General issues: Italian postal area 1912-1934, Italian colony 1934-1939, Italian postal area 1939-1943
Country name on general issues: Libia
Related issues: Italian office Benghazi 1901-1911, Italian office Tripoli 1909-1911, Italian Tripolitania 1923-1938, Italian Cyrenaica 1923-1935
Currency: 1 Lira = 100 Centesimi 1912-1943
Population: 551 000 in 1915, 861 000 in 1940
Political history Italian Libya
Italian Libya is located in northern Africa. Libya has a long history. Having been part of the Roman Empire, Libya is, in the 7th century, conquered by the Arabs. The Arabs bring their culture, their language and Islam. In the 16th century Libya becomes part of the Ottoman Empire, in which it forms the vilayet – province – of Tripolitania in the second part of the 19th century. The population is of Berber, Arab and Turkish origin and is almost fully Arabized. Italy in the 19th century has commercial interests in Ottoman Tripolitania. Having become a unified kingdom only in 1861, Italy is late in establishing a colonial empire. By the late 19th century Italy looks to take possession of Ottoman Tripolitania. In 1911, Italy declares war on Turkey. Italy is victorious and in 1912 the Turks, by way of the treaty of Lausanne, agree to withdraw from Tripolitania – de jure Ottoman Tripolitania is ceded to Italy in 1923, again by way of a treaty signed in Lausanne.
Establishing Italian rule
Having focused on the Turkish garrison towns during the Italo-Turkish war, Italy, in subsequent years, sets out to bring all of Ottoman Tripolitania under its control – an effort in which it will only partly succeed. In 1915, Italy joins the Allies in WWI and the troops from Libya are withdrawn to be deployed in the European theaters of war. Local leaders reassert their authority over most of Libya – the most notable of these being the Senussi leaders. The Senussi are a religious order that has assumed substantial worldly power in large parts of Libya – the Senussi leader Idris will eventually ascend to the throne of the kingdom of Libya in 1951. Italian control is, between 1915 and 1919, de facto limited to a number of coastal towns. After WWI, the Italians set out to reestablish their authority in Libya. Initially, they do so by signing agreements with the local leaders granting self government. In the Tripoli region, an agreement is signed with the Tripolitanian republic that has proclaimed independence in 1919. In the Cyrenaica region an agreement is signed with the Senussi leaders, granting them the title of emir and self government in the southern Kufra region.
Things take a very different turn when Benito Mussolini, in 1922, comes to power in Italy. Mussolini launches the ‘Riconquista'‘Reconquest’. The Italians abrogate all prior agreements and, through military force, assert their authority in Libya. Libya is successively brought under effective Italian rule – Tripolitania between 1922 and 1928, then Cyrenaica between 1926 and 1928, Fezzan between 1929 and 1930 and finally Kufra in 1931 – Kufra being the last stronghold of the Senussi.
Defining the borders
The borders of Italian Libya – initially defined by the 1912 borders of Ottoman Tripolitania – are expanded in a number of steps. Following the 1912 Lausanne treaty, Italian sovereignty is recognized by the international powers over the Kufra region also – the exact border with Egypt to be defined in 1926. In 1919, France – as a compensation for Italy having joined WWI – cedes parts of Algeria. In 1934, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan cedes the Sarra triangle – an apparent example of the appeasement policy of European powers vis a vis fascist expansionist ambitions. Finally, the Aouzou strip is negotiated between France and Italy from 1919 – an agreement reached in 1935 is not ratified and the Aouzou strip will remain disputed, changing hands several times in the following decades until it is finally awarded to Chad in 1994.
The Italians, after 1912, divide their Libyan possessions in three parts. In the coastal region the colonies of Italian Tripolitania and Italian Cyrenaica are established, each with a governor. The southern possessions – the Fezzan and Kufra regions – are administered by the military as the Military Territory of Southern Libya. These possessions together are referred to both as ‘Italian North Africa’ and ‘Italian Libya’. A major change is effected in 1934 when the colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica are joined to form what is now officially called the colony of Italian Libya – a colony consisting of four provinces. In 1939, Italian Libya is dissolved and the provinces of the former colony become provinces of Italy.
The process, in the 1920’s, of establishing Italian rule, is one of subjection by military force – at considerable cost to the local population. In the 1930’s – having secured all of Libya – the Italians sail a different course. Libya becomes a settlement colony and major investments are made in the economy, infrastructure and social institutions. However, these efforts are focused on the Italian settlers in Libya. The local people – even when the Libyan provinces have become Italian provinces – have gained little from these efforts.
End of Italian rule
In WWII, Libya will develop into a major theater of war. Fortunes change between 1940 and 1943, but events eventually lead to Allied victory and the eviction of Italy from Libya in 1943. British and French forces occupy the country, establishing first military administration and then civil administration. Italy formally cedes Italian Libya in 1947. In 1951, Libya will gain independence as the kingdom of Libya.
Postal history Italian Libya
In Ottoman Tripolitania the stamps of the Ottoman Empire have been used. Italy has opened an office abroad in Tripoli in 1869 using general issues for Italian offices abroad from 1874 and the general issues for the Italian offices in the Levant from 1908. Stamps are issued for specific use in the Tripoli office from 1909. A second office is opened in Benghazi in 1901. Stamps are issued for use in the Benghazi office from 1901.
Italy issues the first stamps for Italian Libya in 1912 – Italian stamps overprinted ‘Libia’. The first definitives are issued in 1921: stamps inscribed ‘Colonie Italiane – Libia’ which translates to ‘Italian colonies – Libya’. Between 1923 and 1938, the issues for Italian Libya are used concurrently with the issues for Italian Cyrenaica and Italian Tripolitania.
From 1943, the occupying British and French forces will issue stamps that, from 1951, are superseded by the issues of the kingdom of Libya.
For a presentation of the political and postal history of Italian Libya in the form of a diagram please refer to the country diagram of Italian Northern Africa.