The Italian Colonial Empire

  By Serge_L
Italian troops captured the Ethiopian capital of Addis Abeba in the spring of 1936, and, on May 9, 1936,  Victor Emmanuel III was proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia.  This war was extremely popular in Italy, but it pointed out the weakness of the League of Nations, whose economic sanctions only irritated the Italians.  It demonstrated the disarray of French and British foreign policy, and moved Italy in the direction of Nazi Germany, who supported Italy throughout the conflict.  On the 4th of July,  the League of Nations dropped the sanctions towards Italy.  The last Italian acquisition was Albania, a former Italian protectorate, which was annexed with a pretext in 1939.  At its peak, just before WWII, the Italian Empire comprehended the territories of present time Italy, Albania, Rhodes, Dodecaneses, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, 2/3 of Somalia and the little concession of Tientsin in China, (obtained in 1902 after its participation in the international expedition against Boxers). This was only brought to an end by the intervention of the allied armies, the formation of the partisans, the abdication of the king and the end of Mussolini (28 April-2 May 1945).  According to the treaty of Paris (1947), Italy had to accept losing all of its colonies, and just remained "protector" of Somalia until 1960. 

Italian Colonial Empire is the name given, in 1936, to the set of territories owned by Italy between 1882 and 1947.  Origin of Italian colonialism can be found in the desire to take part in the great partition of African lands by European powers, and also in the real need to find a way to channel the surplus of population that was actually emigrating into Tunisia, France and the Americas.  Italy began to form a colonial empire in 1869 by buying land in the Bay of Assab on the Red Sea from the local sultan.  It occupied the whole of Eritrea, which was made a colony in 1889, but its attempt to seize Ethiopia was defeated at Adowa in 1896.  This led to the downfall of the government of Francesco Crispi and remained an embarrassment for nationalists, who had expected a united Italy to gain glory abroad.

Italy recognized the independence of Ethiopia, but still retained much influence there because of her colonies in neighboring Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. This latter had been annexed or purchased piece by piece with a series of pacific treaties with local sultans and , in part, ceded by Great Britain as a compensation for Italy that did not receive any of the German colonies parted after WWI.  Italy acquired Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (these two regions together forms modern Libya) in the war with Turkey in 1911-12, as well as Rhodes and the islands of Dodecaneses (at present, part of Greece) .

Italy entered WWI on the allied side in May of 1915.  After the war, it was overshadowed by the greater powers, although it gained territory including Trieste, the Trentino and the south Tirol (Alto Adige).  The intense postwar political and industrial unrest led to the establishment of Benito Mussolini's fascist dictatorship in 1922.  Under Mussolini, Italy began to again pressure Ethiopia.  The border clash at Wal-Wal in December of 1934 brought the struggle for influence there to world attention.

Attempts through the League of Nations and through the mediation of Britain and France failed to achieve a diplomatic solution, in large part because Mussolini did not want one. Believing that he had the consent of both Britain and France for the conquest of Ethiopia, Mussolini had prepared throughout the summer of 1935 for invasion.  The Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) spoke at the Nations Society (past incarnation of present day UNO) and obtained sanctions against Italy; nevertheless Mussolini decided to proceed with the invasion.
 The Empire, shown in yellow


One (officially proclaimed): Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emmanuele III)

1885: Occupation of Massawa
1887: Ras Alula ambushed and annihilate an Italian division near Dogaly.
1889: Conquest of part of Ethiopia and treaty of Uccialli (Italian protectorate on Ethiopia)
1896: Adowa (Italian defeat in Ethiopia)
1911-12: War against Ottoman Empire and conquest of Libya and Mediterranean islands.
1936: Addis Abada is occupied and the Empire is officially proclaimed.
1939: Occupation of Albania
1945: Defeat in WWII.
1947: Treaty of Paris and end of the Empire.


History of Italy (in English)
The speech of Mussolini before the military expedition to conquer Ethiopia. Also some interesting pictures included.

Links to sites in Italian:

The Italian imaginary about colonies
Complete Chronology
Italian cinema regarding colonies