The Battle at Adwa,

On March 1, 1896,




The Battle at Adwa, on March 1, 1896, was the defense of Ethiopia against the Italian invasion. This marks the only African country that escaped colonialism during the European attempts to colonize and control the resources of Africa in the 19th century. As a result of the defeat of the Italian military forces at Adwa, Ethiopia entered into the 20th century with their culture undisturbed. In addition, Ethiopia kept their independence, maintained their Amharic language, written script and calendar. These accomplishments should be honored and acknowledged by the global African communities. This includes continental Africa and the Diaspora descendants, such as, South, Central, and North America, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, and Asia.

In 1883, Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, consolidated his power through his marriage to Empress Taytu, an influential noblewoman of Imperial lineage. Taytu’s uncle ruled Tigrai and much of northern Ethiopia.
Empress Taytu was not only loyal and respectful wife to her husband Emperor Menelik II, but she was also powerful enough to challenge his decision-making. She was the one that pushed him to declare war against Italy at the Battle of Adwa—tearing up the Wuchale Treaty between Ethiopia and Italy. A treaty whose article 17 had two different meanings in Amharic and Italian versions: The Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as only a diplomatic partnership. The Italian version made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate. When this discrepancy was discovered, Empress Taytu became gravely concerned. She confronted the Emperor and other men, who were hesitant to oppose the Italian position, and demanded that they stand up for liberty, dignity and fight against the Italian aggressive position.
The Italian government decided that they would enforce their version of the Wuchale Treaty and brought in heavy military reinforcements to strengthen their positions. Famine and internal squabbling were preoccupying the country, and Menelik was initially unable to mobilize forces to resist Italy’s occupation of Eritrea and its expansion into the hinterland. An emboldened Italy pushed further into Ethiopia, crossing the Mereb River and chasing out Ras Mengesha, the ruler of Tigré; full control of the region seemed at hand, and Italian forces settled in for a permanent occupation.

Italy had already occupied the highlands of Eritrea, and therefore was well-placed with forward support for the battle. Moreover, it was aware of the problems which had been challenging Ethiopia and Menelik. Italian General Baraterie, commander of the occupation force and governor of the Eritrean colony, sought and obtained an additional budget of four-million lira and 10,000 more trained troops in addition to the 17,000 troops in place. Gen. Baraterie seemed unaware of Menelik’s main strategic maneuver, which was to wait for the opportunity to confront, with infantry and artillery, the main Italian force and its supplies, rather than engage in piecemeal battles at the enemy’s choosing. To this end, Menelik focused his efforts on building a large coalition force, capable of the mission. This entailed a process of diplomacy with the regional princes and rulers, not only to secure the participation of their individual armies, but also to be able to access their logistical support base.

Meanwhile Emperor Menelik took immediate steps to mobilize his troops upon hearing of Italy’s plans to annex Ethiopia. On September 17, 1895, he called for national mobilization, and within two months more than 100,000 troops were assembled in the specified areas: Addis Ababa, Were Illu, Ashenge, and Mekele. About two-thirds of these troops were raised through the Geber Madriya system. The Emperor himself mobilized some 35,000 troops, commanded by his court officials. His Queen — Empress Taitu — also mobilized her own force of some 6,000 men. In all, Menelik was able to mobilize some 70,000 to 100,000 modern rifles for Adwa. By 1895, he had obtained at least 5,000,000 cartridges. He had spent more than $1-million (in 1895 currency), a sum which would have been unthinkable to Emperor Téwodros, or even Emperor Yohannes IV. This sum did not include the artillery which Emperor Menelik had secured. This component of the force — the Corps of Gunpowder and Shell — was commanded by Bejirond: a treasurer in charge of finance and the storehouse of the Palace, and by the Lij Mekuas, who was also commander of the Royal cavalry.

The Italians were hoping that the Ethiopian forces would meet them in Adigrat, close to where they had a well-protected military base. Historians characterize the intelligence data obtained by Awalom and Gebre Igzabher as the crucial important factor that led to the Ethiopian’s battle plan. The information enabled Menelik to attack the Italians, at a site of his choosing, at Adwa instead of at Adigrat near the Eritrean border where the Italians expected to have a relative positive logistical advantage.

Empress Taytu, as a military strategist, facilitated the downfall of the Italian military forces and led her own battalion at the Battle of Adwa. She orderd Ras Mekonen to cut off the water supply to the Italians in order to disgorge them from their entrenched position and heavily fortified positions at Endeyesus Hill on the eastern part of Mekelle City  Empress Taytu also mobilized women, both as fighters and nurses of wounded soldiers. You could say, she was the fierce and motherly leader that brilliantly led her troops, giving credit to her forces for the success in battle. Although her military skills were the key to her military victory, she never took personal credit for her contribution to the war effort.

The strategy and tactics employed by Menelik were not only due to the Emperor’s diplomatic and military skills, but also to the unique doctrines developed by Ethiopia literally over several millennia. These doctrines were also created in virtual isolation from the military lessons learned by the rest of the world, and reflected Ethiopia’s own history and topography. In this sense, then, the Ethiopian forces under Menelik did not conform to the expectations of the Italians. As a result, the defeat of the Italian forces at Adwa was to become a significant case study for military schools for the next century, and almost certainly well into the future.
It would not be fair to say that the Italians had failed to study Ethiopian military history, but by basing their perspectives on the very different strategies of the system used by Téwodros and Yohannes, they could not comprehend the vastly superior mobilization capabilities of Menelik’s system. Thus, when the Italians expected to meet a force of about 30,000 Ethiopians troops, instead they were met by 100,000 Ethiopian troops.
Having said that, the system was based on a form of recompense to the soldiers which involved grants of land and the payment of food, drink and honey, etc., to the soldiers from tenants working the land. In other words, it was a non-monetized system which provided for the welfare of the troops. As a result, it was not a system which could be projected far beyond the supporting geography. The Battle of Adwa came in such a way that — because Emperor Menelik had lured the Italian main force into his own territory — it fitted perfectly the criteria of the system.

The actual battle which took place on March 1 and 2, 1896, at Adwa, the principal market town in northern Ethiopia, had been initiated by the great rush of the European powers to colonize Africa.
The Battle of Adwa, should be celebrated, and honored, by the global African communities in appreciation of this significant accomplishment against colonialism.


GAP University
Global African Presence
By: Iam Brokeeper | May 9th, 2014 | 12:50 am