(ORDO NEWS) — How did your visit to the Valley of the Kings affect the fate of Napoleon? And why are researchers still arguing about the reasons for the mysterious Egyptian campaign of the commander?
This year, the European Union launched a renovation program for the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The project cost is 3 million euros. The largest museums in the world, including the British one, will take part in the program. Therefore, the British emphasize that they are ready to help Egypt all, except for the return of one of the most valuable relics of the ancient Egyptian kingdom – the Rosetta stone. This granodiorite slab was discovered in 1799 by the captain of the Napoleonic army Pierre-Francois Bouchard. On the slab, in three languages, there is a grateful text dedicated to the king of Egypt Ptolemy V. One of the languages is ancient Greek. It was the Rosetta stone that became the key to unraveling the mystery of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which scientists around the world fought to decipher for many decades. After the defeat of Napoleon’s troops in Africa, this artifact, like many others, came into the possession of the victors – the British.
Why did Napoleon want to conquer Egypt?
August 1797. Napoleon on a military campaign in Italy. 20 battles, and victory in all. The captured trophies significantly added to the French treasury, but the young commander was not allowed to stay in Paris.
At that time, the ruling directory in France, Napoleon was not needed in the capital, the popularity of the military leader posed a threat to the power of the young government. To send him to fight in the British Isles was the best solution. However, England at that time was famous for its powerful high-speed fleet, and France had only 300 ships.
“Napoleon looked at all this carefully and realized that the first shot in the direction of England would end in his collapse,” said historian and writer Alexander Alfeyev.
And then, according to historians, Napoleon went, on the one hand, to military cunning, and on the other, he decided to fulfill his old dream – to conquer Egypt. No one even suspected how far this man’s ambition stretched.
The glory of the first among his contemporaries did not suit Napoleon. He wanted to surpass the great conquerors of the past: Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. It was in Egypt that Alexander was declared a god, and Caesar had such a stormy romance with a local princess that he forgot about great Rome for a year. That is why Napoleon wanted to conquer Egypt.
Victory over the Mamluks
Napoleon convinced the directory in Paris that Egypt was strategically important. Having obtained it, France will block the Isthmus of Suez and deprive the Indian colonies of communication with Great Britain. Reigning in Egypt, France would have dominated Hindustan, the commander argued. Despite all the absurdity of the idea, the directory approved this campaign.
On May 19, 1798, a 35,000-strong French army advanced to Egypt and six weeks later, near the walls of Alexandria, the French entered into battle with the Mamluks, the descendants of the Caucasian horsemen, who ruled Egypt for more than 500 years.
“The Mamluk army was extremely undeveloped technically, and its entire strength was only in the cavalry. And the cavalry is very productive when you have swords and spears or arrows, but when you already have good enough artillery and good firearms, the infantry does not pose any threat, ”noted historian Dmitry Doroshenko.
Alexandria was taken by Napoleon’s troops in one day. On July 21, a decisive battle took place at the foot of the great pyramids. In this battle for Cairo, the French lost only 29 people, and the Mamluks and their allies – 10 thousand. Egypt submitted to Napoleon.
The true goal of Napoleon’s campaign
It would seem that the goal of the campaign has been achieved. Napoleon repeated the feat of the great generals of antiquity – Caesar and Macedon, but the ambitious Corsican decided to go even further. He dreamed of finding and bringing to his homeland all the wisdom, all the knowledge and wealth of Ancient Egypt – to do what his illustrious predecessors never did.
And by chance, together with the soldiers, a whole team of scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, historians and even writers went out on this campaign. There are 175 different specialists in total. Commission on Arts and Sciences – that’s what Napoleon called this team.
After the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon immediately created the Institute of Egypt. By his order, libraries and theaters were opened in Cairo. Scientists have begun excavating a field near the pyramids at Giza, near Cairo, in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor and at Karnak. They surveyed all accessible places, climbed up the stairs of ancient structures and descended into the dungeons. All finds were carefully studied. The description was illustrated by the artists of the expedition.
“After all, if we look at the ancient European images of the same pyramids, they look completely different, since these were only rumors that reached Europe in one way or another. At the same moment, scientists for the first time could see it with their own eyes and touch the East, ”explained Andrey Doroshenko.
Napoleon’s campaign opened the country of the pharaohs to Europe. Thanks to the French, Europeans learned about mummies, pyramids and a mysterious kingdom on the other side of the world. In a few decades, this will turn into a real archaeological fever, hundreds of researchers will go to the African continent in search of treasures and attempts to unravel the secrets of an amazing civilization.
The French took out many artifacts from Egypt: scrolls, figurines, decorations, miniatures of statues, but the most valuable and impressive in size artifacts will go to the British. In the first year of the Egyptian campaign, Napoleon lost his fleet. In the occupied country, constant riots broke out. The British troops were haunted by the French. The Ottoman Empire could soon rise.
Realizing that his further stay in Egypt would not bring him glory, on August 23, 1799, Napoleon, capturing many of the found artifacts, sailed to France. General of the French army Jean-Baptiste Kleber remained in command in Cairo. Two years later, French troops left Egypt in disgrace.
Militarily, Napoleon’s campaign, as expected, ended in failure, but for science the Egyptian expedition became invaluable. Napoleon discovered the treasures of Ancient Egypt. In addition, during the year of his stay in Egypt, the military leader gained experience in governing the state, which later came in very handy to him.
The treasures taken by Napoleon are still kept in the Louvre. The Egyptian collection of the museum has more than 50 thousand exhibits. Napoleon achieved his goal. He went down in history not only as a great commander, but also as a man who opened the gates of the disappeared kingdom of the pharaohs to the world.
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