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Provocative History - Napoleon #6 Excavating in Egypt


     Last time you saw Napoleon, a one General Nelson of the British fleet had just sunk the entire French fleet off the coast of Alexandria.

     Stranded as Bonaparte is, however, he is not without resources. While the loss of all their transports is a great blow, the French still have control over all Egypt. Tasting power once more, Napoleon re-imagined himself as a new Alexander, head of an eastern power.

     In the first act of his reign, Napoleon unleashed the historians, scientists, and taxonomists, who had been itching for an opportunity to explore. Like children, these men eagerly examined everything they could find. Water-dwelling species of the Nile found themselves recorded for the first time. Exact dimensions of ancient edifices were determined, and their secrets unearthed.

     In addition, the scholars discovered the famous Rosetta stone. This led to the eventual cracking of hieroglyphics, which in turn led to the discovery of ancient Egypt's history. Remarkably, up until this point in history, the world possessed only an incomplete picture of Egypt's history. With hieroglyphics, the entire reigns of the Pharaohs were discovered.

     Put together, a twenty-four volume collection of everything they found while in Egypt was constructed by the French scholars. This collection is the cornerstone of everything we know about Egypt nowadays.

     Even as the scholars cataloged, however, Bonaparte could not stop himself from fighting more enemies. In February of 1799, he marched into the Levant (another word for the eastern Mediterranean seaboard). Initially, things were going well, until the French troops besieged Acre. The siege went poorly, and the Turks forced him to retreat with his dispirited troops. It was a military disaster, but - in typical Napoleonic fashion by this point - he was able to cover it up with some nice propaganda.

     It was in August of that same year when Napoleon committed the most shocking act of his entire career. Taking a few trusted officers and other personnel, he boarded a ship in Alexandria, and set sail for France once more. He abandoned over 30,000 troops, and a nation without a government with little more than an apologetic message. In a paraphrased quote from the general, "Dire circumstances require desperate actions."

     And times were dire, even if his method of abandonment was inexcusable. Back on the mainland, the mother country had gotten to be at with most of Europe, and was in political disarray. Bonaparte had heard about this, and decided that he would need to act fast if he still wanted to have a country to rule over. In October, he docked in a French port, greeted with crowds of cheering citizens.

     The citizens had heard about the Egyptian campaign solely through the lens of Napoleon's propaganda machine, which interpreted it as a total success.

     I'd like to conclude this series here on this triumphant note. I don't believe it is worthwhile to continue this series. Each post requires extensive, tiring research: research that, even though two weeks separate each posting, interferes with my work schedule. In addition, I believe interest in the series is dying away, in part I think due to the large breaks between posts.

     For the future of my posts in Einblick, I think it would make more sense to confine edible chunks to a post each. If I do more history in the future, it will be in more one-off episodes like that of King Ludwig the Mad. I will probably be branching off into other kinds of content as well.

     Thanks to all of you who read this far in Provocative History's series on Napoleon Bonaparte, and please stay tuned for the return of the Joy of Cartography, sometime soon!








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