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Ethiopian–Egyptian War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ethio-Egyptian War
Ismail Pacha.JPG

Yohannes IV of Ethiopia and Isma'il Pasha of Egypt.
Date1874 –1876
Result Ethiopian victory
 Egypt  Ethiopia
Commanders and leaders
Egypt Isma'il Pasha
Denmark Adolf Arendrup  
Switzerland Werner Munzinger  
Count Zichy

Ethiopian Empire Yohannes IV

Ethiopian Empire Shalaqah Alula
Ethiopian Empire Walda Mika'il Solomon
13,000 – 30,000+[2] 50,000[2] – 60,000[3]
Casualties and losses
2,000+[4] ?

The Ethiopian-Egyptian War was a war between the Ethiopian Empire and the Khedivate of Egypt from 1874 to 1876, resulting in an Ethiopian victory.

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  • ✪ The Battle of Gondet: Egyptian Invasion of Ethiopia– 1875 – 1876
  • ✪ The Battle of Gura: Egyptian Invasion of Ethiopia – 1875 – 1876
  • ✪ Aksumite Empire (Abyssinia/Ethiopia)


Common knowledge of Ethiopia's historical feats is largely limited to the Italo-Ethiopian war, and while this conflict was indeed a significant one for securing her independence, there were many other events and battles that occurred before Adwa that were arguably just as important, among them being the seldom talked about Battles of Gura and Gondet. In this mini-series, I'll be giving a breakdown of the situation leading up to these battles, the battles themselves, and their immediate impacts on the Political Situation in North Africa and the Horn. For a stronger overview of some of the events that lead up to these two confrontations, I recommend you watch my political recap video, which covers all of the important events from Tewodros's birth to the rise of Yohannes, and my Military introduction video, which gives an introduction to the militaries of Ethiopia during this time period. Regardless, I'll give a brief overview here. The Political landscape in the Horn Of Africa by the 1870s was pretty messy. The Egyptians, in the 1860s, had achieved virtual independence from the Ottomans, and were now busy taking over ports along the horn of Africa in order to secure control over the Ancient Red Sea trade, which was becoming increasingly valuable with the opening of the Suez Canal. Furthermore, the Egyptians, under previous rulers such as Muhammad Ali (not the boxer), had already expressed interest in expanding and conquering the entirety of the Nile Valley, which really only put them on a crash-course to conflict with the Ethiopians. Ethiopia, on the other hand, was still under a long process of reunification - only recently had a hundred years of feudal warfare been ended by Tewodros the Second, and, even his reign ended in the re-division of Ethiopia. The next emperor to take his place, Yohannes, managed to quickly overtake his enemies and rivals, and consolidate control over most of Ethiopia, excluding Shewa, which continued to largely function as an independent state under a man named Menelik. The Ethiopians had already dealt with the Ottomans and Egyptians throughout the century - but these conflicts usually only amounted to border raids, often resulting in the capture of women, and resources, particularly hot grounds for fighting being at Bogos - this was about to change. By the early 1870s, the Egyptians had already made plays to try to bait Ethiopia into a war - Werner Muzinger, a Swiss man the Egyptians appointed to govern their port at Massawa, had occupied the Ethiopian province of Bogos, but the Ethiopians wisely did not take the bait, Yohannes instead preferring to turn his interests inwards to deal with some rebellions. The Egyptians attempted another plot to take control of key salt mines in Ethiopia, but were stopped after a British Soldier in the service of the Ethiopians, J.C Kirkham, was sent to ask for help. While no help was directly given, the British did temporarily deter the Egyptians. This didn't last long though. After Muzinger was promoted to control other territories, his replacement, Arakil Bey, told the Egyptians that he believed that all that was needed to conquer Ethiopia were 3000 to 4000 well armed men. After a failed attempt to encourage the ruler of Shewa, Menelik II, to engage in a two front war with Emperor Yohannes, the Egyptians decided to deploy, and in October of 1875 began by launching 4 forces deeper into the horn, of which only two are relevant to this video. The two important forces were lead by Muzinger, and by Arakil Bey. Sources differ on where exactly Muzinger was planning to go, Gonder, Shewa, Somali territory all seem to be possibilities. Either way, he was stationed at Tadjura port before deployment. Arakil Bey, accompanied by Colonel Ahrendrup, a Danish man in the service of the Egyptians, was set to deploy from Massawa, and it's definite that Arakil was planning on conquering Ethiopia. Yohannes, on the other hand, had a much more difficult time gathering an army. Many of the Ethiopian nobility did not