Italy’s African Dream, Part I: The Adowa Nightmare

Patricia Wright describes the first Italian attempt to capture Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, remote on its East African plateau, has long fired European imaginations, but apart from some sixteenth-century Portuguese, who came in search of spices and Prester John and stayed to help the Christian highlanders against waves of Mohammedan invaders, it was left to the Italians to attempt all-out conquest.

Perhaps it was remarkable that Italy should have received almost an open invitation to expand in East Africa since Britain, with her vastly greater resources, had already sent a brief, punitive expedition to Ethiopian Magdala in 1868.

But in the 1880s and 1890s both Britain and France became enmeshed in their rivalries over Egypt and the Upper Nile and this led Britain to view Italian ambitions in the Red Sea with satisfaction; if successful, they would at least exclude the French.

This expectation proved premature, and the French soon attempted to use Ethiopian resistance to Italian penetration as a cloak for their own ambitions in the area: French experts, explorers and adventurers of every description pressed their services on the proud but incoherent empire of Ethiopia.

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