Monday, March 5, 2018


In the few years of Italian rule in Ethiopia were done two important improvements: the complete abolishment of slavery and the road construction of a communication system in a mountainous country.

Indeed no paved roads existed in Ethiopia before the Italian conquest of 1936. Historian Bertazzini wrote that "...At the outset of the Italian-Ethiopian war, few roads were completed and none had modern asphalt surface. Only two major -but unpaved- tracks for lorries existed in 1935, the Jimma-Addis Ababa and the Addis Ababa-Dessié'...The simple list of the projected roads gives an idea of the magnitude of the investments undertaken (by the Italians). The vast majority of the works were managed by the AASS(Azienda Autonoma Statale della Strada), a public company purposely created by the Minister of the public works. The AASS obtained an incredibly large budget from Rome: not only did the six-year development plan destine more than 7.7bn Italian Lire (out of the total 12bn!) for road construction, but the AASS even received additional 3.1bn Lire, for the financial year 1936-7. In 1939, the newly built colonial transportation network totaled roughly 4,625 km of paved roads and 4,877 km of unpaved tracks...".

The total development of the new roads by the end of 1940 in Ethiopia and "Africa Orientale Italiana" (AOI) was almost 5,000 km, of which 400 km were already built in 1935 Italian Eritrea during the preparation phase of the war for the conquest of Ethiopia (please read for additional information Stefano Cecini. "La realizzazione della rete stradale in Africa orientale italiana (1936-41)", Dipartimento di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea – Università di Roma La Sapienza, 2007 )

With the main roads of this AOI road plan, all asphalted and served by important infrastructural works, at the same time it was created a widespread secondary connection network (up to 4,000 km of development) that guaranteed the links of the smaller centers to the primary roads (please read in Italian the writings -with photos- of Nicky Di Paolo: Le strade italiane in Africa Orientale"

The construction of the AOI road system was carried out urgently on Benito Mussolini's orders, but there were considerable increases in the cost of the works (that reached nearly 3/4 of the total Italian budget for the colonies).

The following are excerpts from the related book written by M. Bertazzini of the University of Sussex/GB (read the complete issue at

The long-term impact of Italian colonial roads in the Horn of Africa. 1935-2000


The Italian presence in the Horn of Africa began with the establishment of private commercial bases in Eritrea and Somalia. Initially, in fact, the Italian government was not willing to intervene directly and therefore only supported private enterprises’ initiatives.

Eritrea, where the first Italian settlement dates back to 1869, received the legal status of colony in 1882, whereas Somalia, where private capital penetration had begun in the early 1890s,became a colony in 1905. The intensity of the Italian colonial activity between 1880 and 1920 was low, due both to the limited resources that Eritrea and Somalia had to offer and the modest commitment of the liberal governments towards the development of these regions.

After Benito Mussolini seized power in 1922, the colonies received more attention and resources. The renovated emphasis that the dictator placed on colonial expansion was due, on the one hand, to the fact that the colonies could provide the regime with military successes and the mirage of unlimited land for the Italian people, both extremely important elements of the internal propaganda. On the other hand, especially after the autarchic shift of the early 1930s, Mussolini was convinced that a large colonial empire could furnish raw material for manufacturing and an export market for Italian goods.

Consequently, the government implemented a more aggressive colonial policy, that ultimately culminated in the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. This episode, which arguably has no precedent in colonial history both in terms of magnitude of the deployed army and violence against any form of organised resistance, allowed Mussolini to declare the foundation of the “Italian Empire” on the 9th of May 1936. The annexation of Ethiopia to Eritrea and Somalia substantially enlarged the Italian territories in the area, which were re-organised in the “Africa Orientale Italiana” (AOI). The war and the subsequent large public expenditures, aimed to “develop” the Empire, constitute the historical framework for the intense road construction activity studied in this paper.
The Italian occupation of the area ended in late 1941, after more than one year and a half of harsh fighting (with huge damage to the road system) against the combined forces of the British troops and some Ethiopian patriots

Road construction before 1936

The first organic intervention on the Ethiopian road network dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century and followed the formation and consolidation of the Amhara Empire. Emperor Tewodros (1855-68)was responsible for the creation of an embryonic centralized unpaved road network which gravitated around the Amhara region in the northern part of the country. This network was comprised of simple paths, appropriate for the rapid deployment of infantry troops.

A net improvement, both in terms of quality and extension of the existing network, was achieved under the emperors Menelik II (1889-1913) and Hailé Selaissé (1920-1936), who better understood the importance of transportation infrastructure in achieving military and political control over the heterogeneous regions of the Ethiopian empire. The road network was then centred on Addis Ababa, elevated to the rank of capital of the empire by Menelik in 1889.

Hailé Selaissé instituted the Ministry of Public Transport and promoted more structured road building plans, starting in the late 1920s. This project, which aimed to connect the major centers of the empire with Addis Ababa, was not completed due to the outbreak of war as well as the lack of financial resources, materials and know-how. As a result, at the outset of the Italian-Ethiopian war, few roads were completed and none had modern asphalt surface. Only two major unpaved tracks for lorries existed in 1935, the Jimma-Addis Ababa and the Addis Ababa-Dessié.

The situation in Eritrea and Somalia before 1935 did not greatly differ from the one described above: these colonies were neither particularly densely populated nor endowed with valuable natural resources that could justify significant investments in infrastructure. In Somalia, only 4 major lorry tracks existed in 1925, and none of them was paved: these connected Mogadisciu with Brava, Lugh Ferrandi, Oddur and Fer Fer. In the same year in Eritrea, only the region of Asmara showed a more developed road network: paved roads with rudimentary asphalt surface connected Asmara with the port of Massawa and with the towns of Cheren, Adi Qualá and Adi Caieh. Between 1934 and 1935, several interventions were carried out in the two aforementioned colonies in order to provide logistic support during the Ethiopian military campaign. In Eritrea, the artery connecting Massawa to Asmara was re-paved and some parts of it were improved by making hairpin bends smoother and the carriageway larger. Moreover, the military engineers rapidly built the road Nefasit-Decameré ex nihilo, which aimed to direct the traffic coming from Massawa directly to Adigrat without passing through Asmara.

After the occupation of Macallé, in 1935, the road Adigrat-Macallé was quickly built in order to support military penetration. At the battle of the Ascianghi Lake (MaiCeu, end of March 1936), the last part of the Ethiopian army was destroyed. General Badoglio, the Italian commander in chief, started planning the march towards Addis Ababa: all available men were employed to refurbish the track Macallé-Quoram-Dessié-Addis Ababa.

The colonial road building activity between 1936 and 1941

After the conquest of Addis Ababa on the 5th of May 1936, the war was officially concluded. Mussolini immediately stated that the priority in the newly founded empire was to build an extensive highway network as quickly as possible. Several reasons motivated him: firstly, the peripheral regions such as those of Jimma and Gore were completely out of control, due to the impossibility of moving troops efficiently. Secondly, some of the major cities of the empire, such as Gondar, Harar, Dire Daua and even Addis Ababa, were at risk of remaining isolated during the rainy season (between June and September). Thirdly, the army and the civilian personnel in the main centers needed a constant flow of supplies from the Italy. Finally, it was necessary to create a network through which the main cities of the AOI could be connected with each other and ultimately be integrated with the metropolitan market.

Roads were cheaper to build than railroads, faster to realise and, moreover, it was clear that for at least the next 20 years the trade volumes would have not justified the construction of railroads. Mussolini personally laid out a comprehensive infrastructural plan, that was officially communicated on the 19th of May 1936.

Five main arteries had to be realised immediately. These were the Om Ager-Gondar-Debra Tabor-Dessié (650 km), the Debra Tabor-Debra Marcos-Addis Ababa (500 km), the Adigrat-Dessié-Addis Ababa (850 km), the Assab-Dessié (500 km) and the Addis Ababa-Jimma (350km). TheA ddis Ababa-Allata-Neghelli-Dolo(1,100km) had to be constructed in a second phase. Some of these projects were started but not completed due to the outbreak of WWII.

The simple list of the projected roads gives an idea of the magnitude of the investments undertaken. The vast majority of the works were managed by the AASS (Azienda Autonoma Statale della Strada), a public company purposely created by the Minister of the public works. The AASS obtained an incredibly large budget from Rome: not only did the six-year development plan destine more than 7.7bn Italian Lire (out of the total 12bn) for road construction, but the AASS even received additional 3.1bn Lire, for the financial year 1936-1937.

In 1939, the newly built colonial transportation network totalled roughly 4,625 km paved roads and 4,877 km unpaved tracks. The construction of this vast road network did not prevent Italians from being expelled from the Horn of Africa in November 1941. During the military events of 1940-1941, the Italian troops were progressively forced to abandon all the territories of the AOI. In order to slow down the British offensive, the army destroyed several bridges, tunnels and large parts of the asphalt surface. Some of the major threats to network’s integrity were the disruption of the "Mussolini Bridge" between Agordat and Cheren, of the ramp that gave access to Cheren from the North-West, the dismantlement of the surface of the Mogadisciu-Harar, of the Addis Ababa-Dessié and of all the arteries that gave access to Gondar.

After 1941

Emperor Hailé Selaissé regained full control over Ethiopia and Eritrea by the end of 1941, after the Italians last stand at Gondar. The economic stagnation that hit the area in the 1940s along with the endemic lack of international capitals, prevented the independent imperial government from undertaking any comprehensive maintenance plan.

This effect cumulated with the disruption caused by the war and yielded a substantial deterioration of the road network that shrank from about 6,000 km in 1940 to about 1,000 km in 1951.

