Origins and duties
The word "zaptié" is derived from the Turkish zapiteh; a term which was used to refer to both the Ottoman Empire's gendarmerie prior to 1923, and to the Turkish personnel recruited for the Cyprus Military Police during the period of British rule on the island. The Turkish word "zapiteh" is derived from the Arabic word "ضابط" "dhaabet" which means officer.
The Italian colonial governments in the territories listed above modelled the various zaptié constabulary forces on Italy's own carabinieri. The first of these units was raised in Eritrea in 1882, drawing from existing companies of basci bazuks (irregular troops).
In Tripolitania and Cyrenaica the Italian officered zaptié were generally used for patrolling rural areas in coastal regions, while mounted police or spahis operated in the southern desert regions, together with camel mounted meharists. In the city of Tripoli civilian police were employed. The original Libyan zaptié were recruited from indigenous gendarmerie of the same name, who had served under the Turkish government prior to 1910.
In Italian Somaliland, the zaptié provided a ceremonial escort for the Italian Viceroy (Governor) as well as the territorial police. There were nearly one thousand such para-military police in 1922, when Benito Mussolini took control of the Italian government and started a policy of "pacification" and assimilation of the Italian colonies.
Attire, weaponry and ranks
Officers and some non-commissioned officers were Italian, but the rank and file were recruited from the colony in question. As an example, the Somali Zaptié Corps in 1927 numbered 1,500 Somali and 72 Italian personnel.
Three hundred zaptié took part in the Italian conquest of northern Somalia in 1925. As part of the "colonna Musso", they assisted in the occupation of the Sultanate of Hobyo (Hafun and Ordio). Other zaptìé units served with the "colonna Bergesio" in the Elemari region (Gallacaio, Garad and Sinedogò). In 1926, zaptìé served in the Majeerteen Sultanate (Bender Ziada, Candala and Bender Cassim).
In 1941 in Somalia and Ethiopia 2,186 zaptìé (plus 500 recruits under training) formed part of the Carabinieri. They were organised in a battalion commanded by Major Alfredo Serranti that fought at the Battle of Culqualber in Ethiopia for three months until this military unit was destroyed by the Allies. After heavy fighting the Italian Carabinieri received "full military honors" from the British.
- Piero Crociani, page 21, "Le Uniformi dell' A.O.I. (Somalia 1889-1941)", La Roccia Edizioni 1980
- Piero Crociani, pages 27-28, "Le Uniformi Coloniali Libiche 1912-1942", La Roccia Edizioni 1980
- Piero Crociani, pages 21-22, "Le Uniformi dell' A.O.I. (Somalia 1889-1941)", La Roccia Edizioni 1980
- Italian conquest of north-eastern Somalia Archived February 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- "Non tutti sanno che... Zaptié" (in Italian)
- Article of Arnaldo Grilli on the first two years of World War II (in Italian).
- President Siad Barre life (German) Archived July 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Crociani, P. & Viotti, A. Le Uniformi dell" AOI (Somalia 1889-1941).