What was the strongest performing African Military pre-colonization?

Oct 2019
39
Area Ocean
I was thinking of putting this thread in MH, but realized this would be better in the African section.

As the title says, I'm wondering which African Nation had the strongest performing military in the window before colonization from before and during the scramble for Africa in the late 1800's. I'm looking for books or quotes/observations of military strength whether by Africans, Arabs, or Europeans etc.

Some of the strongest I know of:

  • Asante

The Asante/Ashanti managed to hold Britain off in 6 wars, though internet only talks about 5, but there were 6 according to a couple books. The first 3 were wins (although the third was a stalemate) the 4th was a loss that required concessions, and the 5th was when they took Kumasi, the 6th was the golden stool (and then there was a later skirmish where the British freaked out about a possible conflict and turned in the individuals the defaced the stool.)

The Asante has a pretty strong military structure, guns, spears, and swords, as well as Calvary, though limited. It was definitely a powerful force, though it's guns for the most part were already outdated by the 2nd and 3rd conflicts, and from what I understand that was still the majority of their guns until the capital was captured. Machine guns and new modern quick rifles entered the picture on the British side in the last conflicts as well.

  • Merina

The Merina kingdom was ruling over the island of Madagascar and had a pretty well-organized army that fended off the French multiple times as well as according to one book a British expedition on the southern region of the island.

Eventually France decided to put in more effort initiating the Hova wars. However Merina lost both though did win a few battles, and the rebellion that occurred afterward was quickly suppressed, and the consequence being the end of the monarchy.

Merina had guns and artillery, and a well-organized royal military. Though they never won, they put up considerable resistance.

  • Wassoulou

The Wassolou Empire had defended it's territory for a long while. Through misunderstandings they attacked and defeated a British fort, and when the French entered, they held off them off.

Eventually the French and British called in reinforcements from areas like Senegal and the like to attack the Mandingo position, and managed to route them and drive them into the forest. although both sides had suffered great losses.

Soon the British attacked the capital of the empire Yassou, the first attempt to do so had failed resulting in the British to fall back. In which the British signed a treaty of peace with the empire afterwards. This was in 1831.

Starting in 1883, the French attempted to go all in on taking over the empire. It fought and won the first war, which resulted in concessions, the second was won by the empire, releasing colonial hold on Ivory Coast/Cote. The third resulted in heavy losses but the ultimate defeat of the empire.

The Wassolou Empire has guns, artillery, armor, and very odd (to European) battle formations that gave them an advantage at times. They had artillery, and Calvary as well.

  • Dahomey

Dahomey never really won a major fight, however it did push the French around back from positions they gained a few times. Dahomey had fought the french numerous times, though they eventually had to concede territory to he french.

The final battle resulted in the King burning the city instead of letting it fall into enemy hands, after numerous lopsided defeats.

Dahomey has a large stock pile of weapons and decent military tactics, though it seemed that they fell under pressure.

  • Ethiopia

Ethiopia had repulsed and defeated several North African and European states, as well as small skirmishes with various European empires. Dutch, Egypt, Port, Etc.

When the Italians came with a well equipped force the Ethiopian army was able to muster up a large number of soldiers, mostly aimed with spears, but the Ethiopians did have guns, though most were outdated, they did have a few modern rifles that were purchased before hand, as well as artillery and limited Calvary.

Ethiopia had won most of the major battle it fought as an empire and outside an occupation was never fully taken over and still is around in a different form today.

  • Dervish

The dervish were in charge of an uncolonized portion of what is now Somalia, and were pretty well armed with modern weaponry. The British has to tap Ethiopia assistance a few times to help out down the rebellion. Granted the amount of soldiers used by the British in invading Dervish were not large. Showing the underestimation by the British.

Eventually the British put a larger force together,similar in size as the larger latter Asante battles, and were finally able to bring them down.


I'm sure there are others as well, i think based on history the Asante may have been the strongest army. if they were able to get more recent weapons instead of primarily outdated arms they may have lasted long enough to reach WW1 which likely would have caused the British to give up on the territory.

Which nation do you think had the strongest military in the pre-colonized window? If you know of one not on the list be sure to mention it and why.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
  • Ethiopia
Ethiopia had repulsed and defeated several North African and European states, as well as small skirmishes with various European empires. Dutch, Egypt, Port, Etc.
This part raised my curiosity, I assume that by “Port” you mean “Portuguese”, when did those skirmishes occur? And with the Dutch? Thanks.
 
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Jul 2019
46
Ghana
This part raised my curiosity, I assume that by “Port” you mean “Portuguese”, when did those skirmishes occur?
Perhaps he's referring to the 17th century civil war in Abyssinian under Emperor Susenyos I, as a result of the emperor's conversion to Catholicism under Portuguese influence. After some bloody battles against his fellow Ethiopian Christians who refused to convert, he abdicated the throne to his son, Fasilides, who restored Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and kicked out the remaining Portuguese. I think one or more Jesuit monasteries were also burnt in the process. I don't know about the Dutch...