Finally, by lowering transportation costs, the colonial road infrastructure attracted firms, workers and other public facilities (like schools and Hospitals) during the colonial era. This direct effect (with improvements in the related sanitary areas, that experienced the disappearance of endemic malaria in Ethiopia) persisted in the early post-colonial period. In other words, the economic landscape of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa was substantially modified by the direct effect of Italian colonial investments (mainly in infrastructures like roads) between 1931 and 1941. At this point, the regional economy had reached a resilient spatial equilibrium that persisted until present.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Albania's Parliament passed last October 13, 2017 the "Law on the Protection of National Minorities", which grants the Aromanians in this country the official status of a national minority.

The Law was requested for many years but finally was approved, giving official status of existence in Albania to the Aromanians along with eight other ethnic minorities. So, Albania is the second country -after Macedonia- that recognizes officially the existence of the Aromanians in the Balkans (while Romania considers the Aromanians inside its own borders as "Romanians" and not an ethnic minority).

Romanian map showing the Albania municipalities with higher percentages of Aromanians/Vlachs in the 2011 Albania Census

The deputy of the People's Movement Party, Constantin Codreanu, chairman of the commission for the Romanian communities outside the country, appreciated this decision in the Romanian Parliament as "an historical moment".

Codreanu said that "Previously, the Aromanians, which count about 300,000 people in Albania and call themselves in their neolatin language "Ramańi", that is, Romanians, have only held the status of a linguistic and cultural group, inferior to that of a national minority. Albania is the first Balkan state to recognize the Aromanians as a national minority with their own name, the Aromanians. As a recognized national minority, the Aromanians will be able to benefit both from the support of the Albanian state of residence and from the cultural support of the related state of Romania. The Albanian authorities have now responded to requests from the Aromanian community to officially grant them the status of a national minority. These requests have been repeatedly formulated over the years by the Aromanian leaders in Albania".

The official recognition of the Aromanians as a national minority in Albania reminds once more the need for the Romanian state to exemplify its obligations of cultural solidarity with the Aromanians in identity and cultural-linguistic difficulties, he said.

Deputy Constantin Codreanu also added that: "We must consider, among other things, support for the opening of kindergartens, schools and churches for Aromanians in Albania, to support the appearance of newspapers and magazines in the Aromanian historical dialect and literary romance, to facilitate the emergence of a radio and television station in the area of a maximum concentration of Aromanians, to retransmit broadcasts in the Aromanian dialect of Radio Romania International, to grant more scholarships to young Romanians in Albania, to open a Romanian Cultural Institute in Tirana, with branches in Corcea and Saranda, to set up an editorial in the Aromanian historical dialect at TVR International and so many others. For all this, however, we will have to approve for 2018 an adequate budget for the Romanians' Ministry of Foreign Affairs and for Foreign Affairs".


The Aromanians in Albania represent the second minority, after the Greek, on the territory of this state. The Aromanians (from Albania) are descendants of the Illyrian and Traco-Dacian tribes, as well as Roman (Latin) settlers from the present territory of Albania.

Their number ranges from 9,000 to 300,000 people, according to different statistics. Aromanians were only recognized as a cultural minority under the name of "Vlachs", unlike the Greek, Macedonian and Montenegrin minorities that are recognized in Albania as national minorities (the latter two are less numerous than the Aromanians). Most of the Aromanians in Albania call themselves "Rămâni". They belong to the branch of the Farsariots and are concentrated in the mountainous area of ​​southwest Albania around the city of Corcea or Koriţa. Another part of the Aromanians was sedentarised in the plain area around some small towns reaching up to the Adriatic Sea at Vlora or Avlona.

In some cases, special villages were allocated to them by the Albanian state, such as the settlement called "Anton Poci". The most famous historical Aromanian settlement is "Moscopole" (almost entirely destroyed by Ottoman troops led by Ali Pasha in 1788) in southeastern Albania. They do not have enough schools (except those in Divjaka) to teach their mother tongue, media, cultural institutions, government support to preserve their own ethnic identity.

Actually the municipalities where between 10% and one third of the population is Aromanian - according to the official "2011 Albanian Census" ( are:

1) Odrie (32%), in Aromanian: Andon Poçi; 2) Lenie (25%), in Aromanian: Greãva;3) Selenice (17%), in Aromanian: Selenicë; and 4) Zagori (12%), in Aromanian: Topovë.

Of course, the Aromanian associations like "The Aromanians of Albania" pinpoint that these percentages are wrong and in reality should be at least double. Lenie for example was originally called "Gramostea" (a city near the destroyed "Moscopole") and had a big emigration toward other countries, but even now Lenie has a huge community of Aromanians (and partially Aromanians) scattered in the surrounding area.

Historical background

During the 1930’s, historian Van Wijk published a famous article where he explained the differences in the Balkans between the grammatical structure of Serbian on the one hand, and that of Bulgarian and Macedonian on the other, by the presence of a non-Slavic – Romance-speaking – population which separated both South Slavic language territories (Please for further information read: Afterwards most of these neolatin people (often called "Vlachs") should have moved northward to Walachia and Transylvania, leaving a gap which was filled by Slavs from Serbia and Macedonia. The southern portion of this gap was in the central & southern Albania mountains, around the ancient Roman "Via Egnatia" (that went from Rome to Costantinopolis, passing inside Albania from Durrachium/Durres to the lake Prespa).

Indeed because of their geographical distribution in a Balkan belt from Rome to Byzantium, the Vlachs (another name of the Aromanians) are also mentioned in connection with this Via Egnatia. Along this important military road a relatively dense Latin-speaking population settled in the last centuries of the Roman Empire, while indigenous people was fully Romanized. (As an administrative language of the Byzantine Empire, Latin was still in use during the reign of Iustinianus (527-565), afterwards it was entirely replaced by Greek in the next century under Heraclius)

The presence of Aromanians (or Vlachs) in the Albania region is documented in several sources. Abadzi presents the following information: Wandering Vlachs were mentioned by the Byzantine Geórgios Kerdinós as the assassins of Tsar Samuil’s brother in 976 AD between Prespa and Kastoria. Veniamín Tountélis describes in 1173 AD how the Vlachs came down the hills in Pindus & Thessaly, committed robberies and ‘knew no word of honour’. In 1183 AD the Vlachs of Pindus mountains stood up against the Byzantine Empire, and formed the "βλαχοβοθλγαρικό κράτος των Ασανιδών", i.e. the Vlacho-Bulgarian (i.e. the Second Bulgarian) Empire under the dynasty of the Asenovci. The Vlach/Aromanian Ivan Asen appointed himself – in Latin – 'Imperator omnium Bulgarorum et Vlachorum'.

Aromanian culture is often associated with pastoral life and transhumance. Their favourite permanent dwelling-places were situated in inclinations on the top of remote hills. The Aromanians/Vlachs were also known as skilful tradesmen. A centre of Vlach urban culture flourished in Gramostea between 1650 and 1700, and in Moschopolis. The latter Albanian town, which harboured a printing shop and an Academy, was pillaged several times from 1769 and 1789, and lost almost all of its importance afterwards. Evidently, these urban societies which were based upon trade, craftsmanship, the worshipping of some specific Saints, and a local, multilingual culture (shared with Greeks, Albanians and even Turks) lacked the military strength to defend itself and were doomed to disappear. In the opinion of Peyfuss, Moschopolis’ fate may be explained by the tendency to strengthen or restore the power of the central Turkish (governmental) and Greek (spiritual) authorities. The destruction of this important centre of the Aromanians in Albania should be placed into one context with the abolition of the archbishoprics of Peć (1766) and Ochrid (1767).

This city's destruction was followed by an exodus of educated Aromanians toward actual Macedonia, northern Greece and Europe, while since then only a few poor sheperds remained in this Albanian region.

This absence of 'intellectual elite' was one of the main reasons of why in the XIX century was not created an Aromanian state in this area: only during WW1 was tentatively established the "Republic of Korcea" with the participation of the few Aromanians (like Alcibiades Diamandis, who in 1941 created the Aromanian "Principality of Pindus") of this Balkan area, but this presence lasted a few months only! Greeks and Albanians in the XIX and XX centuries took control of all the region that was for many centuries before mainly populated by the historical Vlachs with their "capital" in Moschopolis.

However the few Aromanians still within the Albanian territories of the Ottoman empire were granted in 1878, the right to open schools in their native language and in 1888 to set up their own churches. The weak movement of 'Aromanian national awakening' culminated in 1905 when Aromanians were recognized by Istanbul as a separate nation ("Ullah millet") in areas of Albania and northern Greece and soon after, in 1908 when the first Aromanians were admitted as full members in the Turkish Parliament.

According to the 1913 statistics of Destani, which did not differentiate subjects by faith but only language, in the Albanian area of Korcea -called 'Corceaua' in Aromanian- there were 89,829 Albanian speakers, 3,190 Vlach speakers, 3,985 Bulgarian speakers, no Greek speakers and 527 "others" (Psomas, Lambros (2008). The Religious and Ethnographic Synthesis of the Population of Southern Albania (Northern Epirus) in the Beginning of the 20th Century. Statistics of Destani discussed on pages 256-260).


