Great Zimbabwe existed between the 12th and 15th centuries CE. It was a great trading civilization that sprang up in the middle of southern Africa around the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. Although the civilization had some contact with outside groups, Great Zimbabwe was built and managed by Africans living in the interior. It was a center of the gold and ivory trade.
People living at Great Zimbabwe worked in agriculture and cattle herding. Too many people living and farming one small area led to environmental degradation. Eventually the land was no longer able to provide for a large number of people.
Great Zimbabwe was an early example of a centralized state with much political, economic, and military power. Social and political business became more hierarchical. Village-level government shifted to something broader, resulting in the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
Backcountry of the Congo Forest
The people living in the Congo Forest between the 12th to 15th centuries CE did not have a highly centralized state like Great Zimbabwe. They were organized in small states or no states at all. For example, there were small areas made up of villages and ruled by a council of elders and a chief.
The land was lightly inhabited because of the thickness of the tropical rainforest.
The Great Lakes Region
The Great Lakes region was probably ruled at a local level at this time. Around the 15th century CE, large states began to form. Co-existence became less peaceful, and social classes or castes began to develop.
Source: History of Africa during the Time of the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe
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