The French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria, proclaimed to defend French trade interests, to establish scientific enterprise in the region and ultimately to join the forces of Indian ruler Tipu Sultan and drive away the British from the Indian subcontinent. It was the primary purpose of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, a series of naval engagements that included the capture of Malta. The campaign ended in defeat for Napoleon, and the withdrawal of French troops from the region. On the scientific front, the expedition eventually led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, creating the field of Egyptology. Despite early victories and an initially successful expedition into Syria, Napoleon and his Armée d'Orient were eventually defeated and forced to withdraw, especially after suffering the defeat of the supporting French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.
The notion of annexing Egypt as a French colony had been under discussion since François Baron de Tott undertook a secret mission to the Levant in 1777 to determine its feasibility. Baron de Tott's report was favorable, but no immediate action was taken. Nevertheless, Egypt became a topic of debate between Talleyrand and Napoleon, which continued in their correspondence during Napoleon's Italian campaign. In early 1798, Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt. In a letter to the Directory, he suggested this would protect French trade interests, attack British commerce, and undermine Britain's access to India and the East Indies, since Egypt was well-placed on the trade routes to these places. Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with France's ally Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India.
As France was not ready for a head-on attack on Great Britain itself, the Directory decided to intervene indirectly and create a "double port" connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, prefiguring the Suez Canal. At the time, Egypt had been an Ottoman province since 1517, but was now out of direct Ottoman control, and was in disorder, with dissension among the ruling Mamluk elite. According to a 13 February report by Talleyrand, "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to the Sultanate of Mysore, to join the forces of Tipu Sultan and drive away the English." The Directory agreed to the plan in March, though troubled by its scope and cost. They saw that it would remove the popular and over-ambitious Napoleon from the centre of power, though this motive long remained secret.
Rumours became rife as 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors were gathered in French Mediterranean ports. A large fleet was assembled at Toulon: 13 ships of the line, 14 frigates, and 400 transports. To avoid interception by the British fleet under Nelson, the expedition's target was kept secret.
The fleet at Toulon was joined by squadrons from Genoa, Civitavecchia and Bastia and was put under the command of Admiral Brueys and Contre-amirals Villeneuve, Du Chayla, Decrès and Ganteaume. Bonaparte arrived at Toulon on 9 May, lodging with Benoît Georges de Najac, the officer in charge of preparing the fleet.
When Napoleon's fleet arrived off Malta, Napoleon demanded that the Knights of Malta allow his fleet to enter the port and take on water and supplies. Grand Master von Hompesch replied that only two foreign ships would be allowed to enter the port at a time. Under that restriction, re-victualling the French fleet would take weeks, and it would be vulnerable to the British fleet of Admiral Nelson. Napoleon therefore ordered the invasion of Malta.
The French Revolution had significantly reduced the Knights' income and their ability to put up serious resistance. Half of the Knights were French, and most of these knights refused to fight.
French troops disembarked in Malta at seven points on the morning of 11 June. General Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers landed soldiers and cannon in the western part of the main island of Malta, under artillery fire from Maltese fortifications. The French troops met some initial resistance but pressed forward. The Knights' ill-prepared force in that region, numbering only about 2,000, regrouped. The French pressed on with their attack. After a fierce gun battle lasting twenty-four hours, most of the Knights' force in the west surrendered. Napoleon, during his stay in Malta, resided at Palazzo Parisio in Valletta.
Napoleon then opened negotiations. Faced with vastly superior French forces and the loss of western Malta, von Hompesch surrendered the main fortress of Valletta.
Kléber wounded in front of Alexandria, engraving by Adolphe-François Pannemaker
1798 Jul 1 -
Napoleon departed Malta for Egypt. After successfully eluding detection by the Royal Navy for thirteen days, the fleet was in sight of Alexandria where it landed on 1 July, although Napoleon's plan had been to land elsewhere.
