French campaign in Egypt and Syria

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Egyptian Campaign
Part of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798
Baron Antoine-Jean Gros-Battle Pyramids 1810.jpg
Battle of the Pyramids
Date1 July 1798 – 2 September 1801
(3 years, 2 months and 1 day)

Ottoman-British victory

  • French conquest of Egypt and end of Mamluk rule
  • Failure of French expedition to Syria
  • Capitulation of French administration in Egypt
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France

Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Ottoman Empire

Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders

Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon Bonaparte
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Jean Baptiste Kléber  
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Thomas-Alexandre Dumas


Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Jacques-Francois Menou   White flag icon.svg

Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Selim III
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Kör Yusuf Ziyaüddin Pasha
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Mustafa Pasha
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Jezzar Pasha
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Murad Bey
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (also used in Egypt).svg Ibrahim Bey
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg William Sidney Smith
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Ralph Abercrombie   (DOW)

Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Horatio Nelson
40,000+ men (land)

Ottoman Empire: 220,000

  • Army of Egypt: 80,001
  • Army of Rhodes: 20,000
  • Army of Syria: 20,000
  • Army of the East: 30,000
  • 2nd invasion of Egypt: 60,000
Great Britain: 30,000
Casualties and losses
15,000 killed or wounded [1]
8,500 prisoners [1]
50,000 killed or wounded [1]
15,000 prisoners [1]

The French Campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria, proclaimed to defend French trade interests, weaken Britain's access to British India, and to establish scientific enterprise in the region. It was the primary purpose of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, a series of naval engagements that included the capture of Malta.

Napoleon 18th/19th-century French monarch, military and political leader

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Asia, Europe and Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

Ottoman Egypt covers two main periods of the history of Egypt from the 16th through early 20th centuries, when under the rule of or allied to the Ottoman Empire that was based in Turkey.

On the scientific front, the expedition eventually led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, creating the field of Egyptology. Despite many decisive victories and an initially successful expedition into Syria, Napoleon and his Armée d'Orient were eventually forced to withdraw, after sowing political disharmony in France, experiencing conflict in Europe, and suffering the defeat of the supporting French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.

Rosetta Stone Ancient Egyptian stele with inscriptions in three languages

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele, found in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic script and Demotic script, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree has only minor differences between the three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history.

Egyptology Study of Ancient Egypt

Egyptology is the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, religion, architecture and art from the 5th millennium BC until the end of its native religious practices in the 4th century AD. A practitioner of the discipline is an "Egyptologist". In Europe, particularly on the Continent, Egyptology is primarily regarded as being a philological discipline, while in North America it is often regarded as a branch of archaeology.

Battle of the Nile Naval battle between Britain and France

The Battle of the Nile was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.

Preparations and voyage


At the time of the invasion, the Directory had assumed executive power in France. It would resort to the army to maintain order in the face of the Jacobin and royalist threats, and count in particular on general Bonaparte, already a successful commander, having led the Italian campaign.

French Directory Executive power of the French Constitution of 1795-1799

The Directory or Directorate was a five-member committee that governed France from 2 November 1795, when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety, until 9 November 1799, when it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Coup of 18 Brumaire, and replaced by the French Consulate. It gave its name to the final four years of the French Revolution.

Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars

The Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) were a series of conflicts fought principally in Northern Italy between the French Revolutionary Army and a Coalition of Austria, Russia, Piedmont-Sardinia, and a number of other Italian states.

The notion of annexing Egypt as a French colony had been under discussion since François Baron de Tott undertook a secret mission to the Levant in 1777 to determine its feasibility. [2] Baron de Tott's report was favorable, but no immediate action was taken. [2] Nevertheless, Egypt became a topic of debate between Talleyrand and Napoleon, which continued in their correspondence during Napoleon's Italian campaign. [2] In early 1798, Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt. In a letter to the Directory, he suggested this would protect French trade interests, attack British commerce, and undermine Britain's access to India and the East Indies, since Egypt was well-placed on the trade routes to these places.[ citation needed ] Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with France's ally Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India. [3] As France was not ready for a head-on attack on Great Britain itself, the Directory decided to intervene indirectly and create a "double port" connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, prefiguring the Suez Canal. [4]

François Baron de Tott French aristocrat and military officer

François Baron de Tott was an aristocrat and a French military officer of Hungarian origin. Born on August 17, 1733 in Chamigny, a village in northern France, the descendant of a Hungarian nobleman, who had emigrated to the Ottoman Empire and then moved on to France with the cavalry of Count Miklós Bercsényi, and was later raised to the rank of baron.

Levant Geographic and cultural region consisting of the eastern Mediterranean between Anatolia and Egypt

The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily in Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, it is equivalent to the historical region of Syria. In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the eastern Mediterranean with its islands; that is, it included all of the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica.

Kingdom of Great Britain constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707–1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called simply Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". After the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

At the time, Egypt had been an Ottoman province since 1517, but was now out of direct Ottoman control, and was in disorder, with dissension among the ruling Mamluk elite. In France, "Egyptian" fashion was in full swing – intellectuals believed that Egypt was the cradle of western civilisation and wished to conquer it. French traders already based on the Nile were complaining of harassment by the Mamluks, and Napoleon wished to walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He assured the Directory that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions." [5] According to a 13 February 1798 report by Talleyrand, "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to the Sultanate of Mysore, to join the forces of Tipu Sultan and drive away the English." [5] The Directory agreed to the plan in March 1798, though troubled by its scope and cost. They saw that it would remove the popular and over-ambitious Napoleon from the centre of power, though this motive long remained secret.

Mamluk Muslim slave soldiers

Mamluk is an Arabic designation for slaves. The term is most commonly used to refer to non-muslim slave soldiers and Muslim rulers of slave origin.

Nile River in Africa and the longest river in the world

The Nile is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa, and is the longest river in Africa and in the world, though some sources cite the Amazon River as the longest. The Nile, which is about 6,650 km (4,130 mi) long, is an "international" river as its drainage basin covers eleven countries, namely, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of the Sudan and Egypt. In particular, the Nile is the primary water source of Egypt and Sudan.

Alexander the Great King of Macedon

Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.

Before departure from Toulon

Rumours became rife as 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors were gathered in French Mediterranean ports. A large fleet was assembled at Toulon: 13 ships of the line, 14 frigates, and 400 transports. To avoid interception by the British fleet under Nelson, the expedition's target was kept secret. It was known only to Bonaparte himself, his generals Berthier and Caffarelli, and the mathematician Gaspard Monge. [4] Bonaparte was the commander, with subordinates including Thomas Alexandre Dumas, Kléber, Desaix, Berthier, Caffarelli, Lannes, Damas, Murat, Andréossy, Belliard, Menou, and Zajączek. His aides de camp included his brother Louis Bonaparte, Duroc, Eugène de Beauharnais, Thomas Prosper Jullien, and the Polish nobleman Joseph Sulkowski.

Toulon Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Toulon is a city in southern France and a large port on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department.

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Royal Navy Admiral

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Louis-Alexandre Berthier Marshal and Vice-Constable of France

Louis-Alexandre Berthier, 1st Prince of Wagram, Sovereign Prince of Neuchâtel, was a French Marshal and Vice-Constable of the Empire, and Chief of Staff under Napoleon.

The fleet at Toulon was joined by squadrons from Genoa, Civitavecchia and Bastia and was put under the command of Admiral Brueys and Contre-amirals Villeneuve, Du Chayla, Decrès and Ganteaume.

