SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Caulk, Richard Alan (1966) The Origins and Development of the Foreign Policy of Menelik II, 1865-1896. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (115MB)


Menelik's diplomacy has in general - and especially by Italian historians - been dismissed as passive, yet full-blown opportunism. His diplomacy, however, appears as neither passive nor static in the light of English and French sources and of a re-examination of the Italian sources. On the contrary, it was adapted to changing circumstances to create more favourable ones. By dint of active response to exterior forces and of initiative, Menelik contributed decisively to the conditions which enabled Ethiopia to survive and to profit by the partition. A serious obstacle to understanding Menelik and his foreign policy has been the tendency to regard him only as the victor of Adua masterfully balancing and using foreign interests to his advantage. The long progression leading to this virtuosity in political diplomacy gives another and an important dimension. Early failures through little and too late action were overcome, but only under the impulse of exterior events did Menelik develop the political diplomacy which culminated in the restoration of peace with Italy in October 1896. For most of the years of his reign as the King of Shoa (1865 - 89) Menelik pursued a diplomacy of commerce in order to secure the arms trade and which showed a disregard even for the political consequences of his foreign policy. Once convinced of the overriding need for a defensive political diplomacy in I89O, he drew on earlier experience. The Battle of Adua, in fact, marked a new departure. His accomplishment is partly obscured by the fortuitous circumstances which favoured him and by his own ambiguity. It is still difficult to make him stand out from an uncertainty about his real intentions which he seems purposely to have cultivated. But the restrictive context which he was forced to overcome begins to be apparent. If the details await the writing of an internal history, the existence of strong opposition to close relations with Europe, even for the sake of more powerful arms, is clear. It is also clear that in dealing with increasingly complex external relations, Menelik developed a pattern of diplomacy which became more subtle in its judgement of the different external foes of the Empire while rising above the narrow horizon of traditional Amhara society that bound most of his contemporaries including the Emperor John IV. A discriminating web of relations with the various European Powers was the highly original and apparently personal achievement of Menelik.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 16:53

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item