Archaeological evidence shows human settlement dating back several thousand years. The Khoisan people were early inhabitants of the region, followed from around AD 500 by the Bantu-speaking Gokomere. Trading civilizations flourished from the 9th century, culminating in the Mwene Mutapa Empire (Empire of Great Zimbabwe) from the 15th century. Its stronghold was a fortified stone town known as Great Zimbabwe (‘houses of stone’), which was founded around 1000 and had a population of up to 18,000 at its peak. During the 16th and 17th centuries the area came under partial control by the Portuguese until the Shona people defeated them in 1693 and established the Rozwi Empire. This fell to the migrating Ndebele (Matabele) in 1834.
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