In 1917, when Italian troops advanced into Albania they were welcomed in all Aromenian villages, for example in Ciamuria and Samarina. A National council for Pindus was created and it took a very pro-Italian attitude. They founded, with the help of some local representative as Alkiviadis Diamantis, the „Principate of Pindos” in the area of Aromanian settlement. Italy undertook attempts to convert the pro-Romanian Aromanians into pro-Italian one, taking advantage of the historical and language relations these communities had with Italian latinity. In this particular context, Italian military forces felt the need to improve the ethnic and political conditions of the Aromanians, and sketched some documents on their history and customs. Their villages could be distinguished for the solidity and a certain elegance and were often placed in positions of military interest, next to the mountains and road junctions. The Aromanians were described as calm, wealthy, occupied in trade or sheep-breeding, resistant to any persecution or massacre, even though the denaturalization policies pursued by the Greeks „con ogni arte e con ogni mezzo (with everything available)” as reported by colonel Casoldi on 29th May 1917 in his account Note circa la questione valacca. The Aromenian presence was particularly evident in two districts, Grammos - especially in the city and around Koritza - and Pindus, where 36 villages were clearly detachable. Even if they were not as populous as the old Moscopole, these settlements mantained their ethnic identity. The language, instead, was in some case abandoned, also as a consequence of the Greek propaganda, pressures and abuses. Aromanians even arrived at creating national armed bands against those sent by Greeks to terrorize the region and this resistance was considered almost incredible by Italians, due to the peaceful and calm traditions of the Vlachs. It was also noted that many Vlachs enlisted in the Romanian army staying in Moldova asked to be sent back to the Balkans to fight for the security of their lands. Italians were sure that all Aromanians believed their origin was different from the one of the surrounding populations. Moreover, a particular feature to take into consideration was the particular economic situation of those shepherds who periodically migrate and had thus become matter of study because they kept high the economy of sheep-grazing, dairy, weaving and tanning. Trying to conquer the sympathies of those communities, the Italians thought that the strategy to follow was that of sponsoring the birth and increase of local authorities in order to prepare for the peace negotiations a fertile ground for the establishments of cantons or political and administrative autonomy. These hopes were alimented also by the demands of Aromenian communities, who after the years of the Greek-Romanian dispute and the troubles of war searched in Italy a stronger protector. On 25th July 1917 a first phonogram was addressed to Colonel Delli Ponti, who was called brave Duce ('Duce valoroso'), and his new legions.On 27th July 1917 the Italian commander in Valona, General Giacinto Ferrero, received a telegram coming from the mayors (sindaci) of many Aromenian villages who met in Metzovo, representing the Pindus-Zagori people. „Figli non degeneri di Roma sempre memori della madre nostra antica e tenaci custodi della lingua e delle tradizioni dei nostri padri dopo lunghi secoli di lotta sanguinosa contro la straniero che tentava tutti i modi di cancellare nostro carattere nazionale latino respiriamo finalmente le pure aure della libertà che le nuove legioni di roma vittoriose agli ordini vostri hanno apportato ai loro fratelli di sangue dispersi lontani sul Pindo e Zagori (Non degenerate sons of Rome, always mindful of our ancient mother and tenacious guardians of the language and traditions of our fathers after long centuries of bloody struggle against the foreigner who tried all the ways to cancel our Latin national character, finally breathe the pure auras of freedom that the new legions of Rome victorious to your orders have made their blood brothers dispersed far away on the Pindus and Zagori).” Besides the enthusiastic recalling of ancient Roman roots, in this appeal the Aromanians underlined the security given to them by the Italian troops; their leaving would mean falling easily prey of the enemies who looked forward to the extermination of Aromanians. The latter invoked Italy and her powerful and careful protection, the only means of defense against the superiority of the enemies, „il numero soverchiante di avversari (the overwhelming number of enemies).” Finally, the signatories selfappointed themselves the sons of Rome, who throughout millenary events had kept intact and preserved the remembrance of the Roman civilization in the valleys and the mountains of Pindus. Even if in a shorter form, the same declarations were included in the communication sent the same day to the President of the United states, to the President of the Provisory Russian Government, to the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister, to the French, English and Russian Consuls in Yanina, to General Ricciotti Garibaldi in Rome and to the Mayor of Rome

The Aromanians during WW1 saw in Italy their natural protector (because of the same old Roman heritage) against their surrounding enemies, especially the Greeks.

Furthermore, Motta wrote that Italy was the natural benchmark of the Vlahs and her prestige deriving from the victory of the war increased her power and attraction towards the Vlahs, who kept on invoking Italian protection for the safeguard of their Latin culture. At Delvino, on 28th December 1918 and 10th January 1919, a special Assembly was convoked. The meeting defined a precise political project: the autonomy of Pindus and Zagori united with Albania and under the protection of Italy and pointed out a strategy to avoid any other undesired solution.....The end of the war and the postwar diplomacy could not condition the life of Balkan Aromanians, nor Italy could. The Vlah question, anyway, was managed both by Romanian and Italian diplomacy to consolidate their positions and their interests in the Balkan regions. Vlahs were reminded in all the documents presented by Romania to the peace talks and became the subject of a special policy of colonization started by Bucharest in the Twenties. Italian intervention, on the contrary, arrived once again during the second war, when a short-lived Aromanian State was created in Pindus region. After many centuries of isolation, only war could rejoin the Aromenians to the homeland of latinity.

As written by G. Motta (please -if interested in the full version- read the arrival of Italian troops in the region of Pindus and in southern Albania during the first & second world wars was welcomed by the Aromanians who wanted help from the Italian army and appealed to the common Latin inheritance for the defense of their national specificity and traditions. But the defeat of Italy in WW2 created a terrible situation for the Aromanians in the region, who lost all their previous achievements.

The few remaining Aromanians of communist Albania (that did not recognize the Aromanians' existence as a minority) in the second half of the XX century were dispersed from the city of Gjirokastër in the south to the city of Elbasan in the Central Albania. However, their largest concentration was in the areas of the cities of Gjirokastër, Korçë and Përmet in the most south part of Albania. The number of Albanian Aromanians was estimated by the communist government from 35,000 to 120,000, but some researchers raised this figure to more than 200,000 (that was nearly 3% of the total Albania’s population)

Map created by Atanasiu in 1919, requesting an Aromanian political entity (circled by the small black crosses) at the Paris Peace Conference after WW1. Note the brown territories inhabitated by a majority of Aromanians in Albania
The following are excerpts from an Alexandru Gica's research on Aromanians in Albania:

“In Albania, the Aromanian group sets its hopes largely on the economic advantages of being able to go abroad. Romanians and Greeks use the opportunity to win the Aromanians in the poorest country of Europe for their own cause.”

Brief history

Before the Albanian state was established in 1914, local Aromanians had already experimented with emigration to the USA. After World War I many Aromanians emigrated to Romania. The Albanian communist regime was particularly harsh; collectivization was forced in May 1947 through a special law, and the nomadic Farsherots were immobilized.

This had the unintended consequence of bringing new Aromanian settlements into existence, as annual migrations ceased and communities were forced to settle. One of the most interesting settlements is the village of Andon Poçi, 16 kilometers from Gjirokaster. The village was established between 1957 and 1960 on the site of an abandoned "Vlach" village named Tavan. Nowadays it has approximately 130 houses and 800 inhabitants. Andon Poçi was a local Aromanian hero who fought and died in the resistance against Nazi occupation.

This prosperous community has a strong vocal tradition and had given two brilliant poets of Aromanian contemporary literature, the brothers Spiru and Dimitri Fuchi (born in 1964 and 1967). After the fall of communism, two parallel initiatives (from the Aromanian towns of Seleniţa and Corcea) led to the foundation of the cultural association “The Aromanians of Albania,” officially registered on October 24th 1991, as the communist regime was beginning to crumble.

Its first national conference was held on April 5th 1992; the Romanian Embassy was involved in organizing the conference through Ambassador Gheorghe Micu and Councilor Filip Teodorescu. Representatives of Aromanian communities from Romania, Greece, the Republic of Macedonia and the diaspora were present. Romania also sent a Member of Parliament Adrian Moţiu and a Bishop Calinic. The participants adopted a resolution demanding Aromanian recognition as an ethnic community. The association’s magazine, “Brotherhood,” was published on November 27th 1992 in Albanian and Aromanian. The first issue featured an article by the president of the association, Iancu Balamaci, entitled “A voice calling us to fraternity” that presented the magazine’s message. That initial unity was soon lost.

The main opposition was between the group from Seleniţa-Vlora, which was pro-Greek, and the one from Corcea, which was pro-Romanian. “Brotherhood” magazine ceased publication after five issues, resumed publication monthly in 1996 and since 2002 (when the Romanian government decided to get involved in the Aromanian question again) it has been supported financially by the Romanian government through the Department for Romanians Everywhere.

The Conference of 1992 also decided to train a priest who was to hold services in Aromanian. The sculptor Dumitrache Veriga was elected. He attended the Romanian Faculty of Theology in Piteşti and was ordained.He is presently the priest of the Aromanian church from Corcea. Its construction began in 1995 on the site of the old Aromanian cemetery in Corcea. There is a second Aromanian church today in Pogradeţ. There is also an Aromanian school as well a kindergarten (private, but free) in Diviaca. Both were established by Koci Janko. The school was opened on December 8th 1998. Initially, it was supported by 'The Aromanians of Albania' association as well as other donations. Since 2002, it has had the help of the same Department for Romanians Everywhere within the Romanian government.


'At least 100,000 Aromanians live nowadays in Albania', has recently written the historian Kohl. A more precise estimate of 139,065 Aromanians living in Albania was provided by the "Geographical Studies Centre of the Albanian Science Academy", which performed its research with a German institute between 2000-2002. This makes the Aromanians the second-largest population group in Albania, after the Albanians.

Due to the relatively primitive way of life in Albania before World War II, earlier estimates tended to vary widely, from 40,000 in 1931 (Vasile Stoica) to 150,000 in 1926.

Schools and churches

Unlike Serbia, Albania allowed Romanian schools and churches for the Aromanians to continue after World War I. The number of schools diminished from 18 in 1916 to 5 in 1923. On April 25th 1933 all private schools in Albania were nationalized, including the Romanian ones. A 1934 memorandum from the Romanian Delegation in Tirana to Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolae Titulescu sought to explain the lack of reaction by the Aromanians to the nationalization: “I feel that the Romanian minority from Albania will never address the League of Nations, following the Greeks’ example. The Romanians from Albania feel Romanian, speak Romanian, but they have their own interests in Albania and they won’t do anything that could create difficulties with the Albanian government.”

After further hesitation between state schools with a special program and minority schools, Romanian authorities chose the former. Thus, in July 1937, 7 government schools offering classes in the Romanian language began operating in Albania. In 1930 there were 8 Romanian churches in Albania, of which the one in Corcea (consecrated in 1925, destroyed by earthquake in 1931) was most important. In November 1942, only 6 churches remained.

