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Egyptian Campaign
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau 001.jpg
Battle of the Pyramids, Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau, 1798–1799
Date 1798-1801
Location Egypt
Result French Capitulation
Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
United Kingdom Great Britain
France France

The Egyptian Campaign (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's unsuccessful campaign in Egypt and Syria to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to India. Despite several victories and an expedition into Syria, Napoleon and his Armée d'Orient were eventually forced to withdraw by local hostility, British naval power, A newly reformed Ottoman army (Nizam-ı Cedid) and politics in Paris.

In addition to its significance in the wider French Revolutionary Wars, the campaign had a powerful impact on the Ottoman Empire in general and the Arab world in particular. The invasion demonstrated the military, technological, and organizational superiority of the Western European powers to the Middle East, leading to profound social changes in the region. The invasion introduced Western inventions, such as the printing press, and ideas, such as incipient nationalism, to the Middle East, eventually leading to the establishment of Egyptian independence and modernization under Muhammad Ali Pasha in the first half of the 19th century and eventually the Nahda, or Arab Renaissance. To modernist historians, French arrival marks the start of the modern Middle East.[1]



In August 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, in a letter to the Directory, seeking to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to India. Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with a Muslim enemy of the British in India, Tippoo Sahib.[2] Napoleon assured the Directory that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions."[3] According to a 13 February 1798 report by Talleyrand: "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to India, to join the forces of Tipu-Sahib and drive away the English."[4] The Directory agreed to the plan in March 1798. Though troubled by the enterprise's scope and cost, they readily agreed to the plan in order to remove the popular general from the center of power.

At the beginning of the campaign, Napoleon's expedition seized Malta from the Knights of Saint John on June 9 and then landed successfully at Alexandria on July 1, eluding, for the time being, detection by the Royal Navy. In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian population, Bonaparte issued proclamations that cast him as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression and praised the precepts of Islam. In a letter to a sheikh in August 1798, Napoleon wrote, "I hope...I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness."[5] However, Bonaparte's secretary Bourienne wrote that his employer had no serious interest in Islam or any other religion beyond their political value.[note 1]

Conquest of Egypt

The Battle of the Pyramids, Louis-François, Baron Lejeune, 1808.

After landing on the coast of Egypt (Near Alexandria, contradictionally to his plan), Napoleon's force of 25,000 fought off a force of about 21,000[7] Mamelukes in the Battle of the Pyramids (appr. 40,000 Mameluk soldiers stayed away from the battle) approximately nine miles (15 km) from the pyramids. He defeated the Mamluk cavalry using a larger version of the common infantry square, with cannons and supplies safely on the inside. In all 300 French and approximately 6,000 Egyptians were killed.

The uprising in Cairo. Napoleon extended amnesty to the leaders of the revolt in 1798.

While the battle on land was a resounding victory for the French, the British navy managed to compensate at sea. The ships that had dropped off Napoleon and his army had sailed back to France, but a fleet of ships of the line that had come with them stayed and supported the army along the coast. On August 1, the British fleet found these battleships anchored in a strong defensive position in the Bay of Abukir. The French believed that they were open to attack only on one side, the other side being protected by the shore. However, during the Battle of the Nile the arriving British fleet under Horatio Nelson managed to slip half of their ships in between the land and the French line, thus attacking from both sides. All but two of the French vessels were captured or destroyed. Napoleon became land-bound. His goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was thus frustrated, but his army nonetheless succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings.

Syrian Campaign

After receiving word in Constantinople(Modern-day Istanbul) that the French fleet had been destroyed during the Battle of the Nile, the Turkish believed that this was the end of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sultan Selim III decided to wage war against France, and sent two armies to Egypt. The first army, under the command of Jezzar Pasha, started with 12,000 soldiers; but was reinforced with troops from Damascus, Aleppo, Iraq (10,000 men), and Jerusalem (8,000 men). The second army, under the command of Mustafa Pasha, began on Rhodes with about eight thousand soldiers. He also knew he would get about 42,000 soldiers from Albania, Istanbul, Asia Minor, and Greece. The Turkish planned two offensives against Cairo. From Syria, across the desert of Salhayeh-Belbays-El Kankah, and from Rhodes by sea landing in the Aboukir area or the port city of Damietta.

In January 1799, Napoleon learned of the hostile Turkish movements. He knew that he would not be able to defend against the Turkish army, and decided that the best defense would be to attack them first in Syria. A victory there would give him more time to prepare against the Turkish forces on Rhodes.