respond to his call for war. Yohannes did, however, get the attention of Shalaqa Alula and also mobilized Walda Mikael Solomon, who was made a Dadjazmach, or field commander of the army. Alula commanded 1,000 men. The Egyptian forces led by Arakil Bey set to fight Yohannis were infantry and artillery units equipped with Remington Rifles, and mountain guns. Multiple American and European commanders accompanied the force, and would command their own units. This force totaled 2500 to 3000 men. Muzinger's force was equipped with similar weaponry, and appears to have been composed of 2000 or 3000 troops (estimates vary). The Ethiopians, on the other hand, were equipped with a myriad of weapons, including guns of varying quality, swords, and spears. Most Ethiopians were equipped with smooth-bore muskets, though some lucky ones managed to get their hands on Sniders or Remingtons. Finding estimates on the size of this army is hard, the only one being 70,000 troops, but this estimate is a shaky one at best, and it's possible that a significantly smaller amount of Ethiopians actually participated in the battle. Shalaqah Alula would command 1000 men. Now, before discussion of these battles occurs, it needs to be clarified that this is an estimation on how these events occurred. Sources are extremely conflicting on the specifics, so this is a sort of combination of all of them in the most logical way possible. Muzinger's force of 2000 men was ambushed while headed inland some time in November 1875, many of the sources claiming that the force was slain nearly to a man, by the forces of Sultan Mahammad ibn Hanfadhe of the Ausa sultanate. One source claims that this was motivated by a feud between the families of the Sultan and the wife of Muzinger, while another claims that the Ausa sultan attacked in retaliation to Egyptian expansion to their ports; to retain control of their land, both may be incorrect though, and it's possible that this conflict will be discussed further in a later video. The ambush of Muzinger left just Ahrendrup and Arakil's force, who had begun marching inland on October 2nd, headed towards Adwa. The Ethiopians would delay their reaction, gathering their own force on October 23rd . The Egyptians drove back a small Ethiopian force stationed north of the Mareb river on November 6. It appears that when the Egyptians arrived at their location, and formed two separate camps, one at Addi Quala, and one at Gondet. By the 14th of November, Shahlaqah Alula's force of 1000 troops crossed the Mareb river and engaged in some skirmishes against an Egyptian force of about 600 men led by Count Zichy, brother of the Austrian ambassador to Constantinople. Alula later disengaged them. That night, Yohannes moved his main force across the Mareb River. Ahrendrup, hearing of the confrontation with Ras Alula's force, would march about 8 companies, or about 800 men, 4 pieces of artillery, and 2 rocket stands down to the Mareb river valley, where they engaged Yohannes's force and were crushed, Ahrendrup and Zichy were both killed during these engagements. Finally, a force under the command of Arakil Bey moved in, and quickly became completely trapped on the mountainside and valley. Shahlaqah Alula's force had moved in from a western flank to the Egyptian rear, blocking them off from retreat, and the Egyptian army was devastated. The Egyptians would suffer a total of about 1800 deaths, including Arakil Bey, Ahrendrup, and Count Zichy. The Ethiopians would only suffer about 500 dead, and 400 wounded, among them being Shalaqah Alula's brother, who would heal. On the night of the 15th, the Ethiopians under Yohannes also crossed the river, and, on the 16th the main Ethiopian forces advanced towards the Egyptians. The force at Addi Quala had begun marching forward to engage the Ethiopians, and Alula, around this point, finished his maneuver, successfully blocking off Egyptian retreat from the Khaya Khor pass by blocking off their rear. Yohannes's force engaged the Egyptians, now trapped in a steep valley, and their force was horribly slaughtered. About 1800 of them would die, compared to only 900 Ethiopian casualties, among them being Alula's brother, who was injured but would heal. The Egyptians had been caught off guard by the ability of the Ethiopian army. The army that they expected to be exclusively armed with spears seems to have had access to numerous guns aswell, and as a result, the Egyptians were unable to overwhelm them with the technological advantage they thought they had over the Ethiopians. This was further compounded by the inept commanding of Arakil and Ahrendrup, in comparison to the skillful maneuvering of Alula, and the large force of Yohannis. Egypt's Khedive, Ishma'il Pasha, was infuriated and wasn't having any of this. Despite peace offers from Yohannes, he decided that needed to succeed in his conquest of Ethiopia, and would deploy a much larger secondary force to do just that.



