Napoleonic propaganda

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During his rise to power and throughout his reign, Napoleon not only benefitted from circumstance but also cultivated his own image through the use of propaganda. Napoleon excelled at garnering public support and capitalizing on his victories to convey a persona associated with success and heroism. [1] He utilized propaganda in a wide range of media including theater, art, newspapers and bulletins to “promote the precise image he desired.” [2] Napoleon’s bulletins from the battlefield were published in newspapers and were well read throughout the country. [3] He used these publications to exaggerate his victories and spread his glorified interpretation of these successes throughout France. [1]

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

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader 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.

Propaganda Form of communication intended to sway the audience through presenting only one side of the argument

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented. Propaganda is often associated with material prepared by governments, but activist groups, companies, religious organizations and the media can also produce propaganda.



In addition to more standard methods of propaganda, such as the press, Napoleon capitalized on the popularity of medallions for his own purposes. Specifically, Napoleon used medallions as tools to promote his desired image both before and after he became Emperor. In the end, he commissioned more medals than Louis XV and Louis XVI combined. [4] Of particular importance was Napoleon’s first set of medallions, the “Five Battles” Series, produced to commemorate his victories during the first Italian campaign.

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.

Five Battles Series

The Millesimo-Dego medallion features Hercules holding a club and the Hydra of Lerna’s head. In the other hand Hercules is holding a torch of blazing fire, ready to slaughter this beast. Around the borders of the medals reads “Bataille De Millesimo Combat de Dego.” [5] The Hercules figure on these coins represents victory but was also a symbol chosen by the French Republic to represent the nation, thereby connecting Napoleon to both triumph and France. [6]

Lernaean Hydra ancient serpent-like chthonic water beast, with reptilian traits, that possessed many heads, in Greek mythology

The Lernaean Hydra or Hydra of Lerna, more often known simply as the Hydra, is a serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, which was also the site of the myth of the Danaïdes. Lerna was reputed to be an entrance to the Underworld, and archaeology has established it as a sacred site older than Mycenaean Argos. In the canonical Hydra myth, the monster is killed by Heracles (Hercules) as the second of his Twelve Labors.

Hercules Roman adaptation of the Greek divine hero Heracles

Hercules is a Roman hero and god. He was the Roman equivalent of the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures.

The Po-Adda-Mincio medal depicts Napoleon Bonaparte leading his soldiers across the Adda on the bridge at Lodi. [7] This medallion glorifies the battle in which most of Lombardy, an Italian province, was captured by the French army. Subsequently, Napoleon was named General-in-chief at Milan, the Lombard capital. [8] The coin celebrates not only Napoleon’s victory but his ascension to greater power.

Adda (river) river in Italy

The Adda is a river in North Italy, a tributary of the Po. It rises in the Alps near the border with Switzerland and flows through Lake Como. The Adda joins the Po a few kilometres upstream of Cremona. It is 313 kilometres (194 mi) long. The highest point of the drainage basin is the summit of la Spedla, at 4,020 metres (13,190 ft).

Lodi, Lombardy Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Lodi is a city and comune in Lombardy, northern Italy, on primarily on the western bank of the River Adda. It is the capital of the province of Lodi.

Battle of Lodi battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Lodi was fought on 10 May 1796 between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and an Austrian rear guard led by Karl Philipp Sebottendorf at Lodi, Lombardy. The rear guard was defeated, but the main body of Johann Peter Beaulieu's Austrian Army had time to retreat.

The Battle of Castiglione and the combat at Peschiera medallion pays tribute to Napoleon’s victories in Italy. Napoleon faced an Austrian army in both locations and defeated them, strengthening the French Army’s position in the region. [9] The coin displays three naked warriors, two locked in combat while the third lies slain on the ground. Of the two living figures, one, representing Napoleon’s army, stands ready to strike the final blow to the vanquished Austrians. In some versions Napoleon’s name is inscribed on the coin connecting Bonaparte to the victory and promoting his own personal image. [10]

Battle of Castiglione battle of 1796 during the French Revolutionay Wars

The Battle of Castiglione saw the French Army of Italy under General Napoleon Bonaparte attack an army of Habsburg Austria led by Feldmarschall Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser on 5 August 1796. The outnumbered Austrians were defeated and driven back along a line of hills to the river crossing at Borghetto, where they retired beyond the Mincio River. The town of Castiglione delle Stiviere is located 10 kilometres (6 mi) south of Lake Garda in northern Italy. This battle was one of four famous victories won by Bonaparte during the War of the First Coalition, part of the Wars of the French Revolution. The others were Bassano, Arcole, and Rivoli.

