The Battle of Adwa, painting by an unknown artist

AD 1940-9
From Ethiopia

This painting shows a scene from the Battle of Adwa, fought between Ethiopia and Italy on 2 March 1896.

It shows Emperor Menelik II leading the Ethiopian armies to victory over a large colonial Italian force. The Emperor is shown in the top left corner of the painting, wearing a royal crown, seated beneath a royal umbrella. His wife Empress Taytu is shown in the bottom left corner on horseback carrying a revolver, right in the midst of the battle, and urging the Ethiopian troops to victory. In the centre of the painting, on a brown horse, is the commander of the Ethiopian forces, Fitawrari Gabayyahu.

Above the battle scene Saint George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, is shown in a halo of red, yellow and green. He is closely associated with the imperial family and its military forces and is seen here helping the Ethiopians to victory. Three of his spears have fallen into the Italian lines and one general can be seen fleeing on horseback.

A convention of Ethiopian painting is to indicate the forces of good and evil by showing the good in full face and the bad in profile. Here the artist has shown the Ethiopian troops in full face while the Italian troops are shown side on, often reduced to heads and guns.

The victory at Adwa was widely reported, strengthening Ethiopia’s image as defender of African independence. It became the source of pride and inspiration for Africans around the world. Today Ethiopians celebrate this historic victory with a national holiday on 2 March, the anniversary of the battle.

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More information


C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)


Height: 112.00 cm
Width: 164.00 cm

Museum number


Donated by H L Littler


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