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Italian Spahis were light cavalry colonial troops of the Kingdom of Italy, raised in Italian Libya between 1912 and 1942.[1]


The Italian colonial administration of Libya raised squadrons of locally recruited Spahi cavalry after the conquest of Libya from the Ottoman empire.

These differed from their French namesakes in that their prime role was that of mounted police, tasked with patrolling rural and desert areas. The name is the French form of the Ottoman word sipahi, a word originally derived from Middle Persian term Spah meaning "army", or "horsemen".

Although they had Italian officers these spahis were more loosely organised than the regular Libyan cavalry regiments (Savari). They usually wore a picturesque dress modelled on that of the desert tribesmen from whom they were recruited.


The Italian Spahis formed part of the Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali of Libya (Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops), which included desert and camel troops, infantry battalions, artillery and cavalry. The Truppe Coloniali saw extensive service during the Italian conquest of Tripolitania and mainly contributed to the full control of Cyrenaica & Fezzan, which was not completed until 1932. Since then they patrolled the border areas of Italian Libya.

In 1936 Spahis and other Libyan units took part in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and received a "Gold Medal of Honor" for their distinguished performance in battle [2]

The Spahis of Amedeo Guillet

Te most famous group of Italian Spahis was the one of Amedeo Guillet. In 1934 he was in Libya commanding this irregular cavalry.

In 1935, Guillet participated with the Spahis of Libya in the War of Ethiopia, where these Libyan troops fought bravely.

World War II

On the eve of Italy's entry into World War II the Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops comprised approximately 28,000 locally recruited personnel, of which nearly one thousand were the Italian Spahis.

They suffered heavy losses during the Battle of the Marmarica (December 1940) and were formally disbanded in January 1943 following the Italian withdrawal into Tunisia. Italian Spahis were in control of Ghat and Ghadames until the first weeks of 1943.

The role of the Spahis and other mounted troops was limited mainly to patrol and scouting work by the demands of modern mechanised warfare.



  • Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915–1945. Mondadori. Torino, 1961.
  • Crociani, Pietro. Le Uniformi Coloniali Libiche 1912–1942 La Roccia editore. Roma, 1980

See also

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