Battle of Adwa 1896: A Brief History of Ethiopian Military Victory and Defeat of Italy

The ‘Battle of Adwa’ was fought on March 1, 1896, near the northern town of Adwa. The Ethiopian forces prevailed over the Italians in a victory that President Mulatu Teshome says taught the country lessons of cooperation and mutual respect.

‘‘Our ancestors have made huge sacrifices to safeguard the sovereignty of the country and pass it on to existing generations,’‘ the President is quoted to have said during an event in the capital, Addis Ababa.

On March 1, 1896, the Ethiopian army under the leadership of one of Africa’s illustrious war time heroes, chief strategists Emperor Menilek II dealt Italy a decisive defeat.  Italy’s crushing defeat sent their colonial ambitions back 100 years and stopped their advancement into the African territory. This was a victory for the ages and today it’s being studied in military science. Ethiopia, an African power defeated one of Europe’s best armies in the 19thcentury due to well executed strategy.


The battle of Adwa became a model which was used by liberation fighters across the continent to take their land back from colonial invaders in the 20th century. It is significant because it shows that Africans were not docile while the Europeans took over their resources but that they fought like fierce warriors to defend their homeland and preserve their sovereignty. Emperor Menilek II refused to sign a treaty with the Italian which was written in Italian. His rationale was that he did not understand the language and so the only treaty he signed was the one written in Ethiopian. This was a shrewd move because the Italian version contained verbiage that made Ethiopia into a colony of Italy and the Ethiopian version did not.

The Italians occupied the northern part of Ethiopia and Emperor Menilek II let them occupy the land for about a year while he traded with them. This gave him time to build up his arsenal for the pending war to drive the Italians out. The Italian General overestimated his ability and led 14,500 troops to war against 100,000 Ethiopian warriors. Due to this miscalculation, Emperor Menilek II defeated the Italians and killed 6,000 Italian soldiers and 4,000 as prisoners of war. Ethiopia decimated the Italian army at Adowa on March 1, 1896 and their secured freedom.

As a direct result of the battle, Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa, recognizing Ethiopia as an independent state. The victory of Adwa, which is officially celebrated across Ethiopia on the 1st of March every year, marks the momentous victory that Ethiopia achieved against the invading Italian army on March 1, 1896.

Italy can have Ethiopia when I am emperor of Rome” -Emperor Menilek II

Written by Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya


Written by PH

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