On this day in history – 1st March 1896 – the Battle of Adowa was fought, the result of colonial tensions between Italy and Ethiopian emperor Menelik II. Italian forces under Major-General Oreste Baratieri were defeated by Menelik’s sizeable and well-armed army in what would become one of the costliest defeats ever suffered by a colonial power.
One of Menelik’s key advantages was his fragile coalition of feudal aristocrats and regional leaders united against a common enemy. A highly centralised taxation system brought in more goods to the central government than any emperor in recent memory, allowing Menelik to maintain a large standing army and support a nationwide call to arms, or kitet. In the above picture, a local chief on horseback gathers an assembled group of warriors in support of the emperor’s campaign. His fine silk robe, lion’s-mane headdress, decorated shield and horse harness are all indicative of high status. To the right is a wealthy officer wearing lion-skin and a lemd cape with two wide hanging leather extensions. The assembled warriors lack uniforms, and wear either the everyday shamma robe or shirt-tunics with trousers. Although many Ethiopians went into battle with traditional equipment, including the curved shotel sword, spear and conical hide shield, a variety of antique and modern firearms were also used.
By Ibrahim Zamir