The Asante Empire or Ashanti Empire, also known as the
Ashanti Confederacy or Asanteman (independent from 1701–1896), was a
pre-colonial West African state of the Akan people of what is today known as
the Ashanti Region in modern day Ghana.
Known for their military power, which came from the usage of
effective war strategies, as well as an early adoption of European rifles, the
Asante created an empire which stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo
and Côte d'Ivoire. It was bordered by the Dagomba kingdom to the north and
Dahomey to the east.
Due to the empire's culture, military prowess, social
stratification, and sophisticated hierarchy, the Asante empire by English
sources had one of the largest historiographies of any indigenous sub-Saharan
At the height of their power, from 1806 until 1896, the
Asante Union was in a perpetual state of war involving expansion and defense of
its domain. Its exploits against forces from other African states made it the predominant
power in the region. In time, this dominance would bring the empire to wage series
of armed conflicts against British forces, in what is today known as the
Its impressive performance
against the British earned the Asante the respect of European powers. The Asanteman
was one of the few African states to decisively defeat the British Empire in
not only a battle but a war.
Historically, the ‘Anglo-Ashanti Wars’ were series of five conflicts
which took place between 1824 and 1900, between the Asante Empire—in the Akan
interior of what is now Ghana—and the British empire in the nineteenth century.
Fought mainly due to Asante attempts to establish a
stronghold over the coastal areas of present-day Ghana, coastal peoples such as
the Fante and the Ga came to rely on British protection against Asante
incursions. The result of the wars, ultimately led to the Asante Empire being
integrated into the British Gold Coast Colony.
The first war (1823 to 1831), seen by the British as part of
their anti-slavery campaign, began when the Asante claimed territory disputed
with the Fante, a client state of Great Britain. Britain had expressed concern
over the Asante’s continuous supplying of slaves to the other European nations
which had not yet outlawed slave trade after the 1807 abolition of slave trade.
In 1823, Sir Charles MacCarthy, then British governor of the
Fante region, rejecting Ashanti claims to Fante areas of the coast and and
resisting overtures by the Asante to negotiate, led a British army of about
2,500 from the Cape Coast against some 10,000-man army of the Ashanti. On
January 22, 1824, in the Battle of Nsamankow, having underestimated the power
Asante and the extent of their weaponry thanks to years of
investment from the slave trade, the British forces were defeated and MacCarthy
killed in battle, his head taken for a trophy as the Asante swept on to the
coast. MacCarthy's gold-rimmed skull is reported to have later been used as a
drinking-cup by the Asante rulers.
Later that year, the British and their African allies, the
Fante and the Denkyirans, were again defeated in the Battle of Efutu by the
Ashanti. The Asante were so successful in subsequent fighting that in
1826 they again moved on the coast where at first they fought very impressively
in an open battle against superior numbers of British allied forces, including
Denkyirans, until British rockets forced them to retreat.
However, subsequent fighting and concern at fighting an
expensive war against a skillful opponent without any prospect of a payback,
forced the British to withdraw to Sierra Leone in 1828 and pay the London
Committee of Merchants to maintain the forts, which eased relations with the
The war officially ended in 1831, after the Asante accepted
the Pra River as boundary between the British-controlled Fante coastal region
and the Asante Empire. Subsequently, there followed 30 years of peace.
Not much is recorded about the second Anglo-Ashanti War, occurring
between 1863 and 1864. Having maintained—with the exception of a few minor
Asante skirmishes across the Pra in 1853 and 1854—the peace between Asanteman
and the British which had remained unbroken for over 30 years, in 1863, a large
Ashanti force crossed the Pra river in search of a fugitive, Kwesi Gyana. An
allied British, African and West Indian troops responded, and fighting began
with casualties from both sides. Neither side claimed to victory as illness
took more casualties on both sides than the actual fighting. The second
war ended in a stalemate in 1864.
