Ashanti Empire

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Ashanti Empire
approx. 1680-1896
Official language Ashanti Twi
Capital Kumasi
Form of government monarchy
Head of state , also head of government Asantehene (King)
last Osei Tutu II.
surface 259,000 (1874) km²
population 3 million (1874)
founding 1670
The area was in what is now the Republic of Ghana
The area was in what is now the Republic of Ghana
The Ashanti Empire at the height of its power at the beginning of the 19th century
The Ashanti Empire at the height of its power at the beginning of the 19th century

The West African Ashanti Empire (also called Asante ; on Twi : Asanteman ) existed for over 200 years, from around 1680 to 1896.

At the height of its power, it extended over the entire national territory of what is now the Republic of Ghana with the exception of a narrow strip in the very north of the country and a small enclave on the south coast (the area of ​​the Fantifederation ), enclosed by the Ashanti Empire and only briefly ruled . To the east and west it still encompassed parts of today's neighboring republics of Togo and Ivory Coast . Because of the large space that the Asantehene left the internal structures of the conquered areas, the Ashanti Empire is sometimes referred to as the "Ashanti Federation".

Origin of the Ashanti and forerunners of the empire

Gold mask from Kofi Karikari's treasury

The Ashanti Empire came into being through the centralization of Akan-speaking peoples. Presumably from the 13th century the Akan immigrated from the north to their current settlement area in central Ghana. This migratory movement intensified at the end of the 15th / beginning of the 16th century, when the importation of certain (field) fruits such as bananas , millet or cassava from Southeast Asia or America enabled more intensive colonization of the rainforest areas of central Afghanistan, which were previously barely populated. The Akan peoples began to organize themselves into smaller political units. The first kingdoms of the still fragmented Akan peoples were Bono , Banda and Akwamu .

In the area of ​​the Ashanti there was (and is) significant gold deposits, which led to lively trade relations with the powerful empires of the Sahel . In addition, the important trade routes from the major trading cities of the north ( Timbuktu , Gao , Djenné and others) and the west ( Kano , Sokoto and other cities in present-day Nigeria ) crossed here on their route towards the coast. In addition, the Gold Coast supplied Europe with gold from around 1500 onwards, and in the 16th century it supplied around a tenth of the world's total demand.

However, only part of the amount of gold produced went into trading. Traditionally, a certain amount of gold products was hoarded as a treasure, and the oldest woman was responsible for keeping it. The elder of a village administered the gold and determined it to be allocated as a bridal gift or as goods for long-distance trade for the benefit of the entire lineage . Because of his special position, there was always competition for the position of the village chief, who enjoyed a supremacy through his sacred access to gold.

In the second half of the 17th century, the traditional social structure of the Akan societies changed significantly. The circulation of gold played a central role in this. Until the middle of the 17th century, the gold trade with the Akan companies was dominated by the Portuguese. The expulsion of the Portuguese from the Gold Coast by the Dutch in 1642 and the subsequent arrival of the English, Brandenburgers and Danes led to a completely different range of goods. Above all, the importation of firearms for gold exacerbated social differences.

Firearms offered influential families an opportunity to expand their power. The companies of the gold-poor areas specialized in the trade in slaves, which they sold to European slave traders in exchange for gold and firearms. They also tried to establish themselves as a middleman between gold-rich areas and the coast.

As a result of this situation, many Akan societies emigrated, including the members of the Oyoko clan who settled in the later core area of ​​Asantes.

Beginnings: Osei Tutu, 1680

The chief Oti Akenten (approx. 1630–1660) undertook some successful military operations against neighboring Akan peoples, and so for the first time founded an Ashanti power beyond the core area. But it was not until 1680 that Osei Tutu , the ruler of the city of Kumasi (the Kumasihene), unified the previously independent principalities of the Ashanti under his rule and declared himself Asantehene , the head of all Ashanti.

The founding myth of the Ashanti Empire, which is still alive today, says that a priest ( okomfo ) named Okomfo Anokye was commissioned by the high god of the Akan himself, Nyame , to turn the Ashanti into a powerful people around 1695 . The Asantehene Osei Tutu then called a large meeting to spread the word. At this meeting, Okomfo Anokye fetched a wooden chair, partially covered with gold, from the sky, who then sat down on Osei Tutu's knees. Okomfo Anokye announced that this chair contained the spirit or soul of the entire Ashanti people. This founding myth played a central and, in its effect, very real role in maintaining the unity of the Ashanti.

