About the book

In March 1896 a well-disciplined and massive Ethiopian army did the unthinkable—it routed an invading force and brought Italy’s war of conquest in Africa to an end. In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia had successfully defended its independence and cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age—that sooner or later all Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans. Raymond Jonas offers the first comprehensive account of this singular episode in modern world history.

Winner of the Toyin Falola Africa Book Award for 2012 from the Association of Third World Studies

Author interviews

John Welsh interviews Raymond Jonas about "The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire."


An extended conversation with Abebe Gellaw of Ethiopian Satellite TV (ESAT).



Raymond Jonas talks to Harvard University Press about the battle of Adwa.



Jay Lockenour of Temple University interviews Raymond Jonas for New Books in Military History. (Click through image below to go to New Books web site.)

Editorial review and commentary

“Jonas offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most important events in modern African history. He brilliantly brings to life the story of Ethiopian leaders, Italian military officials, and quirky European advisors and observers. Written in a wonderfully evocative and lively style, this book firmly establishes the Battle of Adwa’s place in world history and will appeal to a broad readership.”—Jonathan Miran, author of Red Sea Citizens

"[Jonas has given] us a masterly account of one of the most dramatic moments in the modern history of Africa." - Bahru Zewde, Africa Review of Books

“On March 1, 1896, near the town of Adwa, in Ethiopia, an African army convincingly struck down the colonizing Italian army in a battle that decisively shaped not only the contours of Ethiopia but also its future and that of the continent. As University of Washington historian Jonas so deftly observes in this nimble and artfully crafted work, the events at Adwa cast doubt upon Europeans’ unshakeable certainty that Africans would eventually fall under their rule. Jonas draws vibrant portraits of the personalities at the center of these events, from the shrewd Ethiopian monarch Menelik and his bold, aggressive wife, Taytu Betul, to the unfortunate Italian general Oreste Baratieri, the leader of the defeated Italian forces. As Jonas points out, the African victory at Adwa commenced the crumbling of European dominance of Africa; Ethiopia thus became a source of pride and lineage often indistinguishable from Africa itself, and writers such as W.E.B. DuBois based their own model African states on Ethiopia. Weaving a colorful account from the stories of a dazzling array of characters, Jonas skillfully recreates this now mostly forgotten event that determined the color of Africa.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Jonas’s lucidly woven account masterfully repositions the role of contingency in the unfolding of history and uses the little-known battle to stand for the audacious imperial quest for glory unleashed by Western powers in the ‘scramble for Africa.’” —Brian Odom, Library Journal 

"The Battle of Adwa is a compelling political narrative of one of the most important events of the late nineteenth century imperial era.... Raymond Jonas has written a riveting book that brings together the fates of nations and the stories of dozens of fascinating characters." - Bertrand Taithe, Literary Review

"The Battle of Adwa is a five-star effort. Jonas’s ability as a researcher inspires confidence and trust in the reader, who will be consistently surprised and impressed by just how comprehensively and minutely Jonas is able to recreate 19th century Ethiopia. [...] For military history buffs, scholars of European or African history, or anyone who loves a good read or simply appreciates exceptional execution, Raymond Jonas’s The Battle of Adwa cannot be recommended highly enough." - John Welsh, The Romance Sphere

"Jonas has brought Adwa into the fold of transnational history, marrying the local and the global in lively, engaging prose in this excellent exercise in narrative history." Teshale Tibebu, Choice



Support for The Battle of Adwa came from a number of sources, all are gratefully acknowledged here. The Royalty Research Fund of the University of Washington provided start-up funding. A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities gave me a year of sustained research. I was able to begin writing while a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. Shorter research stints were supported by funds associated with the Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professorship, the Howard and Frances Keller Fund, and the Lenore Hanauer Fellowship of the University of Washington. Google provided support in the form of a license for Google Earth Pro, which greatly facilitated research and enabled terrain-related video presentations to audiences.

The manuscript was much improved thanks to insightful questions from audiences at the University of California at Los Angeles, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and the Institute for Advanced Study. Portions of this work were presented at meetings of the African Studies Association and the International Conference of Ethiopian Studies.

About the author

Raymond Jonas is a professor of History at the University of Washington (Seattle), where he is also affiliated with programs in African Studies, European Studies, and French and Italian Studies.

Email: jonas (at) uw.edu / Twitter: @RaymondJonas Follow raymondjonas on Twitter