Napoleon’s Amazing Foresight: Savants, Soldiers and Science

Napoleon’s Amazing Foresight: Savants, Soldiers and Science

In 1798 the French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, led an expedition to Egypt vowing to annex the country and halt the military and commercial march of the British. But a little over three years later, despite tasting spectacular victories, he abandoned his troops and went back to France when faced with a reversal of fortunes. However, even though Napoleon’s campaign on Egyptian soil met an abrupt end, not all was lost. Thanks to his savants, in a masterstroke, he converted his failure on the battlefield into a magnificent cultural success that would benefit generations of Egyptologists.

Frontispiece to Description de l'Égypte, published by the French government from 1809 to 1824. © 2018 Dahesh Museum of Art. (Public Domain)

Frontispiece to Description de l'Égypte, published by the French government from 1809 to 1824. © 2018 Dahesh Museum of Art. (Public Domain)

Rediscovery of Egypt

The French Commander-in-Chief, Napoleon Bonaparte, had taken around 170 leading savants (scholars) of the French Commission des Sciences et des Arts (Commission of Sciences and Arts) along with him on his Egyptian campaign. The Commission comprised an almost unbelievable assortment of learned men, and among the travelling party were painters, architects, botanists, draughtsmen, antiquarians, astronomers, engineers, zoologists and even musicians.


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