Italian Ethiopia

Italian Ethiopia

Etiopia italiana
Flag of
Italian emperor Coat of Arms of
Italian emperor Coat of Arms
Map of Italian East Africa after Italy's annexation of Ethiopia, as part of the Italian Empire. Italian Ethiopia was made of Harrar, Galla-Sidamo, Amhara and Scioa Governorate.
Map of Italian East Africa after Italy's annexation of Ethiopia, as part of the Italian Empire. Italian Ethiopia was made of Harrar, Galla-Sidamo, Amhara and Scioa Governorate.
StatusColony of Italy
CapitalAddis Ababa
Official languagesItalian
Common languagesAmharic, Afan Oromo, Somali, Tigrinya
• 1936-41
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
• Established
• Disestablished
1,221,900 km2 (471,800 sq mi)
CurrencyItalian East African lira
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ethiopian Empire
Italian East Africa

Italian Ethiopia (in Italian: Etiopia italiana), also known as the Italian Empire of Ethiopia,[2] or Italian Occupation of Ethiopia, is the shorthand English name given to the Italian possession in the territory of modern-day Ethiopia,[3] obtained by expanding the existing Somali and Eritrean colonies in East Africa of the Kingdom of Italy.[4]

After the second Italo-Ethiopian War, in which the Ethiopian Empire was occupied by the Fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini, the Ethiopian territories were proclaimed part of Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI) in 1936, with the capital of AOI moved to Addis Ababa[5] and Victor Emmanuel III proclaiming himself Emperor of Ethiopia.[6]

During the Italian rule, infrastructure to connect major cities, railways, public and private companies, and dams providing power and water were built; this along with the influx of Italian settlers and labourers, was the major cause of rapid urbanization growth. Also, the Italian government abolished slavery, a practice that existed in the country for centuries.[7]

In 1941, during World War II, Ethiopia was occupied by Allied forces, mainly from the British Empire, in the East African Campaign, but an Italian guerrilla war continued until 1943. Despite the return of Emperor Haile Selassie from his exile and the recognition of Ethiopian sovereignty with the signing of an Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty in December 1944, some regions still remained under British occupation for several more years.[1] Under the peace treaty of 1947, Italy recognized the sovereignty and independence of Ethiopia and renounced all claims to special interests or influence in that country.[8] Many Italian settlers remained for decades after receiving full pardon by Emperor Selassie, as he saw an opportunity to continue the modernization efforts of the country.[9][10]


Since May 1936 Italian Ethiopia was part of the newly created Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI), or Italian East Africa, and administratively was made of four governorates: Governorate of Amara, Governorate of Harrar, Governorate of Galla-Sidamo and Governorate of Shewa. Each Governorate was under the authority of an Italian governor, answerable to the Italian viceroy, who represented the Emperor Victor Emmanuel. The territory around the capital was renamed in 1939 Governorate of Scioa: originally it was called "Governorato di Addis Abeba", but in 1939 the name was changed to show the region of Scioa around the area of Addis Ababa. This was done because areas of the nearby governorates of Harrar, Gallo-Sidamo and Amhara were included in it. Italian Ethiopia had an area of 790,000 square kilometres (305,000 sq mi) and a population of 9,450,000 inhabitants, resulting in a density of 12 inhabitants per square kilometre (31/sq mi)[11]

Governorate Italian name Capital Total population Italians[12] Car Tag Coat of Arms
Amhara Governorate Amara Gondar 2,000,000 11,103 AM Coat of arms of Amhara governorate-2.svg
Harrar Governorate Harar Harrar 1,600,000 10,035 HA Coat of arms of harar governorate.svg
Galla-Sidamo Governorate Galla e Sidama Jimma/Gimma 4,000,000 11,823 GS Coat of arms of Galla-Sidamo governorate.svg
Shewa Governorate Scioa Addis Ababa 1,850,000 40,698 SC Coat of arms of Scioa governorate.svg

