Skip to main content
Select Source:

Napoleon I

Napoleon I

Napoleon I (1769-1821), emperor of the French, ranks as one of the greatest military conquerors in history. Through his conquests he remade the map of Europe, and through his valuable administrative and legal reforms he promoted the growth of liberalism.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born Napoleon Buonaparte (the spelling change was made after 1796) on Aug. 15, 1769, in the Corsican city of Ajaccio. He was the fourth of 11 children of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Romolino. His father derived from the lesser Corsican nobility. Following the annexation of Corsica by France in 1769, Carlo was granted the same rights and privileges as the French nobility. After an elementary education at a boys' school in Ajaccio, young Napoleon was sent in January 1779 with his older brother Joseph to the College of Autun in the duchy of Burgundy. In May of the same year he was transferred to the more fashionable College of Brienne, another military school, while his brother remained at Autun. Here Napoleon's small stature earned him the nickname of the "Little Corporal."

At Brienne, Napoleon received an excellent military and academic education, and in October 1784 he earned an appointment to the École Militaire of Paris. The royal military school of Paris was the finest in Europe in the years before the Revolution, and Napoleon entered the service of Louis XVI in 1785 with a formal education that had prepared him for his future role in French history. Napoleon joined an artillery unit at Valence, where he again received superior training.

First Military Assignments

Now a second lieutenant, Napoleon continued his education on his own, but he was distracted by Corsica. Until 1793 his thoughts, desires, and ambitions centered on the island of his birth. Following the death of his father, he received an extended leave (1786) to return to Corsica to settle his family's affairs. After rejoining his regiment at Auxonne, he again spent more than a year on his native island (1789-1790), during which time he was influential in introducing the changes brought about by the Revolution. Returning to France, Napoleon was transferred to Valence in June 1791. But by October he had returned to Corsica, where he remained for 7 months. He spent the critical summer of 1792 in Paris and then returned to Corsica for one last episode in October. On this visit he took part in the power struggle between the forces supporting Pasquale Paoli and those supported by the French Republic. After Paoli was victorious, Napoleon and the Bonaparte family were forced to flee to the mainland, and the young officer then turned his attention to a career in the French army.

The Revolution of 1789 did not have a major effect upon Bonaparte in its early years. He did not sympathize with the royalists. Nor did he take an active part in French politics, as his thoughts were still taken up with affairs in Corsica. Napoleon was in Paris when the monarchy was overthrown in August 1792, but no evidence indicates that he was a republican. Upon his return from Corsica in the spring of 1793, Capt. Bonaparte was given a command with the republican army that was attempting to regain control of southern France from the proroyalist forces. He took part in the siege of Avignon, and then while on his way to join the French Army of Italy Napoleon was offered command of the artillery besieging the port of Toulon.

National Acclaim

The siege of Toulon provided Napoleon with his first opportunity to display his ability as an artillery officer and brought him national recognition. France had gone to war with Prussia and Austria in 1792. England, having joined the struggle in 1793, had gained control of Toulon. After his distinguished part in dislodging the British, Napoleon was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He also made the acquaintance of Augustin Robespierre, the younger brother of the powerful Maximilien, and though Napoleon was not politically a Jacobin, he derived benefits from his association with influential party members. The overthrow of the Jacobin regime on 9 Thermidor (July 1794) led to Napoleon's imprisonment in Fort Carré on August 9. When no evidence could be found linking him to the British, Napoleon was released after 10 days of confinement.

Throughout the winter of 1794-1795 Napoleon was employed in the defense of the Mediterranean coast. Then, in April 1795, he was ordered to Paris, and in June he was assigned to the Army of the West. He refused this position, pleading poor health. This refusal almost brought an end to his military career, and he was assigned to the Bureau of Topography of the Committee of Public Safety. While serving in this capacity, he sought unsuccessfully to have himself transferred to Constantinople. Thus Napoleon was in Paris when the royalists attempted to overthrow the Directory on Oct. 5, 1795.

