The Gras in Ethiopia: Carbines of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu

Ethiopia is a fascinating and unique example of an African nation that was able to uphold its sovereignty through force of arms, and resist become a possession of any of the European powers during the age of colonial expansion. The defining event in this history was the Battle of Adwa in 1896, when Emperor Menelik II’s army thoroughly defeated an Italian expeditionary force. Menelik and his wife Empress Taytu were a talented and intelligent couple who worked together to play European powers against each other and maintain Ethiopian independence and encourage its development at the same time.

During the 1880s and 1890s, Ethiopia was particular supported by arms from Russia and France. The Russians wanted to support a fellow Orthodox nation, and the French wasn’t;t to stymie Italian expansion in East Africa. The Russians supplied many Berdan rifles, and the French supplied Gras rifles and carbines. Today we are looking at a pair of Gras carbines, which are marked in Ethiopian Ge’ez script as being property of Menelik (the Gendarmerie carbine) and Tatyu (the cavalry carbine). I think they have a wonderful story to tell…


  1. Excellent historic documentary about something you would struggle to find anything about unless you knew exactly where to look.

  2. What a coincidence! I bought a Gras this morning! They are not easy to find on this side of the pond – mostly because they were sent all around the world and had long hard lives a long way from France!

  3. An unexpected advantage of backward civilizations.
    They better preserve the history of advanced nations than themselves.
    Perhaps some nations should stay in the Stone Age?.. 😉

  4. I think the Basutos managed to keep at least ‘officially’ independent from both the Boers and the British. I read ‘The Washing of the Spears’ as a kid, and I recall quite a bit about the acquisition of horses and firearms by the Basutos. They were able to field irregular cavalry, which gave them considerable protection against the ambitions of the Zulus, and was at least deterrent against Boer land-grabs.

  5. Follow up comment. Could “MAS” stand for “Maison Auguste Schriever”? He was certainly a big player in the Liege surplus business.

    • Could be. It’s marked “M.A.S” so it looks like French arsenal markings, but missing the last period.

  6. To the wikipedia entry about the battle of Adwa Taytu Betul was at least in the nominal comand of the forces from the Semien province at the battle of Adwa. That are listed as 3000 rifles 600 horses and 6 guns.

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