Some territories of the defeated Kingdom of Ethiopia were added to Italian Eritrea and Italian Somalia inside the AOI. This was not just since they were mainly populated by Eritreans and Somalis respectively, but also as a reward for their colonial soldiers who fought in the Italian Army against the Negus troops).[citation needed]

The currency used was the Italian East African lira: the Lira AOI were special banknotes of 50 lire and 100 lire circulating in AOI between 1938 [13] and 1941:


Conquest and occupation[edit]

Mussolini’s Stele in Gorgora

Emperor Haile Selassie's reign was interrupted on 3 October 1935[14] when Italian forces, under the direction of dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded and occupied Ethiopia.

They occupied the capital, Addis Ababa, on 5 May 1936. Emperor Haile Selassie pleaded to the League of Nations for aid in resisting the Italians. Nevertheless, the country was formally occupied on 9 May 1936 and the Emperor went into exile.

The war was full of cruelty: the Ethiopians used Dum-dum bullets (prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1899, Declaration IV, 3) and the Italians used gas (prohibited under the Geneva Protocol of 1922).[15] Many Ethiopians died in the invasion. The Negus claimed that more than 5000 Ethiopian fighters were killed compared to only 1,537 Italians, while the Italian authorities estimated that 16,000 Ethiopians and 2,700 Italians (including Italian colonial troops) died in battle.[16]

Marshal Graziani in 1940

Marshal Graziani, who replaced Marshal Badoglio as viceroy of Italian East Africa in May 1936 was short-tempered and inclined to violence and atrocities multiplied under his administration. Following a failed attack against Addis Ababa by rebels on 28 July 1936, he had the archbishop of Dessie, whom he suspected of being behind the attack shot the same afternoon. All resisting Ethiopians were declared "bandits" and he ordered that they be shot on capture. Mussolini approved the decision but requested that the order be kept secret. Following the defeat of rebels led by Ras Desta in the western part of the country in late December 1936, he had 1600 rebel troops who surrendered summarily executed by firing squads. Villages that had been friendly to Desta were burned to the ground and women and children shot. Desta and other captured rebel leaders were executed in February 1937. The Italians undertook many other terrorist actions during this period. Following a bloody attempt on the life of Graziani and other Italian officials by two Eritreans during a ceremony to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Naples on 19 February 1937, the police and soldiers, fearing a general uprising, fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Innocent bystanders were shot. For the next three days, the Italians, led by the Blackshirts, went on a rampage of murder and destruction throughout Addis Ababa. By the end of 1937 more than 5000 people had been executed for alleged crimes related to the attempt against Graziani. Among them were virtually all the young educated Ethiopians the Italians could lay their hands on and all the officiers and cadets of the Holeta Military Academy. The Italian viceroy had hermits, soothsayers and travelling minstrels rounded up and executed. Convinced that the high clergy had known about the plot, he had many executed. In May 1937, he ordered 297 monks of the monastery of Debre Libanos and 23 other individuals suspected of complicity shot. Over 100 deacons and students were also executed. Several hundred monks were sent to concentration camps. Viceroy Graziani was finally replaced in November 1938 by the more humane Duke of Aosta, who put an end to wanton atrocities which had had the effect of increasing resistance to Italian domination.[17]

While some countries recognized the Italian conquest, Great Britain, France and the League of Nations refused to formally recognize it and consequently it remained illegitimate in international law.[18]

The King of Italy (Victor Emmanuel III) was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia and the Italians created an Italian empire in Africa (Italian East Africa) with Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somalia. In 1937 Mussolini boasted that, with his conquest of Ethiopia, "finally Adua was avenged".

We will never be the masters if we are not conscious of our preordained superiority. We do not fraternize with the Negroes. We can not, we must not. At least not until they have been civilized.

— Well-known Italian reporter Indro Montanelli
Ras Sejum Mangascià, Ras Ghetacciù Abaté and Ras Kebbedé Guebret offered support to Mussolini in February 1937.