In a report dated August 10th 1941, Nicolae Ţimiraş blamed the failure of Romanian schools and churches on opportunistic behavior by the Aromanian elites: “Trade interests have suppressed national interests.” In Tirana, community leaders, especially state officials “fearful of losing jobs, undertake no action to acquire minority rights for their fellow countrymen. On the contrary, in order to please the Italian-Albanian fascist government, these state officials, led by the Minister of National Economy, allowed circulation, against their convictions, of the famous official thesis which says that the Romanian population wouldn’t even consider it in its interest to claim educational and religious rights.”

During the communist regime, the Romanian schools and churches ceased all activity.

Self-identifications. Tensions

We will follow the excellent work of Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers (1999) to identify the policies of the Aromanians in Albania. The pro-Romanian militants are politically close to the Democratic Party of Sali Berisha (mutual visits by the Romanian and Albanian presidents reinforced the link). Supporters of this group claim that the Aromanians of Albania are Romanized Illyrians and, consequently, are close to the Albanians. The “Aromanians of Albania” association manages the assignment of scholarships for Romania to young Aromanians (about 1,000 Aromanian youngsters would be scholars of the Romanian government at the moment). The association issues a certificate attesting to the Aromanian identity of the scholarship applicant.

Pro-Greek militants are politically close to the Human Rights Party, a successor to the Omonia Party, which was banned under suspicion of being connected to Greek ultra-nationalists). Supporters of this group claim that the Aromanians of Albania are Romanized Hellenes. These Aromanians advertise and reprint the writings of Achilleas Lazarou. One of them (Lazarou A., 1994) is a history written in Albanian of the Aromanians of Albania. The Association of Helleno-Vlachs of Albania manages the visa and work permits issued for Greece. The Association issues certificates attesting to the Aromanian (Vlach) identity of the applicant.

Schwandner-Sievers mentions that the key position held by these two associations “entails enormous social power.” The fact that “leading figures of both Aromanian Association factions accuse each other of abusing their position by taking money from the candidates” can be seen as a result of the “latent struggle for prestige going on among different groups in current Albania.” Schwandner-Sievers appreciates that the boundaries between the two groups are not necessarily ideological. Examining the lists of members of both associations, she points out “the transfer of loyalty” of some members. “By moving from one association to another, these Aromanians chose to switch from a pro-Romanian to a pro-Greek faction and vice versa. When some of them were interviewed, former power struggles over positions in the associations were exposed.” Schwandner-Sievers also mentions cases in which “one family is split into two identity orientations: a son and his family might be migrant workers in Greece and the daughter might have a scholarship at a Romanian university.”

Schwandner-Sievers also reviews the position of the elites in Albania: “Apparently, Albanian Aromanians of high social status in modern Albanian society, and this includes many well-known scholars, politicians and artists, tend not to engage in Aromanian ethnic politics. Under no circumstances at all would some admit to their Aromanian family background. As some interviewees explained, to emphasize a distinct identity might harm their image and status, even though they do not necessarily believe in the available dominant discourses.” Schwandner-Sievers concludes that, these days, the Aromanians “utilize identity politics for social position, reputation, psychological compensation of an inferiority complex, economic advantage, and, most importantly, to secure future opportunities for their children.” Further, she writes that, “In conclusion, the evidence strongly suggests that Albanian Aromanians’ globalizing identity confers an advantage to them over non-Aromanian Albanians. [...] Besides creating a sense of exclusivity, they are able to shift identities: they can choose between different modes of identification, or they can attribute distinct significance to different identities in various situations, referring to their pre-communist situation if opportune. This flexibility is an efficient and profitable strategy of adjustment to different circumstances.”

Map of 1890 showing the areas (in reddish-brown color) with a majority of Aromanians. In my opinion it is the most accurate map about the "real" populated areas by Aromanians. Please note the big differences with the above Atanasiu map, that was excessively pro-Aromanians (or the differences with Greek/Albanian/Slav maps where sometimes the Aromanian presence is shamefully "forgotten")
Recent developments. Explanations

The tensions between the two Aromanian groups in Albania sharpened at the end of 2009 by means of dueling conferences. The “Aromanians of Albania” association organized a Congress for “Aromanians from the European Union” on November 17th-18th 2009. On November 18th the Congress voted a resolution signed by the presidents of some Aromanian associations: Vangjel Shundi (Aromanians of Albania), Ion Caramitru (Macedo-Romanian Cultural Society, Romania), Stoica Lascu (Picurarlu de la Pind Society, Romania), Zvetlana Nikolin (representative of the organization “In Medias Res” from Serbia), Aureliu Ciufecu (president of the “Macedo-Romanian Cultural Congress” from USA), Aurel Papari (“Andrei Şaguna,” Romania), Gheorghe Zamani (“Veria”, Romania), Elena Wisoşenschi (“Muşata Armână”, Romania). The main points of the resolution were to reaffirm the bond between Aromanian and Romanian identity, to request that the Romanian government assume responsibility for the Romanians of the Balkans, to criticize the claims of some Aromanian associations from Albania and Romania to represent Aromanians, to reject the thesis that the Aromanians are not Romanians, to support non-recognition of the Aromanians in Romania as a minority, and to found an “International Aromanian Forum” made up of Aromanian legal and representative organizations all over the world. The Romanian government was asked for support as a kindred state, including taking the necessary steps to implement Recommendation 1333/1997 for the Aromanians.

The Council of Aromanians (an Aromanian international organization founded in 2005) organized a conference in Corcea on December 12th 2009. There were various opinions. The front page of “Fărshărotu” magazine, no. 31 from February 2010, notes the opinion that ancient Macedonia is “the Aromanians’ home country”. In this home country – nowadays covering Greece, The Republic of Macedonia and Albania – the Aromanians are not a minority (on the contrary, the other faction requests recognition of the Aromanians in Albania as a minority). They can be a minority outside these countries (on the contrary, the other faction believes that the Aromanians cannot be a minority in Romania).

Another difference between the two groups has to do with the origins of the Aromanians. Just as the Congress of Tirana stressed the Roman roots of the Aromanians, the Conference of Corcea focused on their autochthonism in ancient Macedonia. The President and Vice-President of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Vlach Cultural Associations of Greece (Kostas Adam and Yoanis Kokonis) attended this conference. The Council also had planned to organize a Congress in Albania in the spring of 2010. The aim of the conference was to gather the opinions of member associations on some of the issues and to find a message of unity. The Congress never took place; instead, the Council of Aromanians organized a large meeting in the well-known Vlach town of Moschopolis on August 15th, 2010, that was attended by several thousand Aromanians from around the world. A resolution was read in which the Council asked for recognition of the Aromanians as a regional people. That resolution was published on August 20th 2010; on August 22nd, the Vlach Association of Veria, which had attended the meeting in Moschopolis, released a brief note signed by its President Giorgios Prapas and its Secretary Antonis Toussikos expressing disagreement with the resolution announced in Moschopolis.

The situation of the Aromanians in Albania is special because it is the only place where a competition between pro-Romanian and pro-Greek factions is taking place, resuming in a certain way the controversies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Romanian influence can be explained through the memory of past support (schools and churches operating until the start of the communist regime in Albania), through current support given to the “Aromanians of Albania” association, and through many families’ hope to send their children to study in Romania. The Greek influence can be explained through the opportunities connected to visas, work permits, and even pension.

Schwandner-Sievers believes that “it is exactly the revitalization of the conflict between followers of a pro-Greek and a pro-Romanian identification that serves to broaden the scope of options for potential exploitation.” If we follow this suggestion, which seems paradoxical at first, we soon notice that the more fragmentation there is in terms of identity options for Aromanians, the more positions of power are created for members of Aromanian communities. It remains questionable whether the descriptions “pro-Romanian” and “pro-Greek” are appropriate for the two orientations. Both factions cultivate Aromanian identity – each of them in its own way.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


There are numerous studies and many books about the years when Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was under Italian rule. Here it is the translation (with my notes) of a related research done for the Italian "Universita' di Genova" in 1979 by Bruno D'Ambrosio and published initially in Italian language by the university's "Istituto di Geografia", under the supervision of the Institute Director prof. Giuliani Balestrino.


'''Mogadishu''' (or '''Mogadiscio''' in Italian) was the capital of Italian Somalia in the first half of the XX century. In Italian language, the city was officially called ''Mogadiscio italiana'' and the inhabitants were called ''Mogadini''. Italian Mogadiscio was under Italian control from 1885 until February 1941: officially it disappeared in 1947 after the "Peace Treaty" following WW2 when Italy lost all the colonies.

Aerial view of 1938 "Mogadiscio italiana", nicknamed "White Pearl of the Indian Ocean"
In the more than sixty years of Italian rule, the city grew from a small village of just 1,500 inhabitants in the early 1880s to a vibrant capital of nearly 150,000 mogadiscians after WW2 in the late 1940s.


"Mogadishu (or Mukdishu) is mentioned by Marco Polo and described by Ibn Batuta as an “immense” city. This was in the early part of the 14th century.....In 1892 it was transferred to Italy. The name of the town is spelt in a great variety of ways, including Madeigascar, whence the name of the island of Madagascar. Alfred Grandidier points out that the Portuguese, misled by Marco Polo's description of Mukdishu as an island, fancied they had discovered the land of which he wrote when they touched at Madagascar". 1911 E. Britannica

The first Italian to write about Mogadiscio was Marco Polo, who knew of the city during his merchant travels in Asia. But only in the late XIX century the commerce company "Filonardi" from Italy took control of facilities in the port of Mogadishu.