The Capitulation of Mantua coin commemorates the capture of the Northern Italian city by Napoleon. The medal depicts a woman handing the keys of the city to a Roman warrior. On the reverse, ‘A L’Armée D’Italie Victorieuse’ is inscribed in addition to Napoleon’s name on some editions of the coin. Symbols from antiquity were used throughout the revolutionary period to tie the new French Republic to the glory of Ancient Rome. By using Roman soldiers on the medallions, Napoleon not only connects himself to the grandeur of ancient times, but also promotes his image as a victorious leader of Revolutionary France.

Mantua Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy, and capital of the province of the same name.

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

The Tagliamento-Trieste medallion immortalizes Napoleon’s 1797 crossing of the Tagliomento River and the capture of Trieste. The medal shows a god-like figure reclining near a river while a charging army rushes a fleeing group of men. The attacking army is headed by a man on horseback, presumably Napoleon. Like the other medallions, one version has Napoleon’s name inscribed on the side. [11] The medallion bolsters Napoleon’s image by directly connecting him to yet another victory.

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Battle of Millesimo battle

The Battle of Millesimo, fought on 13 and 14 April 1796, was the name that Napoleon Bonaparte gave in his correspondence to one of a series of small battles that were fought in Liguria, Northern Italy between the armies of France and the allied armies of Austria and of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.

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Battle of Montenotte battle

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Events from the year 1796 in France.

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Antoine-Guillaume Rampon French general

Antoine-Guillaume Rampon joined the French army as a private soldier and rose in rank to become a general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars. He fought in many battles under Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy and Egypt. In one celebrated battle, he rallied his troops to defend the key Monte Negino redoubt against the Austrians. He saw limited service during the Napoleonic Wars. His surname can be found among the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe.

For his life and a basic reading list see Napoleon I of France

Michel-Marie Pacthod French infantry commander

Count Michel-Marie Pacthod (1764–1830) was a French officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, who rose to the rank of General of Division in 1808. A competent and brave infantry commander, his career was much affected by a 1795 incident, while he was the military commander of Marseille, and failed to come to the aid of Napoleon Bonaparte's family, which had taken refuge in the city.

Pierre Jadart Dumerbion or Pierre Jadart du Merbion joined the French army as a junior officer in 1754 and fought in the Seven Years' War. As an experienced officer, he was promoted to colonel in 1792 at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars. He soon became a general officer and found himself commanding the Army of Italy. In April 1794 he won the Battle of Saorgio over the armies of Habsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont by using a strategic plan drawn up by his newly appointed artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte. Though he was the victor, Dumerbion was unable to personally take the field because of his age and poor health. In September 1794, his army again beat the Coalition forces at the First Battle of Dego. He retired in 1795 and died in 1797. DUMERBION is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe on Column 23.

Pascal Antoine Fiorella French general

Pascal Antoine Fiorella or Pasquale Antonio, comte Fiorella became a French general officer in the French Revolutionary Wars and led a brigade during Napoleon Bonaparte's famous campaign in Italy in 1796. A Corsican by birth, he joined the French Royal Army as a volunteer in 1770 and was quickly appointed an officer. When the French Revolution broke out, he was a captain. Elected lieutenant colonel of a volunteer battalion, he fought with the Army of the Alps. Transferred to the Army of Italy, he assumed command of the 46th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade in February 1794. He fought under André Masséna at Saorgio where he was wounded. In September 1794 he earned promotion to general of brigade and led the army reserve.

Symbolism in the French Revolution

Symbolism in the French Revolution was a device to distinguish and celebrate the main features of the French Revolution and ensure public identification and support. In order to effectively illustrate the differences between the new Republic and the old regime, the leaders needed to implement a new set of symbols to be celebrated instead of the old religious and monarchical symbolism. To this end, symbols were borrowed from historic cultures and redefined, while those of the old regime were either destroyed or reattributed acceptable characteristics. These revised symbols were used to instill in the public a new sense of tradition and reverence for the Enlightenment and the Republic.


  1. 1 2 Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 23.
  2. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 141.
  3. Censer and Hunt, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, 141.
  4. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 144.
  5. Laskey, A Description of the Series of Medals, 3.
  6. Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution,p. 94.
  7. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 151.
  8. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 152.
  9. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 156
  10. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 155.
  11. Hanley, The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 158.

Works Cited

Censer, Jack R. and Lynn Hunt (2001). Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN   0-271-02087-3.

Hanley, Wayne (2005). The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda 1796-1799. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN   0-231-12456-2.

Hunt, Lynn (1984). Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN   0-520-05204-8.

Further reading

Ellis, Geoffrey. (1997) Napoleon. (London: Longman).

Laskey, Captain John C. (1818) A Description of the Series of Medals Struck at the National Medal Mint by Order of Napoleon Bonaoparte commemorating the Most Remarkable Battles and Events During his Dynasty. London: Blackhorse Court.

Lyon, Martyn. (1994) Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Holtman, Robert. (1950). Napoleonic Propaganda. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.)