Siege of Acre (1799)

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Siege of Acre
Part of the French invasion of Egypt
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The general outlook of Old Acre, seen here in a present-day view from above, has changed little since 1799
Date20 March – 21 May 1799
LocationAcre, Sidon Eyalet, Ottoman Empire
Result Anglo-Ottoman victory
Flag of the Ottoman Empire.svg Ottoman Empire
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Flag of France.svg French Republic
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Ottoman Empire.svg Jazzar Pasha
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Sidney Smith
Flag of France.svg Napoleon Bonaparte

30,000 men [1]

12,000 reinforcement (7 May)
35,000 (Battle of Mount Tabor [2] ),
HMS Theseus (1786),
HMS Tigre
Casualties and losses
Unknown 2,300 killed,
2,200 wounded or ill
Sidney Smith's description of the Siege of Acre, The Times, Aug 02, 1799 Sidney Smith, Napoleon Siege of Acre, The Times, Friday, Aug 02, 1799.png
Sidney Smith's description of the Siege of Acre, The Times, Aug 02, 1799

The Siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre (now Akko in modern Israel) and was the turning point of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria. It was Napoleon`s first strategic defeat as three years previously he had been tactically defeated at the Second Battle of Bassano.

Siege military blockade of a city or fortress

A siege is a military blockade of a city, or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition, or a well-prepared assault. This derives from Latin: sedere, lit. 'to sit'. Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position. Consequently, an opportunity for negotiation between combatants is not uncommon, as proximity and fluctuating advantage can encourage diplomacy. The art of conducting and resisting sieges is called siege warfare, siegecraft, or poliorcetics.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Asia, Europe and Africa

The Ottoman Empire, also 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.

Acre, Israel Place in Israel

Acre, known to locals as Akko or Akka, is a city in the coastal plain region of the Northern District of Israel.



Acre was a site of significant strategic importance due to its commanding position on the route between Egypt and Syria. Bonaparte wanted to capture it following his invasion of Egypt. He hoped to incite a Syrian rebellion against the Ottomans and threaten British rule in India. After the Siege of Jaffa, which was followed by two days and nights of massacre and rape by the French forces, the defenders of the citadel were even more fierce.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

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.


The French attempted to lay siege on 20 March using only their infantry. Napoleon believed the city would capitulate quickly to him. [3] In correspondence with one of his subordinate officers he voiced his conviction that a mere two weeks would be necessary to capture the linchpin of his conquest of the Holy Land before marching on to Jerusalem.

Infantry military service branch that specializes in combat by individuals on foot

Infantry is the branch of an army that engages in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and tank forces. Also known as foot soldiers, infantry traditionally relies on moving by foot between combats as well, but may also use mounts, military vehicles, or other transport. Infantry make up a large portion of all armed forces in most nations, and typically bear the largest brunt in warfare, as measured by casualties, deprivation, or physical and psychological stress.

Jerusalem City in the Middle East

Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

However, the troops of the capable Jezzar Pasha, refusing to surrender, withstood the siege for one and a half months. Haim Farhi, al-Jazzar's Jewish adviser and right-hand man, played a key role in the city's defense, directly supervising the battle against the siege. After Napoleon's earlier conquest of Jaffa, rampaging French troops had savagely sacked the conquered city, and thousands of Albanian prisoners of war were massacred on the sea-shore, [4] prior to the French move further northwards. These facts were well known to the townspeople and defending troops (many of them Albanians) in Acre, and the prospect is likely to have stiffened their resistance.

Haim Farhi Ottoman military leader

Haim Farhi, was an adviser to the governors of the Galilee in the days of the Ottoman Empire. Among the Jews he was known as Hakham Haim, because of his Talmudic learning.

Albanians people of Southeast Europe

The Albanians are an ethnic group native to the Balkan Peninsula and are identified by a common Albanian ancestry, culture, history and language. They primarily live in Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia as well as in Croatia, Greece and Italy. They also constitute a diaspora with several communities established in the Americas, Europe and Oceania.