Some Ethiopians welcomed the Italians and collaborated with them in the government of the newly created Impero italiano, like Ras Sejum Mangascià, Ras Ghetacciù Abaté and Ras Kebbedé Guebret. In 1937 the friendship of Sejum Mangascia with the Italian Viceroy Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta enabled this Ras to play an influential role in securing the release of 3,000 Ethiopian POWs being held in Italian Somaliland.

The Italians invested substantively in Ethiopian infrastructure development. They created the "imperial road" between Addis Ababa and Massaua, the Addis Ababa - Mogadishu and the Addis Ababa - Assab.[19] the Italians built more than 4,500 km of roads linking the country beyond 900 km of railways were reconstructed or initiated (like the railway between Addis Ababa and Assab), dams and hydroelectric plants were built, and many public and private companies were established in the underdeveloped country. The most important were: "Compagnie per il cotone d'Etiopia" (Cotton industry); "Cementerie d'Etiopia" (Cement industry); "Compagnia etiopica mineraria" (Minerals industry); "Imprese elettriche d'Etiopia" (Electricity industry); "Compagnia etiopica degli esplosivi" (Armament industry); "Trasporti automobilistici (Citao)" (Mechanic & Transport industry).

Italians even created new airports and in 1936 started the worldwide famous Linea dell'Impero, a flight connecting Addis Ababa to Rome. The line was opened after the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and was followed by the first air links with the Italian colonies in Italian East Africa, which began in a pioneering way since 1934. The route was enlarged to 6,379 km and initially joined Rome with Addis Ababa via Syracuse, Benghazi, Cairo, Wadi Halfa, Khartoum, Kassala, Asmara, Dire Dawa.[20] There was a change of aircraft in Benghazi (or sometimes in Tripoli). The route was carried out in three and a half days of daytime flight and the frequency was four flights per week in both directions. Later from Addis Ababa there were three flights a week that continued to Mogadishu, capital of Italian Somalia.

The most important railway line in the African colonies of the Kingdom of Italy, the 784 km long Franco-Ethiopian Railway, was seized following the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. The route was served until 1935 by steam trains that took about 36 hours to do the total trip between the capital of Ethiopia and the port of Djibouti. Following the Italian conquest was obtained in 1938 the increase of speed for the trains with the introduction of four railcars high capacity "type 038" derived from the model Fiat ALn56.[21]

These diesel trains were able to reach 70 km/h and cutting time travel in half to just 18 hours: they were used until the mid 1960s.[22] At the main stations there were some bus connections to the other cities of Italian Ethiopia not served by the railway.[23] Additionally, near the Addis Ababa station was created a special unit against fire, that was the only one in all Africa.[24]

In 1936, during the occupation of Ethiopia, the Italians considered the construction of new railway routes from Addis-Ababa running as follows: Addis-Ababa, Dessie, Adigrat, Massawa: covering 1000 km; Addis-Ababa, Dessie, Assab - Dessie, Gondar, Om, Ager; Addis-Ababa, Megheli, Dollo, Mogadishu. All these projects had to be abandoned due to war operations.

— Jean Pierre Crozet

Projects of connecting to the Eritrean railway network did not found practical realization in 1939. In the same year was studied the possibility of connecting the Ethiopian station of Dire-Dawa to the port of Assab in southern Eritrea, in order to bypass the French Somaliland. Until 1938 there was a protective military unit in the trains, because of the Ethiopian guerrilla in the area (that by the beginning of World War II faded away).[25]

Map showing in red the new roads (like the "Imperial road", and those in construction in 1941) created by the Italians in Ethiopia

The Italians not only made new roads & other structural improvements, but they also greatly improved the socio-economical conditions of the native population, as the same emperor Haile Selassie recognized when back in power after 1941.[citation needed]

Indeed, much of these improvements were part of a plan to bring half a million Italians to colonize the Ethiopian plateaus. In October 1939 the Italian colonists in Ethiopia were 35,441, of whom 30,232 male (85.3%) and 5,209 female (14.7%), most of them living in urban areas.[26] Only 3,200 Italian farmers moved to colonize farm areas, mostly around the capital and in the Scioa Governorate, where they were under sporadic attack by pro-Haile Selassie guerrillas until 1939.