On the night of the 1st of July, Bonaparte who was informed that Alexandria intended to resist him, rushed to get a force ashore without waiting for the artillery or the cavalry to land, in which he marched on Alexandria at the head of 4,000 to 5,000 men. At 2 am, 2nd of July, he set off marching in three columns, on the left, Menou attacked the "triangular fort", where he received seven wounds, while Kléber was in the centre, in which he received a bullet in the forehead but was only wounded, and Louis André Bon on the right attacked the city gates. Alexandria was defended by Koraim Pasha and 500 men. However, after a rather lively shooting in the city, the defenders gave up and fled.
When the whole expeditionary force had been disembarked, Admiral Brueys received orders to take the fleet to Aboukir Bay before anchoring the battle-fleet in the old port of Alexandria if possible or taking it to Corfu. These precautions were made vital by the imminent arrival of the British fleet, which had already been seen near Alexandria 24 hours before the French fleet's arrival.
The French army, under Napoleon Bonaparte, scored a decisive victory against the forces of the local Mamluk rulers, wiping out almost the entire Ottoman army located in Egypt. It was the battle where Napoleon employed the divisional square tactic to great effect. The deployment of the French brigades into these massive rectangular formations repeatedly threw back multiple cavalry charges by the Mamluks.
In all 300 French and approximately 6,000 Mamluks were killed. The battle gave rise to dozens of stories and drawings. The victory effectively sealed the French conquest of Egypt as Murad Bey salvaged the remnants of his army, chaotically fleeing to Upper Egypt. French casualties amounted to roughly 300, but Ottoman and Mamluk casualties soared into the thousands. Napoleon entered Cairo after the battle and created a new local administration under his supervision. The battle exposed the fundamental military and political decline of the Ottoman Empire throughout the past century, especially compared to the rising power of France.
Dupuy's brigade pursued the routed enemy and at night entered Cairo, which had been abandoned by the beys Mourad and Ibrahim. On 22 July, the notables of Cairo came to Giza to meet Bonaparte and offered to hand over the city to him.
On a choppy sea, a large warship suffers a massive internal explosion. The central ship is flanked by two other largely undamaged ships. In the foreground two small boats full of men row between floating wreckage to which men are clinging.
Battle of the Nile
1798 Aug 1 -
Aboukir Bay, Egypt
The transports had sailed back to France, but the battle fleet stayed and supported the army along the coast. The British fleet under the command of Horatio Nelson had been searching in vain for the French fleet for weeks. The British fleet had not found it in time to prevent the landings in Egypt, but on 1 August Nelson discovered the French warships 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. 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. In a few hours 11 out of the 13 French ships of the line and 2 out of the 4 French frigates were captured or destroyed; the four remaining ships fled. This frustrated Bonaparte's goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea, and instead put it totally under British control.
After the naval defeat at Aboukir, Bonaparte's campaign remained land-bound. His army still succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings, and Napoleon began to behave as absolute ruler of all Egypt.
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 and Mamluk oppression, praising the precepts of Islam and claiming friendship between France and the Ottoman Empire despite French intervention in the breakaway state.
Discontent against the French led to an uprising by the people of Cairo. While Bonaparte was in Old Cairo, the city's population began spreading weapons around to one another and fortifying strongpoints, especially at the Al-Azhar Mosque.
The French responded by setting up cannons in the Citadel and firing them at areas containing rebel forces. During the night, French soldiers advanced around Cairo and destroyed any barricades and fortifications they came across. The rebels soon began to be pushed back by the strength of the French forces, gradually losing control of their areas of the city.
Back in absolute control of Cairo, Bonaparte sought out the authors and instigators of the revolt. Several sheikhs, along with various people of influence, were convicted of participation in the plot and executed. To complete his punishment, a heavy tax was placed upon the city and its divan was replaced by a military commission.