The fleet was about to set sail when a crisis developed with Austria, and the Directory recalled Bonaparte in case war broke out. The crisis was resolved in a few weeks, and Bonaparte received orders to travel to Toulon as soon as possible. It is claimed[ by whom? ] that, in a stormy meeting with the Directory, Bonaparte threatened to dissolve them and director Reubell gave him a pen saying "Sign there, general!"

Bonaparte arrived at Toulon on 9 May 1798, lodging with Benoît Georges de Najac, the officer in charge of preparing the fleet. The army embarked confident in their commander's talent and on 19 May, just as he embarked, Bonaparte addressed the troops, especially those who had served under him in the Armée d'Italie :

Soldiers! You are one of the wings of the French army. You have made war on the mountains, on the plains, and in cities; it remains for you to fight on the seas. The Roman legions, that you sometimes imitated but no longer equalled, fought Carthage now on this same sea and now on the plains of Zama... Soldiers, sailors, you have been neglected until this day; today, the greatest concern of the Republic is for you... The genius of liberty, which made you, at her birth, the arbiter of Europe, wants to be genius of the seas and the furthest nations.

Capture of Malta

Napoleon's arrival in Malta Nap malta.jpg
Napoleon's arrival in Malta

When Napoleon's fleet arrived off Malta, Napoleon demanded that the Knights of Malta allow his fleet to enter the port and take on water and supplies. Grand Master von Hompesch replied that only two foreign ships would be allowed to enter the port at a time. Under that restriction, re-victualling the French fleet would take weeks, and it would be vulnerable to the British fleet of Admiral Nelson. Napoleon therefore ordered the invasion of Malta. [6]

The French Revolution had significantly reduced the Knights' income and their ability to put up serious resistance. Half of the Knights were French, and most of these knights refused to fight. [6]

French troops disembarked in Malta at seven points on the morning of 11 June. Gen. Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers landed soldiers and cannon in the western part of the main island of Malta, under artillery fire from Maltese fortifications. The French troops met some initial resistance but pressed forward. The Knights' ill-prepared force in that region, numbering only about 2,000, regrouped. The French pressed on with their attack. After a fierce gun battle lasting twenty-four hours, most of the Knights' force in the west surrendered. [6] Napoleon, during his stay in Malta, resided at Palazzo Parisio in Valletta. [7] [8] [9]

Napoleon then opened negotiations. Faced with vastly superior French forces and the loss of western Malta, von Hompesch surrendered the main fortress of Valletta. [6]

Alexandria to Syria

Disembarkment at Alexandria

Napoleon departed Malta for Egypt. After successfully eluding detection by the Royal Navy for thirteen days, the fleet was in sight of Alexandria where it landed on 1 July, although Napoleon's plan had been to land elsewhere. On the day of the landing, Napoleon told his troops "I promise to each soldier who returns from this expedition, enough to purchase six arpents of land." (approximately 7.6 acres or 3.1 ha) and added:

The peoples we will be living alongside are Muslims; their first article of faith is "There is no other god but God, and Mahomet is his prophet". Do not contradict them; treat them as you treated the Jews, the Italians; respect their muftis and their imams, as you respected their rabbis and bishops. Have the same tolerance for the ceremonies prescribed by the Quran, for their mosques, as you had for the convents, for the synagogues, for the religion of Moses and that of Jesus Christ. The Roman legions used to protect all religions. You will here find different customs to those of Europe, you must get accustomed to them. The people among whom we are going treat women differently to us; but in every country whoever violates one is a monster. Pillaging only enriches a small number of men; it dishonours us, it destroys our resources; it makes enemies of the people who it is in our interest to have as our friends. The first city we will encounter was built by Alexander [the Great]. We shall find at every step great remains worthy of exciting French emulation. [10]

Menou had been the first to set out for Egypt, and was the first Frenchman to land. Bonaparte and Kléber landed together and joined Menou at night at the Marabou, on which the first French tricolour to be hoisted in Egypt was raised. Bonaparte was informed that Alexandria intended to resist him and he rushed to get a force ashore. At 2 am he set off marching in three columns, arriving by surprise beneath Alexandria's walls and ordering an assault – the enemy gave up and fled. The city had not had time to surrender and put itself at the French's discretion but, despite Bonaparte's orders, the French soldiers broke into the city.

On 1 July Napoleon, aboard the ship L'Orient en route to Egypt, wrote the following proclamation to the Muslim inhabitants of Alexandria:

For too long the beys who govern Egypt have insulted the French nation and covered their traders in slanders. The hour of their punishment has come. For too long this horde of slaves, bought in the Caucasus and Georgia, have tyrannised the most beautiful part of the world; but God, on whom all depends, has ordained that their empire shall end. People of Egypt, they have told you that I come to destroy your religion, but do not believe it; [tell them] in reply [that] I come to restore your rights, punish the usurpers and that I respect God, his prophet and the Quran more than the Mamluks. Tell them that all men are equal before God; wisdom, talents, virtues are the only things to make one man different from another... Is there a more beautiful land? It belongs to the Mamluks. If Egypt is their farm, then they should show the lease that God gave them for it... Cadis, cheiks, imans, tchorbadjis, and notables of the nation [I ask you to] tell the people that we are true friends of Muslims. Wasn't it us who destroyed the Knights of Malta? Wasn't it us who destroyed the Pope who used to say that he had a duty to make war on Muslims? Wasn't it us who have at all times been friends to the Great Lord and enemies to his enemies? ... Thrice happy are those who will be with us! They shall prosper in their fortune and in their rank. Happy are those who will be neutral! They will get to know us over time, and join their ranks with ours. But unhappy, thrice unhappy, are those who shall arm themselves [to fight] for the Mamluks and who shall fight against us! There shall be no hope for them, they shall perish. [11] [12]

When the whole expeditionary force had been disembarked, Admiral Brueys received orders to take the fleet to Aboukir Bay before anchoring the battle-fleet in the old port of Alexandria if possible or taking it to Corfu. These precautions were made vital by the imminent arrival of the British fleet, which had already been seen near Alexandria 24 hours before the French fleet's arrival. It was wisest to avoid the risks of a naval battle – a defeat could have disastrous results and it was in the force's better interests to go by land, marching at top speed to Cairo to frighten the enemy commanders and surprise them before they could put any defence measures in place.

Victory on land, defeat at sea

The Battle of the Pyramids, Louis-Francois, Baron Lejeune, 1808 Louis-Francois Baron Lejeune 001.jpg
The Battle of the Pyramids, Louis-François, Baron Lejeune, 1808

Louis Desaix marched across the desert with his division and two cannon, arriving at Demenhour, fifteen miles (24 km) from Alexandria, on 18 Messidor (6 July). Meanwhile, Bonaparte left Alexandria, leaving the city under Kléber's command. General Dugua marched on Rosetta, with orders to seize and hold the entrance to the port housing the French fleet, which had to follow the route to Cairo down the river's left bank and rejoin the army at Rahmanié. On 20 Messidor (8 July), Bonaparte arrived at Demenhour, where he found the forces that had met up, and on 22 Messidor they marched to Rahmanié, where they then awaited the fleet with their provisions. The fleet arrived on 24 Messidor (12 July) and the army began to march again at night, followed by the fleet.

The winds' violence suddenly forced the fleet to the army's left and straight into the enemy fleet, which was supported by musket fire from 4,000 Mamluks, reinforced by peasants and Arabs. The French fleet had numerical superiority but still lost its gunboats to the enemy. Attracted by the sound of gunfire, Bonaparte ordered his land force to the charge and attacked the village of Chebreiss, which was captured after two hours' fierce fighting. The enemy fled in disorder towards Cairo, leaving 600 dead on the battlefield.

