Zulu or Ashanti, who would win?

Who wins the hypothetical battle for Africa?


  • Total voters
    19
Mar 2012
2,344
#1
Doing most of this from memory so I apologize if anyone feels that they want to flesh it out a bit more.

THE PARAMETERS

We will say roughly equal numbers. The Zulu under Shaka could field about 50,000, and under Ceteswayo about 35,000. The Ashanti could field up to 200,000, but the core army was about 40,000-50,000 and they rarely fielded everything they could, so it is entirely plausible. No specific territory would really be plausible, so lets us just say a plane of some sort. We will say that they Ashanti empire went on an expedition to South Africa. Not only does that make it a pure fight on the veldt, but it takes malaria and other tropical diseases out of the question as a factor.

THE ZULU

A few Zulu had a few poor quality guns, but they disdained firearms as a weapon of decision. Rather, they used the short stabbing spear with a frigthening fan shaped blade knowns as the iklua (named after the sucking sound it makes when you remove it from a man's body) as the weapon of decision. In conjunction, they used the cattle-hide shield, possibly a few longer throwing spears, and a club known as a knobkerrie.

Tactically, they were rigid but effective, employing the "horns, chest and loins" formation to rapidly outflank an opponent and then bring the full weight of the army down the center. The element that made this attack so deadly was their strategic and tactical mobility. Shaka trained his army by making them dance on thorns to build callouses on the feet, and it was said that every man in the army was so well trained that he could run 50 miles and fight a battle. It has also been claimed that they could move faster than horses over the rocky, uneven veldt. Even if these are exagerations, they speak volumes about the respect that European opponents such as the Dutch and British had for them. Black and white opponents alike feared the Zulu appearing from nowhere and rapidly enveloping them.

Their most famous victory was of course Isandlwana, where they decended upon an isolated half of a British column and smashed it to pieces. This was no mean feat, as the Brits were armed with state-of-the-art Martini-Henry breech loading rifles. Paired with a victory of manuever over a second column at Eshowe and a minor victory over a third at Hlobane, the Zulu temporarily stopped a modern British army in its tracks.

Final note: Shaka himslef went to his grave unimpressed by muskets, convinced that his troops could overrun them.


THE ASHANTI

Less well known but comparably awesome were the Ashanti, who fought the Brits four times.

The Asanti formation was a marvelously flexible one with scouts, a vangaurd, a main body, a rearguard, and two wings. There would also be a royal guard and a line of swordsman whose purpose was to "encourage" the soldiers. They were rarely needed, however, as the Ashanti were known for a ferocious discipline. In battle, the repeated a mantra that was something to the effect of "I die fighting or I die running. Better to fight."

Unlike the Zulu, their main weapons of decsion were long Danish muskets. Not of particularly high quality, with powder and proper shot being at a premium, the Ashanti made them deadly with discipline, firing in ranks, often employing a rolling fire to keep things hot.

I have read both that they carried knives for close quarters work and did not. I would assume that it would be so, and since some of their troops were levies, I would assume that there would be spearmen with them too.

Tactically, they were much more flexible than the Zulu, although they also liked the strategic envelopment, using the wings of the army to execute "hammer and anvil" tactics. They also employed irregluar warfare, and built powerful fortifications against British artillery. Their successes against European opponents were less spectacular than Isandlwana but more consistent. In 1811, for example, they were able to capture both a Dutch fort and a British one. in 1824, at the battle of Nsamankow, they has a notable victory when they ambushed and destroyed a British/Fante allied army of about 500. They had a very honorable loss in 1826 when they had the British fought to a standstill before congreave rockets turned the tide.

Two novelties that were an Ashanti advantage were their use of medics in the field, and their famous "talking drums" with which they could communicate over a great distance.

WHO YOU GOT?
Two very honorable warriors peoples with names that are now immortal, ultimately done in only by the march of technology. Who would you pick in this battle of African titans?
 
Last edited:
Jun 2015
5,626
UK
#2
the asante. a more advanced culture overall, based on their political system (similar to classic European feudalism), plus they had earlier access to European weaponry. King Osei Tutu I, the first King of Asante (Asantehene) had access to European firearms, as part of the slave trade. Zulu culture was essentially Shaka said x, thus x was done. It did not have the layers or economic complexity like Asante.

In battle, the Asante were able to ambush, as much as fight in the open. Shaka's tactics were best suited to open fields, and not the forests as in modern-day Ghana.