Susenyos and Catholicism[edit source]
Susenyos's reign is perhaps best known as the brief period in Ethiopian history when Catholic Christianity became the official religion. The Emperor became interested in Catholicism, in part due to Pedro Páez's persuasion, but also hoping for military help from Portugal and Spain (in union at the time of Susenyos's reign). Some decades earlier, in 1541, Cristóvão da Gama had led a military expedition to save the Ethiopian emperor Gelawdewos from the onslaught of Ahmed Gragn, a Muslim Imam who almost destroyed the existence of the Ethiopian state. Susenyos hoped to receive a new contingent of well-armed European soldiers, this time against the Oromo, who were ravaging his kingdom, and to help with the constant rebellions. Two letters of this diplomatic effort survive, which he entrusted to Páez to send to Europe: the one to the King of Portugal is dated 10 December 1607, while the other is to the Pope and dated 14 October of the same year; neither mention his conversion, but both ask for soldiers.[22] He showed the Jesuit missionaries his favor by a number of land grants, most importantly those at Gorgora, located on a peninsula on the northern shore of Lake Tana.

In 1613, Susenyos sent a mission heading for Madrid and Rome, led by Jesuit priest António Fernandes. The plan was to head south, in an attempt to reach Malindi, a port on the Indian Ocean in what is Kenya today, hoping to break through the effective blockade that the Ottoman conquests had created around the Ethiopian empire by sailing all the way around the southern tip of Africa. However, they failed to reach Malindi, due to delays caused by local Christians hostile to the mission.

Susenyos at last publicly converted to Catholicism in 1622, and separated himself from all of his wives and concubines except for his first wife, Wäld Śäʿala. However, the tolerant and sensitive Pedro Páez died soon afterwards, and he was replaced by Afonso Mendes, who arrived at Massawa on 24 January 1624. E. A. Wallis Budge has stated the commonly accepted opinion of this man, as being "rigid, uncompromising, narrow-minded, and intolerant."[23] Strife and rebellions over the enforced changes began within days of Mendes' public ceremony in 1626, where he proclaimed the primacy of Rome and condemned local practices which included Saturday Sabbath and frequent fasts. Yet a number of Ethiopians did embrace Catholicism: Richard Pankhurstreports 100,000 inhabitants of Dembiya and Wegera alone are said to have converted.[24] The most serious response was launched by a triumvirate composed of his half-brother Yimena Krestos, a eunuch named Kefla Wahad, and his brother-in-law Julius. Susenyos avoided their first attempt to assassinate him at court, but while he was campaigning against Sennar they raised a revolt, calling to their side "all those who were friends to the Alexandrian faith". However, Susenyos had returned to Dembiya before the rebels expected, and quickly killed Julius. Yimena Krestos held out a while longer on Melka Amba in Gojjam, before Af Krestos captured him and brought him to Dankaz where Susenyos had his camp; here the Emperor's brother was tried and sentenced to banishment.[25]

More revolts followed, some led by champions of the traditional Ethiopian Church. One revolt which resisted all of Susenyos' efforts to put down was by the Agaw in Lasta. Their first leader was Melka Krestos, a distant member of the Solomonic dynasty, whom the Agaw had recruited. Susenyos' first campaign against them, which began in February 1629 with raising an army of 30,000 men in Gojjam, was defeated and his son-in-law Gebra Krestos slain.[26] While Melka Krestos' master of horse was slain along with 4000 men not long after while pillaging Tigray, at the same time the men of Lasta made a successful raid out of their mountains into Susenyos' territory.[27] When he attempted a second expedition against the rebels in Lasta, Susenyos found his men's morale so low that he was forced to allow them to observe one of the traditional Wednesday fasts—which brought an immediate reproach from the Catholic Patriarch. Although Susenyos eloquently defended himself, Bruce notes that "from this time, it plainly appears, that Socinios began to entertain ideas, at least of the church discipline and government, very opposite to those he had when he first embraced the Romish religion."[28] Despite this concession to his troops, and despite the fact they reached Melka Krestos' headquarters, his forces fell to an ambush and Susenyos was forced to return to Dankaz with nothing to show for his effort.

Susenyos attempted one more campaign against the rebels, only to find his men mutinous. They saw no end to unrewarding expeditions to Lasta, and when at home confronted by the executions used to enforce Catholicism on Ethiopia. While expressing some skepticism at the matter, Bruce states the Royal Chronicle reports his son told the troops that if they were victorious in Lasta, the Emperor would restore the traditional Ethiopian practices. However, as they marched behind Susenyos to Lasta, his scouts reported that Melka Krestos had descended from Lasta with 25,000 men, and were at hand. On 26 July 1631 the armies clashed; 8,000 of the rebels were dead and Melka Krestos had fled the field. Upon viewing the field of battle, Susenyos' son Fasilides is reported to have said,

These men, whom you see slaughtered on the ground, were neither Pagans nor Mahometans, at whose death we should rejoice—they were Christians, lately your subjects and your countrymen, some of them your relations. This is not victory, which is gained over ourselves. In killing these, you drive the sword into your own entrails. How many men have you slaughtered? How many more have you to kill? We have become a proverb, even among the Pagans and Moors, for carrying on this war, and apostatizing, as they say, from the faith of our ancestors.[29]
Less than a year afterwards, on 14 June 1632 Susenyos made a declaration that those who would follow the Catholic faith were allowed to do so, but no one would be forced to do so any further. At this point, all Patriarch Mendes could do in response was to confirm that this was, indeed, the actual will of the Emperor, his protector. Catholic Ethiopia had come to an end.[30]
.
 