The Battle of the Nile: Destruction of L'Orient, August 1, 1798 Mather Brown - Battle of the Nile.jpg
The Battle of the Nile: Destruction of L'Orient, August 1, 1798

After a day's rest at Chebreiss, the French land force continued the pursuit. On 2 Thermidor (20 July), it arrived half a mile from the village of Embabé. The heat was unbearable and the army was exhausted and needed a rest, but there was not enough time and so Bonaparte drew up his 25,000 troops for battle approximately nine miles (15 km) from the Pyramids of Giza. He is said to have shown his army the pyramids behind the enemy's left flank and at the moment of ordering the attack shouted "Soldiers, see the tops of the Pyramids" – in accounts written long afterwards, this phrase was altered into "Soldiers, remember that from the top of these pyramids, 40 centuries of history contemplate you", though historians later discovered that the pyramids were not visible from the battlefield. This was the start of the so-called Battle of the Pyramids, a French victory over an enemy force of about 21,000 Mamluks. [13] (Around 40,000 Mamluk soldiers stayed away from the battle.) The French defeated the Mamluk cavalry with a giant infantry square, with cannons and supplies safely on the inside. In all 300 French and approximately 6,000 Egyptians were killed. The battle gave rise to dozens of stories and drawings.

Dupuy's brigade pursued the routed enemy and at night entered Cairo, which had been abandoned by the beys Mourad and Ibrahim. On 4 Thermidor (22 July), the notables of Cairo came to Giza to meet Bonaparte and offered to hand over the city to him. Three days later, he moved his main headquarters there. Desaix was ordered to follow Mourad, who had set off for Upper Egypt. An observation corps was put in place at Elkanka to keep an eye on the movements of Ibrahim, who was heading towards Syria. Bonaparte personally led the pursuit of Ibrahim, beat him at Salahie and pushed him completely out of Egypt.

The transports had sailed back to France, but the battle fleet stayed and supported the army along the coast. The British fleet under the command of Horatio Nelson had been searching in vain for the French fleet for weeks. The British fleet had not found it in time to prevent the landings in Egypt, but on 1 August Nelson discovered the French warships anchored in a strong defensive position in the Bay of Abukir. The French believed that they were open to attack only on one side, the other side being protected by the shore. During the Battle of the Nile the arriving British fleet under Horatio Nelson managed to slip half of their ships in between the land and the French line, thus attacking from both sides. In a few hours 11 out of the 13 French ships of the line and 2 out of the 4 French frigates were captured or destroyed; the four remaining ships fled. This frustrated Bonaparte's goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea, and instead put it totally under British control. News of the naval defeat reached Bonaparte en route back to Cairo from defeating Ibrahim but, far from being worried, Mullié states:

This disastrous event did not disconcert [Bonaparte] at all – ever impenetrable, he did not allow any emotion to appear that he had not tested in his mind. Having calmly read the despatch which informed him that he and his army were now prisoners in Egypt, he said "We no longer have a navy. Well! We'll have to stay here, or leave as great men just as the ancients did". The army then showed itself happy at this short energetic response, but the native Egyptians considered the defeat at Aboukir as fortune turning in their favour and so from then on busied themselves to find means to throw off the hateful yoke the foreigners were trying to impose on them by force and to hunt them from their country. This project was soon put into execution. [14]

Bonaparte's administration of Egypt

Napoleon in Cairo, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 19th century, Princeton University Art Museum Jean-Leon Gerome 002.jpg
Napoleon in Cairo, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 19th century, Princeton University Art Museum
The skeleton of Napoleon's Arabian horse, Marengo, on display at the National Army Museum in London Marengo - National Army museum 2.jpg
The skeleton of Napoleon's Arabian horse, Marengo, on display at the National Army Museum in London
"Trace du theatre des operations militaires" from E.L.F. Hauet's manuscripts of the Campaign in Egypt at the American University in Cairo "Trace du theatre operations Militaires" from E.L.F. Hauet's manuscripts of the Campaign in Egypt.jpg
"Tracé du théatre des opérations militaires" from E.L.F. Hauet's manuscripts of the Campaign in Egypt at the American University in Cairo

After the naval defeat at Aboukir, Bonaparte's campaign remained land-bound. His army still succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings, and Napoleon began to behave as absolute ruler of all Egypt. He set up a pavilion and from within it presided over a fête du Nil – it was he who gave the signal to throw into the floats the statue of the river's fiancée, his name and Mohammed's were mingled in the same acclamations, on his orders gifts were distributed to the people, and he gave kaftans to his main officers.

In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian population, Bonaparte issued proclamations that cast him as a liberator of the people from Ottoman and Mamluk oppression, praising the precepts of Islam and claiming friendship between France and the Ottoman Empire despite French intervention in the breakaway state. This position as a liberator and Ottoman ally initially gained him solid support in Egypt and later led to admiration for Napoleon from Muhammad Ali of Egypt, who succeeded where Bonaparte had not in reforming Egypt and declaring its independence from the Ottomans. In a letter to a sheikh in August 1798, Napoleon wrote, "I hope... I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness." [15] Bonaparte's secretary Bourienne wrote that his employer had no serious interest in Islam or any other religion beyond their political value.

Bonaparte's principle was... to look upon religions as the work of men, but to respect them everywhere as a powerful engine of government... If Bonaparte spoke as a Mussulman (Muslim), it was merely in his character of a military and political chief in a Mussulman country. To do so was essential to his success, to the safety of his army, and... to his glory... In India he would have been for Ali, at Thibet for the Dalai-lama, and in China for Confucius." [16]

Shortly after Bonaparte's return from facing Ibrahim came Mohammed's birthday, which was celebrated with great pomp. Bonaparte himself directed the military parades for the occasion, preparing for this festival in the cheik's house wearing oriental dress and a turban. It was on this occasion that the divan granted him the title Ali-Bonaparte after Bonaparte proclaimed himself "a worthy son of the Prophet" and "favourite of Allah". Around the same time he took severe measures to protect pilgrim caravans from Egypt to Mecca, writing a letter himself to the governor of Mecca.

Even so, thanks to the taxes he imposed on them to support his army, the Egyptians remained unconvinced of the sincerity of all Bonaparte's attempts at conciliation and continued to attack him ceaselessly. Any means, even sudden attacks and assassination, were allowed to force the "infidels" out of Egypt. Military executions were unable to deter these attacks and they continued.

22 September 1798 was the anniversary of the founding of the First French Republic and Bonaparte organised the most magnificent celebration possible. On his orders, an immense circus was built in the largest square in Cairo, with 105 columns (each with a flag bearing the name of a département) round the edge and a colossal inscribed obelisk at the centre. On seven classical altars were inscribed the names of heroes killed in the French Revolutionary Wars, whilst the structure was entered through a triumphal arch, on which was shown the battle of the Pyramids. Here there was some awkwardness – the painting flattered the French but aggrieved the defeated Egyptians they were trying to win over as allies.

On the day of the festival, Bonaparte addressed his troops, enumerating their exploits since the 1793 siege of Toulon and telling them:

From the English, famous for arts and commerce, to the hideous and fierce Bedouin, you have caught the gaze of the world. Soldiers, your destiny is fair... This day, 40 million citizens celebrate the era of representative government, 40 million citizens think of you.

