Oreste Baratieri (né Oreste Baratter, November 13, 1841 – August 7, 1901) was an Italian general and governor of Eritrea who led the Italian army and was defeated in the First Italo–Ethiopian War's Battle of Adowa.
Born in Condino, Trentino, Baratieri began his career as a volunteer for Giuseppe Garibaldi's Redshirts, where he served during the Sicilian-Neapolitan campaign from May 11, 1860 to February 13, 1861. Following the unification of Italy, pursued a military career joining the Italian army later fighting at the Battle of Custoza on June 24, 1866. Rising to the rank of general by 1891, Baratieri was appointed commander of Italian forces in colonial Africa and the following year became governor of Eritrea. Baratieri would spend several years fighting with local Ethiopian forces along the border from 1893 to 1895, winning several victories over the Mahdists, particularly at the Battle of Kassala on July 17, 1894.
Following Ethiopian emperor Menelik II's repudiation of the Treaty of Wuchale, Italy launched an invasion of the Ethiopian empire. Returning briefly to Italy, Baratieri promised crowds to bring back Menelik in a cage and in late 1895 Baratieri led a force of 20,000 men into Ethiopia.
However, Menelik had spent several years re-equipping his soldiers with modern arms and ammunition for such a conflict—at times with Italian help—and called up an army that vastly outnumbered the Italian forces. Baratieri spent nearly a year of the First Italo–Ethiopian War evading a decisive confrontation. In February 1896, however, the impatient Italian government of Francesco Crispi ordered Baratieri to engage the Ethiopians.
On February 29, Baratieri marched on the Ethiopians at Adowa, where they outnumbered his command of 17,700 men over six to one.1 The fighting began soon after 5:30 am on the morning of 1 March, when a horseman entered the camp with news of the Italian advance. By noon the battle was effectively over.
Though the two sides suffered nearly equal casualties—11,000citation needed Italian dead and 10,000 Ethiopian—they accounted for nearly the whole of Baratieri's force. As a result of the disaster, Italy was forced to sign the Treaty of Addis Ababa guaranteeing Ethiopian sovereignty. Baratieri was court-martialed at Asmara; though he was acquitted, he was forced to resign his post the following year. He spent the remainder of his life living in retirement in the Austrian Tyrol until his death on August 7, 1901 at Sterzing.
- David Levering Lewis, The Race for Fashoda (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), pp. 116.