Napoleonic campaign in Egypt and Syria
The Campaign of Egypt and Syria (1798-1801) was a French military expedition carried out by General Napoleon Bonaparte and his successors, whose objective was to conquer Egypt to close the British path to India in the framework of the fight against Great Britain, the only power hostile to revolutionary France. The expedition ended up being a failure, but thanks to it Europe was able to rediscover the wonders of pharaonic antiquity.
In early 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte was a popular young general fresh from a successful campaign in Italy. However, his charisma and his political ambitions were such that they worried the Directory that ruled France. Thus, in order to distance him from the conspiratorial circles in the capital, the Directory proposed that he plan the invasion of Great Britain. Napoleon rejected the plan due to the naval superiority of the neighboring country, but he did study how to weaken it, especially economically, an idea that he would not stop thinking about for the rest of his life. At that time, Great Britain, having lost its American colonies, depended heavily on raw materials from India. Napoleon thought that if he could cut off communication with his Asian colony, the British Empire would be strangled. The way to do it was by conquering Egypt and Syria, then under Ottoman sovereignty, and from there going to India. He presented the plan to the Board. The idea was risky, considering that the Mediterranean was controlled by the British squadron, but the executive body gave the green light to the project.
Egypt was then a province of the Ottoman Empire, folded in on itself and submissive to the dissensions of the Mamluks. She escaped the sultan's strict control. In France, Egypt was fashionable: Napoleon Bonaparte dreamed of following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, intellectuals thought that Egypt was the cradle of Western civilization and that France should bring "the Enlightenment" to the Egyptian people, and lastly, French merchants settled under the Nile they would thus compensate for the inconvenience caused by the Mamelukes.
Napoleon raised an army of 38,000 men, a thousand cannons and seven hundred horses. He had the best generals of the moment: Berthier, Caffarelli, Kléber, Desaix, Lannes, Dumas, Murat, Andréossy, Belliard and Zajączek, among others. In addition to field aids such as his brother Louis Bonaparte, Duroc, Eugène de Beauharnais and the Polish nobleman Sulkowski.
The contingent was joined by a thousand civilians, including 167 scientists and specialists. Napoleon wanted to make Egypt a French protectorate. For this he not only had to conquer it, but also had to win the trust of its population. Here the scientists came into play, known among the military as "the wise", who had to bring to an almost medieval country the latest technical advances of the Europe of the Enlightenment. Incidentally, the studies carried out on the ground would serve to increase the French scientific heritage, which would benefit Napoleon's popularity and his ambitions for power; so he included numerous historians, botanists and designers. Therefore, it is also known as the Egypt Expedition when its scientific and less martial side is considered.
A fleet of thirteen ships of the line and more than 300 ships with 16,000 sailors departed on May 17, 1798 from the port of Toulon, carrying Bonaparte's army on board, accompanied by ships from Genoa, Ajaccio and Civitavecchia, a fleet commanded by the Admiral Brueys and Rear Admirals Villeneuve, Duchayla, Decrès and Ganteaume. In total more than 400 ships took part in this fleet, as well as 40,000 men and 10,000 sailors. No one knew where they were going. At first it was speculated that the destination was Sic