By 1882, Mogadishu was under the joint control of the Somali "Geledi Sultanate" (which was also holding sway over the Shebelle Valley region in the interior called "Benadir") and the Omani Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1885, the sultan Ali bin Said leased the city to an Italian chartered company owned by Vincenzo Filonardi. This "Compagnia Filonardi" (1893–96) and later the "Società Anonima Commerciale Italiana del Benadir" (1899-1905) was finally taken by the Italian government, that obtained the control of the entire region of Benadir with the port of Mogadishu through an agreement with the British government in 1892. From 3 August 1889 to 15 May 1893 Filonardi was the first Governor of the "Somalia italiana" (he was governor again from 1896 to 1897).

The Kingdom of Italy purchased the city in 1905 and made Mogadishu the capital of the newly established "Somalia italiana". The Italians subsequently referred to the city as ''Mogadiscio''.

The city was soon modernized in the early 1910s with the creation of the first sewage system, the first hospital, the first paved roads and the new electricity facilities. In the 1910s and 1920s the Italians enlarged the "Port of Mogadishu" and created the first airport (initially only for military airplanes). In the 1910s was created the first (radio)telegraph station in eastern Africa, under the supervision of Guglielmo Marconi, that was able to connect Mogadishu directly with "Italian Eritrea" and Rome: it was worldwide celebrated.

Guglielmo Marconi's first radio-telegraph station in Mogadiscio
Indeed the first radio communications were started by the Italians in Mogadishu in 1911: the same Guglielmo Marconi supervised the radio station messages in the city. Successively a public "radio service" was started (in Italian language) in 1938 called "Radio Mogadiscio", but was limited to broadcast only in the area of Mogadishu-Genale-Villabbruzzi (the actual "Radio Mogadishu" is the federal government-run public broadcaster; established in 1951 in Italian Somaliland as a follow up of the "Radio Mogadiscio", it initially aired news items in both Somali and Italian language).

From 5 April 1908 to 5 May 1936, the Royal Corps of Somali Colonial Troops (''Regio corpo truppe coloniali della Somalia Italiana''), originally called the "Guard Corps of Benadir", served as the territory's formal military corps with headquarters in Mogadiscio. At the start of its establishment, the force had 2,600 Italian officers. Between 1911 and 1912, over 1,000 Somalis from Mogadishu served as combat units along with Eritrean and Italian soldiers in the Italo-Turkish War. Most of the troops stationed never returned home until they were transferred back to Italian Somaliland in preparation for the Second Italo-Ethiopian war in 1935.

In November 1920, the "Banca d'Italia", the first modern bank in Italian Somaliland, was established in Mogadishu. Later were founded in the city the branches of other Italian banks: in 1936 the "Banco di Roma" and in 1938 the "Banco di Napoli" established a branch (Banco di Napoli replaced the "Cassa di Risparmio di Torino", which had opened an office in Mogadishu in 1932). After WW2 from the Banca d'Italia was developed the "Central Bank of Somalia".

On December 5, 1923, Cesare Maria De Vecchi was named Governor in charge of the new colonial administration and promoted the process of complete pacification of the Somalia italiana, with the initial integration of the native population. Italian colonial policy followed two principles in Italian Somaliland: preservation of the dominant clan & ethnic configurations and respect for Islam as the territory's religion.

The Mogadishu Cathedral and the Arch of Umberto were the core of Mogadiscio in the late 1930s

In 1928, the Italian authorities built the Mogadishu Cathedral (''Cattedrale di Mogadiscio''). It was constructed in a Norman architecture with Gothic style, based on the Cathedral in Sicilian Cefalù. Following its establishment, Crown Prince Umberto II of Italy made his first publicized visit to Mogadishu. To commemorate the visit, the "Arch of Umberto" was constructed. The arch was built at the center of the Mogadishu Garden. The Mogadishu International Airport was constructed that same year. The facility was regarded as one of the finest in the region.

Furthermore, in 1929 there were nearly 1600 Italian civilians resident in Mogadiscio and the government started to publish daily in the growing city the first newspaper of Somalia: "Corriere della Somalia". Its name was changed in "Somalia Fascista" in 1934 but in 1941 was closed by the British when they conquered Mogadiscio; it was reopened in 1950 with the original name "Il Corriere della Somalia" and lasted until 1969/1970 (read ). Other monthly publications in Mogadiscio were "Somalia Sportiva" (1937-1940) and "Somalia Cristiana" (1936-1941). Of course all these newspapers and magazines were in Italian language until April 1941 (successively the British made the "Somali Courier-Corriere della Somalia" in 3 languages -English, Italian and Arab- between 1945 and 1950).

In the early 1930s, the new Italian Governors, Guido Corni and Maurizio Rava, started a policy of full assimilation of the Somalis. Many Somalis were enrolled in the Italian colonial troops, and thousands of Italian colonists moved to live in Mogadishu.

The city grew in size and some small manufacturing companies opened up. The main industries were food processing and the production of leather footwear and wood products. The Italians also settled in agricultural areas around the capital, such as Jowhar (''Villabruzzi'') and Janale (''Genale''), and developed the production and exportation of the bananas.

In 1937, there were 22,000 Italians living in Italian Somaliland, representing 2% of the territory's population (Read in Italian: The majority resided in the capital Mogadishu, with other Italian communities concentrated in Jowhar (''Villabruzzi''), Adale (''Itala''), Janale (''Genale'') and Kismayo (''Chisimaio''). A few lived also in the northern city of Dante (now called Hafun), while working in the local biggest salt mines of the world (read:

Photo of the eleven children of an Italo-Somali family: nearly 10,000 children were born from Italians (mainly soldiers) and Somalian native girls during the half a century of colonial presence in Italian Somalia. Most of them lived in the Mogadishu area & hinterland & hinterland

In Mogadiscio in the 1920s and early 1930s there were 4 Italian men for every Italian woman and as a consequence was common the "Madamato" (relationship between Italian soldiers and native girls).

Nearly 7,000 children were born from the Madamato in the Mogadiscio area: they were mulattos who received Italian citizenship when baptized as catholic. But after 1939 the Italian Fascism -since 1938 linked to the German Nazism- imposed harsh racial rules against this Madamato.

By 1935, Mogadishu began to serve as a major naval base and port for the Italians. Then Prime Minister of Italy Benito Mussolini regarded "Greater Somalia" (''La Grande Somalia'') with capital Mogadiscio as the crown jewel in Italy's colonial empire in eastern Africa.

Consequently, from 1936 to 1940, new roads were constructed in the region around Mogadiscio, such as the "Imperial Road" from Mogadishu to Addis Abeba, the capital of the newly created "Italian Ethiopia". New railways (114 km from Mogadishu to Jowhar) and many schools, hospitals, ports and bridges were also built. The biggest salt production company in the world -located in Dante (now called "Hafun") had the headquarters in Mogadiscio.

Mogadishu airport was established in 1928 with the name ''Petrella-Mogadiscio aeroporto'', the first such facility to be opened in the Horn of Africa. It served as the main military airport for Italian Somaliland. In the mid-1930s, the airport began offering civilian and commercial flights. A regular Asmara-Assab-Mogadishu commercial route was started in 1935, with an "Ala Littoria" Caproni Ca.133 providing 13-hour flights from the Mogadishu airport to Italian Eritrea. The aircraft had a maximal capacity of 18 passengers, which at the time was a record. In 1936, Ala Littoria launched an intercontinental connection between Mogadishu-Asmara-Khartoum-Tripoli and Rome. The voyage lasted four days and was one of the first long range flights in the world.

The port of Italian Mogadiscio had an exportation in 1934 of 43.467 tons of agricultural products (mainly bananas) toward Italy and Europe. For this commercial transport were used the service of special container-ships called "RAMB" (that were built with the possibility to be converted to be an auxiliary cruiser). The Ramb II was a banana boat ship based even in Mogadishu. Ramb II was the second of four sister ships all built to the same design: the other ships were the Ramb I, the Ramb III, and the Ramb IV. The four ships were built for the Royal Banana Monopoly Business ("Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane") to transport refrigerated bananas from Italian Somalia to Italy.

From 1936 the port started to have a weekly international ship line for passengers, connecting Mogadishu with Massaua in Eritrea and Genova in Italy with the Italian "Lloyd Triestino" and "Italian Line" (read in Italian: The MS Vulcania was a transatlantic ship that served the port of Mogadiscio. Later, in 1941 the port was damaged by British bombings during WW2.

In the 1930s, Italian authorities began to organize professional sport in Somalia. These sports were initially concentrated only in the capital Mogadishu (read in Italian: In 1931 governor Maurizio Rava created the ''Federazione Sportiva della Somalia'', which organized competences of athletics, tennis and football for the Italian community and promoted the first sport activities among the young native population. In 1933 the first Somalian football championship was created in Mogadishu, called ''Coppa Federazione Sportiva'', with three teams ("Societa' Mogadiscio", "Marina" and "Milizia"). In 1938 the football championship was won by the "Amaruini" team, made up mainly of local Somalians; in 1939 the winning team was the "Araba". In 1938 competitions of other sports, like swimming and cycling, were held.

In summer 1938 was created the ''Circuito Mogadiscio'' (called even "Circuito di Mogadiscio" and in English: "Mogadishu Circuit"), a car race done in the main streets of Mogadishu that was one of the firsts in Africa. The main Italian newspaper of Mogadiscio and of the Italian colonies, "Il Littoriale", reported ( ; p. 5) that on mid-August 1938 was done the first car race circuit of Mogadiscio. Indeed, on August 15 the Governor Francesco Saveno flagged the start of a car race followed by many thousands in the "Corso Vittorio Emanuele" (actual "Somalia Boulevard") of Somalia's capital, where there were the main stands. On Mogadiscio streets many native Somalis enjoyed enthusiastically to the first car race in their country. It was followed even by a motorcycle race, done with 250 cc and 350 cc category. The "Circuito di Mogadiscio" was repeated in 1939, but the edition of 1940 was not done because of the beginning of the war.

