III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > D. Africa, 500–1500 > 4. Regions, 1000–1500 > f. Southern Africa
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1000)
f. Southern Africa
1. North of the Limpopo
By this date, the Zambezi and Limpopo basins were widely settled by Iron Age peoples, who farmed sorghum and millet and kept cattle and small livestock. Pockets of Stone Age hunter-gatherers remained in the savanna. Hunter-gatherers, ancestors of modern San groups, occupied the Kalahari to the southwest.  1
New cultures, including the Leopard's Kopje tradition in modern Zimbabwe, supplanted the early Iron Age cultures of this region. The new developments may have been influenced by the immigration of pastoralists in the 9th or 10th century. By the 12th century, Leopard's Kopje people were engaged in gold mining. The mining and trading economy led to the accumulation of wealth by a privileged class and political centralization. Other new farming-based societies, sparked by immigration or technological innovation, emerged in this region in the 12th century among Shona speakers. Later Iron Age peoples settled at what became Great Zimbabwe in the 10th or 11th century. Trading states linked to the trade of the East African coast appeared in coastal Mozambique.  2
From the 12th century, gold mining increased in the Leopard's Kopje area. In the 12th century, significant changes took place in Great Zimbabwe, through which Leopard's Kopje exports were traded to the coast. These changes included the building of stone walls and the import of glass beads and other luxury goods, indicating new trade and wealth. A powerful state structure emerged there by 1300. Its domain included much of central and southern Mashonaland. Both Zimbabwe and Leopard's Kopje developed extensive trading networks and political centralization. Long-distance trade led to the accumulation of considerable wealth by the rulers at Great Zimbabwe. This in turn led to greater population densities, which in the long run probably resulted in overgrazing and loss of fertility of the land.  3
Great Zimbabwe's trade continued to flourish through the 14th century. By this century, imports at Great Zimbabwe included glass beads as well as ceramics from Persia, Syria, and China.  4
The gold trade from Sofala to Kilwa, on which Great Zimbabwe's wealth depended, reached its height in this century and then went into a steep decline, influencing the rapid decline of Great Zimbabwe as a political and trading center. The site was abandoned at the end of the 15th century, perhaps as a result of environmental degradation. The decline of Great Zimbabwe coincided with the emergence of the Rozwi Empire under a ruler known as Mwene Mutapa (Master Pillager). About 1490 the southern part split off, leaving Mutapa with domain over a region south of the Zambezi stretching to the Indian Ocean. This northward shift of power was related to new gold production from 1450 on the Zambezi tributaries.  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.