Mussolini’s Prewar Territorial Gains

Mussolini’s Prewar Territorial Gains

Mussolini's Territorial Expansion


In a secret speech to the Italian military leadership in January 1925, Mussolini argued that Italy needed to win spazio vitale (vital space). As such, his ultimate goal was to join “the two shores of the Mediterranean and of the Indian Ocean into a single Italian territory.” Thus, Mussolini envisioned Italy would once again be restored as major, global power as it had been in the days of the Roman Empire.


Learning Objectives

  • Identify Mussolini's territorial expansions


Key Terms / Key Concepts

Albania: small, European country in the Balkans, just north of Greece

Ethiopia: country in far eastern Africa

spazio vitale:  Mussolini's concept of "vital space," and used as justification for Italian conquests


The Italians in Ethiopia and Albania


In 1935, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. On the surface, the invasion looked random. Why would Italy set its sites on taking a country in east Africa? There were, however, a few reasons driving Mussolini. Firstly, he recalled the miserable defeat the Italians had suffered against the Ethiopians in the 1896 war. Italy had tried to claim Ethiopia during the "Scramble for Africa," and failed miserably. Secondly, it remained one of the only independent nations in Africa in the 1930s. Almost all of the rest of the continent remained under British, French, and Spanish colonial rule. Lastly, Mussolini hoped to conquer Ethiopia, then follow up his success by conquering other small nations around the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

In 1936, the Italians invaded Ethiopia. More than 200,000 Italian troops fought in the campaign to conquer Ethiopia. While the Ethiopians tried to resist, they were severely outgunned and lacked radios and other technological advancements. Within a year, the Italians had claimed victory and proclaimed the Italian King, Victor Emmanuel, Emperor. Still, conflict continued between the Ethiopians and Italians until 1939. This proved a resource drain for the Italians, who increasingly relied on their alliance with Nazi Germany to protect them at home.


Ethiopian troops during the Italian Invasion, 1936.


In April 1939, Italy launched an invasion of  Albania. Again, the maneuver seemed peculiar. Albania was a small country in the Balkans with very little political sway in global affairs. Why did Mussolini want to seize it? Firstly, because of the country's position on the Adriatic Sea. Albania had several significant ports which could offer the Italians control of the Adriatic. Secondly, Albania had once been part of the Roman Empire. Therefore, Mussolini believed that reclaiming it would also help restore Italian influence. Lastly, Mussolini felt enormous pressure to expand Italian influence following Hitler's successes in annexing Austria. Afraid that Italy was falling behind Germany in terms of its military and political power, Mussolini was determined to conquer territories. Within a few days of the invasion, Albania capitulated to the Italians. The Albanian king was deposed, and the Italian King, Victor Emmanuel, became the king of Albania. Mussolini's plan had worked.


Map showing the Kingdoms of Italy (light green) and Albania (dark green)
under Italian King Victor Emmanuel, 1939.


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