However, the Ethiopian guerrillas - that in late 1939 were still controlling nearly a quarter of the Ethiopian highlands (but had never been active in the areas of Ethiopia united to Eritrea and Somalia in 1936[citation needed] )- were present at the beginning of World War II only in the Harar and Galla-Sidamo Governorate. According to the viceroy Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta the guerrillas were going to disappear in another two years (as had happened in Cyrenaica in the early 1930s). Indeed, Abebe Aregai, the last leader of the "Arbegnocks" (as the guerrilla fighters were called in Ethiopia) after the 1939 surrender of Ethiopian leaders Zaudiè Asfau and Olonà Dinkel, made a surrender proposal to the Italians in spring 1940[27].

In early 1940, also as a consequence of the guerrilla nearly disappearance, Italian Ethiopia was enjoying a small "boom" of economic & social development with the commerce and industrial sector greatly improving in the capital and in the main cities.[citation needed]

A remarkable effort was made to improve healthcare in Ethiopia: beside the doctors belonging to the Italian Africa Health Corps, flanked by 450 military doctors, there were about 500 civilian doctors (232 specialists, among whom 30 pediatricians, and 262 general practitioners). Special maternity wards were built in the hospitals situated in the main locations. The new Italian hospital in Addis Ababa had a delivery room and a pediatric clinic, with a capacity of over 100 beds in its various sections: expectant mothers, postpartum mothers, babies’ room, gynecological ward, infectious diseases, visitors’ room, etc. The children’s hospital was subdivided into separate wards for babies and older children, for infectious, gastro-intestinal or pulmonary diseases, etc. Moreover, a university-type faculty was founded in 1941 in Asmara to train nurses....Social life in Addis Ababa (and Asmara) was pulsating just like that of any other European town. At the heart of the city were the markets: in the capital (Addis Ababa) in 1939 over 75,000 heads of cattle had been slaughtered and thousands of tons of foodstuffs had been sold. Dozens of shops and even department stores were opened in both cities. Leisure activities also boomed: in Addis Ababa four cinemas had been built...New dancehalls, restaurants and bars were being opened everywhere. The working men’s clubs and numerous sports and recreational societies, supported by local government and by the PNF, organised the colonists’ (and native Etiopians) free time.

— G. Podesta[28]

During the five years of Italian occupation, Catholicism also grew in importance, thanks mainly to the efforts of missionaries like Elisa Angela Meneguzzi. She became known as the "Ecumenical Fire" due to her strong efforts at ecumenism with Coptic Christians and Muslims while also catering to relations with the Catholics of Dire Dawa.[29])

Mussolini's Stairway to Nowhere, monument at the Addis Abeba University with a stair for every year of Mussolini's rule since 1922

World War II[edit]

During World War II, in the summer of 1940 Italian armed forces successfully invaded all of British Somaliland.[30] But, by spring of 1941, the British had counter-attacked and pushed deep into Italian East Africa. By 5 May, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia had returned to Addis Ababa to reclaim his throne. In November, the last organised Italian resistance in Ethiopia ended with the fall of Gondar.[31] However, following the surrender of East Africa, some Italians conducted a guerrilla war which lasted for two more years.