Gen. Paul Barras had been placed in command of the defense of Paris by the government, and he called upon Gen. Bonaparte to defend the Tuileries. Napoleon put down the uprising of 13 Vendémiaire by unhesitatingly turning his artillery on the attackers, dispersing the mob with what he called "a whiff of grapeshot." In gratitude he was appointed commander of the Army of the Interior and instructed to disarm Paris.

Marriage and Italian Campaign

In the winter of 1795 Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais, the former Mademoiselle Tascher de La Pagerie. Born on the island of Martinique, she had been married to Alexandre de Beauharnais at the age of 16 and had borne him two children, Eugène and Hortense, before separating from him. Alexandre, a nobleman from Orléans, was executed in the last days of the Terror in 1794, leaving Josephine free to marry Napoleon. Their civil ceremony took place on March 9, 1796. Within a few days Napoleon left his bride behind in Paris and took up his new command at the head of the Army of Italy.

On March 26 Napoleon reached his headquarters at Nice, and on March 31 he issued the first orders for the invasion of Italy. The campaign opened on April 12, and within several weeks he had forced Piedmont out of the war. In May, Napoleon marched across northern Italy, reaching Verona on June 3. The campaign was then bogged down by the Austrian defense of Mantua, which lasted 18 months. During this period Napoleon beat back Austrian attempts to relieve the fortified city at Castiglione, Arcole, and Rivoli. Finally, in the spring of 1797, Napoleon advanced on Vienna and forced the Austrians to sign the Treaty of Campoformio (Oct. 17, 1797). The treaty gave France the territory west of the Rhine and control of Italy.

After spending the summer and fall at the palace of Monbello, where he established with Josephine what in reality was the court of Italy, Napoleon returned to Paris the hero of the hour. He was the man who could make war and peace. Napoleon was given command of the Army of England after drawing up a plan to invade that island. However, after a brief visit to the English Channel he abandoned any hope of crossing that turbulent body of water with the available French fleet. Returning to Paris, he gave up his command.

Egyptian Campaign

Napoleon did not wish to remain idle in Paris; nor did the government wish to see a popular general in the capital without a command to occupy him. Thus, when an expedition to Egypt was proposed, probably by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, both the general and his government gave it their support. Strategically, the expedition would extend French influence into the Mediterranean and threaten British control in India. Napoleon sailed from Toulon on May 19, 1798, with an army of 35,000 men. On June 11-12 he captured Malta, and on June 30 the task force reached Alexandria, Egypt. The city was taken, and Napoleon's army marched up the west branch of the Nile to Cairo. In sight of the city and of the Pyramids, the first major battle took place. With minimal losses the French drove the Mamluks back into the desert in the Battle of the Pyramids, and all of lower Egypt came under Napoleon's control.

Napoleon reorganized the government, the postal service, and the system for collecting taxes; introduced the first printing presses; created a health department; built new hospitals for the poor in Cairo; and founded the Institut d'Egypte. During the French occupation the Rosetta Stone was discovered, and the Nile was explored as far south as Aswan. But the military aspect of Napoleon's Egyptian venture was not so rewarding. On Aug. 1, 1798, Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, leaving the French army cut off from France. Then Napoleon's Syrian campaign ended in the unsuccessful siege of Acre (April 1799) and a return to the Nile. After throwing a Turkish army back into the sea at Aboukir (July 1799), Napoleon left the army under the command of Gen. Jean Baptiste Kléber and returned to France with a handful of officers.

The Consulate

Landing at Fréjus on Oct. 9, 1799, Napoleon went directly to Paris, where the political situation was ripe for a coup d'etat. France had become weary of the Directory, and in collaboration with Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Joseph Fouché, and Talleyrand, Napoleon overthrew the government on 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9-10, 1799). The Constitution of the Year VIII provided for the Consulate. Napoleon was named first consul and given virtually dictatorial powers. The trappings of the republic remained—there were two legislative bodies, the Tribunate and the Corps Legislatif— but real power rested in the hands of the first consul.

