Rise of the Asante Empire

The Asante Empire emerged from the union of loosely affiliated Asante states. The new union devoted its military resources to territorial expansion, which established Asante as the mightiest imperial power among the Akan states of western Africa.

Summary of Event

West Africa was made up of many empires collectively called the “forest kingdoms.” They included the Akan states, of which Asante became the most powerful. The region was rich in gold and kola nuts and served as a junction for converging trade routes. Such conditions contributed to the rise of Asante in the seventeenth century. The emerging Akan states began to explore international commerce, leading to the economic and political potential of the Akan. Trade;gold
[kw]Rise of the Asante Empire (1670-1699)
[kw]Asante Empire, Rise of the (1670-1699)
Expansion and land acquisition;1670-1699: Rise of the Asante Empire[2400]
Government and politics;1670-1699: Rise of the Asante Empire[2400]
Trade and commerce;1670-1699: Rise of the Asante Empire[2400]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1670-1699: Rise of the Asante Empire[2400]
Ghana;1670-1699: Rise of the Asante Empire[2400]
Asante Empire

The growth of the population Population growth;Akan as well as economic and political competition among the Akan was rampant. The intense competition that developed between the Akan states of Denkyira Denkyira and Akwamu Akwamu for control of regional resources led to their mutual demise and the emergence of the Asante power state.

The leadership of the Oyoko clan Oyoko clan also led to Asante’s emergence as a powerful state, spearheading the development of several Asante ministates. In the middle of the 1600’, the nation’s evolution was constrained because it was controlled by its neighbor, Denkyira. Eventually, the Oyoko clan consolidated its control around its principal settlement, Kumasi, and overcame Denkyira domination. Asante then began to develop as a major military and commercial power in the Gold Coast region of western Africa (modern Ghana), from sea to savanna. The greatest factor in Asante’s development was the initiative of the Oyoko monarchs. Under Obiri Yeboa Obiri Yeboa , who was killed in battle in the 1670’, the supremacy of the Oyoko clan was acknowledged by all in the Kumasi area and the other ruling lineages that were taken into the Oyoko line. That lineage established the nuclear states of Asante-Bekwai, Juaben, Kokofu, Kumasi, Mampong, and Nsuta.

Osei Tutu Osei Tutu built on this foundation and established the spiritual unity of Asante. He chose Kumasi as the nation’s capital and instituted a constitution that acknowledged the supremacy of the Kumasi. In so doing, he took the title asantehene, or head of the Asante state, and became the founder and first ruler of the Asante Empire.

Earlier, Osei had been a chief of the small state of Kumasi. Between 1680 and 1690, he believed that a merger or consolidation of the small separate Asante kingdoms was essential if they were to survive against the powerful Denkyira to the south. Osei had been a hostage in the court of Denkyira, but he escaped to the powerful state of Akwamu, where he was exposed to new ideas concerning militarism and politics. He returned to Kumasi with an entourage of Akwamu, including the high priest Okomfo Anokye Okomfo Anokye , who would play a crucial role in the crystallization of the Asante state. It is believed that Okomfo’s magical prowess propelled the first asantehene, Osei, to subdue the denkyirahene (king of Denkyira) and destroy the power of Denkyira at the Battle of Feyiase Feyiase, Battle of (1701) .

Okomfo developed the military structures of Asante power. He also wrote the Asante code of legal edicts, seventy laws that underpinned the state’s moral and social order. He planted a sword in Kumasi, perceived as an enduring replica of the nascent Asante union.

The kings of the member states of Asante were integrated into the new political union by various means. They became commanders of the national army and formed a council of advisers to the asantehene. Once his reforms were complete, Osei began to expand the state, acquiring many new territories and incorporating them into the Asante union. The Asante state would emerge between 1670 and 1680, when Osei assumed the leadership of a number of the Akan matrilineal clans in and around Kumasi. By the end of the seventeenth century, Osei had defeated Denkyira, whose empire was dissolved virtually overnight, leaving Asante unchallenged as the major power in the western forest land.

Predating the rise of Asante were the kinship-oriented Akan microstates, so Osei and his advisers crafted an innovative strategy to create wide political integration. These changes included the institution of a new all-Asante council, the Kotoko Council, as the ruling body. Also, Osei and his advisers nurtured a new national ideology. Osei’s legendary religious aide, Okomfo, is said to have magically conjured up a golden stool as a symbol of Asante unity and presented it to the asantehene, a symbol that would transform a temporary alliance into a permanent union.

The Asante kingdom, which had originated as a loose grouping of chiefdoms under Osei, had risen into a formidable military power. The chiefs paid tribute to Osei, tribute collected from the villages and from gold-mining profits. The chiefs also provided soldiers for the asantehene’s standing army. Osei’s federation conquered neighboring Akan states, and by the end of the seventeenth century, the Asante kingdom controlled most of the gold fields of the forest. The asantehene, through taxation and trading, was able to maximize his profit from the gold business. The Asante union came to dominate almost the entire territory of what is now Ghana, and it did so until annexed at the end of the nineteenth century by the British.


Osei Tutu fostered the spiritual and political basis for unity and conducted successful wars against his neighbors. During his reign, the size of Asante nearly tripled, expanding Asante to the coast, which included it in the slave and gun trades.

By the end of Osei’s rule in 1717, the Asante union became even more powerful. Osei’s successor, Opoku Ware I Opoku Ware I , followed with more conquests deep into the gold-producing regions of Banda, Gyaman, and southward, dominating Akyem, Akwapim, and Akwamu. Also, he would enter Accra in 1744. Additional campaigns followed, and by the time of Opoku’s death in 1750, Asante was unchallenged among the Akan states.

Asante power was used to exploit the gold and slave trade and in the process acquire firearms used to reinforce Asante’s might. Few states could mount effective opposition to the kingdom. The Fante seemed at first to be successful in resisting Asante encroachment. Later, however, Asante delivered a series of defeats to the Fante, defeats that ultimately brought British intervention. After protracted conflicts between Asante and the British, Asante was defeated in the nineteenth century and incorporated into the British colony of the Gold Coast (Ghana).

Further Reading

  • Ajayi, J. F. A., and Michael Crowder, eds. History of West Africa. New York: Longman, 1985. A reference volume on Asante and other regional empires.
  • Daaku, Kwame Yeboa. Trade and Politics on the Gold Coast, 1600-1720. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1970. Daaku discusses the commercial context for the rise of Asante.
  • Davidson, Basil. African Kingdoms. New York: Time-Life Books, 1974. A survey of Asante and companion civilizations.
  • Fage, J. D., and William Tordoff. A History of Africa. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. This updated edition examines the factors and conditions favorable to the rise of Asante.
  • McCaskie, T. C. “Komfo Anokye of Asante: Meaning, History, and Philosophy in an African Society.” Journal of African History 27, no. 2 (1986). McCaskie explores the spiritual genesis of Asante.
  • Meyerowitz, Eva L. R. The Early History of the Akan States of Ghana. London: Red Candle Press, 1974. Meyerowitz explores the growth of Asante in its early years.
  • Rattray, R. S. Ashanti. 1923. Reprint. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. A detailed study of the emergence and development of Asante.
  • Rattray, R. S. Ashanti Law and Constitution. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. In this work first published in 1929, Rattray focuses on the moral and legal foundation of Asante.

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