Osei Tutu also passed various laws to consolidate this unity, including a general ban on speaking of the ancient, separate history of the Ashanti. He carried out a military reform in which each member state of the Ashanti Union was assigned a specific place in the attack formation of the now emerging national army of the Ashanti. These united armed forces began to expand the Ashanti Empire by military means with great success.

Rise to regional superpower by 1750

At that time , the Ashanti Empire was still a tributary of Denkyra , the largest neighboring power. The kingdom of Denkyra, southwest of Ashanti, also blocked access to the coast and thus to the various European trading posts, the source and the like. a. of guns and ammunition. The ruler of Denkyra, the Denkyrahene , tried to find a peaceful balance with the newly emerged power of the Ashanti, promised compensation for past injustices and even allowed them to purchase rifles from the Dutch in Fort Elmina on the south coast.

Fort Elmina or St. George's Castle

However, when the successor of Denkyrahene wanted to raise taxes for the Ashanti in 1699, war broke out. In two years the Ashanti Empire defeated Denkyra and, in addition to its national territory, conquered large areas that were formerly tributary.

One of the booty of the Ashanti was a lease with the Dutch for the aforementioned Fort Elmina . The Ashanti Empire thus had direct contact with European trading masters for the first time and was now an actor in the lucrative trade with Dutch and others.

Osei Tutu's successor Opoku Ware I. put down an uprising in the newly conquered territories in two wars. He then turned against the northern neighboring states of Tekiman, Banda, Gyaaman and Gonja and conquered the kingdom of the Dagomba in northern Ghana in 1744–45. The Ashanti Empire thus also controlled the trade routes to northern Niger and tributary states supplied a constant supply of slaves who were sold to the Europeans.

In the middle of the 18th century, the Ashanti Empire was the region's greatest military and trading power.


Inside, this new empire was divided into the gold-rich central Ashanti, consisting of the capital Kumasi , which was directly subordinate to the Asantehene , and the surrounding 9 sub-states, each with an Omanhene . All of these states recognized the "Golden Chair" as the embodiment of the spirit and unity of the Ashanti and the Kumasihene as the head of the Ashanti (Asantehene).

The “provincial” Ashanti, the ring of conquered states, was divided around this central Ashanti. These states continued to rule themselves, but had to pay tribute, accept occasional visits from an envoy from Kumasi, and provide a contingent for the army.

Asantehene Osei Kwadwo carried out further profound internal reforms, which were continued by his successors Osei Kwame Panyin and Osei Bonsu . He began to appoint leaders / chiefs independently of their birthrights, thus enabling men to rise to the highest positions based on their skills, their military successes or their devotion to the Asantehene. He introduced non-hereditary positions, which were to be equated with ministerial offices, and filled vacant principalities with men of his trust.

Such men were also the leaders of a newly formed police force, the Ankobia , which stood ready to put down revolts.

By the beginning of the 19th century at the latest, the Asantehene employed literate Muslims to administer his empire and for correspondence with various powers, in particular with the trading empires of the Sahel region such as the home states of today's Nigeria or with Djenne and other distant cities.

With all this, the Ashanti Empire had far exceeded the structures of a large chieftainship and had come to state organizational forms.

organization structure

organization structure

Asantehene (king)

The Asantehene, the 1st ruler or king of the Ashanti empire, is the most influential person in the empire thanks to religious legitimation. His oyoko lineage , descended from the first Asantehene Osei Tutu and received the golden chair, is said to be the highest authority of the Ashanti for all times. Even if the Asantehene must descend from the Oyoko lineage, his succession is not exclusively that of hereditary leadership. (Göhring 1979, p. 29) Like the chiefs , the Asantehene has several institutions that he must consult when making important decisions. That would be both the Council of Elders, the Queen Mother and the Mmerante, the association of young men.

Queen Mother, Council of Elders, mmerante

The Queen Mother, the Asantehema, the owner of the silver chair, is the second most powerful person of the Ashanti. The asantehene must justify himself to her alone. However, she is not actually the mother of the Asantehene, but usually his mother's sister, grandmother, sister or cousin. She supports the Asantehene in his lifestyle, for which she also consults with her own council of elders. (Rattray)

It is always the elders of a lineage who come together for the council of elders, whereby there is no gender separation.

