Rifles of Emperor Menelik II: Ethiopian Gewehr 88 and Karabiner 88

In 1889, Emperor Menelik II ascended to power in Ethiopia, and would rule for 20 years, moving Ethiopia (aka Abyssinia) forward into the modern age. He brought railways, sewer systems, telegraph lines, and other modern amenities to the country, particularly the capital of Addis Ababa. In addition, Menelik II was a very capable logistician and military strategist, and decisively defeated an Italian colonial invasion at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. This victory was made possible by Ethiopian acquisition of modern arms of many types. Early support came from Orthodox Russia in the form of Berdan rifles, but other arms would flow into the country as well, including Gewehr 88 and Karabiner 88 rifles and carbines. These two are marked in Amharic as Menelik’s property, and are a part of what allowed Ethiopia to be the only major African nation not colonized by Europe.

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  1. This mini-lecture on Ethiopia’s history enlightened me a great deal. Short, concise and superbly narrated. Thanks.

      • In past I was of impression that Haile Selassie was popular ruler, not oppressor. But with time people change along with circumstances; or their image does to put it better.

        • Selassi was popular with the rastafari in Jamaica. A case of grass is greener I guess and Jamaica is quite far from Ethiopia. But then, Haile Selassi had to work with the country he had been given. Feudalismn still strong in many areas and resisting further reforms, tribal quibbles everywhere, the country still basically in early iron age etc. etc. His grandfather(?) Menelik II. had to puch through his reforms brutally as well I am sure.

  2. Ethiopia either bought or was the recipient / ‘acquired’ a seemingly endless assortment of often intriguing-interesting arms. Does anyone know of a ‘list’ of these – ideally with quantities and dates. Though frankly will take anything. As I find the available information little, fragmentary and usually bewildering.

    • Best would be an ethiopian historian publishing a book with headstamp publishing. But I have no idea how to contact one such.

  3. Something doesn’t add up in the the timeline of this story. The Italo-Ethiopian war happened in 1895-6. The S stamp on both guns indicate the chambers were deepened for spitzer cartridges after 1903, when it was invented. Of course these guns may have been acquired as a later batch. BTW the 88-05 saw the transition to stripper clips away from the en-bloc clips.

    • I believe these are post-1896, as Menelik was still alive and wanted to organize a standing army. Thus he acquired these as they became surplus-still en-bloc since the 05 conversion hadn’t happened yet-as surplus, which makes sense when Germany was starting to standardize on the Gewehr 98 by now.

      Either that, or these are pre-1896 guns and were marked after the war (unlikely due to the spitzer modification, which def screams post-1896).

  4. Russia at that time was Imperial Russian, while Orthodox means the main religion of the nation at that period of time. JONAS Raymond. The Battle of Adwa. African Victory in the age of Empire. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2011. gives a good description of the Italo-Abyssinian War (only became Ethiopia years later). Which was won by the sheer and total Italian military incompetence, and the mass charge of 100,000 Abyssinian warriors armed with shovel spears, and the use of 27,000 cavalry. After the destruction of the Italian, a very large number of the Abyssinian’s died of starvation, for good illustrations/graphics and maps, see McLACHLAN Sean, plates Raffaele Ruggeri. Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896. Osprey Men at Arms No 47, London, 2011. (the war called Adowa Campaign in Italy). To read about it is to become utterly staggered by the sheer incompetence of both sides. “Haile Selassie was popular ruler” he was, and equally a very progressive ruler, but he developed senile dementia and from the late 1960’s the country ruled by a corrupt cabal, see ABEB Dgmawi. The Emperor’s Own. The History of the Ethiopian Imperial Bodyguard Battalion in the Korean War. Asia at War Series. Helion Books, Warwick, 2019. that describes the tragic end, and gives a glimpse to the forty odd years of communist brutal and equally incompetent rule.

  5. I’m just wondering if the Rifles of Emperor Menelik II: Ethiopian Gewehr 88 and Karabiner 88 is available. Please let me know if you have it.

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