An elite military unit

Emperor Selassie meeting a lion, the symbol of Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Black Lions were an elite military unit of the Ethiopian Army during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

The unit was named after the Black Lion of Judah, a symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy, and was made up of highly trained and experienced soldiers who were chosen for their bravery and combat skills.

The early Ethiopian rebel movement was dominated by the Black Lions. Students from Holeta Military Academy and Ethiopians with foreign education made up the majority of the Black Lions.

The movement was started in western Ethiopia and consisted of intellectuals like Yilma Deressa, the sons of Hakim Workneh Eshete and Heruy Welde Sellase, and combatants like the Shoan Ras Abebe Aregai. Alemework Beyene, a veterinary surgeon with British training, served as its chairman.

The group's ten-point constitution forbade members from seeking exile and urged them to choose death over enemy capture.

Other points included the assertion that politics should take precedence over the military and prohibitions against mistreating prisoners of war and peasants.

Ras Abebe Aregai.

Public Domain

The Black Lions played a key role in the Ethiopian resistance against the Italian invasion and were known for their fierce and determined fighting style. They were led by General Mulugeta Buli, who was widely admired for his leadership and strategic acumen.

Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the Italian forces, the Black Lions were able to inflict significant casualties and hold their own in battle, earning a reputation as one of the most formidable units in the Ethiopian Army.

Ethiopian resistance fighters.

Ras Imru Haile Selassie was persuaded by the Black Lion to join them in the armed struggle since he was a part of the forces that gave rise to the movement. Emperor Haile Selassie had also designated Ras Imru to serve as prince regent while he was away and was instructed to regroup and maintain its resistance to the Italians. He marshalled his forces and withdrew to Gore in southern Ethiopia to in order to continue the struggle. 

Ethiopian guerrillas in northern Shewa, April 1936.

Sheba's Sons - Haile Selassie goes to Tokyo | Page 3 |

However, Ras Imru surrendered on 19th December 1936, after the Italians trapped his forces on the Gojeb River's north bank. The Black Lions group eventually disintegrated, and many of its members were killed following the unsuccessful attempt on Rodolfo Graziani's life on 19th February 1937.