After making himself master of Egypt, Bonaparte gave Egypt his version of the benefits of western civilisation. Cairo soon took on the appearance of a European city, with its administration confided to a 'divan' chosen from among the best men of the province. At the same time the other cities received municipal institutions. An Institut d'Égypte of French scholars was set up and he joined the title of President of the Institut to the title of académicien. The conqueror became the legislator, setting up a library, a chemistry laboratory, a health service, a botanical garden, an observatory, an antiquities museum and a menagerie.

Under Bonaparte's orders, the scholars drew up a comparative table of Egyptian and French weights and measures, wrote a French-Arabic dictionary and calculated a triple Egyptian, Coptic and European calendar. Two journals were set up in Cairo, one for literature and political economy under the name Décade égyptienne, [17] and the other for politics under the title Courrier égyptien.

Its numbers hugely reduced by deaths in action and from disease, the army could no longer hope for reinforcements from France after the naval disaster at Aboukir, but Bonaparte tried to overcome this problem by levying from among the slaves in Egypt between the ages of 16 and 24 and turning the 3,000 sailors who had survived Aboukir into a légion nautique. All the streets in Cairo were closed at night by gates to stop the inhabitants aiding the Arabs in a night attack on the French. Bonaparte removed these fences, since the Egyptians could use them as barricades if they rose against the French – this removal proved to be justified by the events that soon followed.

Revolt of Cairo

Revolt in Cairo Girodet.jpg
Revolt in Cairo
The uprising in Cairo. Napoleon extended amnesty to the leaders of the revolt in 1798. Uprising in Cairo.jpg
The uprising in Cairo. Napoleon extended amnesty to the leaders of the revolt in 1798.

On 22 October 1798, while Bonaparte was in old Cairo, the city's population was spreading weapons around the streets and fortifying strongpoints, especially at the Great Mosque. The chef de brigade Dupuy, Cairo's commander, was the first to be killed, then Sulkowski, friend and aide de camp to Bonaparte. Excited by the sheikhs and imams, the Egyptians swore by the Prophet to exterminate all Frenchmen and any Frenchman they met – at home or in the streets – was mercilessly killed. Crowds rallied at the city gates to keep out Bonaparte, who was repulsed and forced to take a detour to get in via the Boulaq gate.

The French army's situation was critical – the British were menacing coastal towns, Murad Bey was still in the field in Upper Egypt, and generals Menou and Dugua were only just able to hold down Lower Egypt. The Arabs and the Egyptian peasants had common cause with those rising against the French in Cairo – the whole desert was in arms. A manifesto of the Great Lord was published widely throughout Egypt. This attack on the religion of the French (or lack of it) stated:

The French people are a nation of stubborn infidels and unbridled rascals... They look upon the Quran, the Old Testament and the New Testament as fables... Soon, troops as numerous as they are formidable will advance on us by land, at the same time ships of the line as high as the mountains will cover the surface of the seas... If it please God, it is reserved for you to preside over their [ie the French's] entire destruction ; as dust is scattered by the wind, there will not remain a single vestige of these infidels : for the promise of God is formal, the hope of the wicked man will be deceived, and the wicked men will perish. Glory to the Lord of the worlds!

Bonaparte did not feel threatened by the storm building on all sides. Via his orders the Arabs were beaten back into the desert and the artillery was turned back on the rebel city. Bonaparte personally hunted down the rebels from street to street and forced them to concentrate their retreat in the Great Mosque. Luckily for the French the sky was covered with clouds and thunder was rumbling, a very rare phenomenon in Egypt. Many of the superstitious residents considered the thunder as a sign from heaven and they begged for mercy from their enemies. Bonaparte replied "He [ie God] is too late – you've begun, now I will finish!" He then immediately ordered his cannon to open fire on the Mosque. The French broke down the gates and stormed into the building, massacring the Egyptians inside.

Back in absolute control of Cairo, Bonaparte sought out the authors and instigators of the revolt. Several sheikhs and many Turks or Egyptians were convicted of participation in the plot and executed. To complete his punishment, the city was hit by a high tax and its divan was replaced by a military commission. To negate the effects of the Great Lord's firman, the French posted a proclamation in all the cities of Egypt, ending in the words:

Stop founding your hopes on Ibrahim and Mourad, and put your trust in He who has empires in his discretion and who creates men.


Canal of the Pharaohs

Bonaparte and his chief of staff in Egypt, painting by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1863 Bonaparte en Egypte.jpg
Bonaparte and his chief of staff in Egypt, painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1863

With Egypt quiet again and under his control, Bonaparte used this time of rest to visit Suez and see with his own eyes the possibility of a canal (known as the Canal of the Pharaohs) said to have been cut in antiquity between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean by order of the pharaohs. Before setting out on the expedition, he gave Cairo back its self-government as a token of its pardon – a new 'divan' made up of 60 members replaced the military commission.

Then, accompanied by his colleagues from the Institut, Berthollet, Monge, Le Père, Dutertre, Costaz, Caffarelli, and followed by a 300-man escort, Bonaparte set out for the Red Sea and after three days' marching across the desert he and his caravan arrived at Suez. After giving orders to complete the fortifications at Suez, Bonaparte crossed the Red Sea and on 28 December 1798 moved into Sinai to look for the celebrated mountains of Moses 17 kilometres from Suez. On his return, surprised by the rising tide, he ran the risk of drowning. Arriving back at Suez, after much exploration the expedition fulfilled its aim, finding the remains of the ancient canal built by Senusret III and Necho II.

Ottoman offensives

Map of campaigns in Egypt and Syria Napoleons Campaign in Egypt 1798.jpg
Map of campaigns in Egypt and Syria

In the meantime the Ottomans in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) received news of the French fleet's destruction at Aboukir and believed this spelled the end for Bonaparte and his expedition, trapped in Egypt. Sultan Selim III decided to wage war against France, and sent two armies to Egypt. The first army, under the command of Jezzar Pasha, had set out with 12,000 soldiers; but was reinforced with troops from Damascus, Aleppo, Iraq (10,000 men), and Jerusalem (8,000 men). The second army, under the command of Mustafa Pasha, began on Rhodes with about eight thousand soldiers. He also knew he would get about 42,000 soldiers from Albania, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Greece. The Ottomans planned two offensives against Cairo: from Syria, across the desert of Salhayeh-Belbays-El Kankah, and from Rhodes by sea landing in the Aboukir area or the port city of Damietta.

French response

In January 1799, during the canal expedition, the French learned of the hostile Ottoman movements and that Jezzar had seized the desert fort of El-Arish ten miles (16 km) from Syria's frontier with Egypt, which he was in charge of guarding. Certain that war with the Ottoman sultan was imminent and that he would be unable to defend against the Ottoman army, Bonaparte decided that his best defence would be to attack them first in Syria, where a victory would give him more time to prepare against the Ottoman forces on Rhodes.

He prepared around 13,000 soldiers who were organised in divisions under the command of Generals Reynier (with 2,160 men), Kléber (with 2,336), Bon (2,449), Lannes (2,938), a cavalry division under General Murat (900), a brigade of infantry and cavalry under Brigade chief Bessières (400), a camel company (89), artillery under Dommartin (1,387), and engineers and sappers under Caffarelli (3,404). Every infantry and cavalry division had 6 cannons. Napoleon took 16 siege cannons which were placed on ships in Damietta under the command of Captain Standelet. He also ordered contre-amiral Perrée to Jaffa with siege artillery pieces. The total artillery sent on the campaign was 80 cannon.

