Land productivity and terrain characteristics play a critical role in determining the outcome of wars, yet this aspect is often overlooked in the academic literature on wars. This study aims to fill this gap by developing a comprehensive framework for objectively evaluating the factors contributing to military victories in historical battlespaces, focusing on land attributes. The Battle of Adwa, fought between the Ethiopian and Italian armies in 1896, was chosen as the case study. The factors identified in military literature were categorized into three groups: defining factors such as leadership, courage, army count, and artillery, limiting factors such as topographic variables, and reducing factors such as food availability. To quantify the battlespace capability of the two warring armies, a weighted scoring method was developed using historical information and environmental data. However, due to the scarcity of past environmental data, the space-for-time substitute technique was used to reconstruct and determine land characteristics from the 1890s. The results of the framework showed that the Ethiopian army outperformed the Italian army in terms of defining factors and overcoming terrain and logistic limitations. If the two armies had fought based solely on defining factors, with similar terrain and food supply conditions, the Italian army would have suffered more casualties than in history. This study’s methodology can be replicated in other historical wars to objectively evaluate warring parties, which ultimately contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the interplay between land productivity, terrain characteristics, and military outcomes and can contribute to advancing military and environmental history.
Key Words: Topography, Battle of Adwa, Historical battlespaces, Weighted scoring method