102187 | ETHIOPIA, N.E. AFRICA & ITALY. VIII Eritrean Battalion Gold Medal.
102187 | ETHIOPIA, NORTHEASTERN AFRICA & ITALY. VIII Eritrean Battalion Gold Award Medal. Issued 1916 or shortly thereafter (23mm, 8.02 g, 12h).
Soldier facing right, holding rifle with bayonet; trees in background; in foreground, large rock with inscription "VIIIº / BATTAGLIONE / ERITREO" in three lines / Eagle facing, with wings spread and head lowered slightly left; within wings below, vertical alternating bands enameled in red and blue; in four lines below, ADUA 1896 / CIRENAICA 1912–13 / CIRENE MAGGIO 1913 / LIBIA 1915–16. Edge: Plain, with loop attached at the top.
Choice Extremely Fine. Pale golden-yellow surfaces, with red-blue enameling fully intact. An extremely rare and attractive medal seemingly without compare. Struck in 18K (75%) gold. Though there are other medals for different battalions and in bronze, the gold issues are exceedingly rare, with no other examples of this particular type—in any metal—able to be located.
Following the coalescing of the various Italian city states and subsequent unification under the House of Savoy, the Italian Kingdom began to eye a larger role in the Mediterranean. Ambitions in the northern African coast, as well as southward into the areas of Somalia and Ethiopia, brought about the goals of a regional empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the early conflicts, the Battle of Adwa, actually saw the Italian forces repelled—an incredible defeat staged by the victorious Ethiopian Empire. This sovereignty for Ethiopia would continue for another four decades until the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, in which the Italian forces would subdue that of Ethiopia, driving Emperor Haile Selassie into exile. In the interim, Italian goals were not repulsed by the defeat at Adwa, as skirmishes and territorial acquisitions continued throughout the early 20th century.
By the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Italy had amassed quite a sphere of influence throughout the southern Mediterranean and northeastern Africa. This award medal was presented to members of the VIII Eritrean Battalion, which saw action in numerous campaigns in Africa between 1896 and 1916. Despite the defeat at Adwa, this medal seemingly presents a different story, even boasting about it, along with other later victories. Nevertheless, Adwa served as an abject humiliation for Italy's forces, losing to a would-be colony that had inferior resources other than sheer will. Given that gold medals are so incredibly rare among those found for the various Eritrean battalions, it is very likely that this medal would have been awarded to a higher-ranking member of the Italian military who would have participated in these conflicts over the listed 20-year span. As such, an incredibly rare and important piece.
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