In the meantime the Ottomans in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) received news of the French fleet's destruction at Aboukir and believed this spelled the end for Bonaparte and his expedition, trapped in Egypt. Sultan Selim III decided to wage war against France, and sent two armies to Egypt. The first army, under the command of Jezzar Pasha, had set out 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, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Greece. The Ottomans planned two offensives against Cairo: from Syria, across the desert of El Salheya-Bilbeis-Al Khankah, and from Rhodes by sea landing in the Aboukir area or the port city of Damietta.
Antoine-Jean Gros - Bonaparte visitant les pestiférés de Jaffa
Syrian Campaign: Siege of Jaffa
1799 Mar 3 -
In January 1799, during the canal expedition, the French learned of the hostile Ottoman movements and that Jezzar had seized the desert fort of El-Arish 16 km (10 mi) from Syria's frontier with Egypt, which he was in charge of guarding. Certain that war with the Ottoman sultan was imminent and that he would be unable to defend against the Ottoman army, Bonaparte decided that his best defence would be to attack them first in Syria, where a victory would give him more time to prepare against the Ottoman forces on Rhodes.
The siege of Jaffa was a military engagement between the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte and Ottoman forces under Ahmed al-Jazzar. On the 3 of March, 1799, the French laid siege to the city of Jaffa, which was under Ottoman control. It was fought from 3 to 7 March 1799. On the 7 March, French forces managed to capture the city.
Meanwhile, a plague epidemic caused by poor hygiene in the French headquarters in Ramla decimated the local population and the French army alike. As he had also suggested during the siege of Acre, on the eve of the retreat from Syria-Palestine Napoleon suggested to his army doctors (led by Desgenettes), that the seriously ill troops who could not be evacuated should be given a fatal dose of laudanum, but they forced him to give up the idea.
The siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman city of Acre (now Akko in modern Israel) and was the turning point of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria, along with the Battle of the Nile. It was Napoleon's second tactical defeat in his career, three years previously he had been defeated at the Second Battle of Bassano. As a result of the failed siege, Napoleon Bonaparte retreated two months later and withdrew to Egypt.
Bataille du Mont Thabor, 16 avril 1799. Campagne d’Égypte de Bonaparte.
Battle of Mount Tabor
1799 Apr 16 -
The Battle of Mount Tabor was fought on 16 April 1799, between French forces commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte and General Jean-Baptiste Kléber, against an Ottoman Army under Abdullah Pasha al-Azm, ruler of Damascus. The battle was a consequence of the siege of Acre, in the later stages of the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria.
Upon hearing that a Turkish and Mamluk army had been sent from Damascus to Acre, for the purpose of forcing the French to raise the siege of Acre, General Bonaparte sent out detachments to track it down. General Kléber led an advance guard and boldly decided to engage the much larger Turkish army of 35,000 men near Mount Tabor, managing to hold it off until Napoleon drove General Louis André Bon’s division of 2,000 men in a circling manoeuvre and took the Turks completely by surprise in their rear.
The resulting battle saw the outnumbered French force inflict thousands of casualties and scatter the remaining forces of the pasha of Damascus, forcing them to abandon their hopes of reconquering Egypt and leaving Napoleon free to carry on the siege of Acre.
Napoleon orders a withdrawal from his siege of city of Acre due to plague which run through besieging French forces. To conceal its withdrawal from the siege, the army set off at night. Arriving at Jaffa, Bonaparte ordered three evacuations of the plague sufferers to three different points – one by sea to Damietta, one by land to Gaza and another by land to Arish.
Finally, after four months away from Egypt, the expedition arrived back at Cairo with 1,800 wounded, having lost 600 men to the plague and 1,200 to enemy action.
