The Battle Of Adwa, How The Military Prowess Of The Ethiopians Conquered The Italian Army To Resist Colonialism

Artistic impression of the infamous battle, the Battle of Adwa

Adwa, a town situated in Northern Tigray, near the southern border of Eritrea, hosted one of the most influential battles in Ethiopia and Africa’s history. The battle of Adwa, which saw the Ethiopian army triumph over the Italian became a major point of motivation for most anti-colonialists because it served as a sort of representation of the potential of African military intelligence. But then what event led to the battle of Adwa in March 1896?

It all began with the audacious division of African countries by some European countries during the Berlin conference among themselves in 1884/1885. During the conference, the participating countries came to a consensus that Italy could take Ethiopia as its colony – and so the Italians began their colonisation escapades in Ethiopia. They were met with some resistance from the Ethiopian natives which culminated in the signing of the treaty of Wichale in 1889.

In the treaty, Italy was to provide Ethiopia with financial and military resources in exchange for control over some of the northern territories. Unbeknownst to Menelik II, the then emperor, Italy had an ulterior motive – that is to make Ethiopia a colony; so in the Italian version of the treaty it was inscribed that Ethiopia would become a protectorate of Italy – this was not congruent with the agreed reason for the signing of the treaty and so Menelik II pointed out the inaccuracies in the treaty and demanded for an adjustment of it to fit the genuine intention for signing it, but this was rejected by the Italians resulting in Menelik II rejecting the treaty in 1893. So a series of conflicts rose between the Italians which consequently led to the battle of Adwa.

Menelik II

Menelik II declared war on the Italians in 1895. The emperor amassed an army consisting of people – both men and women – from all the kingdoms in Ethiopia who all joined the effort in protecting their territory from the greed-driven and power-hungry Italians who took the rejection of the treaty as a sign of disrespect, and believing their armies to be superior, sought to take over Ethiopia forcibly through war – but little did they know.

During the battle, one of the Italian brigades was spotted by Spies of Ras Alula,  chief military advisor to Menelik II, reported to Menelik that an Italian brigade was matching through Adwa. With this information in hand, Menelik II devised a plan to annihilate the matching brigade. Led by Albertone, the marching Italian brigade was effortlessly wiped out by a spirited and determined Ethiopian army who did so with the aid of guns. Another Italian brigade, led by Arimondi, unlike the first brigade led by Albertone, stood their ground and fought the Ethiopians with equal aggression but a release of 25,000 soldiers by Menelik II into the battlefield was enough to force the brigade into succumbing to defeat. Another Italian brigade, led by Damorbida, was also effortlessly wiped out by an Ethiopian Calvary force. The General in Charge of Italian army during the battle of Adwa, General Baratieri, accompanied by two brigades were as well annihilated leading to the defeat of the Italians by the Ethiopians. 

Some of the most notable figures who contributed to the victory in Adwa, apart from the Emperor himself, were; Etege Tayitu (wife of the Emperor), Ras Mikael (Father of Emperor Haile Selassie), Negus Tekle, Ras Alula and Ras Mengesha.



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