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

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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…

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