In 1911, the Italian government tried to bolster its expansionist ambitions by demanding that the Ottomans leave Libya and “return” the territory to Rome. The Ottomans rejected the Italians’ ultimatum, so Rome had no choice but to declare a war against the Turks. After several months of naval and land battles, Tripoli finally fell and became a colony of Italy in 1912. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History during that time.
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The Decline of Ottoman Power and the Scramble for Africa
The death of Sultan Suleiman I in 1566 was the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Starting in the 1600s, the Empire was plagued with wars on almost all fronts. Eastern European warlords and princes, meanwhile, had also started to demand their independence. The Ottoman government was saddled with weak and corrupt leaders, so it was not long before the Empire started to burst at the seams.
Greece was among the first of the Ottoman colonies to declare itself independent from the Ottomans in 1829. Other Balkan and Mediterranean colonies also started their own struggle for independence. While the overburdened Ottomans were busy stemming the bleeding of its Empire, their European neighbors were scrambling to wrest huge chunks of it for themselves.
By the late 19th century, most of the Balkan states had declared independence or autonomy. Bosnia and Herzegovina were not as lucky as they were taken from the Ottoman Empire by Austria-Hungary. England, France, Germany, and Italy made a mad dash to take the Empire’s African territories. France (to Germany’s dismay) took Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Egypt, meanwhile, was firmly in the hands of Britain.
Italo-Turkish War and Italian Tripolitania
Italy was not a major colonial power during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was unified during the mid-19th century, but largely remained poor and most of its people were unemployed. Italy watched enviously as powerful France and Britain took large chunks of North Africa for themselves. To compensate, Rome then turned its gaze across the Mediterranean and decided to expand its territory by seizing two of the Roman Empire’s former territories: Tripoli and Cyrene in Ottoman Libya.
On September 28, 1911, Italy declared its intention to expand in Libya and then sent an ultimatum to the Ottoman administrators for them to “return” the territory. The Ottomans replied with a rejection the following day. This rejection only gave the Italians the perfect excuse to invade Tripoli. Italy declared a war against the Ottomans and started with a naval blockade. More than 40,000 Italian troops were dispatched to take part in this war of expansion in Libya which began on October 1, 1911. The Italians first softened Tripoli’s defenses with bombardment. This left the Ottomans with no choice but to leave the city and retreat further into the desert.
Four days later, victorious Italian troops occupied Tripoli while Ottoman volunteers and Libyan tribesmen were forced to retaliate with guerilla warfare. It was during this Italo-Turkish War that Young Turks leaders Enver Pasha and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk saw action as Ottoman volunteers. Turkish troops, however, were recalled later on as the beleaguered Ottomans prepared for the Balkan War.
The Italians also introduced some of the “firsts” of modern warfare. These included the first use of aircraft in bombardment and reconnaissance, as well as the first widespread use of machine guns and armored cars. By early November 1911, Italian troops had overcome resistance in Tripoli and soon declared its sovereignty over the colony. Despite the Italian victory, Libyan resistance continued into the latter part of 1911 and into mid-1912. As the war raged on, Italy managed to overpower the Ottoman navy in the eastern Mediterranean. Italian troops then occupied the island of Rhodes and some parts of the Dodecanese group.
By October 1912, the beleaguered Ottoman Empire was facing another war in the Balkans and it could not afford to be distracted. Ottoman representatives were forced to accept the setback and decided to sue for peace. They signed the Treaty of Lausanne (Treaty of Ouchy) on October 18, 1912, along with their Italian counterparts.
One of the terms of the Treaty was for the Italians to evacuate Rhodes and the Dodecanese. However, they failed to honor the agreement and continued to occupy the island. The Ottomans also evacuated most of their troops from Libya, but a few remained in the territory and continued to fight the enemy. Conflict flared every now and then between the Ottomans (plus their Libyan tribesmen allies) and Italian troops, but Tripoli, from then on, was firmly in the hands of the Italians.
Bury, J.P.T. The New Cambridge Modern History, Volume XII: The Shifting Balance of World Forces,1898-1945. Edited by Charles Loch Mowat. Cambridge: University Press, 1968.
Estes, Kenneth W. International Encyclopedia of Military History. Edited by James C. Bradford. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Simon, Rachel: Italo-Turkish War 1911-1912 , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the
First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan
Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universit盲t Berlin, Berlin 2016-08-23. DOI:
Stephenson, Charles. A Box of Sand: The Italo-Ottoman War 1911-1912: The First Land, Sea and Air War. Ticehurst, East Sussex, England: Tattered Flag Press, 2014.
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