The Asante-Fante War of 1806-1807 and the Battle of Cape Coast Castle

War between the Asante and the coastal Fante Confederacy would lead the kingdom into their first conflict with British forces.

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Between 1750 and 1800, the Ashanti (Asante) Empire would remain the predominant power in West Africa. Further campaigns to the north cemented its authority among non-Akan peoples, and trade with the western powers along the coast continued to be extremely important. However, two important changes were taking place in the Gold Coast region that emerged as a threat to the Asante kingdom. Along the coast, the Fante people developed a robust confederacy that acted as a trade intermediary between the European coastal forts and interior kingdoms. Although technically Asante subjects, the Fante were another Akan tribe with a strong independent streak who chafed under Asante rule. By the start of the 18th century, the Fante became openly hostile to the power of Kumasi.

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Portrait of a Fante chief made in the 1700s. Hair tufts and neck rings indicate high status. From the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The other significant development was the increasing power of British agents in West Africa. Founded in 1752, the African Company of Merchants was chartered by the British Government to engage in profitable trade in the Gold Coast region. This included the purchase and transport of slaves. Over time, the African Company expanded their authority to a number of coastal forts previously held by other European powers. By the start of the 19th century, British trading agents only significantly competed with the Dutch in the region (though the Danes still had a coastal presence at Accra, the future Ghanaian capital). The main British fortress was at Cape Coast Castle; to their west, the Dutch held Elmina.

The African Company of Merchants, and then the British government, would come to ally themselves with Fante confederacy against the Asante. This was a slow development, fraught with frequent misunderstandings between British agents and Asante ambassadors. Indeed, many British officials, deeply impressed with Asante society and the sophistication of the kingdom, wished the Asante to continue their preeminent position in West Africa. Tragically, the two countries would come to blows. In the Asante-Fante War of 1806-1807, first blood would be drawn between British and Asante.

 

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The Rise of the Asante Empire (1680-1750)

The Asante Kingdom was the most powerful state in West Africa for over 200 years. With a tradition of monarchy centered around the Golden Stool, the Asante came to prominence during the reign of Osei Tutu (r. 1680-1717) and his immediate successors. 

By Nick Richwagen

Today the Ashanti (Asante) people number about 7 million, and inhabit central Ghana centered around the city of Kumasi. Their king, the Asantehene, continues to exert powerful social and cultural influence within Ghana, and his position is protected within the Ghanaian constitution. Ashanti kingship is similar in many respects to the chieftaincy system practiced by other Akan peoples, however the Ashanti distinguish themselves in their historical importance in the region. From the 17th to 19th centuries the Ashanti Kingdom was one of the most prominent states in the African continent, controlling territory outside the sphere of modern Ghana; at its peak the Asantehene ruled around 3 million people. Understanding the history of Ashanti is necessary for understanding the Gold Coast region and the broader history of Africa.

In the 19th century, the Asante came into conflict with the British, and after a series of brutal wars the Asante Empire was annexed by the British Empire in 1902 as a protectorate. Like the Zulu, the Asante were one of the few African kingdoms able to exert effective resistance against colonial European powers. This article discusses the origins of the Asante and their rise to dominance among the Akan peoples of West Africa.

Asante Kingdom 1800

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The Second Punic War According to Livy

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Titus Livius (Livy) wrote an 142-volume history of Rome between 27 and 9 BC. Only a quarter of his writing survives. Book 21-30 deal with the Roman Republic in her struggle against Hannibal. 

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By Steven Knorr and Nick Richwagen

Livy is known as a moralizing historian, and in his War with Hannibal (History of Rome: Books XXI-XXX) his belief in Roman values shows in his narration. Livy believed that human character and the moral character of history outweighed historical accuracy. Livy was interested in stories of right and wrong and the triumph of virtue. He highlighted heroic Roman leaders and singled out their virtues, such as with Quintus Fabius, who nobly delayed the Carthaginian advance through Italy to buy the Romans time.  Livy valued Roman virtues such as piety, bravery, and honor, and condemned weaknesses of character as leading to ruin. Like any pious Roman, he placed great stock in omens. Numerous omens exist in Livy’s history, both good and bad, that foreshadow events to come. Livy’s writing is best understood through a deeply moralistic, pious lens.