Oath of allegiance

Both the rulers of the original empires, the Omahene of the main states, as well as the chiefs and the rulers of the incorporated states, swore the oath of allegiance to the Asantehene after their Odwera festival, a kind of ceremonial declaration of loyalty to the Golden See. Through this oath of allegiance, they became members of the Ashanti Confederation. In principle, however, they always retained their traditional organization and administration and were not controlled by the Ashanti either. (Göhring 1979, pp. 26; 33)

For some ethnic groups it even turned out to be advantageous to give up their independence in order to be able to fit into the Ashanti market.

Omanhene and Ohemma

The Omanhens were the rulers of the original kingdoms / core provinces, who joined together to create an original defense community, the Ashanti Union. Almost all of them came from the Oyoko clan, the royal clan, and were divided into many other lineages, which were led by the chiefs. The Omanhene was supported by a council of elders who supported and at the same time controlled him. As for the Asantehene, the eldest woman of the Lineage, the Ohema, also played an important role in the Omanhene Council of Elders. The Ohema also had the right to act on behalf of the Omanhene. In addition, she was the chairman of her own court, which was responsible for the legal disputes of women. In practice, apart from the command of the army, it had the same rights and functions as the Omanhene.

For important imperial affairs one met in the State Council with the Asantehene.


Even if the Asantehene held the highest position of the Ashanti, that of the Chief is probably the most important for the Ashanti's daily life together. He makes military decisions, holds court and is an advisor in all situations for his lineage. He administers the country with an extensive command and information network and is at the same time the bridge to the ancestors. Each of his actions has a religious background and is understood as the norm to be kind to the ancestors. Because as long as he held the chair of his ancestors, he was considered holy. Arbitrary rule by the chief was not possible because despite his special position in the lineage he always had to listen to his people and their representatives. Because those who elected him could also remove him from office.

There were also council meetings of the chiefs in the capital Kumasi, although it is not clear from the sources whether this is also the State Council. The chief always had to represent the position of those he represented.

Rituals and regalia

The golden chair was the embodiment of the empire and thus the highest symbol of national unity. He represented the highest political authority and was the object of worship to which the Asantehene also submitted. The office and person of the king were strictly separated. The well-being and fertility of the land were tied to the integrity of the chair, but not to the person of the king. This fell to the role of Ohene Okomfo, the priest-king, who mediated between the golden chair as a symbol of divine power and society. The heir to the throne gave up all civil rights, such as all material possessions and personal relationships, as a sign of submission to the office of the king and the chair.

This subordination to the office was emphasized dramatically during the enthronement: the Asantehema wrapped the king, clad only in a white cloth, in a precious silk toga and carried him on her back into the hall where all the dignitaries were gathered. Thus the Asante theme was considered the "kingmaker" and the king as a newborn.

Every year in Kumasi the celebration of the festival Odwira was celebrated, which was also considered a symbol of national unity and served to consolidate a common identity. It was a reminder of the victory over Denkyira and was also a harvest festival.


The following images show buildings in the royal seat of Kumasi around 1815.

Conflict with the British and Fante, 1800–1900

The Ashanti’s most important European trading partners were the Dutch, who at the beginning of the 19th century had fierce competition from the British in the lucrative business with slaves and gold. The British, on the other hand, were allies / used the Fante , who were the last people of southern Afghanistan to maintain their independence from Ashanti. The fantasy federation , founded as a reaction to the desire to conquer the Ashanti, was surrounded by their territory on an approx. 100 km wide and 40 km deep coastal strip.

Under the Asantehene Osei Bonsu , 1801-1824, the conflict of interest with the British intensified. In general, the relationship between Europeans and Africans began to change at this time: from largely equal trade relations to colonial dictation by the militarily superior Europeans.

However, Osei Bonsu waged several victorious wars against the Fante and the British allies with them. 1814-16 in the so-called Ashanti Akim Akwapim War he defeated the combined Akim and Akwapim. The British had to recognize the sovereignty of Ashanti over the entire south coast of today's Ghana outside the direct area of ​​their forts. The Dutch left the Gold Coast. An attempt by the British Governor Sir Charles MacCarthy to break the Ashanti power ended in a devastating defeat on January 21, 1824, and his army was devastated. He died at the end of the battle. The Ashanti carried on his head as a trophy. The Ashanti Empire was at the height of its power.

The rest of the 19th century was shaped by the Ashanti Wars between Ashanti and the British: In 1826 the Ashanti suffered a heavy defeat against the British for the first time and an extraordinary alliance of Fanti, Ga, Akim and Denkyra. In 1863 the Ashanti defeated a British regiment that had been shipped from the Antilles to West Africa.

