First Italo-Abyssinian War

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The First Italo-Abyssinian War was one of the very few instances of successful armed African resistance to European colonialism in the 19th century.

Military history of Italy
Military History of Ethiopia
ConflictFirst Italo-Abyssinian War
Date1895-1896
PlaceEthiopia
ResultFailed Italian annexation of Ethiopia
Battles of the First Italo-Abyssinian War
Combatants
Italy Ethiopia
Strength
30,000 Soldiers 100,000 Soldiers
Casualties
9,000
Killed or Wounded
15,000
Killed or Wounded
Followed by
Second Italo-Abyssinian War

On March 25, 1889, the Shewa ruler Menelik II -- having conquered Tigray and Amhara, and with the support of Italy -- declared himself Emperor of Ethiopia (Abyssinia in the European parlance of the time). Barely a month later, on May 2, he signed a treaty of amity with the Italians, which gave them control over Eritrea, the Red Sea coast to the northeast of Ethiopia, in return for recognition of Menelik's rule. Or so it seemed.

In fact, the bilingual Treaty of Wichale did not say the same thing in Italian and Amharic. The former text established an Italian protectorate over Ethiopia, which Menelik discovered soon afterwards.

Menelik repudiated the treaty in 1893, at which point the Italians ramped up the pressure in a variety of ways, including military expeditions into Tigray (on the border with Eritrea) in 1895.

By then, however, Menelik had spent much of the previous four years building up a supply of modern weapons and ammunition. In December of 1895, he himself moved large forces into Tigray. Heavily outnumbered, the Italian commander, Oreste Baritieri refused to engage, but the Italian government of Francesco Crispi was unable to accept being stymied by non-Europeans. The prime minister specifically ordered Baritieri to bring about a battle.

The result was the Battle of Adowa (Adua) on March 1, 1896. Almost half of all the Italian forces were concentrated and engaged the Ethiopians who defeated them decisively. Menelik retired in good order to his capital, Addis Ababa and waited for the Italian government to disintegrate from embarrassment. It soon did, and Menelik secured the Treaty of Addis Ababa in October; it strictly delimited the borders of Eritrea and forced Italy to recognize the independence of Ethiopia.

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