NAPOLEON IN EGYPT: THE GREATEST GLORY

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9781844139170: NAPOLEON IN EGYPT: THE GREATEST GLORY

“Europe is a molehill....”
Everything here is worn out...tiny Europe has not enough to offer.
We must set off for the Orient; that is where all the greatest glory is to be achieved.”
—Napoleon
Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt was the first Western attack in modern times on a Middle Eastern country. In this remarkably rich and eminently readable historical account, acclaimed author Paul Strathern reconstructs a mission of conquest inspired by glory, executed in haste, and bound for disaster.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte, only twenty-eight, mounted the most audacious military campaign of his already spectacular career. With 335 ships, 40,000 soldiers, and a collection of scholars, artists, scientists, and inventors, he set sail for Egypt to establish an Eastern empire in emulation of Alexander the Great. Like everything Napoleon ever attempted, it was a plan marked by unquenchable ambition, heroic romanticism, and not a little madness.

Napoleon saw himself as a liberator, freeing the Egyptians from the oppression of their Mameluke overlords. But while Napoleon thought his army would be welcomed as heroes, he tragically misunderstood Muslim culture and grossly overestimated the “gratitude” he could expect from those he’d come to save. Instead Napoleon and his men would face a grim war of attrition against an ad hoc army of Muslims led by the feared Murad Bey. Marching across seemingly endless deserts in the shadow of the pyramids, suffering extremes of heat and thirst, and pushed to the limits of human endurance, they would be plagued by mirages, suicides, and the constant threat of ambush. A crusade begun in honor and intended for glory would degenerate toward chaos and atrocity.

But Napoleon’s grand failure in Egypt also yielded vast treasures of knowledge about a culture largely lost to the West, and through the recovery of artifacts like the Rosetta Stone, it prepared the way for the translation of hieroglyphics and modern Egyptology. And it tempered the complex leader who believed it his destiny to conquer the world.

A story of war, adventure, politics, and a clash of cultures, Paul Strathern’s Napoleon in Egypt is history at once relevant and impossible to put down.

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About the Author:

Paul Strathern studied philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. He has lectured in philosophy and mathematics and is a Somerset Maugham Prize–winning novelist. He is the bestselling author of several books of nonfiction, including the series Philosophers in 90 Minutes and The Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Origins of the Egyptian Campaign


Since earliest times, Egypt had been a source of wonder to the European eye. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus, visiting the country in the mid fifth century BC, encountered the following scene: "During the flooding of the Nile only the towns are visible, rising above the surface of the water like the scattered islands of the Aegean Sea. While the inundation continues, boats no longer keep to the channels and rivers, but sail across the fields and plains. On a journey far inland you can even sail past the pyramids." Less than two centuries later, the Macedonian Greek Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, completing this task in a matter of months, but remaining long enough to found the city of Alexandria, whose site he selected in 331 BC at what was then the western mouth of the Nile delta. After this, in what appeared to be a characteristic act of hubris, but was in fact an attempt to win over the local priesthood, Alexander sacrificed to the sacred bull Apis and had himself crowned pharaoh. He then set off east on his campaign of conquest against the Persians, during which he planted the seeds of Greek culture across a great swath of Asia. Eight years later, having extended his conquests to the limits of the known world, Alexander died after a drinking bout in Babylon, and his body was brought back to Alexandria to be buried in a magnificent tomb, made of gold and glass, whose site has since been lost.

In Roman times, Egypt would become the granary of the Mediterranean world, providing over a third of the grain supplies for the entire Roman Empire. During the first century BC Alexandria would become the focus of stirring events which changed the fate of that empire, when the charms of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, proved irresistible first to Julius Caesar and then to Mark Antony, while rivalry between these two ambitious men plunged the Roman Empire into civil war.

