we know of. The empire stretched south of the Zambezi River to the Indian Ocean, and also consisted of the capital: Great Zimbabwe, where over 300 great stone buildings stand.

Source: Journey Across Time, 445-447

  • Myatsimba Mutota

Around the year 1430, the prince Myatsimba Mutota, from Zimbabwe, traveled from his homeland to northern areas looking for salt along the Shona-Tavara River and started the beginnings of the kingdom of Mutapa, which later began to eclipse Zimbabwe.


The kingdom of Zimbabwe started out as a small trading and herding center. In the 1100s, gold mining began to boom in the area, and when farming grew, the population began to expand, gradually turning the area into a massive trading center. This, in turn, made the rulers of Zimbabwe extremely rich and powerful.

Around the 10th and 11th century, the Bantu-speaking Shona arrived from the north and drove the early ironworkers out, creating Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe, the well-known capital city (and commonly considered one of the greatest acheivements of the ancient world, had a monumental surrounding granite wall, 37 feet in height and 225 feet in length, a lasting testamentt to the military and political importance of the city.


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The size of ancient Zimbabwe was 11,637,154 sq. miles.

Major landforms include the Nile River and the Atlantic Ocean, both of which helped to trade with the Europeans and people in the north.

Main trade items and proximity to other civilizations included gold products, mined from beneath the earth.

The general climate was subtropical due to its high elevation and position beneath the Tropic of Capricorn.


History Alive! 165-167

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Cultural Customs

Languages spoken~ Shona, meaning rock or stone houses. Shona is a language of the Bantu family

Cuisine/Diet ~ one food they have is Potjiekos, a mixture of meat, vegetables, rice or potatoes all which is cooked slowly in an iron pot with dutch and malay spices. The dish originated from Voortrekkers which are immigrants that moved from Europe to inner south Africa. Jollof Rice is popular in west Africa. Rice, tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper where used to make this dish. Rice is grown in west Africa. Tomato and red pepper were brought by the Portugese. Beer was made from Millet and usually prepared by women.

Clothes~ Because cloth was so expensive to make people did not want to cut it and waste any of it most people wore the cloth wrapped around themselves rather than cutting it and sewing it as we usually do. Women and mean who were more dressed up wore a long piece of cloth wrapped around them in various ways and often covering their faces.

Traditions~ Stone buildings where made and the rulers of Zimbabwe brought artistic and stonemasonary traditions.

Music~ Music in Zimbabwe was sacred and has many purposes. Mbira music is played during ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and promotions of new chiefs. There's also music played at night to allow people to communicate with spirits. Music is believed to summon spirits and rid bad ones.

sources~ wikipedia, ehow, thenagain, prezi

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The stone city of Great Zimbabwe became an important religious center in around 1200 C.E. Religion has always played an important role in the development of Great Zimbabwe as a religious center, unifying people in the worship and reverence of rulers, who were believed to be divine beings and hold unearthly powers. The king also surrounded himself with wizardry and doctors to further myths of power and godliness, patronizing clan and territorial beliefs whose spiritual beliefs helped his own.

The people worshipped a god by the name of Mwari, who held powers over creating rain, agricultural fertility, illness, and mostly everything. The people could only communicate with the being through a separate medium, which was most often through a person.

Although Great Zimbabwe did not necessarily completely adopt any other religion, they do have close ties to Christianity in the shared belief of one supreme deity/creator. Prayers to the supreme deity are usually channeled through family ancestors. In times of trouble, they would consult spirit mediums, who were often believed to have direct connections to the creator.

Today, the traditional Mwari belief in the one supreme deity has been melded with the beliefs of the Christian faith to create the religion (50% Christian, 50% tradition) that at least fifty percent of modern Zimbabweans follow and practice today.


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Major resources of medieval Zimbabwe include gold and ivory (which they practically controlled at the time). Early occupants, called cattle farmers, grew crops such as sorghum and millet. Cows were not killed, but kept for their milk. In fact, cattle, crops, and trade, were the three tenets of Zimbabwean economy at the time.

Trading partners included the Swahili kingdom at Sofala on the coast of Mozambique and much of east Africa as well as areas of India and China. Great Zimbabwe was one of the most important trading centers of the ancient world, and survives today as a lasting testament to the political and socioeconomic importance of the empire as a whole.

For currency, there are no definite sources, but archaeologists have guessed they used coins (most likely made out of copper) , some of which may have the traditional Zimbabwe Bird (the national emblem of the country) on them. Initially, European settlers refused to believe that traditional Africans could have constructed the advanced capital city, and in the late 1900s, books about the subject were even censored by the Rhodesian government.

There are no definite sources for the social class of ancient Zimbabwe; however, kings ruled and did tax their subjects, so we can guess the class was a sort of hierarchy. Before and after the the construction of Great Zimbabwe, the empire was heavily dependent on farmers to sustain the economy.


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*NOTE: For Songhai, the government and military part is actually supposed to be:

Although Songhai did have a central king, it also appointed local chiefs and mayors to rule over the tributaries, and even included local chiefs maintaining control over their respective regions, as long as what they did did not interfere with the central government in any way.

Sonni Ali, one of its great leaders, established a system of rule under the royal court, and was also the first leader/king of the empire of Songhai. Under another great leader, Askia Muhammad, the empire also saw increased centralization and a push in education in Timbuktu, one of the primary cities of Songhai.

Also, the climate of Axum was hot, humid, and jungle-like, with a lot of reptilian animal life. Thick undergrowth which required little sunlight also flourished in this climate.

Kingdoms of Africa Great Zimbabwe

Ja'Maya Coleman, Abi Driver, Rebecca Han, Laxit Shahi, and Savannah Tidwell