chapter  [18]
22 Pages

Firearms and Princely Power in Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century

WithR. A. Caulk

Muskets and cannon had been used in Ethiopia since the later stages of the Gragn wars in the early 1540s. Tekle Haymanot's men had suffered a terrible defeat in January 1888 at the hands of a Mahdist expeditionary force which may have been the largest army to invade Ethiopia in the nineteenth century. The little relevance of firearms to the internal struggle for power is seen in the continued subordination of north-eastern Ethiopia to rulers remote from the sea coast where the weapons and, on occasion, gunners and musketeers, could be obtained. During the later nineteenth century, firearms became a precondition for satisfying wider political ambitions. No single centre of power emerged based simply on the possession of muskets or of the breechloading rifles which were replacing them. On 10 April, the new breechloading rifles of the British soldiers proved decisive against a charge of foot soldiers armed with muskets.