Italo-Ethiopian Wars

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Italo-Ethiopian Wars


colonial expansionist wars launched by Italy against Ethiopia.

The war of 1895–96 began with the capture of the province of Tigré by Italian troops under the command of General Baratieri in late 1895. Hoping to repulse the colonialists, Emperor Mene-lik II formed a 120, 000-man army. On Dec. 7, 1895, Ethiopian troops under the command of Ras Makonnen dealt the first major defeat to Italian units in a battle at Amba-Alagi, and on Mar. 1, 1896, a 20, 000-man Italian army was routed in a battle at the city of Adwa. Under a treaty signed on Oct. 26, 1896, in Addis Ababa, Italy was forced to recognize Ethiopia’s full sovereignty.

The war of 1935–36 had its origins in the early 1930’s, when Italy concentrated large contingents of troops in its colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland. In 1934–35, Italy provoked several border clashes with Ethiopia, and on Oct. 3, 1935, an Italian army commanded by Marshal P. Badoglio and armed with tanks, aircraft, and artillery invaded Ethiopia. The Italians were opposed by an Ethiopian army led by Haile Selassie I and made up of poorly armed and untrained detachments of civil guardsmen. (There were only 10, 000 men in the regular units of the Ethiopian Army.) The Ethiopians put up heroic resistance to the Italian aggressors, but they were forced to retreat.

Only the Soviet Union, acting both in the League of Nations and outside it, called for an end to the aggression and for the provision of aid to Ethiopia. The Western powers essentially pursued a policy of encouraging the aggressor. In August 1935 the US Congress passed a law on neutrality, which deprived Ethiopia of the opportunity to buy armaments from the USA in the future. As late as January 1935, under a pact concluded between the French foreign minister, Laval, and Mussolini, France granted Italy freedom of action in Ethiopia. In December 1935, Great Britain and France concluded an accord providing for the de facto partition of Ethiopia (the Hoare-Laval plan). At the same time, Great Britain, France, and the USA were supplying Italy with weapons and strategic raw materials.

On May 5, 1936, Italian troops occupied Addis Ababa. On June 1, 1936, the Italian government announced the formation of the colony of Italian East Africa, which included Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland. However, guerrilla war continued in Ethiopia until the country’s liberation in May 1941.


Popov, V. T. Razgrom Ital’iantsev pod Adua. Moscow, 1938.
Lisovskii, P. A. Abissinskaia avantiura ital’ianskogo fashizma. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Voblikov, D. R. Efiopiia v bor’be za sokhranenie nezavisimosti, 1860–1960. Moscow, 1961.
Berkeley, G. F.-H. The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik. New York [1969].
Battaglia, R. La prima guerra d’Africa. [Turin] 1958.
Pignatelli, L. La guerra dei sette mesi. Milan [1965].
Barker, A. The Civilizing Mission: The Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935–1936. London, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.