Ethiopian and Eritrean Askaris in Libya (1911- 1932)

  • Dechasa Abebe
Keywords: Askaris, Mercenaries, Resistances, Libyans, Italians


A number of books and articles were published on the three consecutive Italian wars in Libya and its resistances during the first three decades of the twentieth century. However, the role and experiences of the Ethiopian and Eritrean askaris were rarely studied. Thus, this article is an attempt to disclose their role in the wars, why they were interested in being employed by the Italians and why Italy relied heavily on them instead of the Italian soldiers and the Libyan askaris. Historical sources, like the memoires of Italian military commanders and the askaris, travellers’ accounts mainly that of journalists, correspondence documents, and popular songs particularly that of Tigrigna were consulted to write this article. Moreover, publications produced by military historians on the Italian wars in Libya were also referred. While starvation and famines, poverty, unemployment and maladministration were the driving force from Eritrea and Ethiopia; salary, military uniform, guns and bullets, rations, protections and relative freedom were some of the attractions from the Italian side for the Ethiopians and Eritreans to be employed as askaris. In relation to these, political expediency or loose aversion, cost, fighting skill and courage, adaptability to Libyan topography and loyalty were some of the qualities of Ethiopians and Eritrean askaris that initiated the Italians to rely on. As a result, about 68 battalions fought in the wars. In the process, the askaris were identified by their Italian commanders as “warlike race” and best soldiers in contrast to the Italian soldiers and Libyan collaborators. Keywords: Askaris, Mercenaries, Resistances, Libyans, Italians

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eISSN: 2520-582X
print ISSN: 1810-4487