Italian Ethiopia

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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 Governorates

Italian Ethiopia was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy in the territory of present-day Ethiopia. Although it was formally created in May 1936, the colony lasted only five years until May 1941 when the Allies conquered the Italian East Africa. However the colony officially lasted until 1947, when the Peace Treaty was signed.

Characteristics & Data[edit]

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 Abeba. This was done because areas of the nearby governorates of Harrar, Gallo-Sidamo and Amhara were included in it.

The "Governorate of Scioa" was the only area of former Ethiopia fully pacified and rid of Ethiopian guerrilla in 1939, that allowed a huge development of infrastructures (roads, buildings, etc..) with the creation of a state-of-the-art "Addis Abeba Urbanistic and Architectural Plan" [1] and a beginning of colonization in agricultural areas assigned to Italian colonists. Even some industrial facilities were developed: for example at Addis Alem a huge factory for the production of slaked lime was established in 1938, and in its first year of production it turned out 30,000 hundredweights of the material.

Italian Ethiopia had an area of 305,000 square miles and a population of 9,450,000 inhabitants, resulting in a density of 31 per square mile[2]

Governorate Italian name Capital Total population Italians[3] 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 Scioà Addis Abeba 1,850,000 40,698 SC Coat of arms of Scioa governorate.svg

Some territories of the defeated Kingdom of Etiopia were added to Italian Eritrea and Italian Somalia inside AOI, because mainly populated by Eritrean and Somalian populations (but even as a reward to their colonial soldiers who fought in the Italian Army against the Negus troops).

The currency used was the Italian East African lira: the Lira AOI was a special banknote (of 50 lire and 100 lire) circulating in AOI between 1938 [4] and 1941:

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-1939-donatedms f.jpg ItalianEastAfricaP2b-100Lire-1939-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.[5] After that date, the stamps were issued with the name "Africa Orientale Italiana" on it.[6]

History (1936-1941)[edit]

Emperor Haile Selassie's reign was interrupted in 1935 when Italian forces invaded and occupied Ethiopia.

The Italian army, under the direction of dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopian territory on October 2, 1935. They occupied the capital Addis Ababa on May 5. Emperor Haile Selassie pleaded to the League of Nations for aid in resisting the Italians. Nevertheless the country was formally annexed on May 9, 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).[7] Many Ethiopians died in the invasion. The Negus claimed that more than 275,000 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.[8]

Italy in 1936 requested the League of Nations to recognize the annexation of Ethiopia: all member nations (including Britain and France), with the exception of the Soviet Union, voted to support it. 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" and that he had abolished slavery in Ethiopia.[9]

The Italians invested substantively in Ethiopian infrastructure development. They created the "imperial road" between Addis Abeba and Massaua, the Addis Abeba - Mogadishu and the Addis Abeba - Assab.[10] 900 km of railways were reconstructed or initiated (like the railway between Addis Abeba 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 Abeba 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.[11] 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 Djibouti-Addis Ababa long 784 km, was acquired following the conquest of the Ethiopian Empire by the Italians 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.[12]

These diesel trains were able to reach 70 km/h and so the time travel was cut in half to just 18 hours: they were used until the mid 1960s.[13] At the main stations there were some bus connections to the other cities of Italian Ethiopia not served by the railway.[14] Additionally, near the Addis Ababa station was created a special unit against fire, that was the only one in all Africa.[15]

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 WWII faded away).[16]

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.[17] Only 3,200 Italian farmers moved to colonize farm areas, mostly around the capital, where they were under sporadic attack by pro-Haile Selassie guerrillas until 1939. However the Ethiopian guerrilla (that in 1940 was still controlling nearly 1/4 of Ethiopia highlands) was present at the beginning of WWII only in the Harar and Galla-Sidamo Governorate: according to the viceroy Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta the guerrilla was going to disappear in 2 years more (like has happened in Cyrenaica in the early 1930s).

During WWII, in the summer of 1940 Italian armed forces successfully invaded all of British Somaliland.[18] 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.[19] However, following the surrender of East Africa, some Italians conducted a guerrilla war which lasted for two more years.


  1. ^ Addis Abeba 1939 Urbanistic and Architectural Plan
  2. ^ Royal Institute of International Affairs (24 August 1940). "Italian Possessions in Africa: II. Italian East Africa". Bulletin of International News 17 (17): 1065–1074. 
  3. ^ Istat Statistiche 2010
  4. ^ Bank of Italy
  5. ^ Postage stamps of Italian Ethiopia
  6. ^ "Alleanza Italo-tedesca" Stamps
  7. ^ Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945, p. 79.
  8. ^ Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945, p. 133.
  9. ^ Del Boca, Angelo. Italiani in Africa Orientale: La conquista dell'Impero, p.131.
  10. ^ 1940 Article on the special road Addis Abeba-Assab and map (in Italian)
  11. ^ Treccani: Via dell'Impero (in Italian)
  12. ^ Fiat ALn56 "Littorina"
  13. ^ Image of a Fiat ALn56 in 1964 Addis Abeba station
  14. ^ Dire Dawa bus connection to Harrar
  15. ^ "Pompieri ad Addis Abeba" (in Italian)
  16. ^ Photo of Italian soldiers defending the ethiopian railway trains
  17. ^ Italian emigration in Etiopia (in Italian)
  18. ^ Dickson (2001) p.103
  19. ^ Jowett (2001) p.7


  • Bandini, Franco. Gli italiani in Africa, storia delle guerre coloniali 1882-1943. Longanesi. Milano, 1971.
  • Beltrami, Vanni. Italia d'oltremare. Storie dei territori italiani dalla conquista alla caduta. Edizioni Nuova Cultura. Roma, 2013 ISBN 978-88-6134-702-1 [1]
  • Dickson, Keith. World War II. Wiley Publishing. New York, 2001
  • Jowett, Philip. The Italian Army 1940–45: Africa 1940–43. Osprey Publishing. London, 2001
  • Sbiacchi, Alberto. Hailé Selassié and the Italians, 1941-43. African Studies Review, vol.XXII, n.1, April 1979.

See also[edit]