A corps of 167 technical experts (savants), known as the Commission des Sciences et des Arts, accompanied the French expeditionary army to Egypt. On 15 July 1799, French soldiers under the command of Colonel d'Hautpoul were strengthening the defences of Fort Julien, a couple of miles north-east of the Egyptian port city of Rosetta (modern-day Rashid). Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions on one side that the soldiers had uncovered. He and d'Hautpoul saw at once that it might be important and informed General Jacques-François Menou, who happened to be at Rosetta. The find was announced to Napoleon's newly founded scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d'Égypte, in a report by Commission member Michel Ange Lancret noting that it contained three inscriptions, the first in hieroglyphs and the third in Greek, and rightly suggesting that the three inscriptions were versions of the same text. Lancret's report, dated 19 July 1799, was read to a meeting of the Institute soon after 25 July. Bouchard, meanwhile, transported the stone to Cairo for examination by scholars. Napoleon himself inspected what had already begun to be called la Pierre de Rosette, the Rosetta Stone, shortly before his return to France in August 1799.
Bonaparte had been informed that Murad Bey had evaded the pursuit by Generals Desaix, Belliard, Donzelot and Davout and was descending on Upper Egypt. Bonaparte thus marched to attack him at Giza, also learning that 100 Ottoman ships were off Aboukir, threatening Alexandria.
Without losing time or returning to Cairo, Bonaparte ordered his generals to make all speed to meet the army commanded by the pasha of Rumelia, Saïd-Mustapha, which had joined up with the forces under Murad Bey and Ibrahim.
First Bonaparte advanced to Alexandria, from which he marched to Aboukir, whose fort was now strongly garrisoned by the Ottomans. Bonaparte deployed his army so that Mustapha would have to win or die with all his family. Mustapha's army was 18,000 strong and supported by several cannons, with trenches defending it on the landward side and free communication with the Ottoman fleet on the seaward side. Bonaparte ordered an attack on 25 July and the Battle of Abukir ensued. In a few hours the trenches were taken, 10,000 Ottomans drowned in the sea and the rest captured or killed. Most of the credit for the French victory that day goes to Murat, who captured Mustapha himself.
Arrivée en France by Bonaparte au retour d'Egypte le 9 octobre 1799
Bonaparte leaves Egypt
1799 Aug 23 -
On 23 August, a proclamation informed the army that Bonaparte had transferred his powers as commander in chief to General Kléber. This news was taken badly, with the soldiers angry with Bonaparte and the French government for leaving them behind, but this indignation soon ended, since the troops were confident in Kléber, who convinced them that Bonaparte had not left permanently but would soon be back with reinforcements from France.
On their 41-day voyage back Bonaparte did not meet a single enemy ship to stop them. On 1 October, Napoleon's small flotilla entered port at Ajaccio, where contrary winds kept them until 8 October, when they set out for France.
On 1 November 1799, the British fleet commanded by Admiral Sidney Smith unloaded an army of Janissaries near Damietta, between Lake Manzala and the sea. The garrison of Damietta, 800 infantry and 150 cavalry strong, commanded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier encountered the Turks. According to Kléber's report, 2,000 to 3,000 Janissaries were killed or drowned and 800 surrendered, including their leader Ismaël Bey. The Turks also lost 32 standards and 5 cannons.
Kléber engaged in negotiations with both the British and Ottomans, with the aim of honourably evacuating the remains of the French force from Egypt to take part in operations in Europe. An accord (the Convention of El Arish) was concluded on 23 January 1800 allowing such a return to France, but it proved impossible to apply due to internal dissensions among the British and the dithering of the Sultan, and so the conflict in Egypt restarted.
Kléber was betrayed by the British Admiral Keith, who did not respect the El Arish convention. He therefore restarted hostilities, for he refused to surrender. The British and the Ottomans believed the armée d'Orient was now too weak to resist them, and so Yussuf Pasha marched on Cairo, where the local population obeyed his call to revolt against French rule.
Although he had no more than 10,000 men, Kléber attacked the British-supported Turkish force at Heliopolis. Against all expectations, the heavily outnumbered French defeated the Ottoman army and retook Cairo.