Map of the railway Mogadiscio-Villabruzzi (green line), showing the most developed area of Italian Somalia (that was inside the triangle Mogadiscio-Merca-Villabruzzi)
In the late 1930s Italian Mogadiscio was enjoying a bright & huge development somewhat similar -but in a minor scale- to the one of Italian Asmara in Eritrea: in 1940 Italian Somalia nearly all the development was concentrated in the triangle "Genale/Vittorio - Villabruzzi - Mogadiscio" and this triangle area was one of the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the first years of the XX century there were only one hundred Italian civilians (mostly members of the colonial administration with their families) in Mogadishu, but soon started to arrive thousands of colonists (with some merchants and entrepreneurs) from Italy: by March 1940, over 30,000 Italians lived in Mogadishu, representing around 33% of the city's total of approximate 100,000 residents (and making Mogadiscio the second most "Italian" city -after Asmara- of the Italian East Africa). They frequented local Italian schools that the colonial authorities had opened, such as a local "Lyceum" called 'Ginnasio-liceo Emilio De Bono'. They also started the first championships of local football/soccer with teams (like the "Societa' Calcio Mogadiscio" and "Amaruini", that played amateur football in the Italian Somalia from 1936 until 1941 and that later become in 1947 the "Lavori Publici (LLPP calcio)" now called "Jeenyo United (LLPP) FC") in the first stadium of Mogadiscio called 'Stadio Municipale di Mogadiscio' (now 'Banadir (CONI) stadium').

During WW2 Italian Mogadiscio was conquered by the British in February 1941: nearly all the Italians in Somalia took refuge in the city -for security reasons- during those war years until 1945. Because of these refugees Mogadishu in those years had a population that was nearly half Italian, when added the 7,000 descendants of Italian soldiers who had illegitimate offsprings with Somalian girls. According to historian Tripodi, in Somalia nearly 10,000 children were born from Italians (mainly soldiers) and Somalian native girls during the half a century of colonial presence in Italian Somalia. Most of them lived in the Mogadishu area.

Since then the Italian population of Mogadiscio started to diminish, mainly after 1948 when there was the killing of Italians by the "Somali Youth League", and practically disappeared a few decades later. Indeed somali nationalist agitation against the possibility of renewed Italian rule reached the level of violent confrontation in 1948, when on 11 January, large riots broke out that left fifty-two Italians dead in the streets of Mogadishu and other coastal cities in which many more were injured.

Even if there was an important community of nearly 10,000 Italians in Mogadishu in the 1950s, when Italy administrated the country with a ONU mandate, in the late 1970s practically there were no more Italians in Mogadishu.


The legacy of the Italian presence in Mogadishu is mainly related to the decision to develop this city as the capital of actual Somalia: in 1885 the Italians found a small city/village with nearly 2,000 inhabitants living in ruined medieval buildings and in just half a century the city was transformed in a modern colonial capital (of one of the biggest countries in eastern Africa) with more than 100,000 inhabitants, that was nicknamed ''the White Pearl of the Indian Ocean'' in 1938.

However some other legacies of the Italian presence in Mogadishu still remain: from the diffused use of pasta (''baasto'') such as spaghetti and of polenta (''mishaari''), that comes from the Italian Somalis families, to the latin script in the Somalian language and to the architecture of the city.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that Catholicism in Mogadiscio greatly increased under Italian rule. In the 1950s journalist and history writer Indro Montanelli wrote on magazine "Il Borghese" that Italian Mogadishu in 1942 -after the arrival of the British- was an African capital where most of inhabitants were Catholics: he indicated that of the 95,000 inhabitants more than 40,000 were Italians, while inside the less than 55,000 Somalis there were nearly 8,000 Catholics including the many illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and Somalis native girls, who were baptized in order to get Italian identification. This meant to him that more than half of the Mogadiscio inhabitants were Catholics in that year, but soon they started to disappear (since the late 1970 practically there are no more catholics in Mogadishu:)


''The story of Mogadishu’s Modernist buildings begins during the time of Italian colonial rule. Unlike Asmara in Eritrea and Tripoli in Libya, where the Italians built their colonial city alongside the native walled town, in Mogadishu the walls of the old medina were torn down and the occupiers’ buildings imposed in the city centre.''Rakesh Ramchum

In 1905 was started a plan to develop the city, that the Italians found divided in two medieval areas: Amaruini and Scingani. In the middle was built the new "Corso Vittorio Emanuele III" (the main avenue) and governmental buildings with a garden area (that in 1934 was beautified with the "Arch of Umberto"). In 1928 was created the "Piano regolatore di Mogadiscio", the first urban planification for the city, when the medioeval Scingani was demolished and was created a modern area with new buildings and tree lined roads.

Since then in Mogadishu were made many architectural improvements before WW2 (read The most inportant are:

1) the "Villa Somalia". It is the official presidential palace and principal workplace of the President of Somalia. It sits on high ground that overlooks the city on the Indian Ocean, with access to both the Port of Mogadishu & the harbour and the Aden Adde International airport.

Villa Somalia when inaugurated in the 1930s
The edifice was built -in partially modern art deco style- by the colonial authorities in Italian Somalia, serving as a residence for the Governors.

Villa Somalia sits on high ground that overlooks Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean, with nearby the first athletic structure for sport in Somalia. It was originally a large, squarish stucco building with a modern tiled roof.

Villa Somalia was built in the new section of the city created by the Italians in the late 1930s.
It was a famous symbol of modernist (art deco) architecture and one of the few in all Africa.

2) The "Governor's Palace of Mogadiscio". In the 1930s it was the seat of the governor of Italian Somalia, and then of the administrator of the "Trust Territory of Somalia" after WW2. It was built during the colonial period (in the late 1920s) in the capital city of Mogadishu: in those decades the city was improved with Italian architecture and urbanism: this palace was one of the most representatives of the colonial fascist architecture.

It was located on the "Corso Umberto", the main street of Italian Mogadiscio, and overlooked the ocean & the port. The architecture was a mixture of Italian and Arab styles, with the second floor decorated with Italian Renaissance furniture. A huge garden was created in front of the main entrance.

In the Palace, among other things, there were the following halls in the lower floor:

* Arab hall with decorations, which were derived from the Islamic architecture of the old Mogadishu.
* Rooms of "Queen Elena of Italy" with tapestries.
* "Sala della Giustizia" with furniture in the Gothic style of the Aosta Valley.
* Hall of deliberations, with the wall-scenes taken from the classical style of the Italian architecture and with a huge panel showing "San Giorgio".

The second floor was for private use, with rooms for royal guest.

It was inaugurated by Italian governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi, who ruled from 1923 to 1929. He ordered excavations in the gardens in front of the Palace that proved to be the ancient Arab palace of "El Muzaffar". In 1975 the Palace was completely razed to the ground (for political reasons) and the site was dedicated to the new construction of the luxurious "Al Uruba" (Curuuba) Hotel.

3) the "Garesa Museum" (actual "National Museum of Somalia") . In 1933, the building that used to be the "Garesa" residence of the Zanzibar Sultanate was totally reconstructed by the Italian governor Rava and adapted to the Somalia Museum.

It was the most important cultural place in Italian Mogadiscio.

The "Museo della Garesa" (as was called by the Italian colonists) was officially opened to the public the next year 1934 by Governor Maurizio Rava. The museum suffered heavy damages during WWII.

The just reconstructed white building of the "Garesa Museum" (in the center of photo)
After WWII, the old Garesa Museum was turned into the ''National Museum of Somalia''. The National Museum was later moved in 1985, renamed as the "Garesa Museum", and converted to a regional museum.

After shutting down, the National Museum later reopened: it holds many culturally important artefacts, including old coins, bartering tools, traditional artwork, ancient weaponry and pottery items.

4) the "Mogadishu Cathedral". Known as the ''Cattedrale di Mogadiscio'' (when inaugurated on March first, 1928), was constructed in a Norman "Gothic Revival architecture" style, based on the Cefalù Cathedral in Cefalù, Sicily. It was built in nearly six years by the Italian authorities in their former Italian Somalia, in a central area of the capital not far from the Governor's Palace of Mogadishu|

Indeed the Cathedral was built as the biggest in eastern Africa by order of Cesare Maria De Vecchi, a catholic governor of "Somalia italiana" who promoted the "Missionari della Consolata" christianization of Somalian people. It was built between 1923 and 1928 and was used as a model the "Cathedral of Cefalu" (in northern Sicily), created to commemorate the Christian reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs in the X century.

The Cathedral was done in "Norman" Gothic style, designed by architect Antonio Vandone. The facade, with an impressive appearance, was delimited to the sides by two towers, each 37.50 meters high. The plan of the building was a Latin cross; inside was divided into three naves separated by piers with pointed arches.

The church was entrusted to the "Consolata" missionaries, then replaced by the Franciscans (Friars Minor). The altar had a huge statue -done by sculptor Cesare Biscarra- of the Virgin Mary of Consolata, that looked at the parishioners in an impressive way like a statue of Roman Gods inside an ancient imperial temple.

5) the ''Fiat's Boero Building''. In 1939 Mogadishu was created a building that was judged as a masterpiece of the "Italian-Arab architecture".
The 'Fiat Boero' building
The "Officine Boero" had their headquarter in the building and were the best mechanical industry in Somalia.

Indeed in the surrounding manufacturing area was created the "Inataree" Somali version of the famous Fiat 650 truck, assembled near the "Porto di Mogadiscio"

6) the "Arch of Umberto". In 1934 Crown Prince Umberto II of Italy made his first publicized visit to Mogadishu. To commemorate the visit, the Arch of Umberto was constructed. The arch was built at the center of Mogadishu Garden.

7) the "Lyceum De Bono". It was the best school institution in Italian Somalia, with the official name: "Ginnasio-Liceo Emilio De Bono". It was built in Italian colonial "Art Deco" style, not far away from the "Mogadiscio Stazione ferroviaria" (railway station).

8) the "Casa del Fascio". The biggest and tallest building in Italian Mogadiscio was inaugurated in 1938 as the local offices of the National Fascist Party (later it was the headquarter of Somalian Parliament in the 1960s)

The building was considered a masterpiece of the "fascist architecture".

