- Eritrea was an Italian colony on the Red Sea coast of east Africa. In 1869, the Rubattino Steamship Company had purchased the port of Assab to use as a trading station on the Red Sea. When the port proved less than successful, Italian investors acquired Massawa in 1885 with the connivance of the British. This angered Ethiopia, which believed that Italy had infringed on its rights to the city. To avoid a conflict, the Italians agreed to halt further expansion. The Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV, however, believed that the Italians violated this promise and attacked an Italian military column at Dogali in 1887, before advancing toward Massawa. There were only a small number of Italian forces in East Africa, and Italy was unwilling to send metropolitan troops. So colonial officials reached an understanding with Menelik, king of Shoa, against Johannes, thereby embroiling Italy in Ethiopian politics. Menelik gave Asmara and Keren to the Italians, who also gained further territory from warring Moslem tribes. The informal colonial administration, which until 1882 was a mixed private-public company, proved inadequate. Rome appointed military governors, but imperial enthusiasts went further and argued that a single colony in East Africa would better aid the spread of Italian influence. In 1890, the Italian government therefore merged the scattered holdings along the Red Sea into Eritrea. Yet the hopes to use Eritrea as a base for colonial expansion ended with Italy’s defeat at the Battle of Adowa in 1896. With its territorial ambitions shattered, Italy transferred control of Eritrea to civilian authority and moved the capital to Asmara. Otherwise, Italy neglected the colony, hoping it would absorb the nation’s excess population and become self-sufficient. Eritrea exported a limited variety of agricultural products - coffee, gum, and hides - but lacked other natural resources and was ill-suited for large-scale farming. It required constant subsidization. The only benefit the colony provided was in the large number of Eritreans who fought during the Italo-Ottoman War of 1911–1912.See also <
>.FURTHER READING:Berkeley, G.F.H. The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik . London: Constable, 1902;Tekeste, Negash. Italian Colonialism in Eritrea, 1882-1941: Policies, Praxis, and Impact . Stockholm: Uppsala University Press, 1987.FREDERICK H. DOTOLO
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.