Legitimization of Conquest

Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 by Patricia Seed

By Steven Knorr

As European powers expanded into the Americas, they used ceremony and ritual to cement their control over newly conquered lands. Perception of colonial ownership differed between the Portuguese, English, French and Spanish.

Ceremonies of Possession by Patricia Seed is a book that explains the rituals and ceremonies European colonizers performed when laying foundation for political authority over the New World between 1492 and 1640. Seed demonstrates that the Europeans did not behave as a monolith, but that each had their own customs and practices when establishing their overseas empires. According to Seed, the symbolic acts taken by the Europeans were based upon familiar gestures, actions, movements or speeches that they already understood[1]. Throughout the book she demonstrates how European legal codes can differentiate how legal possession can be interpreted differently.

Seed begins this discussion with the Portuguese claiming dominion over places they discovered.[2] To the Portuguese, simply discovering land meant they held dominion over it[3]. To the English however, to hold dominion over a territory meant there had to be an intent to stay by establishing houses and boundaries. Queen Elizabeth of England believed that the Portuguese had no dominion over places they simply had found[4]. The English established boundaries by putting up fences and hedges and building gardens. Full-time use of land was an important indicator of property to the English. For this reason, they were able to more easily disregard land usage by the Native Americans, as Native Americans only used theirs on a semi-permanent basis, according to the English laws.

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Creoles in Louisiana History

Since their origins in the early 1700s, the Creole people of Louisiana have forged a unique identity for themselves in the American Southeast. 

by Steven Knorr

The world Creole has held many different meanings throughout its history of use. People called Creoles in the Americas adapted to the Louisiana Purchase and came to create a culture and identity of their own in the Southern United States. The word Creole is unique among American nomenclature, referring to a specific group of people with French ancestry in the South and in the Caribbean. The term is not applied to French Canadians, though sometimes the term can be used to refer to Spanish speaking people of mixed racial origin. While today many whites with French ancestry are known as Cajun in the Deep South, people of mixed-racial ancestry with French heritage often exclusively refer to themselves as Creole. The word Creole itself comes from the Portuguese word crioulo which means someone one who was raised in a house, especially a servant. This word was adopted by other European languages and by the 1500s the word crioulo (or the Spanish criollo) would specifically refer to someone “native to the colonies.”

The Creole flag was designed in 1987, and represents the mixed heritage found in Creole culture. French language and tradition (top left), combined with west African ancestry (tri-colors of Senegal and Mali), with Spanish colonialism (Tower of Castile, lower right).

Origins of the Creole People

Louisiana was a difficult place for settlers in the 18th century. French exploration of the Mississippi delta was conducted by La Salle, who in 1682 proclaimed the region south of what is now Memphis Louisiane in honor of Louis XIV. French settlement first began with the creation of Fort Maurepas (modern Biloxi, Mississippi), and the region was soon given colonial governance. In 1722, four years after its founding, the city of New Orleans became the capital of French Louisiana. The governor general ruled both Upper Louisiana (Haute-Louisiane), the modern Midwest, and Lower Louisiana (Basse-Louisiane), the Mississippi drainage basin in what is now Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Settlers came from France, Canada, and the French West Indies.

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The Asante-Fante War of 1806-1807 and the Battle of Anomabu

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

← Previous: The Rise of the Asante Empire (1680-1750)

Update March 2018: Previously, this article was titled The Asante Fante-War of 1806-1807 and the Battle of Cape Coast Castle. This basis for the description of these incidents came from Edgerton’s The Fall of the Asante Empire (1995), which describes the first conflict between the Asante and British as occurring at Cape Coast Castle, the headquarters of the British Cape Company at the time. However, a reading of the Records Relating to the Gold Coast Settlements from 1750 to 1874 by J.J. Crooks (1923) suggests that the first conflict actually took place at Fort William, in Anomabu. I have changed the article to more accurately reflect this account.


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.

Fante head 1
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


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. 

← Previous: Emperor Tiberius According to Tacitus 

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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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

Simplified terrain map of the Verdun Battlefield, drawn for Seventh Coalition History. 

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.


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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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.

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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