Egypt under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, led by Isma'il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, sought to expand his reign to the land of Abyssinia and control the Blue Nile. Isma'il Pasha became the ruler of Egypt in 1863. After annexing Darfur in 1875, he turned his attention to Ethiopia. He wished to create an empire covering the whole of the Nile River, part of which, the Blue Nile, is located within Ethiopia, and to do this he built a large army, recruiting many European and American officers. Meanwhile, Emperor Yohannes IV became the emperor of Ethiopia in 1872 after defeating Tekle Giyorgis II in battle. He worked on modernizing his army, some of whom were trained by the British adventurer John Kirkham.

The Battle of Gundet

The Egyptians under Arakil Bey and Danish Colonel Ahrendrup invaded from their coastal possessions in what is now Eritrea. Following some skirmishes, the armies of Yohannes and Isma'il met at Gundet on the morning of 16 November 1876. Not only were the Egyptians vastly outnumbered, they were also taken completely by surprise as they were marching through a narrow mountain pass. The mass of Ethiopian warriors sallied forth from their hiding places up the slope and swiftly charged down upon the shocked Egyptian columns, nullifying the latter's advantage in firepower and causing many of the unenthusiastic fellahin soldiers to rout. The Egyptian forces were completely destroyed. News of this huge defeat was suppressed in Egypt for fear that it would undermine the government of the Khedive.

The Battle of Gura

Following the botched invasion, the Egyptians again attempted a conquest of Ethiopia, this time with an army of about 13,000 men. The forces of Isma'il Pasha, now under Ratib Pasha, arrived at Massawa on December 14, 1875. By March, they had arrived near the plain of Gura, and set up two forts, one in the Plains of Gura, and the other at the Khaya Khor mountain pass a few miles away. The Ethiopians, with a force of some 50-60,000 (of whom only about 15,000 could fight at one time due to battlefield layout) engaged them on the 7th of March, 1875, and Ratib ordered just over 5,000 out of 7,700 men stationed at Fort Gura to leave the fort and engage the Ethiopians. This force was quickly surrounded by the Ethiopian advance guard, probably commanded by Shalaqah Alula, and quickly broke. The Ethiopians then fell back, and, on the 10th of March, mounted a secondary attack on Fort Gura, which was repelled. The Ethiopian force dissolved the next day, and the devastated Egyptians soon withdrew.

DYE(1880) p519 The Battle Field of Gura
DYE(1880) p519 The Battle Field of Gura


Ethiopia and Egypt remained in a state of tension, which largely abated after the 1884 Hewett Treaty. Shalaqah Alula, however, had shown himself to be a reliable general, and was promoted by Yohannes IV to the rank of Ras, and appointed governor of the Mareb Malash.

European involvement

Several foreigners were involved in the war. These include a British adventurer John Kirkham on the Ethiopian side, and Adolf Arendrup as well as a Swiss explorer Werner Munzinger on the Egyptian side. Munzinger led one of the Egyptian attacks against Ethiopia, marching inland from Tadjoura, but his troops were overwhelmed by the army of Mahammad ibn Hanfadhe, Sultan of Aussa, and he was killed in battle.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 90. ISBN 0-19-285061-X.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "The Ethiopian-Egyptian War: 1874–1876". Retrieved 2016-12-21.
  4. ^ Jesman, Czeslaw (January 1959). "Egyptian Invasion of Ethiopia". African Affairs. Oxford University Press. 58 (230): 75–81. JSTOR 718057.
This page was last edited on 25 August 2019, at 02:08
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