Regnier and the vanguard quickly arrived before Arish, captured it, destroyed part of the garrison and forced the rest to take refuge in the castle. At the same time he caused Ibrahim's mamluks to flee and captured their camp. Bonaparte's French forces left Egypt on 5 February 1799 and, seven days after leaving Cairo, Bonaparte too arrived at Arish and bombarded one of the castle towers. The garrison surrendered two days later and some of the garrison joined the French army.


After marching 60 miles (97 km) across the desert the army arrived in Gaza, where it rested for two days, and then moved onto Jaffa. This city was surrounded by high walls flanked by towers. Jezzar had entrusted its defence to elite troops, with the artillery manned by 1,200 Ottoman gunners. The city was one of the ways into Syria, its port could be used by his fleet and a large part of the expedition's success depended on its fall. This meant Bonaparte had to capture the city before advancing further, and so he laid siege to it from 3–7 March.

All the outer works were in the besiegers' power and a breach could be produced. When Bonaparte sent a Turk to the city's commander to demand his surrender, the commander beheaded him despite the envoy's neutrality and ordered a sortie. He was repulsed and on the evening of the same day the besiegers' cannonballs caused one of the towers to crumble. Despite the defenders' desperate resistance, Jaffa fell. Two days and two nights of carnage were enough to assuage the French soldiers' fury – 4,500 prisoners were shot or beheaded by an executioner taken on in Egypt. This vengeful execution found apologists, who wrote that Napoleon could neither afford to hold such a large number of prisoners nor let them escape to rejoin Jezzar's ranks.

Propaganda painting Napoleon visiting the plague victims of Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Gros Antoine-Jean Gros - Bonaparte visitant les pestiferes de Jaffa.jpg
Propaganda painting Napoleon visiting the plague victims of Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Gros

Before leaving Jaffa, Bonaparte set up a divan for the city along with a large hospital on the site of the Carmelite monastery at Mount Carmel to treat those of his soldiers who had caught the plague, whose symptoms had been seen among them since the start of the siege. A report from generals Bon and Rampon on the plague's spread worried Bonaparte. To calm his army, it is said he went into the sufferers' rooms, spoke with and consoled the sick and touched them, saying "See, it's nothing", then left the hospital and told those who thought his actions unwise "It was my duty, I'm commander-in-chief". Some later historians state that Napoleon avoided touching or even meeting plague-sufferers to avoid catching it and that his visits to the sick were invented by later Napoleonic propaganda. For example, long after the campaign, Antoine-Jean Gros produced the propaganda painting Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa in 1804. This showed Napoleon touching a sick man's body, modelling him on an Ancien Régime king-healer touching sufferers from the "King's Evil" during his coronation rites – this was no coincidence, since 1804 was the year Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor.

Mount Tabor

Battle of Mount Tabor against the Ottomans Bataille du mont-thabor.jpg
Battle of Mount Tabor against the Ottomans
The monument to Napoleon's soldiers at Stella Maris Monastery, Haifa NapoleonSoldiersMonument.JPG
The monument to Napoleon's soldiers at Stella Maris Monastery, Haifa

From Jaffa the army set off for the coastal town of Acre. En route it captured Haifa and the munitions and provisions stored there, along with the castle at Jaffe, the castle at Nazareth and even the town of Tyre much farther up the coast. The siege of Acre began on 18 March but the French were unable to take it and it was here that the Syrian campaign came to an abrupt halt. The city was defended by newly created Ottoman infantry elites (Nizam-ı Cedid) under the command of Jezzar Pasha and was right on the coast, enabling it to be reinforced and resupplied by the British and Ottoman fleets.

After sixty days' repeated attacks and two murderous and inconclusive assaults, the city remained uncaptured. Even so, it was still awaiting reinforcements by sea as well as a large army forming up in Asia on the sultan's orders to march against the French. To find out the latter's movements, Jezzar ordered a general sortie against Bonaparte's camp. This sortie was supported by its own artillery and a naval bombardment from the British. With his usual impetuosity, Bonaparte pushed Jezzar's columns back against their own walls and then went to help Kléber, who was retrenched in the ruins with 4,000 Frenchmen and 20,000 Ottomans under his command. Bonaparte conceived a trick which used all the advantages offered him by the enemy position, sending Murat and his cavalry across the River Jordan to defend the river crossing and Vial and Rampon to march on Nablus, while Bonaparte himself put his troops between the Ottomans and the magazines. These manoeuvres were successful, in what was known as the Battle of Mount Tabor. The enemy army, taken by surprise at many points at once, was routed and forced to retreat, leaving their camels, tents, provisions and 5,000 dead on the battlefield.


Returning to besiege Acre, Bonaparte learned that Rear-Admiral Perrée had landed seven siege artillery pieces at Jaffa. Bonaparte then ordered two assaults, both vigorously repulsed. A fleet was sighted flying the Ottoman flag and Bonaparte realised he must capture the city before that fleet arrived with reinforcements. A fifth general attack was ordered, which took the outer works, planted the French tricolour on the rampart, pushed the Ottomans back into the city and forced the Ottoman fire to relent. Acre was thus taken or about to capitulate.

One of those fighting on the Ottoman side was the French émigré and engineer officer Phélippeaux, one of Bonaparte's classmates at the École Militaire. Phélippeaux ordered cannon to be placed in the most advantageous positions and new trenches dug as if by magic behind the ruins which Bonaparte's forces had captured. At the same time Sidney Smith, commander of the British fleet, and his ships' crews landed. These factors renewed the courage of the besieged and they pushed Bonaparte's force back, with stubborn fury on both sides. Three final consecutive assaults were all repulsed, convincing Bonaparte that it would be unwise to continue trying to capture Acre. He raised the siege in May and consoled his soldiers with the proclamation:

After feeding the war for three months in the heart of Syria with a handful of men, taking forty guns, fifty flags, 10,000 prisoners, razing the fortifications of Gaza, Kaïffa, Jaffa, Acre, we shall return to Egypt.

Retreat from Acre

The French force's situation was now critical – the enemy could harass its rear as it retreated, it was tired and hungry in the desert, and it was carrying a large number of plague-sufferers. To carry these sufferers in the middle of the army would spread the disease, so they had to be carried in the rear, where they were most at risk from the fury of the Ottomans, keen to avenge the massacres at Jaffa. There were two hospital depots, one in the large hospital on Mount Carmel and the other at Jaffa. On Bonaparte's orders, all those at Mount Carmel were evacuated to Jaffa and Tantura. The gun horses were abandoned before Acre and Bonaparte and all his officers handed their horses over to the transport officer Daure, with Bonaparte walking to set an example.

To conceal its withdrawal from the siege, the army set off at night. Arriving at Jaffa, Bonaparte ordered three evacuations of the plague sufferers to three different points – one by sea to Damietta, one by land to Gaza and another by land to Arish. During the retreat the army picked clean all the lands through which they passed, with livestock, crops and houses all being destroyed. Gaza was the only place to be spared, in return for remaining loyal to Bonaparte. To speed the retreat, Napoleon suggested the controversial step of euthanized his own soldiers who were terminally-ill with plague (between 15 and 50, sources vary) and were not expected to recover through an opium overdose, both to relieve their suffering, ease the retreat, prevent the spread of the disease and prevent the torture and executions the soldiers left-behind would have received if captured by the enemy; his doctors refused to carry out such orders [18] [19] [20] but there is also evidence in the form of first-hand testimonies that claim the mass euthanazing did take place and the matter is debated [21] [22] .

