As battle waged around them, the generals of the various armies that had come together as a united Ethiopian force under Emperor Menelik II directed combat. Empress Taytu Betul, Menelik’s formidable wife, was no exception. Not only did she exhort the 5,000 men of her personal army to be more courageous, she also mobilized the 10,000 or so women in the camp to form a supply chain to transport jugs of water from a nearby stream to Ethiopia’s thirsty warriors.
The Battle of Adwa, on March 1, 1896, sent shock waves around the world (“The pope is greatly disturbed,” reported The New York Times) and turned the narrative of colonialism on its head. Menelik’s army killed 3,000 Italian troops, captured another 1,900 as prisoners of war and seized an estimated 11,000 rifles, 4 million cartridges and 56 cannons. The emperor’s ability to assemble a force of at least 80,000, says Raymond Jonas, author of The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire, and to organize and sustain them on a monthslong campaign was “unprecedented in 19th-century Africa.” Read More: