15.1 C
New York
Wednesday, October 27, 2021

First Italo-Ethiopian War (1894-96)

- Advertisement -

Introduction and War

By 1895, the African continent was largely divided between the European powers, but Ethiopia, remained independent. Italy, which was late to the division of the world, hoped to seize Ethiopia and make it the main part of its colonial possessions. The occupation of Aseba (1880) and Massawa (1885) by the Italians on the African coast of the Red Sea along with the desire to gradually expand the boundaries of their possessions at the expense of the neighboring Ethiopian province of Tigray and Abyssinia under Bogos land, led Italy to an armed clash with Ethiopia.

By this time, the power of the Ethiopian empire remained in the distant past, the country was divided, the power of the monarch over the largest tycoons was almost conditional. Therefore, the Italians did not highly evaluate the enemy and imagined this war would be easy. But over its long history, Ethiopia did not lose its state traditions, and the colonialists had to face a much more organized and large army than in other regions of Africa.

In March 1889, the emperor of Ethiopia, Johannys IV, was killed in the battle of Matham with the Mahdists of the Sudanese. The hereditary ruler of the Shoah region, belonging to the lateral branch of the imperial dynasty, Sahle-Maryam, proclaimed himself emperor of Ethiopia under the name Menelik II (not without Italian intervention). The main danger for Menelik was originally represented by his rival in the fight for the throne, the son of Johannis IV – Ras Mengesha, the ruler of Tigre. Therefore, on May 2, 1889, Menelik signed the Wuchale Treaty of Friendship and Trade with Italy; according to it, Ethiopia recognized Italy’s right to possess Eritrea and part of the northern Ethiopian province of Tigre — many of the ceded territories were already in the hands of the Italians or Italy-related leaders. Learning that Rome requires a protectorate over Ethiopia, based on the incorrect translation of the treaty, Menelik II first sought a diplomatic solution to the oncoming conflict. Not having achieved success, on February 12, 1893, he announced the termination of the Wuchale Treaty.

In this confrontation, Russia provided diplomatic and partly military support to Abyssinia. Ethiopia established friendly relations with the Russian Empire, thereby breaking through the diplomatic blockade. As a result, Russia assisted in the modernization of Abyssinia. However the treaty prohibited Ethiopia from independent diplomacy, for this reason the diplomatic mission in Russia was tantamount to breaking the treaty.

By the beginning of the war, the border of the territory of the Italian colony, according to the contracts concluded with Menelik in 1889 and 1890 , passed along the rivers Mareba, Belez and Lebke. All the harbors and coastal points between Massawa and Aseab were dominated by the Italians. The composition and strength of the Italian expeditionary force constantly changed depending on the course of events and the unfavorable climatic conditions for Europeans. A significant part of the colonial troops was formed from the natives, who represented excellent combat material.

In Ethiopia, the entire population was subject to military service. Warriors were accompanied by servants carrying food and burdens.

View of the War

The Italian expeditionary force under the command of Oreste Baratieri numbered 20 thousand people. All the soldiers of the Italian army were equipped with the latest technology. Menelik initially managed to collect only 30 thousand soldiers. The Italians believed that they would easily cope with the small, poorly armed Ethiopian army. But they did not expect that Menelik would actively support the majority of the subordinate tribes, including those who were at enmity with the emperor; even the races of Mangash obeyed him and took an active part in the struggle against the colonialists. More and more militiamen poured into the imperial army. Artillery appeared in the army of Menelik, and the supply of soldiers with supplies was better than that of the Italians.

There are multiple confrontations between the two forces during the war, but of most importance is the battle of Adwa.

The attack on Adwa was carried out in three columns, each consisted of a brigade, the fourth was moving behind as a reserve. The Ethiopians took an excellent position, they were protected from the flanks and from the front. Two marching Italian columns, due to incorrect terrain patterns, crossed the road to each other; the left column, on the contrary, broke away from the main forces.

By the morning of March 1, 1896, battles began, which turned into isolated clashes. The Italian artillery, which had shot all the shells, was useless. Both flanks were crushed, the left column fled in panic, the right was surrounded by Makonnyn and almost destroyed.

Italians lost 11 thousand soldiers who were killed or wounded, and 3,6 thousand prisoners along with all their artillery. Ethiopians lost 6 thousand who were killed and 10 thousand wounded (high losses were due to the offensive nature of the actions of the Ethiopians and the high density of their ranks). The attacking nature of the actions of the Ethiopian army was forced due to insufficient armament (supplies of the main quantity (30000-60000) of modern Berdan rifles from Russia were intercepted by Italian and British colonial authorities before the outbreak of war), as well as the feudal structure and system of organization and management of the Ethiopian army.


In Mai Mareth and Barakita there were 4 fresh battalions that could ease the position of the retreating Italian troops. These units, without receiving orders, went on March 2 to Adi-Kaye, without joining the battalions that occupied the fort in Adigarth, which was surrounded by Abyssinians there. The Negus troops first settled at Ada-Agamus, but after a while they began to retreat to Adigrat and Makale to the lake Ashiangi due to lack of food and the onset of the rainy season.

The news of the defeat under Adwa made a strong impression on Rome and led to the resignation of the government of Crispy. Parliament voted a loan of 140 million to fight Abyssinia. Twelve infantry battalions, four alpine rifle battalions, four mountain batteries and a company of engineering troops were sent to Africa. The total number of troops was estimated to reach 40,000. Baratieri was brought to trial, and the governor of the Eritrean colony took the geneneral Baldissera. He calmed down the troops and concentrated 15-16 thousand people. In Italy, they clearly realized that after a severe defeat there could be no question of restoring prestige or freeing prisoners by force of arms.

After the battle, Menelik returned to the capital and waited for peace proposals. Major collisions no longer occurred. Russia has organized active diplomatic support for the conduct of peace negotiations. On October 26, 1896, a peace treaty was signed in Addis Ababa, under which Italy paid the indemnity and recognized the independence of Ethiopia. The northern border of Ethiopia, established in this world, remains so up to the present. Menelik made the Italians recognize the full sovereignty of Ethiopia; for the first time in a new history, a European power paid an indemnity to an African country. Representatives of Italy for a long time in mockery called the treaty “tribute Menelik.”

March 1 today is considered a national holiday of Ethiopia.


D. Voblikov R. Ethiopia in the struggle to preserve independence
Yelets U. Emperor Menelik and his war with Italy


- Advertisement -

Stay Connected


Latest Articles

History of Denmark (1848 – 1905) Part 2

November 15, 1863, Frederick VII died, the last representative of the governing Danish line. The death of the king opened a wide way for...

The Rule of Odoacer The King of Italy

Early History There are several versions of the origin of Odoacer. Odoacer's father, who belonged to Attila’s entourage, probably died in a battle in Bolia...

The Coup of Odoacer and the Fall of Rome

Background In 474, Julius Nepos became Roman emperor. He successfully fought against the Vandals, and also commanded a fleet that defended the shores of the...

The History of Medieval Ukraine – High Middle Ages

In the second quarter of the twelfth century, the single state broke up into independent principalities. The chronological beginning of the period of fragmentation...

Pre-History and Ancient Period of Ukraine

The first human settlements emerged on the territory of Ukraine in the early Paleolithic era. The pebble industries of the sites of the Southern...