Back in Egypt

Finally, after four months away from Egypt, the expedition arrived back at Cairo with 1,800 wounded, having lost 600 men to the plague and 1,200 to enemy action. In the meantime Ottoman and British emissaries had brought news of Bonaparte's setback at Acre to Egypt, stating that his expeditionary force was largely destroyed and Bonaparte himself was dead. On his return Bonaparte scotched these rumours by re-entering Egypt as if he was at the head of a triumphal army, with his soldiers carrying palm branches, emblems of victory. In his proclamation to the inhabitants of Cairo, Bonaparte told them:

He is back in Cairo, the Bien-Gardé, the head of the French army, general Bonaparte, who loves Mahomet's religion; he is back sound and well, thanking God for the favours he has given him. He has entered Cairo by the gate of Victory. This day is a great day; no one has ever seen its like; all the inhabitants of Cairo have come out to meet him. They have seen and recognised that it is the same commander in chief, Bonaparte, in his own person; but those of Jaffa, having refused to surrender, he handed them all over to pillage and death in his anger. He has destroyed all its ramparts and killed all those found there. There were around 5,000 of Jezzar's troops in Jaffa – he destroyed them all.

Abukir to withdrawal

Land battle at Abukir

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Leon Gerome, Hearst Castle Bonaparte ante la Esfinge, por Jean-Leon Gerome.jpg
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Hearst Castle

At Cairo the army found the rest and supplies it needed to recover, but its stay there could not be a long one. Bonaparte had been informed that Murad Bey had evaded the pursuit by generals Desaix, Belliard, Donzelot and Davout and was descending on Upper Egypt. Bonaparte thus marched to attack him at Giza, also learning that 100 Ottoman ships were off Aboukir, threatening Alexandria.

Without losing time or returning to Cairo, Bonaparte ordered his generals to make all speed to meet the army commanded by the pasha of Rumelia, Saïd-Mustapha, which had joined up with the forces under Murad Bey and Ibrahim. Before leaving Giza, where he found them, Bonaparte wrote to Cairo's divan, stating:

Eighty ships have dared to attack Alexandria but, beaten back by the artillery in that place, they have gone to anchor in Aboukir Bay, where they began disembarking [troops]. I leave them to do this, since my intention is to attack them, to kill all those who do not wish to surrender, and to leave others alive to be led in triumph to Cairo. This will be a handsome spectacle for the city.

First Bonaparte advanced to Alexandria, from which he marched to Aboukir, whose fort was now strongly garrisoned by the Ottomans. Bonaparte deployed his army so that Mustapha would have to win or die with all his family. Mustapha's army was 18,000 strong and supported by several cannons, with trenches defending it on the landward side and free communication with the Ottoman fleet on the seaward side. Bonaparte ordered an attack on 25 July and the Battle of Abukir ensued. In a few hours the trenches were taken, 10,000 Ottomans drowned in the ocean and the rest captured or killed. Most of the credit for the French victory that day goes to Murat, who captured Mustapha himself. Mustapha's son was in command of the fort and he and all his officers survived but were captured and sent back to Cairo as part of the French triumphal procession. Seeing Bonaparte return with these high-ranking prisoners, the population of Cairo superstitiously welcomed him as a prophet-warrior who had predicted his own triumph with such remarkable precision.

Bonaparte leaves Egypt

The land battle at Abukir was Bonaparte's last action in Egypt, partly restoring his reputation after the French naval defeat at the same place a year earlier. With the Egyptian campaign stagnating and political instability developing back home, a new phase in Bonaparte's career was beginning – he felt that he had nothing left to do in Egypt which was worthy of his ambition and that (as had been shown by the defeat at Acre) the forces he had left to him there were not sufficient for an expedition of any importance outside of Egypt. He also foresaw that the army was getting yet weaker from losses in battle and to disease and would soon have to surrender and be taken prisoner by its enemies, which would destroy all the prestige he had won by his many victories. Bonaparte thus spontaneously decided to return to France. During the prisoner exchange at Aboukir and notably via the Gazette de Francfort Sidney Smith had sent him, he was in communication with the British fleet, from which he had learned of events in France. As Bonaparte saw (and later mythologised) France was thrown back into retreat, its enemies had recaptured France's conquests, France was unhappy at its dictatorial government and was nostalgic for the glorious peace it had signed in the Treaty of Campo Formio – as Bonaparte saw it, this meant France needed him and would welcome him back.

He only shared the secret of his return with a small number of friends whose discretion and loyalty were well-known. He left Cairo in August 1799 on the pretext of a voyage in the Nile Delta without arousing suspicion, accompanied by the scholars Monge and Berthollet, the painter Denon, and generals Berthier, Murat, Lannes and Marmont. On 23 August 1799 a proclamation informed the army that Bonaparte had transferred his powers as commander in chief to General Kléber. This news was taken badly, with the soldiers angry with Bonaparte and the French government for leaving them behind, but this indignation soon ended, since the troops were confident in Kléber, who convinced them that Bonaparte had not left permanently but would soon be back with reinforcements from France. As night fell, the frigate Muiron silently moored by the shore, with three other ships escorting her. Some became worried when a British corvette was sighted at the moment of departure, but Bonaparte cried "Bah! We'll get there, luck has never abandoned us, we shall get there, despite the English."

Bonaparte's voyage to France

On their 41-day voyage back they did not meet a single enemy ship to stop them, with some sources suggesting that Bonaparte had purchased the British fleet's neutrality via a tacit agreement, though others hold this unlikely, since many would argue that he also had a pact with Nelson to leave him to board on the Egyptian coast unopposed with the fleet bearing his large army. It has been suggested that Sidney Smith and other British commanders in the Mediterranean helped Napoleon evade the British blockade, thinking that he might act as a Royalist element back in France, but there is no solid historical evidence in support of this conjecture.[ citation needed ]

On 1 October Napoleon's small flotilla entered port at Ajaccio, where contrary winds kept them until 8 October, when they set out for France. When the coast came in sight, ten British ships were sighted. Contre-amiral Ganteaume suggested changing course towards Corsica, but Bonaparte said "No, this manoeuvre would lead us to England, and I want to get to France." This courageous act saved them and on 8 October 1799 (16 vendémiaire year VIII) the frigates anchored in the roads off Fréjus. As there were no sick men on board and the plague in Egypt had ended six months before their departure, Bonaparte and his entourage were allowed to land immediately without waiting in quarantine. At 6 pm he set off for Paris, accompanied by his chief of staff Berthier. He stopped off at Saint-Raphaël, where he built a pyramid commemorating the expedition.

End of the campaign

Assassination of Kleber, painting in the Musee historique de Strasbourg Assassination of Kleber f4925505.jpg
Assassination of Kléber, painting in the Musée historique de Strasbourg
British victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 Philip James de Loutherbourg - The Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801 - Google Art Project.jpg
British victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

The troops Bonaparte left behind were supposed to be honourably evacuated under the terms of a treaty Kléber had negotiated with Smith in early 1800, but British Admiral Keith reneged on this treaty, sending an amphibious assault force of 30,000 Mamlukes against Kléber.

Kléber defeated the Mamlukes at the battle of Heliopolis in March 1800, and then suppressed an insurrection in Cairo. On 14 June (26 prairial) 1800 a Syrian student called Suleiman al-Halabi assassinated Kléber with a dagger in the heart, chest, left forearm and right thigh. Command of the French army passed to General Menou, who held command from 3 July 1800 until August 1801. Menou's letter was published in Le Moniteur on 6 September, with the conclusions of the committee charged with judging those responsible for the assassination:

The committee, after carrying through the trial with all due solemnity and process, thought it necessary to follow Egyptian customs in its application of punishment ; it condemned the assassin to be impaled after having his right hand burned ; and three of the guilty sheikhs to be beheaded and their bodies burned.