Napoleon began at once to solve the problems that faced France at the turn of the century. With mailed fist and velvet glove he ended the civil war in the Vendée. He then personally led an army over the Grand-Saint-Bernard Pass into Italy and defeated the Austrians, who had declared war on France while Napoleon was in Egypt, at the Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800). This victory, which Napoleon always considered one of his greatest, again brought Italy under French control. After a truce that lasted into December, French armies forced Austria out of the war for the second time. The Treaty of Lunéville (Feb. 9, 1801) re-confirmed the Treaty of Campoformio. It was followed on March 25, 1802, by the Treaty of Amiens, which ended, or at least interrupted, the war with England. The Concordat that Napoleon signed with Pope Pius VII in 1801 restored harmony between Rome and Paris, and it ended the internal religious split that had originated in the Revolution. Napoleon also reformed France's legal system with the Code Napoleon.

The Empire

By 1802 Napoleon was the most popular dictator France had ever known, and he was given the position of first consul for life with the right to name his successor. The establishment of the Empire on May 18, 1804, thus changed little except the name of the government. The Constitution of the Year VIII was altered only to provide for an imperial government; its spirit was not changed. The Emperor of the French created a new nobility, set up a court, and changed the titles of government officials; but the average Frenchman noticed little difference.

The Treaty of Amiens proved to be no more than a truce, and in May 1803 the war with England was renewed. The Emperor planned to invade the island kingdom in the summer of 1805, but his naval operations went amiss. In September, Napoleon turned his back on the Channel and marched against Austria, who together with Russia had formed the Third Coalition. At Ulm (October 14) and Austerlitz (December 2) Napoleon inflicted disastrous defeats upon the Allies, forcing Alexander I of Russia to retreat behind the Neman and compelling Austria to make peace. At the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon reached the height of his military career. The Treaty of Pressburg (Dec. 27, 1805) deprived Austria of additional lands and further humiliated the once mighty Hapsburg state.

Victory throughout the Continent

The year 1806 was marked by war with Prussia over increased French influence in Germany. The overconfident Prussian army sang as it marched to total destruction at the battles of Jena and Auerstädt (Oct. 14, 1806), and Napoleon entered Berlin in triumph. Prussia was reduced to a second-rate power, and the fighting moved eastward into Poland as the Russians belatedly came to the aid of their defeated ally. Although at the Battle of Eylau (Feb. 8, 1807) the French were brought to a standstill, on June 14 at Friedland the Emperor drove the Russian army from the field. Alexander I made peace at Tilsit on June 25, 1807. This understanding between the two emperors divided Europe. Alexander was to have a free hand in the east to take Finland and Bessarabia, while Napoleon was free to reshape western and central Europe as he pleased. The most significant result was the creation of the grand duchy of Warsaw (1807). Sweden was defeated in 1808 with Russia's help. Napoleon was now master of the Continent. Only England remained in the field.

Problems with England and Spain

On Oct. 21, 1805, Adm. Horatio Nelson had destroyed the combined Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. This loss made it virtually impossible for Napoleon to invade England. He, therefore, introduced the Continental system, or blockade, designed to exclude all British goods from Europe. In this manner he hoped to ruin the British economy and to force the "nation of shopkeepers" to make peace on French terms. His plan did not work, and it led Napoleon into conflicts with Spain, the papacy, and Russia, and it undoubtedly formed a major cause for the downfall of the Empire.

In Spain in 1808 French interference led to the removal of the Bourbon dynasty and to the placement of Joseph Bonaparte as king. But the Spanish people refused to accept this Napoleonic dictate and, with aid from Great Britain, kept 250,000 French troops occupied in the Peninsular War (1808-1814). The refusal of Pope Pius VII to cooperate with Napoleon and the blockade led to the Pope's imprisonment and a French take-over of the Papal States. In the case of Russia refusal proved even more serious. Alexander's refusal to close Russian ports to British ships led to Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812, which was highlighted by the Battle of Borodino (September 7) and the occupation of Moscow (September 14-October 19). However, the ultimate result of this Russian campaign was the destruction of the Grand Army of 500,000 troops.

