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Abyssinian Army - 1905

As late as 1905 the Abyssinian soldier wore no uniform, and was not easily distinguished by his appearance from the civilian. But there was a distinct military class, with characteristics of its own. There was no harder worker than the Abyssinian peasant, and no more harmless and hospitable person when left alone and properly treated ; and no more truculent, worthless, conceited, lazy, and useless individual than the Abyssinian soldier, who formerly did nothing but prey upon the defenceless cultivator.

By 1905 circumstances were altering this, but before the country settled down to modern civilization and made any great strides forward, a civil revolution must take place. The soldiery were called into existence by Abyssinia being surrounded by Mohammedan enemies, and little by little they increased and multiplied till they got out of all proportion to the wants of a peaceful country. The king's exchequer cannot provide pay for these men, so, to keep them quiet, they are allowed to live by exaction. The mercenary soldier whose father and grandfather, perhaps, were the same, had become a lazy, loafing lot of mercenaries who had never done anything in their lives except fighting and looting, men without homes and without territory, ready to fight for those who give the highest pay, and who do not value the lives of their fellow Christians at the price of a sheep. This was not of the bulk of the fighting force of the country, who were yeomen farmers and their servants, or the peasants and their families.

The state of feeling between the peasantry and the soldiery might have serious consequences if the Abyssinian monarch undertook an important campaign outside his territory. The great danger to an unpopular king attempting such an expedition would be, in the absence of the army, a rising of an oppressed peasantry, backed up by some European Power, to put down the military party. The arming of the peasantry and farmer class with modern weapons had not altogether been a blessing to the present ruler, and may end not only in his downfall, but in that of the barons as well.

The fighting value of the Abyssinian army was by no means quantifiable in the politics of Eastern Africa, and it would be very easy to underrate it. The limitations to the activity of the forces are chiefly determined by commissariat difficulties. The Abyssinian hordes erre the same as the locust, they lived on what they could get from the surrounding country ; and when they had devoured everything, they had to move on to another place where supplies were procurable. At the outside an Abyssinian who is not one of the regular soldiers could keep the field for a couple of months, and then he had to take one transport animal with him, with a boy or girl, generally the latter, to look after his riding animal and to cook his food. The regular troops were the same; they had to bring supplies with them, which they got from their leaders before they set out on the campaign; after these were finished, unless fresh supplies came forward, they had to live on the country.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:59 ZULU