As given in site South African kingdom of Mapungubwe

From about 1220 to 1300 Mapungubwe was an advanced trading centre and its inhabitants traded with Arabia, China and India through the East African harbours. They exchanged salt, cattle, fish, gold and iron, ivory, wood, freshwater snail and mussel shells, chert and ostrich eggshell beads were used for glass beads and cloth.

I am looking for more information about trade routes between Mapungubwe and other civilizations.


This was an era when nearly all trade was via rivers and the sea. Movement overland was so much slower and more problematic that it was generally only resorted to when there wasn't a good naval alternative.

The town was at the confluence of the Sashe and Limpopo. Such a spot would naturally control and access all trade upriver on both rivers. The fact that the town increased in size and power to the level it did (probably only about 5,000 people, but that's still a lot for that time and locale), is all the evidence we really need that this is what was going on.

So the watershed below shows roughly the area that their commerce had access to. They would have had control of nearly all the trade in the upriver (western) half of this area.

enter image description here

The exports they had access to that were of interest abroad were primarily ivory and gold. This would have been tied into the Indian Ocean trade routes of the era via the mouth of the Limpopo.

Here's a map showing the Indian Ocean trade routes of the era (just before, technically). That curling river at the bottom is the Limpopo.

enter image description here

You can see it would have been a bit of a hike up the coast to the Mwenemutapa trading port of Sofala. So any external trade probably (technically) went through there first.


There was a north-south trade route with a long history between Zanzibar and the Horn of Africa and beyond through Mombasa and Mogadishu.

Just guessing, but it would seem natural for the Zimbabwe area's trade to feed into the latter, likely through Tete (where the Swahili operated a trade outpost before the Portuguese arrived) and the Zambezi.

I've no idea if there also was inland trade with kingdoms and tribes in the Great Lakes areas, but given how the Zambezi flows towards Central Africa it would seem reasonably natural for trade to have occurred upstream as well.

  • I'm not sure Tete existed that early, but the speculation that some of the trade may have hopped river systems somewhere to get to a better (more northern) port town quicker is not a bad one. – T.E.D. Jul 28 '17 at 16:01

By the time that Mapungubwe was a trading centre, the silk routes between Europe, Arabia, India and China were long established. As the linked article notes, trade would have travelled by sea up the East African coast and would have then travelled by sea or overland into Arabia, India and beyond.

  • Yeah, that is what given, but it is not satisfactory information. I am looking for a more detailed answer which I could not find after a few hours of searching. – Sonevol Jul 28 '17 at 9:04
  • In what way is it "not satisfactory"? What exactly are you looking for? – KillingTime Jul 28 '17 at 9:29
  • It is unsatisfactory in the sense that if I google search about trade routes in ancient China, India, and so on there are lots of information. But in this case there is little information. So, I am looking for some information which is not so easily available in Google. Your answer is a basic one line answer from google. – Sonevol Jul 28 '17 at 9:35

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