It was in marble and red bricks, with a tower  (called "Torre Littoria") of 30 meters capped by a fare.

The hall of entrance was fully in marm, while nearly 60 offices were created in a 1970 m2 area.

The building -inspired to the Florence's Renaissance buildings- was one of the first in reinforced concrete in Somalia. (read for further information:
9) Other important architectures & buildings were: the ''Arco Trionfale'' (made in 1928); the ''Albergo Croce del Sud'' (a modern "Art Deco" hotel); the "Scuola Regina Elena" (the first educational building in Mogadiscio); the "Palazzo degli Uffici" (neoclassical Italian style administrative building, that after WW2 was the headquarter of the Italian administration of Somalia by ONU mandate in the 1950s) and the ''Cinema Italia'' (the first cinema theater in Mogadishu).


There were many institutions of the Italian government in Mogadiscio, all concentrated in the area centered around the Mogadiscio cathedral and the Governor's Palace.

The following were the official Institutions created by the Italians and their government in Mogadiscio (for further information read Institutions & Educational organizations in AOI):

* Schools for Italians:
**Scuola elementare mista • Ginnasio-Liceo Emilio De Bono
**Missione cattolica dei Cappuccini
**Asilo d’infanzia e scuola elementare parificata mista Regina Elena

* Schools for Native Somalis:
**Missione cattolica orfanotrofio Guido ed Elisa Corni e scuola parificata
**Scuola speciale per i figli dei notabili somali

* Associations, Media and Cinema/Theaters:
**Casa del Fascio
**Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro
**Museo della Garesa
**Laboratorio chimico-batteriologico
**Regio Automobile Club d’Italia
**Consociazione Turistica Italiana
**Compagnia Italiana Turismo (CIT)
**Circolo Duchessa d’Aosta
**Circolo del Tennis
**Associazione Motociclistica Mogadiscio
**Associazione Sportiva Mogadiscio
**Unione Sportiva Mogadiscio
**Cinema Impero
**Cinema Italia
**Supercinema (with theater installations)
**Istituto Luce
**«Bollettino ufficiale e foglio d’ordini e di comunicazioni del Governo della Somalia Italiana»
**«Bollettino della Federazione dei Fasci di combattimento»
**Newspaper «Il Littoriale» (edizione Somalia)
**Newspaper «Somalia Fascista»
**Magazine «Somalia Sportiva»
**Magazine «Somalia Cristiana»

Thursday, November 2, 2017


There are growing evidences that in the centuries of the Roman empire there was a huge trade between the western sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean region. I have written an article about this commerce in en. Wikipedia:

Indeed there were a group of military and commercial expeditions by the Romans across the Sahara Desert, into the interior of western Africa (and its coast). They were made by the Roman Empire between the first and the fourth century AD. One of the main reasons of the explorations, according to academics like Jonathan Roth, was to procure gold and spices.

Roman objects are found in the Sahara, and, significantly, along the western "caravan" route. This route went from Leptis Magna & Sabratha toward the Gadames oasis and the actual Fezzan region (then controlled by the Garamantes) and finally reached the Ahaggar mountains and the Timbouctou/Gao region in the Niger river.

Indeed numerous Roman artifacts have been found at the Garamantes’ capital of Germa in the Fezzan of Libya. There is evidence of Roman style irrigation being introduced and for at least some Garamantes adopting a sedentary and a town, if not urban, lifestyle. Most striking is the large Roman-syle mausoleum found there, evidence either of Roman presence or of Romanization of the elite. Between Germa and Ghat in the Hoggar mountains have been found Roman ceramics, glass, jewelry and coins dating from the 1st to the 4th centuries.

Farther down the route, at the oasis of Abelessa, is the site known locally as the Palace of Tin Hinan. There is a charming local legend about it, but it seems to have been a fortress, in one room of which was found the skeletal remains of a woman, along with a number of Late Roman objects, including a lamp, a golden bracelet and a 4th century coin. Finally, there was a cache of Roman coins found at Timissao only 600 kilometers from the Niger.

Additionally it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in actual Burkina Faso there it is a place -near the border with Niger (and Gao)- where in 1975 has been discovered the so called Bura culture: Kissih (also named "Kissi"). This culture existed since the late first century (when the Festus expedition was done) and produced a variety of distinctive artifacts made of clay, iron and stone. Christopher Kelly claims that analysis of copper-based objects found at Kissih in northern Burkina Faso (and belonging to the Bura culture) suggests that material of them is derived from ores in the north Africa Mediterranean area under Roman control: this fact shows highly probable Roman merchants presence in Burkina Faso (read: )

Furthermore it is possible that the Kissih area could have been reached by Roman merchants through another route that was near the Atlantic ocean, going down from Volubilis in Mauretania to the Senegal river (where have been discovered some Roman coins). And in this case we cannot exclude the maritime trade route that has been proved to exist from Sala colonia (near actual Rabat) toward Essoura and Mogador island (in the Rio de Oro region of southern Morocco): ships of Roman merchants -even if with difficulties- could have reached the Dakar region and the mouth of the Senegal river.

Of course there are many books and articles written about this trade: the following is an interesting research related to this trade, written by Sonja Magnavita ("Premiers contacts. La recherche des traces de commerce ancien entre l’Afrique de l'Ouest et le reste du monde").

Ancient trade connections between West Africa and the Roman empire, by Sonja Magnavita

Before the first Arab textual sources appeared towards the end of the first millennium AD, virtually nothing tangible was reported on the regions beyond the southern fringes of the Sahara. When Arabo-Islamic armies conquered North Africa in the 7th–8th century AD, accompanying merchants accessed the roads to the West African Sahel region soon thereafter. Over the subsequent centuries the organised Trans-Saharan trade developed quickly and reached a first peak in the early second millennium AD. Coming back to Antiquity, we shall pose the question as to whether trans-Saharan trade contacts prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa, yet not unambiguously traceable by written sources, are detectable archaeologically. Making no claim to be complete, this brief paper provides an insight into the current state of our knowledge on what can be called the ‘archaeology of first contact’ between people living on both sides of the Sahara. First we will discuss the still meagre but growing evidence available on this matter for the southern fringes of the desert and then take a look at the results of research carried out to the north. The paper concludes by tackling the long-standing discussion on a possible pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade in gold and introducing the initial results of new research on this subject.

A look to the south

Up to the 1990s, scholars practising the still comparatively young discipline of African archaeology concluded that pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade enterprises that might have been of any economic importance were either non-existent or did not leave visible traces in the West African Sahel. In 1996, the discovery of the Iron Age cemeteries of Kissih in Burkina Faso again brought to mind the prospect that the general lack of archaeological evidence for a pre-Arab trans-Saharan commerce is more probably a by-product of research deficit than a matter of fact. Excavations at these sites revealed that a number of valuable goods from various parts of Africa and the wider world were finding their way into the West African Sahel earlier and, more importantly, on a larger scale than previously thought. All in all, thousands of beads made of different materials, more than a thousand of them being of glass, as well as brass jewellery and cowries were found among other goods brought to the Sahel from far distant regions. While the cowries were identified as Cypraea moneta, deriving most likely from the Indian Ocean, the origin of the glass used to manufacture most of the glass beads was chemically traced to the Middle East and some of the tested copper alloys to regions along the Mediterranean Sea, possibly including Carthage. Other objects of likely northern origin found at Kissih include the first known West African swords as well as curved daggers and wool textiles, most of these dated to pre-8th century AD contexts.

Even though only some of these luxuries could be unquestionably dated to a period before the Arab conquest of North Africa, they nevertheless document that initial encounters involving the exchange of valuable items between the West African Sahel and the wider world were not initiated by merchants who came into North Africa along with the Arab armies. Rather, they prove that a flow of luxury objects reached the Sahel from beyond the Sahara throughout the first millennium AD, thus encompassing not only the early Islamic period but also (late) Roman and Byzantine times. Due to the large number of metallic artefacts in some graves, organic materials such as fragments of woollen textiles, leather, basketry and wood were prevented from total annihilation and so yielded the rare opportunity of being able to directly C14-date non-charred organic material. Whilst most of the dated graves belong to the 2nd to 7th centuries AD, excavations in settlement contexts at Kissih proved that the spot was occupied by a sedentary iron-using community between the ca. 4th century BC and the 12th–13th century AD. Evidently, imported objects were then so valuable that they only rarely came to light in the course of the investigations at settlement areas; throughout contexts of the first millennium AD, they were merely found at richly appointed graves. In fact, the first few glass beads from settlement areas merely date to post-9th century AD contexts. By then, the Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade was in full bloom and the value of the formerly very precious trade goods, like Middle Eastern glass, had presumably already dropped.

Other West African locations where evidence for pre-Arabic long-distance contacts was found in secure archaeological contexts are fairly rare. A few isolated glass beads of non-West African origin were also excavated in Djenné-Jeno, Mali. One of these likely derived from Asia (India to East Asia), and dates to sometime in the period 3rd century BC-1st century AD. Two others have a distant, but not securely determinable origin. They came from somewhere in the greater Mediterranean-Near East region and date to between the 4th and 9th century AD. Though present at the later location in much lower numbers than in Kissih, the Djenné-Jeno discoveries nevertheless provide evidence for probably sporadic, incidental contacts between North and West Africa during the first millennium AD. That in a given moment those early contacts might have ceased being merely indirect or occasional, ‘down-the-line’ exchanges of goods through the desert is supported by the discovery in West Africa of the means of transportation that later on enabled the Arab-driven long-distance trade to flourish: pack animals. As indicated by the dated remains of donkey (1st and 3rd century AD) and dromedary (3rd to 4th century AD) from the Middle Senegal River sites of Siouré and Cubalel, close to the Mauritanian border, the shift to economically more significant, direct exchanges through the desert became at least technically possible from then on.

