Haile Selassie’s war ministry guards have bare feet

The Italian occupation of Ethiopia, which lasted between May 1936 and May 1941, was the outcome of a brutal military campaign that saw the use of chemical weapons and overwhelming military force against the Ethiopian army and people. Despite heroic resistance the Ethiopian army was defeated and the Emperor Haile Selassie left the capital for exile in Britain. These images highlight some of the events surrounding this conflict.

Money was raised for the Emperor, to pay for the defence of Ethiopia after General Emilio de Bonon crossed the Mereb River from Eritrea on the 3rd of October 1935. This photograph is entitled: “Rich merchants with their slaves bring bags of money to Emperor Haile Selassie.”

The money was badly needed. The Ethiopian army faced not only in excess of 700,000 troops but 2,000 pieces of artillery, 595 tanks, and 390 aircraft.

There was fury in Addis Ababa after the Emperor left. Ethiopians attacked buildings associated with foreigners. This photograph is entitled: “The wreckage of a building in Addis Ababa, following the pillaging and rioting which occurred when the King of Kings fled the Ethiopian capital. The arrival of the invading Italian legions halted the bloodshed. Foreigners, including Americans, were beleaguered in their respective legations.” Dated: 20 May 1936.

Brutal as the Italian occupation was, it did not rely on force alone. Some measures were racist, such as the prohibition of sexual relations between Italians and Ethiopians were designed to keep the Italian nation ‘pure’ – although visits to Ethiopian prostitutes were not banned! But the occupiers also attempted to turn Eritrean children into young fascists.  There were training sessions and marches in an attempt to indoctrinate them.
The measure had only limited impact. Ethiopian resistance continued throughout the occupation, with the support of the Orthodox church.