Under the Greeks, and then the Romans, Alexandria would become the intellectual capital of the Western world, the city that produced Euclid and educated Archimedes, its celebrated library a repository of all knowledge. It was here that Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth and its distance from the sun. For the latter, he used the known fact that on a certain day the sun could be seen at the foot of a deep well in Aswan 500 miles to the south, and was thus directly overhead. He then measured the length of the shadow cast by a pole in Alexandria, and thus the angle of the sun's rays there; using trigonometry, he then calculated the distance of the sun within around 5 percent of the accepted modern figure. Such was the reach and achievement of Alexandrian learning at its prime. When its library burned down in two disastrous fires, the last of which was started by zealot Christians in AD 391, the ancient world lost over half a million scrolls, and with these as much as a quarter of the knowledge and cultural heritage of Western civilization vanished forever.

French interest in Egypt began with the Seventh Crusade in the thirteenth century, led by Louis IX (who partly on account of this became known as St. Louis). In 1248 the king and over 30,000 men disembarked from 100 ships near Damietta on the Nile delta. Here they encountered the full might of the Mameluke cavalry, which inflicted on them a crushing defeat, capturing Louis and holding him to ransom.

The Mameluke cavalry was arguably the greatest war machine of the period, certainly superior to any European militia. In 1260, just ten years after the debacle of the Seventh Crusade, the Mameluke cavalry would encounter the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan's successor at the Battle of Ayn Jalut, just north of Jerusalem. Here they put the Mongol cavalry to flight, thus destroying for the first time the myth of their invincibility. Had the Mamelukes lost this battle, the Mongols could have pressed on across North Africa into Spain, encircling Europe. Not for nothing has this victory been reckoned as one of the great turning points of history, though it passed unnoticed in the medieval world it rescued. Meanwhile, to the European mind Egypt remained for the most part a land of Biblical legend: the setting of the plague of frogs, the Nile turning to blood, and Moses' parting of the Red Sea.

Four hundred years later, the German philosopher Leibniz would approach Louis XIV with a meticulously detailed plan for a French invasion of Egypt, including details of a Suez canal to facilitate trade with the Indies. Despite such lofty foresight, Leibniz's motive was in fact down to earth and devious: his employer, the Elector of Mainz, wished to divert the Sun King from invading the German states. But Louis rejected Leibniz's idea, informing him that "since the days of St. Louis, such expeditions have gone out of fashion." The papers detailing the scheme would gather dust in the archives at Hanover after Leibniz's death. It has been suggested that Napoleon might have been inspired by these plans, but it is now certain that he had no idea of their existence until he passed through Hanover in 1803, some years after his Egyptian expedition. When they were drawn to his attention, he remarked cryptically: "This work is very curious." Nonetheless, Leibniz's plans remain relevant; his scheme represented a trend that would flourish recurrently during the ensuing centuries: namely, the European habit of exporting internal conflicts to the territories of other continents.

Despite the rejection of Leibniz's scheme, during the ensuing century France expanded its colonial empire to Canada, Louisiana, the West Indies and India. Other European powers were engaged in similar enterprises, and this soon resulted in conflict, most notably between Britain and France. Britain's growing economic and maritime power eventually tipped the balance, with rapid and disastrous effect on the French colonies. In 1761 France lost Pondicherry and trading posts on the east coast of India; in 1762-3 it was forced to cede the Louisiana Territory to the Spanish and the British; and in 1763 it lost sovereignty over its Canadian colonies to Britain. France's valuable sugar-producing colonies in the West Indies—Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Dominique (Haiti)—now looked particularly vulnerable. Mindful of this state of affairs, Louis XV's foreign minister, the Duc de Choiseul, came up with a scheme to take over Egypt in 1769, the very year Napoleon was born. Given Egypt's climate and its plentiful cheap labor, it was ideal for sugar plantations, and could easily supplant if not exceed France's imports from the West Indies. The fact that Egypt was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, a long-term ally of France, could easily be overcome by the simple expedient of buying it from the Turks. The following year the aging Louis XV took the courtesan Madame du Barry as his mistress, de Choiseul fell from favor, and his planned introduction of retail theory into foreign policy was shelved.

