Emperor Menelik II: The Victory at Adwa

Emperor_Menelik_IISharing the same birthday as Marcus Garvey,
Emperor Menelik II (ምኒልክ) baptized as Sahle Maryam (17 August 1844 – 12 December 1913), was Negus of Shewa (1866–89), then Nəgusä Nägäst of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death.

The name Menelik was derived from the first Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, who is the son of King Solomon of  and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba.

Menelik’s fame is sealed in the Battle of Adwa, where the decisive victory his troops won over the imperialistic Italians established Ethiopia as a sovereign state, recognized by the West.

The story behind the Battle of Adwa goes something like this:

Menelik signed the Treaty of Wuchale with the Italians on May 2, 1889. Controversy soon emerged on the interpretation of article 17 of the treaty. While the Amharic text reads that Menelik could, if he wished, call upon the services of the Italian authorities in his communications with other powers, the Italian version made this obligatory, thereby making Ethiopia in effect a protectorate of Italy. Emperor Menelik denounced it and demanded that the Italian version be changed. Negotiations failed, so Menelik renounced the treaty, leading Italy to declare war and invade from Eritrea. After defeating the Italians at Amba Alagi and Mekele, Menelik inflicted an even greater defeat on them, at Adwa on 1 March 1896, forcing them to capitulate. Afterwards, Menelik returned to Addis Ababa leaving Eritrea as a protectorate of Italy. Menelik is believed to have said: “leave the Italians to rule Eritrea beyond Merab River”

A treaty was signed at Addis Ababa recognizing the absolute sovereign independence of Ethiopia.


Ethiopia was transformed under Nəgusä Nägäst Menelik: the major signposts of modernization were put in place. Menelik II was fascinated by modernity, and had an ambition to introduce Western technological and administrative advances into Ethiopia. A Russian Red Cross mission arrived in Addis Ababa some three months after Menilek’s Adwa victory, and then the first hospital was created in Ethiopia.

Following the rush by the major powers to establish diplomatic relations following the Ethiopian victory at Adwa, more and more westerners began to travel to Ethiopia looking for trade, farming, hunting and mineral exploration concessions. Menelik II founded the first modern bank in Ethiopia, the Bank of Abyssinia, introduced the first modern postal system, signed the agreement and initiated work that established the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway with the French, introduced electricity to Addis Ababa, as well as the telephone, telegraph, the motor car and modern plumbing. Externally, his victory over the Italian colonizers had earned him great fame: following Adwa, recognition of Ethiopia’s independence by external powers was expressed in terms of diplomatic representation at the court of Menelik and delineation of Ethiopia’s boundaries with the adjacent colonies.

One thought on “Emperor Menelik II: The Victory at Adwa”

  1. Teddy Afro gave a powerful verbal and visual tribute to Emperor Menelik II in his song, “Tikur Sew.” Video is on You Tube.

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