In 1896, nearly the entire African continent was under the control of European powers following their “Scramble for Africa.” Only Liberia, which had been settled by freed American slaves, and Ethiopia remained free from European rule. Following a dispute over the terms of a treaty (Treaty of Wuchale) between Italy and King Menelik II of Ethiopia, Italian troops were sent from their colony in Eritrea to force Ethiopia to accept Italian demands. On March 1st, after several small battles and skirmishes, the armies of both sides faced off near the village of Adwa in northern Ethiopia. Outmaneuvered and outmanned, the Italian forces and their allies were annihilated and Ethiopia would remain the sole African country free from foreign control.
Ethiopia’s victory stemmed the tide of seemingly inevitable European colonization and would inspire independence movements throughout the continent for decades. “Adwa Day” is a national holiday in Ethiopia and celebrated every year on 23 Yekatit of the Ethiopian Calendar.