• Gareth Williams

Shaka's military society

A while ago, I explained my interest in Shaka Zulu. Towards the end of that post, I promised to explain the inherent problems with Shaka's military society.

Don't worry, I'll keep it short!

Imagine all men of fighting age living in barracks towns separated from their families. As the Zulu empire expands, so does the size of the army.

Soon local food supplies cannot support these large numbers of agriculturally unproductive men. To keep them fed and occupied, Shaka continues to raid more and more widely. As they raid, they plunder food, add cattle to the royal herds, and incorporate more people into the Zulu state.

Sounds like a solution. But many of those people are men of fighting age who are inducted into Shaka's growing number of regiments in his expanding barracks towns.

Guess what? They need feeding... so the cycle starts up again!

Now admirers of Shaka's achievements might argue he would have solved this problem given time but he died before he could manufacture the necessary equilibrium.

While that might be true, during his lifetime, he saw breakaway groups splinter from his empire to forge independent states further north and west. In many ways, these 'desertions' released pressure on the Zulu state, perhaps delaying the time when he would have to confront the inherent problem in the design of his military state.

They say an army marches on its stomach. That saying certainly seems to hold true in this case!

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