Napoleon Bonaparte’s Invasion of the Levant: The History and Legacy of the French Campaign in Syria

Written by Charles River Editors
Category: · History

*Includes pictures
*Includes accounts of the campaign
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

“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.” – Napoleon’s address to his soldiers before leaving for Africa

An initial review of France’s naval forces had led Napoleon to conclude his navy could not hope to outfight the power of the Royal Navy, which had been the dominant naval power for centuries, so he was forced to look elsewhere. After months of planning, Napoleon crafted a scheme to attack and conquer Egypt, denying the British easy access to their colonies in India, with the ultimate goal of linking up with the Sultan Tipoo in India itself and defeating the British in the field there. Napoleon sailed with Admiral Brueys and 30,000 troops that June, heading for Egypt. Notionally part of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was de facto a weak independent regime run by the breakaway Mamelukes. For France, it offered an overland route to India and a chance to beat Britain at her own game via economic strangulation.

Ironically, in their attempt to intercept Napoleon and the French fleet, Admiral Horatio Nelson and the British forces beat the French to Africa, failing to take into account their slower troop transports. While the British turned north, only two days later, on June 28, 1798, Napoleon’s army disembarked at Alexandria. Back in Sicily, Nelson heard further reports about the French and again sailed south. This time, about 6 weeks after the French reached Egypt, Nelson’s fleet destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet, leaving Napoleon stranded in Africa.

In addition to being unable to be reinforced or supplied by sea, his ambitions to establish a permanent presence in Egypt were further frustrated by a number of uprisings. Early in 1799, Napoleon advanced against France’s erstwhile enemy, the Ottoman Empire, invading modern Syria (then the province of Damascus) and conquering the cities of Gaza, Jaffa, Arish and Haifa. However, with the plague running rampant through his army and his lines of supply from Egypt stretched dangerously thin, Napoleon was unable to destroy the fortified city of Acre and was forced to retreat. The retreat cost him almost all of his wounded as, harassed by enemy forces, he was forced to abandon most of his casualties to the Ottomans’ mercy, or lack thereof. Most of the wounded were tortured and beheaded.

Upon returning to Cairo, Napoleon finally received dispatches from France which, with the Mediterranean rife with Royal Navy vessels, had been severely delayed. The dispatches told of renewed hostilities with Austria and her allies, and a series of defeats in Italy which had virtually annihilated all of Napoleon’s previous hard-won gains in the Italian peninsula. Leaving his army under the command of his subordinate General Kleber, Napoleon took advantage of a lull in the Royal Navy blockade and embarked upon one of his remaining ships. He set sail for France, determined to rescue her from this fresh wave of enemies.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Invasion of the Levant: The History and Legacy of the French Campaign in Syria chronicles one of the French leader’s most forgotten campaigns. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about the French invasion of the Levant like never before.


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