After the Dutch had sold the Elmina fortress to the British, a conflict arose over the lease price that the Dutch had previously paid to the Ashanti. British troops under Sir Garnet Wolseley captured Kumasi, sacked the city and set it on fire. In 1874 Wolseley forced the Fomena Treaty on the Asantehene , in which the Ashanti waived all their rights on the coast and the slave trade, formerly the Ashanti’s main source of income, was declared illegal. Several former vassals of the Ashanti Empire in the south were incorporated into the British Gold Coast Colony .

Negotiation of Asantehene Prempeh I with British general in a historical representation

Kwakuh Prah III. , called Prempeh (the fat one), was the last independent Asantehene. His attempts to negotiate with the British to find a protectorate solution that would leave him in office failed. The British wanted to prevent the Ashanti Empire from being annexed to the French or German neighboring colonies. They also feared that Prempeh could join forces with Almamy Samory Touré and his threateningly imminent empire in an alliance against European imperialism. In 1896 the British conquered the Ashanti Empire and deported Prempeh to Sierra Leone and later to the Seychelles .

The British tried to destroy the institutions of the old Ashanti Empire in order to prevent any revival of the old Ashanti-imperialism. When they asked for the Golden Chair to be handed over, an uprising broke out in 1900 under the leadership of Yaa Asantewaa , Queen Mother of Edweso. The British sent four expeditions against the insurgents using guerrilla tactics. The first three were defeated, the fourth expedition was successful because the insurgents ran out of ammunition. Ashanti was now formally declared a crown colony.

Not until 1924 was the Asantehene Prempeh allowed to return to the Gold Coast colony. The institutions of the Ashanti kingdom also exist in modern Ghana.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The last material remains of the buildings of the empire in the region north-east of Kumasi are the part since 1980 UNESCO - World Heritage (coordinates: 5 ° 27 '  N , 0 ° 58'  W ). The settlements made of earth, wood and straw are very sensitive to weather influences and therefore quickly deteriorate without adequate protection.

See also

Web links


  • Peter Altenberg: Ashantee . In the Thiergarten in Vienna. With the negroes of the Gold Coast. West coast , prose sketch, Vienna, 1897
  • Basil Davidson: A History of West Africa 1000-1800 . Longman 1977
  • Joseph Dupuis, Journal of a residence in Ashantee , London 1824
  • Joseph Ki-Zerbo: The History of Black Africa . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1981, ISBN 3-596-26417-0
  • Tom McCaskie, State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante, Cambridge, New York 1995
  • Margaret Priestley / Ivor Wilks, The Ashanti Kings in the 18th Century: A Revised Chronology , Journal of African History, 1 (1) (1960) 83-96
  • JB Webster, AA Boahen: The Revolutionary Years. West Africa since 1800 . Longman 1984
  • Ivor Wilks, Asante in the 19th Century. The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order, London 1975

Individual evidence

  1. a b Obeng, J. Pashington: "Asante Catholicism: Religious and Cultural Reproduction Among the Akan of Ghana", p. 20. BRILL, 1996
  2. KY Daaku, Trade and Politics on the Gold Coast 1600-1720, London 1970, p. 8.
  3. ^ Walter Rodney, Gold and Slaves on the Gold Coast, in: Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 10 (1969), pp. 13-28.
  4. Ute Luig, Constitutional Conditions of the Ashanti Empire. Processes of centralization of political rule. From the Akan states to the Ashanti empire, in: R. Hanisch & Rainer Tetzlaff (eds.) Historical constitutional conditions of the state in developing countries, Frankfurt / M. 1980, pp. 118-186, pp. 133-138.
  5. ^ Ivor Wilks: Asante in the 19th century. The structure and evolution of a political order. London 1975.
  6. a b Christina Göhring: Chief and President: Structural analysis of traditional and modern rule in Ghana. Renner, Hohenschäftlarn 1979
  7. Brockhaus
  8. Robert Sutherland Rattray wrote a total of 3 books on the Ashanti (1923, 1927 and 1929)
  9. Ute Luig, Constitutional Conditions of the Ashanti Empire. Processes of centralization of political rule. From the Akan states to the Ashanti empire, in: R. Hanisch & Rainer Tetzlaff (eds.) Historical constitutional conditions of the state in developing countries, Frankfurt / M. 1980, pp. 118-186, pp. 140f.
  10. g. Hagan, The Golden Stool and the oath to the king of Aschanti, in Research Review 4 (1968), 3
  11. Tom McCaskie, State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante, Cambridge, New York 1995, pp. 144–242