Origins and duties
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 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 soldiers 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
Zaptié troopers were armed with 1874 model revolvers, cavalry carbines, and 1871 model sabres. 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. Uniforms varied from colony to colony, but usually comprised fezs, red sashes and khaki or white clothing. A common feature was the white and red collar insignia of the carabinieri.
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 defended Culqualber (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.
- "Le Uniformi dell" AOI (Somalia 1889-1941)" Piero Crociani and Andrea Viotti.