The Anglo-Ottomans then commenced their land offensive, the French were defeated by the British in the Battle of Alexandria on March 21, surrendered at Fort Julien in April and then Cairo fell in June. Finally besieged in Alexandria from 17 August – 2 September 1801, Menou eventually capitulated to the British. Under the terms of his capitulation, the British General John Hely-Hutchinson allowed the French army to be repatriated in British ships. Menou also signed over to Britain the priceless hoard of Egyptian antiquities such as the Rosetta Stone which it had collected. After initial talks in Al Arish on 30 January 1802, the Treaty of Paris on 25 June 1802 ended all hostilities between France and the Ottoman Empire, resecuring Egypt for the Ottomans.

Scientific expedition

The Egyptian Expedition under the orders of Bonaparte, painting by Leon Cogniet, early 19th century Leon Cogniet - L Expedition D Egypte Sous Les Ordres De Bonaparte.jpg
The Egyptian Expedition under the orders of Bonaparte, painting by Léon Cogniet, early 19th century

An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of an enormous contingent of scientists and scholars ("savants") assigned to the invading French force, 167 in total. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered as an indication of Napoleon's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda obfuscating the true motives of the invasion; the increase of Bonaparte's power.

These scholars included engineers and artists, members of the Commission des Sciences et des Arts, the geologist Dolomieu, Henri-Joseph Redouté, the mathematician Gaspard Monge (a founding member of the École polytechnique), the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet, Vivant Denon, the mathematician Jean-Joseph Fourier (who did some of the empirical work upon which his "analytical theory of heat" was founded in Egypt), the physicist Étienne Malus, the naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the botanist Alire Raffeneau-Delile, and the engineer Nicolas-Jacques Conté of the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers.

Their original aim was to help the army, notably by opening a Suez Canal, mapping out roads and building mills to supply food. [4] They founded the Institut d'Égypte with the aim of propagating Enlightenment values in Egypt through interdisciplinary work, improving its agricultural and architectural techniques for example. A scientific review was created under the title Décade égyptienne and in the course of the expedition the scholars also observed and drew the flora and fauna in Egypt and became interested in the country's resources. The Egyptian Institute saw the construction of laboratories, libraries, and a printing press. The group worked prodigiously, and some of their discoveries were not finally cataloged until the 1820s. [23]

A young engineering officer, Pierre-François-Xavier Bouchard, discovered the Rosetta Stone in July 1799. Many of the antiquities collected by the French in Egypt were seized by the British Navy and ended up in the British Museum  – only about 50 of the 5,000 Egyptian objects in the Louvre were collected during the 1799–1801 Egyptian expedition. Even so, the scholars' research in Egypt gave rise to the 4-volume Mémoires sur l'Égypte (published 1798-1801). A subsequent and more comprehensive text was Description de l'Égypte , published on Napoleon's orders between 1809 and 1821. Publications such as these of Napoleon's discoveries in Egypt gave rise to fascination with Ancient Egyptian culture and the birth of Egyptology in Europe.

The printing press

The printing press was first introduced to Egypt by Napoleon. [24] He brought with his expedition a French, Arabic, and Greek printing press, which were far superior in speed, efficiency and quality to the nearest presses used in Istanbul. In the Middle East, Africa, India and even much of Eastern Europe and Russia, printing was a minor, specialised activity until the 1700s at least. From about 1720, the Mutaferrika Press in Istanbul produced substantial amounts of printing, of which some Egyptian clerics were aware of at the time. Juan Cole reports that, "Bonaparte was a master of what we would now call spin, and his genius for it is demonstrated by reports in Arabic sources that several of his more outlandish allegations were actually taken seriously in the Egyptian countryside." [24]

Bonaparte's initial use of Arabic in his printed proclamations was rife with error. In addition to much of the awkwardly translated Arabic wording being unsound grammatically, often the proclamations were so poorly constructed that they were undecipherable. [25] The French Orientalist Jean Michel de Venture de Paradis, perhaps with the help of Maltese aides, were responsible for translating the first of Napoleon's French proclamations into Arabic. The Maltese language is distantly related to the Egyptian dialect; classical Arabic differs greatly in grammar, vocabulary, and idiom. Venture de Paradis, who had lived in Tunis, understood Arabic grammar and vocabulary, but did not know how to use them idiomatically.

The Sunni Muslim clerics of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo reacted incredulously to Napoleon's proclamations. [24] Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, a Cairene cleric and historian, received the proclamations with a combination of amusement, bewilderment, and outrage. [26] [27] [28] He berated the French's poor Arabic grammar and the infelicitous style of their proclamations. Over the course of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, al-Jabarti wrote a wealth of material regarding the French and their occupation tactics. Among his observations, he rejected Napoleon's claim that the French were "muslims" (the wrong noun case was used in the Arabic proclamation, making it a lower case "m") and poorly understood the French concept of a republic and democracy – words which did not exist at the time in Arabic. [24]


Cemetery of French Soldiers of Napoleon Egypte Expedition, Fomm el-Khaleeg - Cairo - Egypt Cemetery of French Soldiers of Napoleon Egypte Expedition, Fomm el-Khaleeg - Cairo - Egypt.jpg
Cemetery of French Soldiers of Napoleon Egypte Expedition, Fomm el-Khaleeg – Cairo – Egypt

In addition to its significance in the wider French Revolutionary Wars, the campaign had a powerful impact on the Ottoman Empire in general and the Arab world in particular. The invasion demonstrated the military, technological, and organisational superiority of the Western European powers to the Middle East, leading to profound social changes in the region. The invasion introduced Western inventions, such as the printing press, and ideas, such as liberalism and incipient nationalism, to the Middle East, eventually leading to the establishment of Egyptian independence and modernisation under Muhammad Ali Pasha in the first half of the 19th century and eventually the Nahda, or Arab Renaissance. To modernist historians, the French arrival marks the start of the modern Middle East. [29]

The campaign ended in failure, with 15,000 French troops killed in action and 15,000 by disease. Napoleon's reputation as a brilliant military commander remained intact and even rose higher, despite some of his failures during the campaign. This was due to his expert propaganda, such as his Courrier de l'Égypte , set up to propagandise the expeditionary force itself and support its morale. That propaganda even spread back to France, where news of defeats such as at sea in Aboukir Bay and on land in Syria were suppressed. Defeats could be blamed on the now-assassinated Kléber, leaving Napoleon free from blame and with a burnished reputation. This opened his way to power and he profited from his reputation by engineering his becoming First Consul in the coup d'état of 18 brumaire (November 1799).

Mamelukes in French service

Colonel Barthelemy Serra took the first steps towards creating a Mameluke Corps in France. On September 27, 1800 he wrote a letter from Cairo to the first consul, couched in an Oriental style. He regretted being very far away from Napoleon and offered his total devotion to the French nation and expressed the Mameluke's wish to become the bodyguard to the first consul. They wished to serve him as living shields against those who would seek to harm him. The first consul became receptive of admitting a unit of carefully selected cavalrymen as his personal guard. He had an officer pay appropriate respects to the foreign troops and provided Napoleon himself with a full report to the number of refugees. [30]

French order of battle

Timeline and battles

Battle at Nazareth by Gros Antoine-Jean Gros 010.jpg
Battle at Nazareth by Gros

See also

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War of the Second Coalition attempt to contain or eliminate Revolutionary France

The War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802) was the second war on revolutionary France by the European monarchies, led by Britain, Austria and Russia, and including the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Naples, various German monarchies and Sweden. Their goal was to contain the expansion of the French Republic and to restore the monarchy in France. They failed to overthrow the revolutionary regime and French territorial gains since 1793 were confirmed. In the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801, France held all of its previous gains and obtained new lands in Tuscany, Italy, while Austria was granted Venetia and the Dalmatian coast. Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, bringing an interval of peace in Europe that lasted for 14 months. By May 1803 Britain and France were again at war and in 1805 Britain assembled the Third Coalition to resume the war against France.