The landing of British troops at Aboukir, 8 March 1801
Battle of Abukir (1801)
1801 Mar 8 -
Abu Qir, Egypt
The landing of the British expeditionary force under Sir Ralph Abercromby was intended to defeat or drive out an estimated 21,000 remaining troops of Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Egypt. The fleet commanded by Baron Keith included seven ships of the line, five frigates and a dozen armed corvettes. With the troop transports, it was delayed in the bay for several days by strong gales and heavy seas before disembarkation could proceed.
Under General Friant, some 2000 French troops and ten field guns in high positions took a heavy toll of a large British force disembarking from a task-force fleet in boats, each carrying 50 men to be landed on the beach. The British then rushed and overwhelmed the defenders with fixed bayonets and secured the position, enabling an orderly landing of the remainder of their 17,500-strong army and its equipment. The skirmish was a prelude to the Battle of Alexandria and resulted in British losses of 730 killed and wounded or missing. The French withdrew, losing at least 300 dead or wounded and eight pieces of cannon.
British expeditionary corps under Sir Ralph Abercrombie defeat the French army under General Menou in the Battle of Alexandria during Anglo-Ottoman land offensive.
The armies engaged on this day both numbered approximately 14,000 men. Losses for the British were, 1,468 killed, wounded and missing, including Abercromby (who died on 28 March), Moore and three other generals wounded. The French on the other hand had 1,160 killed and (?) 3,000 wounded.
The British advanced upon Alexandria and laid siege to it.
Finally besieged in Alexandria from 17 August – 2 September, Menou eventually capitulated to the British. Under the terms of his capitulation, the British General John Hely-Hutchinson allowed the French army to be repatriated in British ships. Menou also signed over to Britain the priceless hoard of Egyptian antiquities such as the Rosetta Stone which it had collected. After initial talks in Al Arish on 30 January 1802, the Treaty of Paris on 25 June ended all hostilities between France and the Ottoman Empire, returning Egypt to the Ottomans.
French supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean is prevented.
Important archaeological discoveries, including the Rosetta Stone
Description de l'Egypte, which detailed the findings of the scholars and scientists who had accompanied Napoleon to Egypt. This publication became the foundation of modern research into the history, society, and economics of Egypt.
The invasion demonstrated the military, technological, and organisational superiority of the Western European powers to the Middle East, leading to profound social changes in the region.
The printing press was first introduced to Egypt by Napoleon. He brought with his expedition a French, Arabic, and Greek printing press, which were far superior in speed, efficiency and quality to the nearest presses used in Istanbul.
The invasion introduced Western inventions, such as the printing press, and ideas, such as liberalism and incipient nationalism, to the Middle East, eventually leading to the establishment of Egyptian independence and modernisation under Muhammad Ali Pasha in the first half of the 19th century and eventually the Nahda, or Arab Renaissance.
To modernist historians, the French arrival marks the start of the modern Middle East.
The campaign ended in failure, with 15,000 French troops killed in action and 15,000 by disease.
Napoleon's reputation as a brilliant military commander remained intact and even rose higher, despite some of his failures during the campaign.
Bernède, Allain (1998). Gérard-Jean Chaduc; Christophe Dickès; Laurent Leprévost (eds.). La campagne d'Égypte : 1798-1801 Mythes et réalités (in French). Paris: Musée de l'Armée. ISBN 978-2-901-41823-8.
Cole, Juan (2007). Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East. Palgr
Cole, Juan (2007). Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6431-1.
James, T. G. H. (2003). "Napoleon and Egyptology: Britain's Debt to French Enterprise". Enlightening the British: Knowledge, Discovery and the Museum in the Eighteenth Century. British Museum Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-7141-5010-X.
Mackesy, Piers. British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest. Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9781134953578
Rickard, J French Invasion of Egypt, 1798–1801, (2006)
Strathern, Paul. Napoleon in Egypt: The Greatest Glory. Jonathan Cape, Random House, London, 2007. ISBN 978-0-224-07681-4
Watson, William E. (2003). Tricolor and Crescent: France and the Islamic World. Greenwood. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-275-97470-7.
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