Yet France's colonial situation remained under threat, and in 1776 the idea of turning Egypt into a French colony was resurrected, when the Ministry of the Navy decided to dispatch an envoy there. The man chosen was Baron François de Tott, a Frenchman of Hungarian descent who had lived in the eastern Mediterranean for several years and had much experience of Levantine affairs. Yet this experience would prove of little avail. On his arrival in Cairo, de Tott was immediately escorted to the Citadel, the city's fortress, where he had an audience with the pasha "surrounded by all the pomp of his Vizirate." De Tott described how "the Pasha sent away the crowd which filled the hall of the Divan, [whereupon] he confided to me that there was a fermentation amongst the beys (a sure sign that a revolution was about to take place)." No sooner had de Tott arrived at the French consul's house than a revolt duly erupted and he found himself barricaded in for his own safety "while the ruling beys took possession of the Citadel, forcing the Pasha with a pistol under his throat to issue an order banishing the revolters into exile . . . but the rebels, despising such vain formalities, began firing at their enemies. . . . After several days of blasting their guns, with more noise than effect, the ruling beys fled from the Citadel into Upper Egypt . . . and a new group of beys declared themselves to be in charge." Such chaos had now become a regular feature of life in Egypt, with the pasha, who was nominally the Ottoman ruler, reduced to a mere figurehead at the mercy of the beys, the ruling provincial chieftains, all of whom were members of the warrior caste of Mamelukes.

The Mamelukes had a long history in Egypt. They were originally brought into the country around 1230 by the ruling Ayyubite sultan al-Malik, who purchased 12,000 youths from Turkey to strengthen his army. The word Mameluke derives from mamluk, the Arabic for "slave" or "bought man," though in this case the latter is closer to the actuality. In a remarkably short time the imported Mamelukes had molded themselves into the fearsome fighting force encountered by Louis IX and the Seventh Crusade in 1248. Ten years later they became the major power in the land, murdering al-Malik's successor and establishing their own dynasty. At this stage they appear to have been largely Turkic—non-Arab and non-Muslim in origin, often barely understanding Arabic. Yet curiously it was under this new dynasty that Egypt became established as the center of Arabic culture in the Muslim world, with the great Al-Azhar mosque as a beacon of learning, its medical and mathematical knowledge far outshining anything in medieval Europe. This was mainly due to the influx of refugee scholars from such places as Baghdad and Damascus, fleeing in the face of the Mongol hordes. Had the Mamelukes not defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut in 1260, the Muslim world, much like medieval Europe, would not have survived.

Yet just twenty years lat...

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Napoleon s attack on Egypt in 1798 was the first on a Middle Eastern country by a Western power in modern times. With 335 ships and 40,000 men, it was the largest long-distance seaborne force the world had ever seen. Napoleon s assault was intended to be much more than a colonial adventure, however, for he took with him over one hundred and fifty scientists, mathematicians, artists and writers - a Legion of Culture - with a view to bringing Western civilization to backward Egypt. Ironically, what these intellectuals discovered in Egypt would transform our knowledge of Western civilization and form the basis of Egyptology. But there were also setbacks. Nelson s destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile apparently put an end to Napoleon s secret plans to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and invade India. Napoleon was just twenty-eight when he invaded Egypt and it was an episode which contained in embryo many seminal events of his later career and set the standard for his brilliant, ambitious and ultimately disastrous career. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9781844139170

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Napoleon s attack on Egypt in 1798 was the first on a Middle Eastern country by a Western power in modern times. With 335 ships and 40,000 men, it was the largest long-distance seaborne force the world had ever seen. Napoleon s assault was intended to be much more than a colonial adventure, however, for he took with him over one hundred and fifty scientists, mathematicians, artists and writers - a Legion of Culture - with a view to bringing Western civilization to backward Egypt. Ironically, what these intellectuals discovered in Egypt would transform our knowledge of Western civilization and form the basis of Egyptology. But there were also setbacks. Nelson s destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile apparently put an end to Napoleon s secret plans to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and invade India. Napoleon was just twenty-eight when he invaded Egypt and it was an episode which contained in embryo many seminal events of his later career and set the standard for his brilliant, ambitious and ultimately disastrous career. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9781844139170

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