This guerrilla was done primarily by military units with Italian officers (like Captain Paolo Aloisi, Captain Leopoldo Rizzo, Blackshirt officer De Varda and Major Lucchetti) but also by civilians like Rosa Dainelli. She was a doctor who in August 1942 succeeded in entering the main ammunition depot of the British army in Addis Ababa, and blowing it up, miraculously survived the huge explosion. Her sabotage destroyed the ammunition for the new British Sten sub machine gun, delaying the use of this "state of the art" armament for many months.[32] Her true name was Danielli Rosa and the date of attack was September 15, 1941.[33]

After World War II[edit]

Italian-era electric power corporation building in Addis Ababa

The recognition by the United Kingdom of the full sovereignty of Ethiopia occurred with the signing on 19 December 1944 of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreement which acknowledged Ethiopia to be "a free and independent state"[34] although various regions remained under British occupation for some years.[1]

In the peace treaty of February 1947, Italy renounced sovereignty over its African colonies of Libya, Eritrea and Somalia (art. 23) and recognised the independence of Ethiopia (art. 33), by then a sovereign member of the United Nations.

Italy further agreed to:

  • Pay War reparation of US$25,000,000 to Ethiopia
  • Accept "Annex XI of the Treaty", upon the recommendation of the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 390, that indicated that Eritrea was to be federated with Ethiopia.

After the war, the Italian Ethiopians were given a full pardon by the newly returned Emperor Haile Selassie, as he saw the opportunity to continue the modernization efforts of the country.[35] He declared that no reprisals would be taken against the Italians, and many remained for decades, until the overthrow of the Emperor in the Ethiopian Civil War in 1974. Nearly 22,000 Italo-Ethiopians took refuge in Italy during the 1970s.[35] Their main organization in Italy is the Associazione Italiana Profughi dall'Etiopia ed Eritrea (A.I.P.E.E.).[36]

In recent years, some Italian companies have returned to operate in Ethiopia, and a large number of Italian technicians and managers arrived with their families, residing mainly in the metropolitan area of the capital.[37]

Contemporary relations[edit]

In the mid-1990s despite a previous arrangement with the Dergue regime under Menghistu in the 1970s to cede the Obelisk of Axum to Italy in exchange for medical facilities and forgiving an accumulated debt to the Italian government, a populist movement made up of Italians and Ethiopians (both in country and expatriates around the world) began to petition the then current Italian government to return the obelisk,[38] an event which eventually culminated in its repatriation in 2008 to Axum, the city of its creation.[39]

The Italian firm Salini Costruttori was chosen by the Ethiopian government to design and build the Millennium or Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river, which when completed will be the largest dam and hydroelectric plant in Africa.[40] As the Italian engineers had helped to build the first railway from Addis to Djibouti in the past, the Ethiopian government has contracted them again to expand the railroad network along with India and China.[41] For the last 20 years, Italy has continued to be among the top 5 trading partners with Ethiopia and a major investor in the Ethiopian economy.[42]

Ethiopian languages such as Amharic and Tigrinya have many words borrowed from the Italian language, for example "gettone" (token), "bigli" from Italian "biglie" (glass marbles), "borsa" (bag), "machìna" from Italian "macchina" (car), "carburatore" (carburetor) and others.[43][44] Ethiopia has the largest concentration of Italian schools and cultural institutes in Africa (such as the Scuola Statale Italiana of Addis Ababa), which foster and promote Italian and Ethiopian culture and are free to the public.[45]

Banknotes and postage stamps[edit]

Frontal Image Back Image Amount Color Frontal Description Back Description
ItalianEastAfricaP1b-50Lire-1939 f-donated.jpg ItalianEastAfricaP1b-50Lire-1939 b-donated.jpg 50 Lire Green LIRE CINQVANTA - BANCA D'ITALIA 50 LIRE - Lupa romana
ItalianEastAfricaP2b-100Lire-1938-donatedms f.jpg ItalianEastAfricaP2b-100Lire-1938-donatedms b.jpg 100 Lire Green/gray LIRE CENTO - BANCA D'ITALIA - Dea Roma LIRE CENTO - BANCA D'ITALIA - Aquila