In addition to these locations, there are a number of West African archaeological sites or finds related to long-distance connections, but their insecure dating or context make them less valuable for the scope of the present discussion. Two examples of such evidence come from the Niger Republic: the necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka and the statuette from Zangon Dán Makéri. The famous necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka in Southwest Niger is approximately dated both via C14 on charcoal and geological surveying to between the 3rd and 13th or 3rd and 10th–11th centuries AD. It revealed anthropomorphic and zoomorphic terracotta figurines connected with inhumations, many of which were accompanied by grave goods such as copper-alloy jewellery, iron weapons and beads. Among the latter are also numerous glass beads. The depiction of horses and the presence of glass and copper-based objects at the site clearly indicate links to North Africa; however, their exact age could not be ascertained yet. New, reliable absolute dates are indeed urgently needed. Work on this is currently being undertaken by the author, as datable organic fibres (mainly of woven textiles) were found adhering to some metal grave goods during an inspection of finds excavated by the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, Niamey, in the 1990s. Beyond that, chemical analyses of copper and glass from dated contexts might help to trace the origin of some of the selected objects. This research is at its beginnings and results will be published in due time.

The intriguing Janus bronze statuette found at Zangon Dan Makéri in southern Niger is another artefact found south of the Sahara which potentially may have derived from pre-Arab cross-desert contacts. Stylistically dated to 2nd century AD Roman North Africa, the circumstances of its discovery remain obscure. Without any knowledge of the archaeological context it derives from, it is not possible to conclude on whether it was really brought to the Sahel in Roman times, in the course of the medieval, Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade or even later. Indeed, the same is true for the sporadic Roman coin finds made here and there in the Sahara and in sub-Saharan Africa. Bare of any archaeological context, they are today not much more than amazing curiosities. To date, no Roman coin has ever been excavated at a West African sub-Saharan archaeological site.

A look to the north

It is without dispute that there was a flow of trade goods from Roman North Africa into Garamantian territory, and vice versa. But is there secure archaeological evidence in the Sahara or north of it for pre-Arab Trans-Saharan trade too, i.e., trade goods from sub-Saharan Africa transported across the Sahara to North Africa? The Garamantes have been often cited as having played the role of middlemen in a very old and organised trade between northern and inner Africa. A number of archaeologists working in the Fezzan and on its southern boundaries have indeed openly advocated, or at least uncritically agreed on, the existence of Garamantian long-distance trade between both sides of the Sahara. However, looking closely at the archaeological evidence on which the alleged trade contacts between the Garamantian core territory in southwest Libya and the sub-Saharan region is based, it becomes clear how fragile the arguments in favour of such an ancient connection presently are.

In fact, and to start with, there is so far no hard and verifiable evidence of items of West African origin traded into Garamantian territory. Beyond the insecure interpretation of classical documents, much of the archaeological evidence, upon which the hypothesises around a putative Garamantian long-distance trade rests, refers to the sites of the Wadi Tanezzuft in southwestern Fezzan. Due to its fortified character and location on an ancient commercial route used in medieval times, the excavators considered the citadel of Aghram Nadharif to be a kind of gate that funnelled and controlled the flow of goods coming from the south. Archaeological finds that could have substantiated this line of reasoning were, however, not retrieved from the excavations carried out at that location. Accordingly, the relation of Aghram Nadharif and of the Garamantes with a trans-Saharan trade still remains unproven.

In spite of this, it is worth mentioning that the presence in the Wadi Tanezzuft Garamantian sites of roulette-impressed pottery shards has been seen as evidence for such contacts. Roulette impression indeed appears as the main decoration for pottery in the region from the Final Pastoral Phase onwards, i.e., the early first millennium BC. The technique of decorating pottery by cord roulettes is widespread throughout West Africa, both in time and space. However, neither the geographical limits of its use nor the mechanisms of its distribution between neighbouring regions are yet fully understood, although progress has been made in more recent years. The stylistic comparison of widespread decoration techniques such as cord roulette impressions is, in my opinion, a rather weak tie for making a case for trade between the Garamantes’ territory and the Sahel. Petrographical and chemical analysis of the cord roulette-impressed pottery matrix, on the other hand, is a logical step forward to verify the hypothesis that the Garamantes were trading with the far-distant south. The results of such analyses on material from Aghram Nadharif, however, do not support this hypothesis as they show that the relevant pottery was made from local clay. The same is true for some shards decorated with red and white paint, which M. Liverani seeks to link with those from the Inland Niger Delta and Djenné Jeno as well as with the Chad Basin, while M. C. Gatto rather explores connections between the painted cross-hatched motifs and similar motifs in the Borkou area. The fact that no pottery with truly Sahelian origin was found in the tested assemblage is explained by a trade with the south that neither involved pottery nor goods transported in pottery containers. Nevertheless, Liverani argues that frequent contacts with the Sahel triggered the use of these pottery decorations among the Garamantians in the first centuries AD. Gatto, on the other hand, rather suggests that female potters originating from the Sahel intermarried with Garamantians and kept their pottery traditions over generations. In principle, these possibilities cannot be fully dismissed without further substantial work on the diffusion of the cord roulette technique into Saharan Africa. However, it is important to note that decoration may be also in this case much less significant than pottery-making techniques for tracing back the origins of the people who made them. In this respect, the main shaping technique used at Aghram Nadharif – moulding/pinching and coiling – is not a common technique among the Sahelian pottery traditions claimed to relate to the Garamantians (Niger Bend, Lake Chad region). In most parts of those territories, the prevailing techniques during the time concerned (ca. 500 BC onwards) were variants of forming the body of a vessel over a convex or, more widespread, concave mould or form, often in combination with coiling of the upper vessel/rim part. M. Liverani assumes that, instead of pottery, mainly archaeologically invisible merchandise was traded between the Sahel, the Garamantian territory and beyond. These are thought to have consisted, as in medieval times, of salt, slaves and gold.

Ancient gold trade

While the first two trade items mentioned by Liverani are actually relatively improbable to be recognised in the archaeological record, the third has at least a chance to do so. Indeed, whether West African gold once did reach pre-Arab North Africa is difficult, but not impossible, to verify. Already in the 1980s, T. Garrard tried to explain a peak in Carthaginian gold mint issues with the export of gold from regions south of the Sahara to North Africa. A. Gondonneau and M. F. Guerra analysed North African gold coins from different periods, including a few of the very last Byzantine ones and such from the first Arab dynasties. The chemical fingerprint of the gold coins was also compared with modern gold nuggets from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Mali. According to their analyses, the first West African gold reached North Africa in the middle of the 8th century AD. Older gold artefacts than the last coins issued by the Byzantines were not tested, nor were gold nuggets from the eastern Niger Bend. Thus, the analyses only show that native gold from Ghana, Ivory Coast (i.e., the Upper Volta or Mouhoun River gold) and Mali (the Upper Niger gold) was most likely not traded to North Africa before the 8th century AD. This fits well with the archaeological record, for no trade items from northern Africa were found in those southern regions before the 8th century AD either. Since trade items from northern Africa and the wider world were discovered at the eastern Niger Bend prior to the 8th century AD, and since native gold is found there in abundance, it would be interesting to know whether gold from that area matches chemically with pre-Arab North African gold coins.

Another interesting question is whether there is archaeological evidence for the exploitation of the eastern Niger Bend gold deposits prior to the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade. First attempts to solve the latter problem were made by J. Devisse, reporting on the middle Sirba River in Burkina Faso. However, the only known archaeological site possibly related to gold exploitation was relatively young, merely dating to the ca. 14th–15th century AD. That gold from the eastern Niger Bend was possibly traded towards the north by the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade is also assumed by S. Nixon. Excavating in the medieval Saharan merchant town of Essouk/Tadmekka in eastern Mali, he discovered direct archaeological evidence for the local production of the “bald dinars”, a process later on described by the geographer al-Bakri (11th century AD). Dating to the 9th–10th century AD, Nixon’s finds are so far the oldest hard evidence for trade in gold on the borderland between the Sahel and the Sahara. In this respect, and as Essouk/Tadmekka is situated just to the north of the eastern Niger Bend, a contemporary and pre-9th century AD trade in gold from the gold-bearing tributaries of the Niger River such as the Sirba and Dargol has to be seriously considered.

In 2008, an archaeological site on the lower Sirba River in Niger, close to its confluence with the River Niger, was discovered by the author and colleagues, and test-pitted in the following year. Named Garbey Kourou after the adjacent village, the site consists of two near settlement mounds, located at an elevated point on the northern bank of the Sirba River. In the direct vicinity of the site, modern gold-diggers still pan gold dust from the river bed during the dry season. Two test-pits dug at each of the mounds revealed stratified material throughout the mound deposits, reaching down to depths of 1.2m and at least 2.6m. A series of radiocarbon dates indicates that the mounds were formed between the 4th and 11th centuries AD. In the second Test, a refuse pit radiocarbon-dated to the ca. 4th to 6th century AD was found. Along with potshards, faunal and charred botanical remains, it also contained several fragments of clay crucibles. The crucibles were obviously discarded in the pit after having been used, but what was being melted in them has not yet been satisfactorily determined. A microscopical analysis, conducted by E. Pernicka from CEZ Mannheim, revealed the sporadic presence of copper, silver and gold flitters in the pores of the crucible walls, but none of these flitters showed traces of melting. An XRF-study is currently undertaken on a larger number of crucible fragments in order to trace the material processed in the crucibles. Since a small glass bead was likewise found in the same pit, it is obvious that, as at Kissih, the inhabitants of the Sirba valley were receiving goods from North Africa as early as the 4th to 6th century AD.

It is tempting to presume that the ancient metal workers at Garbey Kourou already mined, processed and exchanged gold from the riverbed nearby for the exotic goods from the north. In the case that such a notion can be substantiated through new finds, this would be a considerable step towards solving the long lasting discussion about an ancient gold trade between West and Roman North Africa prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa.