Military Wiki
Rodolfo Graziani
Born (1882-08-11)August 11, 1882
Died January 11, 1955(1955-01-11) (aged 72)
Place of birth Filettino, Italy
Place of death Rome, Italy
Allegiance  Kingdom of Italy (1915–1943)
 Italian Social Republic (1943–1945)
Service/branch  Royal Italian Army (1914–1943)
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (1943–1945)
Years of service 1903–1945
Rank General
Vice Governor of Italian Cyrenaica
Governor of Italian Cyrenaica
Governor of Italian Somaliland
Marshal of Italy
Governor of Italian East Africa
Viceroy of Italian East Africa
Governor of Italian Libya
Minister of Defense (RSI)
Unit Italian 10th Army

Pacification of Libya
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
World War II

Rodolfo Graziani, 1st Marquis of Neghelli (August 11, 1882 – January 11, 1955), was an officer in the Italian Regio Esercito (Royal Army) who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.

Rise to prominence

Rodolfo Graziani was born in Filettino in the province of Frosinone. In 1903, he decided to pursue a military career. He served in World War I and became the youngest Colonnello (Colonel) in the Regio Esercito.

In Libya

In the 1920s, Graziani commanded the Italian forces in Libya. He was responsible for suppressing the Senussi rebellion. During this so-called "pacification", he was responsible for the construction of several concentration camps and labor camps, where thousands of Libyan prisoners died, some killed[1] directly by hanging, like Omar Mukhtar, or bullets, but most indirectly by starvation or disease. His deeds earned him the nickname "the Butcher of Fezzan"[2] among the Arabs, but was called by the Italians the Pacifier of Libya (Pacificatore della Libia).

From 1926-1930, Graziani was the Vice Governor of Italian Cyrenaica in Libya. In 1930, he became Governor of Cyrenaica and held this position until 1934, when it was determined that he was needed elsewhere. In 1935, Graziani was made the Governor of Italian Somaliland.

In Ethiopia

(see also: Tito Minniti)

In 1935-1936, during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Graziani was the commander of the southern front. His army invaded Ethiopia from Italian Somaliland and he commanded Italian forces at Battles of Genale Doria and the Ogaden. However, Graziani's efforts in the south were secondary to the main invasion launched from Eritrea by Generale Emilio De Bono and continued by Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio. It was Badoglio and not Graziani who entered Addis Ababa in triumph after his "March of the Iron Will". But it was Graziani who said: "The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians."

Addis Ababa fell to Badoglio on 5 May 1936. Graziani had wanted to reach Harar before Badoglio reached Addis Ababa, but failed to do so. Even so, on 9 May, Graziani was awarded for his role as commander of the southern front with a promotion to the rank of Marshal of Italy. During his tour of an Ethiopian Orthodox church in Dire Dawa, Graziani fell into a pit covered by an ornate carpet, a trap that he believed had been set by the Ethiopian priests to injure or kill him. As a result he held Ethiopian clerics in deep suspicion.

After the war, Graziani was made Viceroy of Italian East Africa and Governor-General of Shewa/Addis Ababa. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill him by two Eritreans on 19 February 1937 (and after other murders of Italians in occupied Ethiopia), Graziani ordered a bloody and indiscriminate reprisal upon the conquered country, later remembered by Ethiopians as Yekatit 12: up to thirty thousand civilians of Addis Ababa were killed indiscriminately; another 1,469 were summarily executed by the end of the next month, and over one thousand Ethiopian notables were imprisoned and then exiled from Ethiopia. He became known as "the Butcher of Ethiopia".[3] Also in connection with the attempt on his life, Graziani authorized the massacre of the monks of the ancient monastery of Debre Libanos and the large number of pilgrims who had traveled there to celebrate the feast day of the founding saint of the monastery. Graziani's suspicion of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy (and the fact that the wife of one of the assassins had briefly taken sanctuary at the monastery) had convinced him of the complicity of the monks in the attempt on his life.

From 1939-1941, Graziani was the Commander-in-Chief of the Regio Esercito′s General Staff.

In World War II

At the start of World War II, Graziani was still Commander-in-Chief of the Regio Esercito′s General Staff. After the death of Marshal Italo Balbo in a friendly fire incident on 28 June 1940, Graziani took his place as Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and as the Governor General of Libya.

German and Italian state officials attending the funeral of Rome police chief and prominent Fascist Party member Arturo Bocchini on 21 November 1940. From left to right, Karl Wolff, Reinhard Heydrich, unknown, Heinrich Himmler, Emilio De Bono, Graziani, and Hans Georg von Mackensen.

Initially giving Graziani a deadline of 8 August, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered Graziani to invade Egypt with the 10th Army. Graziani expressed doubts about the ability of his largely un-mechanized force to defeat the British and put off the invasion for as long as he could.

However, faced with demotion, Graziani ultimately followed orders and elements of the 10th Army invaded Egypt on 9 September. The Italians made modest gains into Egypt and then prepared a series of fortified camps to defend their positions. In November 1940 the British counterattacked and completely defeated the 10th Army during Operation Compass, after which Graziani resigned his commission. On 25 March 1941, Graziani was replaced by General Italo Gariboldi, and remained inactive for two years.

Graziani was the only Italian Marshal to remain loyal to Mussolini after Dino Grandi's Grand Council of Fascism coup. He was appointed Minister of Defence of the Italian Social Republic by Mussolini[4] and oversaw the mixed Italo-German Army Group Liguria (Armee Ligurien) commanded by General Alfredo Guzzoni. He was able to obtain a defeat of the Allies in the "Battle of Garfagnana" in December 1944.

At the end of the war, Graziani spent a few days in San Vittore prison in Milan before being transferred to Allied control. He was brought back to Africa in Anglo-American custody, staying there until February 1946. Allied forces then felt the danger of assassination or lynching had passed (many thousands of fascists were murdered in Italy in summer and fall 1945), and returned him to Procida prison in Italy.

In 1948, a military tribunal sentenced Graziani to a further 19 years′ jail, as punishment for his collaboration with the Nazis; but he was released after serving only a few months of the sentence. He was never prosecuted for specific war crimes. Unlike the Germans and Japanese, Italians were not subjected to prosecutions by Allied tribunals.

Graziani in the early 1950s did some political activity with the neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, and became the "Honorary President" of this Italian party in 1953. In January 1955, at 72, he died of natural causes in Rome.


The League of Nations failed to try Graziani and other Italian authorities before World War II.[5][6]

In 1943, the Allied Powers agreed to create a new body to replace the League: the United Nations. The "United Nations War Crimes Commission" was created to investigate war crimes.[7] On March 4, 1948 charges against Graziani were presented to the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The commission was given evidence of the Italian policy of systematic terrorism and Graziani’s self-admitted intention to execute all Amharas authorities, and cited a telegram from Graziani to General Nasi, in which he had written, “Keep in mind also that I have already aimed at the total destruction of Abyssinian chiefs and notables and that this should be carried out completely in your territories.”[8] The UN commission agreed that there was a prima facie case against eight Italians including Graziani.[9]

The British Foreign Office consistently opposed Ethiopia’s inclusion in this Commission and the trial of Italian crimes committed during the 1935–36 invasion. Ethiopian efforts to bring Graziani to trial were frustrated by intransigence, by both Italy and Britain, and were finally abandoned, under pressure from the Foreign Office, whose support the Ethiopian Government considered essential for its claim to Eritrea.

However, in 1948 an Italian tribunal condemned Graziani to 19 years, but he served only four months because his lawyers demonstrated that he "received orders".[10]

Recent controversy

In 2012 a "Fatherland" and "Honour" monument was created as Graziani's tomb in an Italian town. In August 2012, $160,000 of public money was used to finance a monument in his honor, supplemented by private funding by Ettore Viri, the town of Affile's mayor. Engraved on the mausoleum are the words "Fatherland" and "Honour". Local moderate politicians complained about the monument, meanwhile right-wing opponents approved it loudly.[11]

Public fundings were suspended by the newly elected Lazio administration after the 2013 regional elections.[12]


Graziani wrote some books;[13] the most important are:

  • Ho difeso la Patria (una vita per l'Italia)
  • Africa settentrionale 1940-41
  • Libia redenta

Military career

  • 1915-1918—Service in World War I
  • 1921-1934—Service in Libya
  • 1926-1930—Vice Governor-General of Italian Cyrenaica
  • 1930-1934—Governor-General of Italian Cyrenaica
  • 1935-1936—Governor-General of Italian Somaliland
  • 1936-1937—Governor-General and Viceroy of Ethiopia; promoted to Marshal of Italy
  • 1940-1941—Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and Governor-General of Libya
  • 1943-1945—Minister of Defence for the Italian Social Republic


  • He is related to Tony Graziani, a former NFL and former Arena Football League quarterback.
  • He was portrayed by actor Oliver Reed in the movie Lion of the Desert.


  • Canosa, Romano. Graziani. Il maresciallo d'Italia, dalla guerra d'Etiopia alla Repubblica di Salò. Editore Mondadori; Collana: Oscar storia. EAN 9788804537625
  • Del Boca, AngeloNaissance de la nation libyenne, Editions Milelli, 2008, ISBN 978-2-916590-04-2.
  • Pankhurst, Richard. History of the Ethiopian Patriots (1936-1940), The Graziani Massacre and Consequences. Addis Abeba Tribune editions.
  • Rocco, Giuseppe. L'organizzazione militare della RSI, sul finire della seconda guerra mondiale. Greco & Greco Editori. Milano, 1998

See also


  1. Italian atrocities in world war two | Education | The Guardian:# Rory Carroll # The Guardian, # Monday June 25 2001
  2. Hart, David M.: Muslim Tribesmen and the Colonial Encounter in Fiction and on Film: The Image of the Muslim Tribes in Film and Fiction. Het Spinhuis, 2001. Page 121. ISBN 90-5589-205-X
  3. An account of this event, known in Ethiopia as "Yekatit 12", is chapter 14 of Anthony Mockler's Haile Selassie's War (New York: Olive Branch, 2003).
  4. Video of Graziani in 1944 (in Italian)
  5. Graziani first ordered his troops to use chemical weapons on October 10, 1935 against Ras Nasibu's troops in Gorrahei.(David Hamilton Shinn, Thomas P. Ofcansky, Chris Prouty,Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia,p, 89, The Scarecrow Press, Inc, ISBN 978-0-8108-4910-5)
  6. Richard Pankhurst states that "The Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs supplied the League of Nations with irrefutable information on Fascist war crimes, including the use of poison gas and the bombing of Red Cross hospitals and ambulances, from within a few hours of the Italian invasion on 3 October 1935 to 10 April of the following year." (Pankhurst, Richard "Italian Fascist War Crimes in Ethiopia: A History of Their Discussion, from the League of Nations to the United Nations (1936–1949)", Northeast African Studies, Volume 6, Number 1-2,1999)
  7. Ato Ambay of The Ethiopian War Crimes Commission which had begun preliminary researches reported to the UN War Crimes Commission, on 31 December 1946 that there were apparently no difficulties at all in obtaining sufficient evidence to justify the trial of Graziani, for crimes against humanity, especially related to the great Graziani massacre in February 1937 (Pankhurst, Richard. "Italian Fascist War Crimes in Ethiopia: A History of Their Discussion, from the League of Nations to the United Nations (1936–1949)
  8. Pankhurst, Richard "Italian Fascist War Crimes in Ethiopia: A History of Their Discussion, from the League of Nations to the United Nations (1936–1949)", Northeast African Studies, Volume 6, Number 1-2,1999,p. 127
  9. Pankhurst, Richard "Italian Fascist War Crimes in Ethiopia: A History of Their Discussion, from the League of Nations to the United Nations (1936–1949)", Northeast African Studies, Volume 6, Number 1-2,1999,p. 136
  10. Rodolfo Graziani biography by Angelo Del Boca in Treccani Enciclopedia Italiana (in Italian)
  11. New York Times: Monument to Graziani
  12. Governor of Lazio calls for withdrawal of funds for Graziani monument
  13. Books written by Rodolfo Graziani
Government offices
Preceded by
Pietro Badoglio
Viceroy and Governor-General of Italian East Africa
11 June 1936-21 December 1937
Succeeded by
Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta
Military offices
Preceded by
Italo Balbo
Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and Governor-General of Italian Libya
28 June 1940-25 March 1941
Succeeded by
Italo Gariboldi

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