Was Great Zimbabwe the center of an empire?

civfanatic

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
3,318
Des Moines, Iowa
I would like to know more about Great Zimbabwe and medieval southern Africa in general (the interior, not the coastal states). The site of Great Zimbabwe is quite large at over 700 ha in extent, making it the largest pre-modern urban site in interior southern Africa. It seems to have owed its rise, power, and wealth to Indian Ocean trade of the 13th and 14th centuries, acting as a conduit between products from interior southern Africa (such as gold and ivory) and manufactured goods from various Indian Ocean countries. Goods as varied as Indian textiles, Persian glazed pottery, and Chinese porcelain were part of this trade network, as confirmed by archaeological findings at Great Zimbabwe. However, what exactly was the political function of Great Zimbabwe? Was it a trade-based city-state, or was it the center of a much larger empire? The latter seems to be the popular view, based on the existence of many dozens of smaller sites that seem to be modeled on Great Zimbabwe. One argument goes that the construction of such cites required specialized labour and materials that could only be provided by a centralized state, and was beyond the abilities of small, local chieftains to build. Do you agree with this argument? If not, why not? What are some other arguments in favour of regarding Great Zimbabwe as the center of a centralized empire?
 
Jun 2013
728
canada
Wasn't great zimbabwe a successor to the kingdom of mapungubwe? Its creators migrated north for greener pastures and closer trading links with the swahili and the indian ocean.I'd classify it as an empire, rather than as an inland city state. Some sources also say that in addition to being a capital city, great zimbabwe was also a holy or spiritual center. There are over 200 other similar sites scattered throughout southern africa, were these all perhaps part of one large empire or federation?
 
Jun 2014
23
Carolina
I would like to know more about Great Zimbabwe and medieval southern Africa in general (the interior, not the coastal states). The site of Great Zimbabwe is quite large at over 700 ha in extent, making it the largest pre-modern urban site in interior southern Africa. It seems to have owed its rise, power, and wealth to Indian Ocean trade of the 13th and 14th centuries, acting as a conduit between products from interior southern Africa (such as gold and ivory) and manufactured goods from various Indian Ocean countries. Goods as varied as Indian textiles, Persian glazed pottery, and Chinese porcelain were part of this trade network, as confirmed by archaeological findings at Great Zimbabwe. However, what exactly was the political function of Great Zimbabwe? Was it a trade-based city-state, or was it the center of a much larger empire? The latter seems to be the popular view, based on the existence of many dozens of smaller sites that seem to be modeled on Great Zimbabwe. One argument goes that the construction of such cites required specialized labour and materials that could only be provided by a centralized state, and was beyond the abilities of small, local chieftains to build. Do you agree with this argument? If not, why not? What are some other arguments in favour of regarding Great Zimbabwe as the center of a centralized empire?
Its government is usually called a "chiefdom" or a "big man" ruling a capital over several smaller towns' big men but without a "state" or professional bureaucratic aides. The order of organization by traditional historiography: farming society --> chiefdom --> state --> empire with empire comprising multiple states, usually of different nationalities.

Zimbabwean rulers ruled through religious belief that they had authority and rarely fought war.
 

civfanatic

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
3,318
Des Moines, Iowa
Its government is usually called a "chiefdom" or a "big man" ruling a capital over several smaller towns' big men but without a "state" or professional bureaucratic aides. The order of organization by traditional historiography: farming society --> chiefdom --> state --> empire with empire comprising multiple states, usually of different nationalities.

Zimbabwean rulers ruled through religious belief that they had authority and rarely fought war.
Thank you for your post. Do you know what evidence this is based on?