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The Battle of Austerlitz: War of the Third Coalition

Jules Jacquet, Cuirassiers at Austerlitz (1874)

In a series of lightening campaigns against Austria and Russia, Napoleon led France to victory against overwhelming odds. The Battle of Austerlitz that occurred during the War of the Third Coalition (1803-1806) would forever change the shape of central Europe. 

By Steven Knorr

The Formation of the Third Coalition (August 1805 – December 1806)

Since 1792, France had been at war with all of the major powers of Europe; though peace had been made with each in turn, Great Britain held out the longest. In March 1802, the Treaty of Amiens ended the hostilities between the United Kingdom and France. Europe seemed at peace. But conflict arose quickly as the British and the Swedes made an agreement that would lead to the forming of the Third Coalition against France. Russia and Austria would also join this coalition; Austria in particular was keen on revenge after suffering embarrassing defeats and ceding territory in the First and Second Coalition wars. The first two coalitions were waged against revolutionary France; the Third Coalition however would mark the beginning of what is now known as the Napoleonic wars. In May 1803, before these alliances were finalized, the UK declared war on Napoleon’s France. By August 1805, Russia and Austria had joined in and all Europe was again at war.

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Europe, 1803. Map made from template here.

Napoleon, French Emperor after 1804, developed ambitious plans for invading the British Isles. He assembled a massive invasion force around 200,000 men for the task. But with creation of the Third Coalition and threats looming on the continent, Napoleon abandoned his plans of invasion and turned his attention eastward. Though Napoleon discarded his invasion plan, all was not lost. French troops gained invaluable experience in the months of training that would prove to be of service in their upcoming campaign.

The Ulm Campaign (25 September – 20 October, 1805)

The Austrians moved towards France by concentrating their forces near the city of Ulm, at the time part of the Electorate of Bavaria, a state in the Holy Roman Empire. Karl Mack was the commander of the Austrian forces. He instituted reforms to the army on the eve of the war which would lead to insufficient officer training. This greatly hindered their military organization as officers did not have the proper training to coordinate troop movements. In the previous campaigns against the Austrians, the Italian theater became the primary focus for the French. The Austrians believed the French would focus heavily on Italy again and dispatched 95,000 troops into northern Italy and 72,000 into Ulm. The Austrians hoped with the heavily fortified and mountainous region of Ulm, they could hold out until Russian reinforcements arrived.

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Project Summaries and Update for January 2017

This is the second calendar year since our website started back in August 2015. I thought it might be helpful to do an overview of the different subjects we have so far covered. In descending order from the most recent:

 10/2016 A Concise Summary of World War One: The First Two Years (1914-1916)  This project chronicles the first two years of the Great War.
 9/2016 Classical Inspiration for American Government A discussion of the ancient philosophy and traditions which inspired the creation of the US government.
 9/2016 Emperor Tiberius According to Tacitus A look at the second Roman emperor through the lens of the author Tacitus (AD 56-120), who had more than his fair share of biases.
 1/2016 The Radicalization of the French Revolution Why did the French Revolution become so extreme? Also, inexplicably our most popular essay.
 10/2015 The Saxons – Early History and Geography Concerning the ancient Saxon tribe, their traditions and customs, and their homeland in northern Germany. Also a look into some modern German geography.
 8/2015 Athens and the Greek World, 404 – 200 BC An examination of the political life of Athens, and its position in the larger Greek world, from the end of the Peloponnesian War through the Hellenistic Period.

In all so far, our two contributing authors have written five posts with more planned projects in the near future.

Although readership is still small, we are averaging one view every other day and have seen growth in views every month since last September. We are currently looking for more contributors, if anyone might enjoy writing about a history related topic for zero compensation. In interested, please comment or email one of the authors.