The Third Anglo-Ashanti War took place from 1873 to 1874. In
1871 Britain had purchased the Dutch Gold Coast from the Dutch, including
‘Elmina’ claimed by the Asante. Concerned that they would no longer have access
to the sea except through British ports, the Asante resorted to invading the
new British protectorate, taking European missionaries as hostages.
The British, deciding for the first time deciding to crush
and destroy the Ashanti Empire, sent British General Garnet Wolseley led some 2,500
British troops (or his famous Wolseley ring) and several thousand West Indian
and African troops against the Ashanti Empire.
Considered a modern war, replete with press coverage
(including by the renowned reporter Henry Morton Stanley), the British were helped
by better trained soldiers, the introduction of quinine (which helped protect
against disease), and the new maxim gun (machine gun) which gave them a
significant technological advantage over the Asante Army. Subsequently.
The allied British forces defeated the Asante in the Battle
of Amoaful on January 31, 1873, but not without suffering considerable
casualties in the war, losing numerous soldiers and high ranking army officers.
The Ashanti had abandoned their capital Kumasi after a bloody war, where it was
briefly occupied by the British, and later burned by them.
The British were greatly impressed by the size of the palace
and the scope of its contents, including "rows of books in many languages."
The Ashanti had capital after a bloody war. The British confiscated much of
Kumasi's wealth, including its artistic treasures and burned the city. The war
ended in July 1874 when the Ashanti signed the Treaty of Fomena.
The fourth Anglo-Ashanti War took place between 1894 and 1896,
after the Asante turned down an unofficial offer to become a British
protectorate in 1891, extending to 1894. Here, a decade after the
European ‘Partition of Africa’, the British wanting to ensure that
neither French and German forces would conquer the Ashanti
(and their gold), decided to capture and annex the entire empire once and for
all. The war started on the pretext of failure to pay the fines of 50,000
ounces of gold levied on the Asantahene, the Ashanti emperor (Agyeman Prempeh),
by the Treaty of Fomena. Colonel Sir Francis Scott left Cape Coast along with
the British and West Indian Troops armed with Maxim guns and 75mm
artillery in December 1895, arrived in Kumasi in January 1896.
Major Robert Baden-Powell led an army of African allies who
had opposed Ashanti rule in the campaign. Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh unable or
unwilling to pay the 50,000 ounces of gold, was arrested and deposed. The
emperor was forced to sign a treaty of protection and with other Asante leaders,
was exiled to the Seychelles Islands at the end of the war in 1896.
Britain annexed the territories of the Ashanti and the Fanti in 1896, dissolved
the Asante Union, and formally declared the coastal regions to be the Gold
The final war between both parties, a rebellion known as the ‘War
of the Golden Stool’ or ‘Third Ashanti Expedition’, took place between March and
September 1900. Conflict began when British Representative Sr. Frederick
Mitchell Hodgson, committing a political error by insisting he should sit on
the Golden Stool (not understanding that it was the Royal throne and very
sacred to the Asante), and ordered a search be made for it.
The Stool which was understood by the Ashanti to be the
symbol of national unity, was not a throne as they believed that the soul of
the nation resided in this stool and no one, not even the king, was allowed to
sit on it. The Asante—who previously witnessed the beating of their women
and children to compel them to reveal its whereabouts—enraged by Sr. Frederick
Mitchell Hodgson’s act, attacked the soldiers engaged in the search.
When Hodgson’s act became known, the remaining Asante court
not exiled to the Seychelles, enraged by this act, attacked the soldiers engaged
in the search and mounted an offensive—as a final measure of resistance—against
the British residents at the Kumasi Fort. The rebellion which resulted in the
death of some 1,000 British and Allied soldiers and some 2,000 Ashanti fighters
was led by Yaa Asantewaa (1840-1921), the Queen Mother of the Asantahene, Ejisu.
Both totals were higher that the deaths from all previous
wars combined. The British would eventually subdue the rebellion and had
Asantewaa and other Asante leaders exiled to the Seychelles to join Prempeh I. In
January 1902, Britain finally added Asante to its protectorates on the Gold
Coast, as well as controlled the entire Gold Coast until Ghana became
independent in 1957.