Fall from Glory

The Napoleonic system now began to break up rapidly. At its height three of the Emperor's brothers and his brother-in-law sat on European thrones. Napoleon had also secured an annulment of his marriage to Josephine and then married Marie Louise, the daughter of Emperor Francis II of Austria, in March 1810. Despite this union, Napoleon's father-in-law declared war on him in 1813. Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig (Oct. 16-18, 1813) forced him behind the Rhine, where he waged a brilliant, but futile, campaign during the first 3 months of 1814. Paris fell to the Allies on March 31, 1814, and the hopelessness of the military situation led the Emperor to abdicate at Fontainebleau (April 4, 1814) in favor of his son Napoleon II. However, the Allies refused to recogize the 3-year-old boy, and Louis XVIII was placed on the French throne.

Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, where he was sovereign ruler for 10 months. But as the alliance of the Great Powers broke down during the Congress of Vienna and the French people became dissatisfied with the restored royalists, Napoleon made plans to return to power. Sailing from Elba on Feb. 26, 1815, with 1,050 soldiers, Napoleon landed in southern France and marched unopposed to Paris, where he reinstated himself on March 21. Louis XVIII fled, and thus began Napoleon's new reign: the Hundred Days. The French did not wish to renew their struggle against Europe. Nevertheless, as the Allies closed ranks, Napoleon was forced to renew the war if he was to remain on the throne of France.

The Waterloo campaign (June 12-18) was short and decisive. After a victory over the Prussian army at Ligny, Napoleon was defeated by the combined British and Prussian armies under the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard von Blücher at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. He returned to Paris and abdicated for a second time, on June 22. Napoleon at first hoped to reach America; however, he surrendered to the commander of the British blockade at Rochefort on July 3, hoping to obtain asylum in England. Instead, he was sent into exile on the island of St. Helena. There he spent his remaining years, quarreling with the British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, and dictating his memoirs. He died on St. Helena, after long suffering from cancer, on May 5, 1821.

Further Reading

The best one-volume work on Napoleon in English is James M. Thompson's slightly pro-British account, Napoleon Bonaparte (1952). Also excellent are Felix Markham, Napoleon (1964), and André Castelot, Napoleon (1971). The two-volume work of Georges Lefebvre, Napoleon (1936; trans. 1969), is a masterful account of the period 1799-1815; primarily a political history, it includes all aspects of the Napoleonic era.

A number of books deal with Napoleon's period of exile: Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon's St. Helena (1966; trans. 1969), which includes illustrations and a good bibliography; Michael John Thornton, Napoleon after Waterloo: England and the St. Helena Decision (1968), detailing the weeks in July and August 1815 during which Napoleon waited his fate on a British warship; and an account based on the diary of the secretary to the governor of St. Helena, Gideon Gorrequer, St. Helena, during Napoleon's Exile: Gorrequer's Diary, edited by James Kemble (1969). One of the best of the many biographies of Josephine is André Castelot, Josephine, translated by D. Folliot (1967), which provides many insights into Napoleon as husband and lover.

Three fine works on Napoleonic military history are Vincent J. Esposito and John R. Elting, A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars (1964); David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (1966); and Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, Napoleon as Military Commander (1967). A useful account for the general reader of Napoleon's invasion of Russia is in Leonard Cooper, Many Roads to Moscow; Three Historic Invasions (1968). Claude Manceron, Napoleon Recaptures Paris, translated by George Unwin (1969), is a lively account of Napoleon's take-over of Paris in March 1815. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

Napoleon I

Napoleon I (nəpō´lēən, Fr. näpôlāōN´), 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal."

Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at Brienne and Paris. He received his commission in the artillery in 1785. After the outbreak of the French Revolution he attempted to join the Corsican patriots led by Pasquale Paoli, but his family was thought to be pro-French. His family was condemned for its opposition to Corsican independence from France and fled the island shortly after the outbreak of civil war in Apr., 1793.

Early Campaigns

Returning to military duty in France, Bonaparte was associated with the Jacobins and first attracted notice by his distinguished part in dislodging the British from Toulon (1793); he was promoted to brigadier general and sent to the Italian front. Returning to military duty in France, briefly under arrest in the Thermidorian reaction (1794; see Thermidor), he was released but remained out of favor.

A political event was to reopen his career overnight. In Oct., 1795, the Convention was assailed by a royalist Parisian uprising (see Vendémiaire), and Paul Barras persuaded the Convention to place Bonaparte in command of the troops. Napoleon dispersed the mob with what he called "a whiff of grapeshot" —which killed about 100 insurgents. He was given command of the army of the interior. After drawing up a plan for an Italian campaign, he was, again with Barras's help, made commander in chief of the army of Italy.

He left for Italy in Mar., 1796, after marrying Josephine de Beauharnais (see Josephine). Assuming command of an ill-supplied army, he succeeded within a short time in transforming it into a first-class fighting force. The brilliant success of his Italian campaign was based on three factors: his supply system, which he made virtually independent of the financially exhausted Directory by allowing the troops to live off the land; his reliance on speed and massed surprise attacks by small but compact units against the Austrian forces; and his influence over the morale of his soldiers.

Napoleon swept across N Italy, forcing Sardinia to sign a separate peace in May, 1796. After his victory at Lodi (May 10), he entered Milan (May 14) and laid siege to Mantua (July, 1796). After the great victories of Arcole (Nov., 1796) and Rivoli (Jan., 1797) and the fall of Mantua (Feb., 1797), Bonaparte began to cross the Alps toward Vienna. However, the slow advance of the northern French armies in Germany and the danger of being cut off in the rear caused him to arrange—without instructions from Paris—the truce of Leoben (Apr., 1797), sealed in October by the Treaty of Campo Formio.

Now the idol of half of Europe, Bonaparte returned to France. His plan for an invasion of Britain across the channel was canceled, and he made alternative plans to crush the British Empire by striking at Egypt and, ultimately, at India. The plan was supported by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand and by the directors. Bonaparte sailed in May, 1798, succeeded in evading Horatio Nelson, and took Malta on the way to Egypt. Shortly after landing at Aboukir (Abu Qir), he won a brilliant victory over the Mamluks in the battle of the Pyramids (July, 1798). His successes, however, were made useless when the French fleet was utterly destroyed (Aug. 1–2) by Nelson in Aboukir Bay.

The Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was a province, declared war on France. A French expedition to Syria was repelled at Acre. Back in Egypt, Napoleon defeated Ottoman forces attempting to land at Aboukir (July, 1799). Meanwhile, in Europe matters were going from bad to worse for the French. They were expelled from Italy by the forces of the Second Coalition (see French Revolutionary Wars), and at home the Directory faced political ruin. Unannounced, Napoleon returned to France, leaving General Kléber in charge of a hopeless situation in Egypt, and joined a conspiracy already hatched by Emmanuel Sieyès, one of the directors.

The Consulate

The Directory was overthrown by the coup of 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9–10, 1799), and the Consulate was established with Bonaparte as first consul. The autocratic constitution of the year VIII was accepted by plebiscite. In effect, the constitution established the dictatorship of Bonaparte. As Consul, Napoleon made a point of ruling as a civilian, but he was more authoritarian than Louis XVI. Napoleon declared that France had finished with the "romance of the revolution." He centralized the administration, while giving local prefects considerable power in executing the policies of the central government. Officials and military officers were recruited from several strata of society and from all revolutionary factions, including émigrés. However they were appointed, not elected, and strict obedience was enforced.