A Royal Navy flotilla under Commodore Sidney Smith helped to reinforce the Ottoman defences and supplied the city with additional cannon manned by sailors and marines. Smith used his command of the sea to capture the French siege artillery being sent by a flotilla of gunboats from Egypt and to bombard the coastal road from Jaffa. [Note 1] An artillery expert from the fleet, Antoine Le Picard de Phélippeaux, then redeployed against Napoleon's forces the artillery pieces which the British had intercepted.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Naval fleet formation of warships

A fleet or naval fleet is a large formation of warships, which is controlled by one leader and the largest formation in any navy. A fleet at sea is the direct equivalent of an army on land.

Commodore is a naval rank used in many navies that is superior to a navy captain, but below a rear admiral. Non-English-speaking nations often use the rank of flotilla admiral, counter admiral, or senior captain as an equivalent, although counter admiral may also correspond to rear admiral.

Smith anchored the line-of-battle ships Tigre and Theseus so their broadsides could assist the defence. The gunboats, which were of shallower draft, could come in closer, and together they helped repel repeated French assaults.

French ship <i>Tigre</i> (1793)

Tigre was a 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy.

HMS <i>Theseus</i> (1786)

HMS Theseus was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy.

On 16 April a Turkish relief force was fought off at the Mount Tabor. By early May, replacement French siege artillery had arrived overland and a breach was forced in the defences. At the culmination of the assault, the besieging forces managed to make a breach in the walls.

A painting reflecting a British view, assigning the main heroic role at the Acre siege to Admiral Smith and relegating the Turks to a secondary role Sir William Sidney Smith by John Eckstein.jpg
A painting reflecting a British view, assigning the main heroic role at the Acre siege to Admiral Smith and relegating the Turks to a secondary role

However, after suffering many casualties to open this entry-point, Napoleon's soldiers found, on trying to penetrate the city, that Farhi and DePhelipoux had, in the meantime, built a second wall, several feet deeper within the city where al-Jazzar's garden was. Discovery of this new construction convinced Napoleon and his men that the probability of their taking the city was minimal. Moreover, after the assault was again repelled, Turkish reinforcements from Rhodes were able to land.

Having underestimated the stubborn attitude of the defending forces combined with a British blockade of French supply harbours and harsh weather conditions, Napoleon's forces were left hungry, cold and damp. Plague had struck the French camp as a result of the desperate condition of the men, and had by now led to the deaths of about 2,000 soldiers.

Throughout the siege, both Napoleon and Jezzar sought in vain the assistance of the Shihab leader, Bashir—ruler of much of present-day Lebanon. Bashir remained neutral. As things turned out, it was the French side which suffered most from the attitude of Bashir, whose intervention on their side might have turned the balance.

Finally, the siege was raised. Napoleon Bonaparte retreated two months later on 21 May after a failed final assault on 10 May, and withdrew to Egypt.


In 1805, Napoleon asserted that if he had:

been able to take Acre [in 1799], I would have put on a turban, I would have made my soldiers wear big Turkish trousers, and I would have exposed them to battle only in case of extreme necessity. I would have made them into a Sacred Battalion--my Immortals. I would have finished the war against the Turks with Arabic, Greek, and Armenian troops. Instead of a battle in Moravia, I would have won a Battle of Issus, I would have made myself emperor of the East, and I would have returned to Paris by way of Constantinople. [5]

The allusions from Classical Antiquity included in the speech are to the Sacred Band of Thebes and the Persian Immortals—elite units of, respectively, the city state of Thebes and the Achaemenid Kings of Persia; and to the Battle of Issus where Alexander the Great decisively defeated the latter. (In fact, though Acre was not conquered, Napoleon's Imperial Guard did come to be informally called "The Immortals." [6] )

Some hold that a statement attributed to Napoleon during the war, according to which he promised to return the land to the Jews if he were to succeed in his conquest of Palestine, was meant to capture Farhi’s, a Syrian Jew, attention and betray his master by switching his support to the French. Whether this is true or not, Farhi defended the city with the rest of the Turks.