A Concise Summary of World War I: The First Two Years (1914-1916)

Nick Richwagen

Project Description 

This is an ongoing project to complement my reading of John Keegan’s The First World War (2000), as well as Michael Howard’s The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (2003). I have also made use of other literature and resources throughout the project (see Useful Resources below).

Every year 1914-1918 has a paragraph summary detailing the events of each month. This article is for the first half of the conflict, 1914-1916.  Each year of the war also has a table, divided into sections for the Western Front, the Eastern Front, the Southern Front/Balkan Campaign and the multiple Turkish Fronts fought against the Ottoman Empire.

Particular attention is spent on the largest battles of the war: Verdun and the Somme (1916), and Passchendaele (1917). The first two of these will be covered here.


1914: The War Begins

The Great War began in July 1914, after decades of military buildup and tension between the great powers of Europe. Conflict was set off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and nephew of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. In retaliation, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28th. The next day, Austrian forces began shelling Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Alliances between the great powers and the invasion of Belgium brought Germany and Austria-Hungary into conflict with Russia, France, and the United Kingdom by early August.

August

At the start of August, Germany invaded Belgium in order to maneuver around the strong French positions along the Franco-German border. This began the Battle of the Frontiers. Stiff Belgian resistance prevented German forces from invading past the border until late August. Belgian fortresses, most importantly Liege and Namur, held the Germans back until the last fort surrendered on the 17th. French attempts to invade German Lorraine in mid-August ended in utter disaster. Pushing into France, the Germans were able to overwhelm seven French armies as well as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Combat in 1914 often featured field armies maneuvering in open spaces to gain advantage. By the end of the year, this would no longer be a feature of the war on the Western Front.

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Classical Influence in American Government

Ancient Greek Political Thought and the model of Roman Government Influenced America’s Foundations

Nick Richwagen

The founding fathers of the United States  drew upon multiple sources for inspiration during the establishment of American government. The ideas of Enlightenment philosophers were extremely important; Voltaire, Montesquieu, and John Locke were figures whose ideas shaped the new nation. However, the founders drew not only upon Enlightenment  philosophy for political inspiration but also looked towards the cultural heritage of the classical west. Philosophers from classical Greece proposed the separation of powers in government, an idea that the American founders adopted for their new nation. In addition, The Roman Republic  (509-27 BC) served as a direct model of government for the writers of the constitution.  The political thought of the ancient Greek and Roman world profoundly influenced the government of the United States of America.

Content Sections:

I. Plato’s Mixed Government

II. Aristotle: Separation of Powers

III: Polybius and the Roman Republic

IV: Classical Education and Influence in Revolutionary America

V: American Mixed Republican Government

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Emperor Tiberius According to Tacitus

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By Steven Knorr

tibero
The second Roman Emperor, Tiberius (r. 14-37 AD) was much loathed by the Senate. As a later member of the senatorial aristocracy, Tacitus (56-120) did not consider Tiberius favorably.

The Bias of Tacitus

The Annals by Tacitus is a written account of Roman history covering the period from the death of Augustus in 14 A.D to the reign of Nero (r. 54-68). Tacitus states that his purpose is to write without bitterness or partiality, but much of his account of the Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37) seems biased given what we know about his reign. For the large majority of the Roman public, the rule of Tiberius was relatively peaceful. A person would not be in danger of violence unless they were a member of the imperial family or a member of the aristocracy. Tacitus demonstrates his inability to be impartial by stating that historians during the reigns of Augustus through Nero were unable to write the truth out of fear. He writes:

“Fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred.” The Annals,  I

Rome during the imperial age had lost its “fine Roman character” that it had during the republican period and the harsh criticisms of Tacitus come from holding up the empire to the standard of the republic. The personal bias of Tacitus towards Roman Republican virtue seeps into his writing. He is often very critical of the imperial system and the Emperors themselves in the context of Republican virtue.

The Murder of Agrippa Postumus (14 AD)

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Agrippa Postumus was the son of Marcus Agrippa and the daughter of Augustus, Julia. Unlike his father, a favored general and close friend of the first emperor, Postumus was known for his brutish and unpalatable character. His murder in AD 14 was likely orchestrated to prevent him from challenging the succession of Tiberius.