1798 was a relatively quiet period in the French Revolutionary Wars. The major continental powers in the First coalition had made peace with France, leaving France dominant in Europe with only a slow naval war with Great Britain to worry about. The leaders of the Directory in Paris feared Napoleon Bonaparte's popularity after his victories in Italy, so they were relieved when he proposed to depart France and mount an expedition to Egypt to gain further glory.

Battle of the Pyramids battle

The Battle of the Pyramids, also known as the Battle of Embabeh, was a major engagement fought on 21st July 1798 during the French Invasion of Egypt. The French army, under Napoleon Bonaparte, scored a decisive victory against the forces of the local Mamluk rulers, wiping out almost the entire Egyptian army. It was the battle where Napoleon employed one of his significant contributions to military tactics, the divisional square. Actually a rectangle, the deployment of the French brigades into these massive formations repeatedly threw back multiple cavalry charges by the Egyptians.

Battle of Abukir (1799) first battle of the French campaign in Egypt and Syria to be fought at Abu Qir

The Battle of Abukir was a battle in which Napoleon Bonaparte defeated Seid Mustafa Pasha's Ottoman army on July 25, 1799, during the French campaign in Egypt. It is considered the first pitched battle with this name, as there already was a naval battle on August 1, 1798. No sooner had the French forces returned from a campaign to Syria, than the Ottoman forces were transported to Egypt by Sidney Smith's British fleet to put an end to French rule in Egypt.

Egypt Eyalet Ottoman province

The Eyalet of Egypt was the result of the conquest of Mamluk Egypt by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, following the Ottoman–Mamluk War (1516–1517) and the absorption of Syria into the Empire in 1516. Egypt was administered as an eyalet of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1867, with an interruption during the French occupation of 1798 to 1801.

Abu Qir Bay

The Abū Qīr Bay is a spacious bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria in Egypt, lying between the Rosetta mouth of the Nile and the town of Abu Qir. The ancient cities of Canopus, Heracleion and Menouthis lie submerged beneath the waters of the bay. In 1798 it was the site of the Battle of the Nile, a naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French First Republic. The bay contains a natural gas field, discovered in the 1970s.

Pierre-François Bouchard French Army officer

Pierre-François Bouchard was an officer in the French Army of engineers. He is most famous for discovering the Rosetta Stone, an important archaeological find that allowed Ancient Egyptian writing to be understood for the first time in centuries.

Siege of Jaffa

The Siege of Jaffa was fought from 3 to 7 March 1799 between France and the Ottoman Empire. The French were led by Napoleon Bonaparte, and they captured the city.

Jacques-François Menou French noble

Jacques-François de Menou, baron of Boussay, later Abdallah de Menou was a French statesman of the French Revolution and general of the French Revolutionary Wars.

French ship <i>Orient</i> (1791)

Orient was an Océan-class 118-gun ship of the line of the French Navy, famous for her role as flagship of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, and for her spectacular destruction that day when her magazines exploded. The event was commemorated by numerous paintings and poems.

Siege of Alexandria

The Siege of Alexandria was fought between 17 August and 2 September 1801, during the French Revolutionary Wars, between French and British forces and was the last action of the Egyptian Campaign. The French had occupied Alexandria, a major fortified harbour city on the Nile Delta in northern Egypt, since 2 July 1798, and the garrison there surrendered on 2 September 1801.

Mediterranean campaign of 1798

The Mediterranean campaign of 1798 was a series of major naval operations surrounding a French expeditionary force sent to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Republic sought to capture Egypt as the first stage in an effort to threaten British India, and thus force Great Britain to make peace. Departing Toulon in May 1798 with over 40,000 troops and hundreds of ships, Bonaparte's fleet sailed southeastwards across the Mediterranean Sea. They were followed by a small British squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, later reinforced to 13 ships of the line, whose pursuit was hampered by a lack of scouting frigates and reliable information. Bonaparte's first target was the island of Malta, which was under the government of the Knights of St. John and theoretically granted its owner control of the Central Mediterranean. Bonaparte's forces landed on the island and rapidly overwhelmed the defenders, securing the port city of Valletta before continuing to Egypt. When Nelson learned of the French capture of the island, he guessed the French target to be Egypt and sailed for Alexandria, but passed the French during the night of 22 June without discovering them and arrived off Egypt first.

Action of 27 June 1798

The Action of 27 June 1798 was a minor naval engagement between British and French frigates in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. The engagement formed part of a wider campaign, in which a major French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria at the start of the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. The French frigate Sensible had been detached from the convoy after the capture of Malta, under orders to carry wounded soldiers and looted treasure back to France while the main body continued to Egypt. The British frigate HMS Seahorse was one of a number of vessels detached from the main British Mediterranean Fleet in the Tagus River, sent to augment the fleet under Sir Horatio Nelson that was actively hunting the French convoy.

Ganteaumes expeditions of 1801

Ganteaume's expeditions of 1801 were three connected major French Navy operations of the spring of 1801 during the French Revolutionary Wars. A French naval squadron from Brest under Contre-amiral Honoré Ganteaume, seeking to reinforce the besieged French garrison in Egypt, made three separate but futile efforts to reach the Eastern Mediterranean. The French army in Egypt had been trapped there shortly after the start of the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt in 1798, when the French Mediterranean Fleet was destroyed at the Battle of the Nile. Since that defeat, the French Navy had maintained only a minimal presence in the Mediterranean Sea, while the more numerous British and their allies had succeeded in blockading and defeating several French bases almost unopposed.

Revolt of Cairo

The Revolt of Cairo occurred on 21–22 October 1798 against the French occupation of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte.

François-Paul Brueys dAigalliers French admiral

Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers, Comte de Brueys was the French commander in the Battle of the Nile, in which the French Revolutionary Navy was defeated by Royal Navy forces under Admiral Horatio Nelson. The British victory helped to ensure their naval supremacy throughout the Napoleonic Wars. He was also a Freemason in the La Bonne Foi lodge at Montauban.

Siege of Cairo

The Siege of Cairo also known as the Cairo Campaign was a siege that took place during the French Revolutionary Wars, between French and British with Ottoman forces and was the penultimate action of the Egyptian Campaign. British commander John Hely-Hutchinson advanced to Cairo, where he arrived after a few skirmishes in mid June. Joined by a sizeable Ottoman force Hutchinson invested Cairo and on 27 June the surrounded 13,000-strong French garrison under General Augustin Daniel Belliard, out-manned and out-gunned then surrendered. The remaining French troops in Egypt under Jacques-François Menou disheartened by this failure, retired to Alexandria.

Convention of El Arish

The Convention of El Arish was signed on 24 January 1800 by representatives from France and the Ottoman Empire in the presence of a British representative. It was intended to bring to an end the French campaign in Egypt and Syria, with the repatriation of French troops to France and the return of all territory to the Ottomans.


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    Bibliography and further reading