On 5 May 1936 the capital Addis Ababa was captured by the Italians: on 22 May three new stamps showing the King of Italy were issued. Four further values inscribed "ETIOPIA" were issued on 5 December 1936. After that date, the stamps were issued with the name "Africa Orientale Italiana" on it.[46][citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Clapham,"Ḫaylä Ś�llase", Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, p. 1063.
  2. ^ La guerra di Etiopia (1935-36) (Italian)
  3. ^ Pasquale Villani, L'età contemporanea (Italian), il Mulino, Bologna, 1983, 1993, ISBN 88-15-02704-1, p. 446.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Italian Addis Ababa
  6. ^ During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie continued to reign as "monarch in exile".
  7. ^ Shivley, K. "Addis Ababa, Ethiopia" Retrieved 15 May 2008.
  8. ^ Treaty of Peace with Italy
  9. ^ cfr. Angelo del Boca, op cit., p. 201
  10. ^ Hailè Selassiè - Amare Onlus (Italian)
  11. ^ Royal Institute of International Affairs (24 August 1940). "Italian Possessions in Africa: II. Italian East Africa". Bulletin of International News. 17 (17): 1065–1074.
  12. ^ Istat Statistiche 2010
  13. ^ "Bank of Italy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-27. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  14. ^ Barker, A. J. (1971). Rape of Ethiopia, 1936. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-345-02462-6.
  15. ^ Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945, p. 79.
  16. ^ Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945, p. 133.
  17. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time. A History of Ethiopia, Palgrave, New York, 2000, p. 225–227.
  18. ^ For that reason, following the collapse of Italian power in 1941, Haile Selassie reassumed power without the need of any formal recognition by the international community.
  19. ^ "Article on the special road Addis Abeba-Assab and map (in Italian)" (PDF). 1940. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  20. ^ Treccani: Via dell'Impero (in Italian)
  21. ^ Fiat ALn56 "Littorina"
  22. ^ Image of a Fiat ALn56 in 1964 Addis Ababa station
  23. ^ Dire Dawa bus connection to Harrar
  24. ^ ""Pompieri ad Addis Abeba" (in Italian)". Archived from the original on 2016-11-04. Retrieved 2015-01-09.
  25. ^ Photo of Italian soldiers defending the ethiopian railway trains
  26. ^ Italian emigration in Etiopia (in Italian)
  27. ^ Bahru Zewde, "A History of Modern Ethiopia", second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), pp. 172f
  28. ^ Podesta: "Family and Society in Italian Africa"
  29. ^ Blessed Elisa Angela Meneguzzi
  30. ^ Dickson (2001) p.103
  31. ^ Jowett (2001) p.7
  32. ^ Rosselli, Alberto. Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale. pag. 103
  33. ^ Di Lalla, Fabrizio, “Sotto due bandiere. Lotta di liberazione etiopica e resistenza italiana in Africa Orientale”. p. 235
  34. ^ Henze, p. 235.
  35. ^ a b Photos and articles of Italoethiopians who took refuge in Italy Archived 2017-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Associazione Italiana Profughi dall'Etiopia ed Eritrea (AIPEE)
  37. ^
  38. ^ Chicago Tribune,March 10, 2002 "Ethiopia Again Demands Italy Return Obelisk"
  39. ^ The Guardian, 20 April, 2005 "Obelisk returned to Ethiopia after 68 years"
  40. ^ Grand Renaissance Dam Project in Ethiopia
  41. ^ Global Construction View - "Ethiopia Steams Ahead"
  42. ^ MIT Country Profile - Ethiopia: Trading Partners
  43. ^ Totalitarismo, Mister (2 December 2018). "Italianismi nel somalo e nell'amarico".
  44. ^ I prestiti italiani in amarico e tigrino, Yaqob Beyene
  45. ^ Italian Cultural Institute of Addis Ababa
  46. ^ Postage stamps of Italian Ethiopia



  1. ^ Conte, Alessio (2017-01-08). "Nasce l'Impero: l'Etiopia italiana". Ascari e Schiavoni (in Italian). Retrieved 2019-04-14.