Last edited:

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
Perhaps he's referring to the 17th century civil war in Abyssinian under Emperor Susenyos I, as a result of the emperor's conversion to Catholicism under Portuguese influence. After some bloody battles against his fellow Ethiopian Christians who refused to convert, he abdicated the throne to his son, Fasilides, who restored Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and kicked out the remaining Portuguese. I think one or more Jesuit monasteries were also burnt in the process. I don't know about the Dutch...
[...]
Maybe, but I don’t know/don’t recall any skirmish between the Portuguese and one of the Abyssinian factions. The Jesuits usually didn’t fought. And since Cristóvão da Gama there wasn’t a major intervention of Portugal in Abyssinia. But also quite often Portuguese adventurers or mercenaries were on a loose. Hence my curiosity about the skirmishes. Let us wait for the answer.
 
Oct 2019
39
Area Ocean
Perhaps he's referring to the 17th century civil war in Abyssinian under Emperor Susenyos I, as a result of the emperor's conversion to Catholicism under Portuguese influence. After some bloody battles against his fellow Ethiopian Christians who refused to convert, he abdicated the throne to his son, Fasilides, who restored Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and kicked out the remaining Portuguese. I think one or more Jesuit monasteries were also burnt in the process. I don't know about the Dutch...


.
Partially although it is said that the Portugese also tried taking the sea route and failed as well.

As for the Dutch there was an unofficial "group working with resistance units against the intermediate Mariam government and failed to defeat it which regardless of which side you would support is still a win for the "country" technically. Well i guess "Netherlands" would be the more appropriate word here since we are talking the 1900's here.

Of course that's like one of the only two(3?) battle the Derg won they pretty much has straight losses otherwise outside some very very minor encounters that would require a few books to even find out about.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
Partially although it is said that the Portugese also tried taking the sea route and failed as well.
Didn't understood. What and when was the skirmish? And what sea route?

EDIT: Also didn't understood the Dutch/Netherland, it was in the XX century? Before the WWI? Interwar?
 
Oct 2019
39
Area Ocean
Didn't understood. What and when was the skirmish? And what sea route?

EDIT: Also didn't understood the Dutch/Netherland, it was in the XX century? Before the WWI? Interwar?
During some of the events Sund brought up the Portugese tried to control the trade route which Ethiopia had a stake in and failed to do so, at least for the part that's around Ethiopia, they had control of the lower routes for awhile until other colonists took to the sea.

The reason why I brought up the date for the Dutch is because I didn't want people to think I was talking about the same time frame as the Portugese incidents, as the Dutch Republic and the successor republic all ceased to exist by the tie of the Derg. Most people in recent times refers to the Dutch nation as Netherlands.

Derg being the government of Ethiopia started in the 1970's.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
During some of the events Sund brought up the Portugese tried to control the trade route which Ethiopia had a stake in and failed to do so, at least for the part that's around Ethiopia, they had control of the lower routes for awhile until other colonists took to the sea.
Still not sure if I understood. Have you a source for this?

The reason why I brought up the date for the Dutch is because I didn't want people to think I was talking about the same time frame as the Portugese incidents, as the Dutch Republic and the successor republic all ceased to exist by the tie of the Derg. Most people in recent times refers to the Dutch nation as Netherlands.

Derg being the government of Ethiopia started in the 1970's.
So it was in the 1970's that the Derg skirmished with Dutch/NL forces?
 
Oct 2019
39
Area Ocean
So it was in the 1970's that the Derg skirmished with Dutch/NL forces?
Some Dutch fought with resistance movements toward the communist regime which failed.

Which is funny because some Derg after it fell ran to the Dutch as refugees. In fact, I believe the Dutch court sentenced a guy who used to work for the Derg government to death due to the governments genocidal practices.

Fake edit: Yep 2017. Eshetu Alemu. Life in prison.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
Some Dutch fought with resistance movements toward the communist regime which failed.

Which is funny because some Derg after it fell ran to the Dutch as refugees. In fact, I believe the Dutch court sentenced a guy who used to work for the Derg government to death due to the governments genocidal practices.

Fake edit: Yep 2017. Eshetu Alemu. Life in prison.
Yes, we saw many mercenaires from many countries in that conflict, even if they were not in their countries armies;

But what about the Portuguese case? That is the one that raised my curiosity, since it is in a time period that I am most interested. And because it is related with the history of my country.