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Great Zimbabwe for Unit 1 of AP World History

Cate O'Donnell

4 min read

Dec 14, 2023




In our exploration of Unit 1: The Global Tapestry in AP World History, we turn our attention to the intriguing story of Great Zimbabwe, a city built by the Shona people. Nestled in the southern reaches of Africa, this ancient civilization beckons us to unearth the realities of its formation and the impact it left on the historical landscape.

You can read and watch videos about Great Zimbabwe using Google Slides, or you can scroll down to read on the website.

The Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe
The Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe 2343351705/Shutterstock

Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe, located near modern-day Masvingo, Zimbabwe, stands as a testament to the grandeur and sophistication of pre-colonial African civilizations. The name itself, derived from the Shona language, signifies “stone houses,” reflecting the city’s awe-inspiring architecture and ingenuity. Beginning around 1100 C.E., Great Zimbabwe served as the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, a Shona trading empire.

The defining feature of Great Zimbabwe is its intricate stone structures. Its massive walls, towers, and the iconic Great Enclosure were constructed without the use of mortar, demonstrating advanced masonry skills. The Great Enclosure, in particular, is believed to have served as both a royal palace and a religious center.

Trade played a pivotal role in the kingdom’s prosperity. Positioned at the crossroads of major trade routes, Great Zimbabwe controlled the exchange of valuable commodities like gold, ivory, and ceramics. This wealth allowed for the construction of the city’s monumental structures and advanced the culture’s material and artistic expressions.

The decline of Great Zimbabwe and its eventual abandonment around the 15th century remain topics of scholarly debate. Proposed causes range from ecological changes and resource depletion to political instability.


Great Zimbabwe had a complex social structure with a centralized authority.

Society was hierarchical, with a ruling elite at the top, most likely including a monarch.

Archaeological evidence suggests social differentiation in terms of access to resources and power.


Great Zimbabwe was the capital of the powerful Shona Kingdom.

The kingdom was likely governed by a centralized authority, with the Great Enclosure possibly serving as the royal palace.

There is debate among scholars regarding the exact political structure, including the nature of the rulership.

Interactions with the Environment

Great Zimbabwe was strategically located at the crossroads of trade routes, facilitating long-distance trade with other African civilizations.

The kingdom accumulated wealth through controlling trade in valuable commodities, including gold, ivory, and ceramics.

It had interactions with surrounding cultures and polities through trade, possibly contributing to the exchange of ideas and technologies.


The architecture of Great Zimbabwe, particularly the dry stone walls and structures like the Great Enclosure, reflects advanced masonry skills.

The site is significant for its cultural and historical symbolism, representing the achievements of indigenous African societies.

They worshipped Mwari, the great god of the Shona religion.


Great Zimbabwe’s economy was based on trade, especially the trade of gold and cattle.

The control of trade routes and resources was a key source of wealth for the kingdom.

Agricultural practices, including crop cultivation and livestock, likely supported the local population and contributed to the kingdom’s economy.


The construction of dry stone walls without the use of mortar is a remarkable technological achievement of Great Zimbabwe.

The architecture and engineering skills demonstrated at the site are a testament to the knowledge and expertise of its builders.

The use of terracotta figurines and pottery also reflects the technological capabilities of the inhabitants.

Shona People

The Shona people are a Bantu ethnic group primarily found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, and other neighboring regions of southern Africa. The Shona are one of the largest ethnic groups in the region and have a rich cultural heritage. The Shona language, known as ChiShona, is widely spoken and has several dialects.

Agriculture: The Shona people have a long history of farming, and agriculture plays a central role in their culture. Maize, millet, sorghum, and other crops are cultivated, and livestock such as cattle and goats are also important for their livelihood.

Extended Families: Shona society is organized around extended families and clans. Family ties are strong, and the extended family often plays a crucial role in social, economic, and cultural activities.

Spirituality: Traditional Shona religion involves a belief in a supreme creator and ancestral spirits. Ancestor worship and rituals are important aspects of their spirituality.

Art and Craftsmanship: Shona people are known for their art, particularly stone sculpture. Shona stone sculptures are renowned for their quality and artistic expression and are highly valued in the global art market.

Music and Dance: Music and dance are integral to Shona culture. Traditional music is played on instruments such as the mbira (thumb piano), drums, and rattles. Various dances are performed during ceremonies and celebrations.

Language: ChiShona is the language of the Shona people and is one of the 16 official languages in Zimbabwe. It is spoken by millions of people and has several dialects.

Would you prefer to watch a video about Africa from 1200 to 1450?

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#Africa #APWorldHistory #GreatZimbabwe

Cate O'Donnell

4 min read

Dec 14, 2023




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