Italian Colonization of Libya

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Italian Colonization and the Impact of the Sanussi in Libya

The Italian occupation of Libya is an often-overlooked period of time in the history of Africa colonization by western powers. The Italians were as brutal as any other nation in their nation during their reign and justified it with orientalist rhetoric.

Historically, Libya has always been a part of another empire. The Greeks were the first to conquer the trading posts of Libya, followed by the Romans, than the Islamic Empire under the Umayyad caliphate. In the mid-16th century the area we know today as Libya was taken by the Ottoman Empire who held it until 1911. The Italian interest in Libya begins in 1878, following the Congress of Berlin. The Congress of Berlin was held following the Russo-Turkish War in the same year. At this period in history, the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating and the European powers were deciding how they were going to divide it. The Italians were late on the colonization of Africa and were looking forward to the economic opportunity.

The Ottoman Empire began propaganda to try to convince their population that they should go to war with the Ottoman Empire and take Libya. An example of the propaganda can be found in a speech by Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. He would argue that “Libyans are creatures who sequester for themselves and leave uncultivated land that is necessary to all mankind,” implying that the Libyans were not as human as the Italians and they are wasting the land. He would also use the excuse of his Italy being the successor of the Roman Empire and the Roman Empire controlled Libya. He would mention the economic opportunity in Libya saying the land had become desert because of “inertia of the nomadic and slothful population.” Emigrants would soon turn the colony into “a continuation of their native land (Segrè, 21-23).”

In September of 1911 Italy invaded Libya. At the time Libya was divided in three territories, Tripolitania,...
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