PLus with a more advanced economy, there is no reason why the Asantehene (even a less capable one like Prempeh I) could not buy up the Zulu's enemies as allies in a battle/war.
 
Apr 2017
676
Lemuria
#3
the asante. a more advanced culture overall, based on their political system (similar to classic European feudalism), plus they had earlier access to European weaponry. King Osei Tutu I, the first King of Asante (Asantehene) had access to European firearms, as part of the slave trade. Zulu culture was essentially Shaka said x, thus x was done. It did not have the layers or economic complexity like Asante.

In battle, the Asante were able to ambush, as much as fight in the open. Shaka's tactics were best suited to open fields, and not the forests as in modern-day Ghana.

PLus with a more advanced economy, there is no reason why the Asantehene (even a less capable one like Prempeh I) could not buy up the Zulu's enemies as allies in a battle/war.
The Zulu of course. Defeating one of most modern and discipline army of the time is no small feat. The British for example defeated the Indian with greater odds than at Isandlwana at the Battle of Plassey despite the fact the Indian had cavalry and even artillery. What made the Zulu powerful was not technology but advanced military training and tactics. They clearly understood the need for careful scouting, double envelope, defeating an army piecemeal, moving fast but in coordination etc. The Asante stood no chance despite being more advanced; they were never as warlike as the Zulu. The Zulu was basically the African infantry version of the Mongols. Had they developed at about the same time as the Mongol, they'd probably overran the entire continent.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#4
The Asante stood no chance despite being more advanced; they were never as warlike as the Zulu. The Zulu was basically the African infantry version of the Mongols. Had they developed at about the same time as the Mongol, they'd probably overran the entire continent.
Eryl, this is completely and totally wrong. . . I really don't want to discuss the topic of this thread if I can avoid it (I don't really have much interest in these "vs" threads, that are usually reserved for the speculative or war/military sections of the forum) but please expand the level of your reading about Africa's other states and peoples. You're welcome to your opinion about the Zulu but this is really just too much.

This weird "Zulu-mania" that exists in certain English speaking countries is something I've tried to ignore despite having had to read it in multiple threads, but it is just reaching really absurd levels when the capabilities of other groups are being lessened or distorted because of it.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,104
Portugal
#5
Eryl, this is completely and totally wrong. . . I really don't want to discuss the topic of this thread if I can avoid it (I don't really have much interest in these "vs" threads, that are usually reserved for the speculative or war/military sections of the forum) but please expand the level of your reading about Africa's other states and peoples. You're welcome to your opinion about the Zulu but this is really just too much.

This weird "Zulu-mania" that exists in certain English speaking countries is something I've tried to ignore despite having had to read it in multiple threads, but it is just reaching really absurd levels when the capabilities of other groups are being lessened or distorted because of it.
Criticizing the “vs threads” and the “Zulu-mania” in the same post? Those are two holy cows!
 
Jun 2015
5,626
UK
#6
The Zulu of course. Defeating one of most modern and discipline army of the time is no small feat. The British for example defeated the Indian with greater odds than at Isandlwana at the Battle of Plassey despite the fact the Indian had cavalry and even artillery. What made the Zulu powerful was not technology but advanced military training and tactics. They clearly understood the need for careful scouting, double envelope, defeating an army piecemeal, moving fast but in coordination etc. The Asante stood no chance despite being more advanced; they were never as warlike as the Zulu. The Zulu was basically the African infantry version of the Mongols. Had they developed at about the same time as the Mongol, they'd probably overran the entire continent.
The Asante expanded too, and were able to use that to gain more economic power. The Zulus won at Isandlwana, and this was as much based on British incompetence as it was Zulu skill.
 
Aug 2017
2
Cape Town
#10
The Asante weren't really a warrior culture like the Zulu, not after they consolidated their territory, anyway. Their army was made up of villagers, who in peace time were doing little more than protecting their settlements from wild animals. They did have a distinct type of sword btw, the Akrefena - kinda looks like your cliche pirate sword, with holes in it ( no clue what that is about ).

What set the Asante apart was the excellent organisation of their empire. Their motto "if you kill a thousand, a thousand more will come" was indeed fitting. The Zulu were much more about individual prowess.

In a prolonged conflict my money would be on the Asante anyway, I guess. Like I said their empire was well organized and they would have eventually worn down the Zulu.

PS: I remembered the name for the Asante special forces: ankobia. Was rumbling through my head for an hour now.