However, Napoleon never showed any particular interest in winning over the Jews during his campaign, [7] though the account of Las Cases in "Mémorial de Sainte Hélène" about Napoleon's military campaign records that a rumour among Syrian Jews had it that after Napoleon took Acre, he would go to Jerusalem and restore Solomon's temple [8] and decrees were passed in favour of Jews (and Coptic Christians and women) in French-controlled Egypt. [9] Whatever Napoleon's actual intentions, these stories and rumors are considered to be among the earliest harbingers of what would become the Zionist Movement.

Present-day memory

In present-day Acre, the hill on which Napoleon set his camp, south-east of the city walls of Acre, is still known as "Napoleon's Hill" (גבעת נפוליון). Acre also has a Napoleon Bonaparte Street (רחוב נפוליון בונפרטה), the only Israeli city with such a street name.

Among the Arab population of the Old City of Acre, the knowledge of their forebears having successfully withstood the barrage of such a world-famous conqueror is a source of civic pride and local patriotism. In a folk tale current among Acre Arabs, Napoleon, upon lifting the siege of Acre, let a cannon shoot his hat into the city "so that at least part of him would enter into Acre". [10]

The remains of the internal fortification line erected by Farhi and De-Phelipoux within the walls of Acre, during Napoleon's siege, May 1799. Phelipoux.jpg
The remains of the internal fortification line erected by Farhi and De-Phelipoux within the walls of Acre, during Napoleon's siege, May 1799.
Cemetery for Napoleon's soldiers in Acre, including the grave of General Caffarelli. PikiWiki Israel 4359 napoleons soldiers cemetery acre.jpg
Cemetery for Napoleon's soldiers in Acre, including the grave of General Caffarelli.
19th-century cannon, set in the wall of Acre near a sign commemorating Farhi. The Hebrew inscription on the sign reads: Farhi vs. Napoleon. Jezzar's right hand in resisting Napoleon's harsh siege was the Jewish Haim Farhi, senior adviser and minister of finance. Farkhi.jpg
19th-century cannon, set in the wall of Acre near a sign commemorating Farhi. The Hebrew inscription on the sign reads: Farhi vs. Napoleon. Jezzar's right hand in resisting Napoleon's harsh siege was the Jewish Haim Farhi, senior adviser and minister of finance.

Notes and references

  1. The seven were: Dangereuse, Deux Freres, Foudre, Marie-Rose, Negresse, Toride, and Vierge-de-Grace.
  1. Guerre d'Orient: Campagnes de Égypte et de Syrie - page 80
  2. Smith, D. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill Books, 1998 p.151
  3. "Napoleon Letter with Orders for Soldiers at Acre". SMF Primary Sources. Shapell Manuscript Foundation.
  4. Falk, Avner (2015). Napoleon Against Himself: A Psychobiography. Pitchstone Publishing. p. 185. ISBN   9781939578723.
  5. Napoleon Bonaparte, “On Religions” in The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words, ed. J. Christopher Herold (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 49.
  6. Georges Blond, La Grande Armée, trans. Marshall May (New York: Arms and Armor, 1997), 48, 103, 470
  7. Henry Laurens, La Question de Palestine: L'invention de la terre sainte, 1799-1922, Fayard, Paris 1999 p.18
  8. Franz Kobler, Napoleon and the Jews, Masada Press, Jerusalem,1975 p.51
  9. Steven Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life, Harvard University Press 2005 p.133
  10. Mordechai Kempinsky, "Sipurey Hatzafon" (סיפורי הצפון) in Hebrew, Tel Aviv 1968

Coordinates: 32°55′19″N35°04′12″E / 32.922°N 35.070°E / 32.922; 35.070

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