According to Tacitus, the corruption of Rome began with Augustus, who with money and cheap food was able to concentrate on the functions of the senate . With all rivals dead, Augustus ruled unopposed and (according to Tacitus) the remaining nobility were more than willing to accept slavery for the sake of wealth and titles. Tiberius wasn’t originally interested in donning the purple but out of sheer luck (or Livia’s intervention) he became emperor after the death of Augustus. The opening act of his reign was a crime committed in the securing the throne. Agrippa Postumus, another one of Augustus’ adopted children, was murdered by his guards. Tacitus called this a crime, ignoring Tiberius’ claims that he was acting out on Augustus’s orders. Since Tiberius mentioned the death of Postumus to the senate one has to wonder how Tacitus would have known what was said on the matter outside of court records. The historian Walter Allen Jr. claims that historians accept the claim of assassination is because of the opportune time in which it came. Allen states:

“while stories about the death of Agrippa Postumus very likely arose out of similar gossip, Tacitus feels at liberty to treat them as fact because he has a reputable source upon which he depends; since the gossip had somehow crept into history, Tacitus had no qualms about repeating it.”

The liberal usage of gossip as fact is just one of many instances of Tacitus trying to blacken Tiberius’s character.

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The Radicalization of the French Revolution

By T. 

In 1789, when the Estates-General was called by Louis XVI, only a small fraction of the delegates selected were members of the Jacobin club. However, by 1793 the most radical Jacobins had established a virtual republican dictatorship. How did this political minority experience such a meteoric rise? How did Revolutionary France transform from a constitutional monarchy into a republican dictatorship? The downfall of the revolutionary republic cannot be explained by any one factor. The execution of Louis XVI, war, political factionalism, and revolutionary fervor can all be attributed to the political gains of the Jacobin club. It is telling that within the National Assembly the extreme wing of the Jacobins would become known as the Montagnard, or the Mountain.

Girondins
The Girondins, Paul DelaRoche (1843). The Girondins were the dominant political faction within the Jacobin club until 1793, when their relative moderation and support for foreign wars led to their increasing unpopularity.

The Flight to Varennes and the Creation of the First French Republic

The end of the constitutional monarchy was critical to the rise of the Jacobins; the monarchy fell largely due to the Varennes flight. On the 20-21st of June 1791 King Louis XVI and his family attempted to flee France to the Austrian Netherlands. With the King’s flight and eventual arrest, debate ensued on whether or not France should remain a constitutional monarchy.

When public papers began printing the king’s declaration explaining his flight (where he denounced many revolutionary decrees) hundreds of political clubs began to be created across France; over 400 houses were affiliated with the Jacobin club. By mid July of that year popular opinion was decisively against the monarch, with only 1 in 6 provinces showing any sympathy towards the King. This is in stark contrast to the previous public opinion immediately after the king’s capture: citizens had been more inclined to believe that the King was ill-advised or kidnapped.

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The Saxons (Part 1)- Early History and Geography

By N. 

Most famously known for their invasion of post-Roman Britain, the Saxons are a tribe important to Western history. Their interaction with the Romans in late antiquity characterized them as opportunistic pirates and raiders, yet they would go on to be a founding element of English civilization. Later, the Saxon Wars (772-804) with Charlemagne would be critical to the Christianization of central Europe; these conflicts would also presage the Viking raids that would devastate the Carolingian Empire. Here, I hope to give an account of Saxon history from the earliest times with a focus on their life on the European continent, though some discussion will be spent on their invasions of England.

The Saxons: Early Sources

The Saxons are first mentioned with certainty in history from the writings of Ptolemy (100-170 AD), a Greek Egyptian born under Roman rule in Alexandria. Ptolemy, in his tenth chapter of Geographia (150 AD)¸ writes about the Germanic peoples inhabiting the lands east of the Rhine river (Rhenus), north of the Danube (Danubius), and west of the Vistula. This work was written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

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