He prepared around 13,000 soldiers who were organized in divisions under the command of Generals Reynier (with 2,160 men), Kléber (with 2,336), Bon (2,449), Lannes (2,938), division cavalry under General Murat (900), brigade of infantry and cavalry under Brigade chief Bessières (400), camel-company (89), artillery under Dammartin (1,387), and engineers and sappers under Caraffeli (3,404). Every infantry and cavalry division had 6 cannons. Napoleon took 16 siege cannons which were placed on ships in Damietta under the command of Captain Standelet. Bonaparte's French forces left Egypt on February 5, 1799, besieging and capturing Jaffa from 3 to 7 March. Napoleon created a hospital on the site of the Carmelite monastery at Mount Carmel.

He besieged (18 March) but was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, which was defended by newly created Turkish infantry elites (Nizam-ı Cedid) under the command of Jezzar Pasha, and forced to return to Egypt in May. To speed the retreat, Napoleon took the controversial step of killing prisoners and plague-stricken men along the way. His supporters argued that this was necessary given continuing harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces.

Bonaparte returns to France

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Hearst Castle
The monument to Napoleon's soldiers at Stella Maris Monastery, Haifa.

Back in Egypt, on 25 July, Napoleon decisively defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir. This partially restored his reputation after the naval defeat there a year earlier. With the Egyptian campaign stagnating, and political instability developing back home, Bonaparte abandoned Egypt for Paris in August 1799, leaving his troops behind under Kléber. It has been suggested that Sidney Smith and other British commanders in the Mediterranean helped Napoleon evade the British blockade, thinking that he might act as a Royalist element back in France, but there is no solid historical evidence in support of this conjecture.[citation needed].

End of the campaign

The remaining French troops were angry at Napoleon and the French government for having left them behind. They were supposed to be honorably evacuated under the terms of a treaty Kléber had negotiated with Smith in early 1800, but British Admiral Keith reneged on this treaty, sending an amphibious assault force of 30,000 Mamelukes against Kléber.

Kléber defeated the Mamelukes at the battle of Heliopolis in March 1800, and then suppressed an insurrection in Cairo. However, in June 1800 a Syrian student called Suleiman al-Halabi assassinated Kléber. Command of the French army passed to General Menou, who held command until August 1801. Under continual harassment by British and Ottoman forces, and after the loss of 13,500 men (mostly to disease), he eventually capitulated to the British.

Under the terms of his surrender, the French army was repatriated in British ships, along with a priceless hoard of Egyptian antiquities. After initial talks in Al Arish on 30 January 1800, the Treaty of Paris on 25 June 1802 ended all hostilities between France and the Ottoman Empire, resecuring Egypt for the Ottomans.

Scientific expedition

An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists("savants") assigned to the invading French force. Among its resultant discoveries was the Rosetta Stone. One of the scientists was Joseph Fourier, and while in Egypt he did some of the empirical work upon which his "analytical theory of heat" was founded. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Napoleon's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda obfuscating the true imperialist motives of the invasion.

In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Napoleon also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Mameluke oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam. This ended Napoleon's campaign in what some at home in France believed as a failure. However, Napoleon's reputation as a brilliant military commander remained intact despite his obvious failures during the campaign.

See also




  1. ^ "Bonaparte's principle look upon religions as the work of men, but to respect them everywhere as a powerful engine of government...If Bonaparte spoke as a Mussulman (Muslim), it was merely in his character of a military and political chief in a Mussulman country. To do so was essential to his success, to the safety of his army, his glory... In India he would have been for Ali, at Thibet for the Dalai-lama, and in China for Confucius."[6]


  1. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2004). A history of the modern Middle East. Michigan University Press. pp. 65. ISBN 0813340489,. 
  2. ^ Tricolor and crescent William E. Watson p.13-14 [1]
  3. ^ Napoleon and Persia by Iradj Amini, p.12 [2]
  4. ^ Napoleon and Persia by Iradj Amini, p.12 [3]
  5. ^ Cherfils 1914, pp.105 and 125
  6. ^ "Bonaparte and Islam.". George Mason University Center for History and New Media. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  7. ^ Chandler, David, The Campaigns of Napoleon New York, Macmillan, 1966


  • Cole, Juan (2007). Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1403964319. 
  • Strathern, Paul. Napoleon in Egypt: The Greatest Glory. Jonathan Cape, Random House, London, 2007. ISBN 9780224076814
  • Burleigh, Nina. Mirage. Harper, New York, 2007. ISBN 9780060597672

French invasion of Egypt may refer to:

French invasion of Egypt may refer to:


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