Bonaparte's administrative reforms established an efficient modern state that was capable of effectively mobilizing its resources and afforded him vast patronage powers. He established the Bank of France. He also made peace with the Roman Catholic Church by the Concordat of 1801, which reestablished the church in France, but bound it to the success of his regime. He thereby neutralized the antirevolutionary priests who had encouraged peasant unrest (see Chouans) since 1793. Church property was not restored, but church unity and status were reestablished in return for stricter submission to civil authorities. The legal system was reformed with the Code Napoléon, which was begun before Bonaparte's consulate but was marked by his priorities.

While establishing the regime at home, Napoleon also dealt with France's enemies (1800), crossing the St. Bernard pass and defeating (June 14) the Austrians at Marengo, Italy. With the Treaty of Lunéville (1801) with Austria and the Treaty of Amiens (1802) with Great Britain, the Second Coalition was ended and France became paramount on the Continent. Napoleon's ambition did not rest. In Aug., 1802, a plebiscite approved his becoming first consul for life; a modified constitution, that of the year X, came into force. In the same year he incorporated Piedmont into France.

His continued intervention in Italy, Germany, the Helvetic Republic (Switzerland), and the Netherlands as well as his refusal to arrange a commercial treaty with Great Britain aroused British distrust. Britain failed to restore Malta to the Knights Hospitalers, as the Treaty of Amiens had stipulated. In May, 1803, Britain again declared war on France. Napoleon built up his army, apparently preparing to invade England, but the invasion fleet he assembled (1803–5) was repeatedly struck by storms, and a major part of the French fleet was engaged in the disastrous expedition of Charles Leclerc to Haiti.

The Empire

While warfare languished, Napoleon took advantage of the plot of Georges Cadoudal against his life, seized and executed the duc d'Enghien, and had himself proclaimed emperor of the French by a subservient senate and tribunate (May, 1804). Confirmation by a plebiscite was a foregone conclusion, and on Dec. 2, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Napoleon took the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and set it on his own head. An imperial court and a nobility were created.

The constitution of the year XII retained the features of the previous two constitutions, but its liberal provisions were gradually restricted. When Napoleon, in 1805, proclaimed himself king of Italy and annexed Genoa to France, a Third Coalition was formed against him by Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden. Napoleon crushed the Austrians at Ulm, occupied Vienna, and won (Dec. 2, 1805) his most brilliant victory over the combined Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz.

Austria, with the harsh Treaty of Pressburg (Dec. 26), was forced out of the coalition. Prussia, which entered the coalition late in 1806, was thoroughly defeated (Oct. 14) at Jena, and Napoleon entered Berlin in triumph. British sea power, however, had grown stronger than ever through Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (1805), and Napoleon resolved to defeat Britain by economic warfare. His Continental System was answered by the British orders in council.

On land, warfare with Russia continued. The indecisive battle at Eylau (Feb. 8, 1807; now Bagrationovsk) was made good by Napoleon at Friedland (June 14), and Russia submitted. By the treaties of Tilsit (July, 1807; see Sovetsk), King Frederick William III of Prussia lost half of his territories and became a vassal to France; Russia recognized the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, created from Prussian Poland, and other territorial changes. Sweden was defeated in 1808 with the help of Russia.

With only Britain left in the field, Napoleon was now master of the Continent. The whole map of Europe was rearranged. The states of Germany had already been altered by the Confederation of the Rhine; Napoleon's allies, the electors of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Saxony, were made kings; the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved (1806); the kingdoms of Holland and Westphalia were created (1806 and 1807), with Napoleon's brothers Louis and Jérôme Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family) occupying the thrones.

Napoleon's stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, was made (1805) viceroy of Italy, and a third brother, Joseph Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family), became (1806) king of Naples. In 1808 Napoleon made Joseph king of Spain after obtaining the abdication of Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII; in Naples, Joseph was replaced with Marshal Joachim Murat, who was married to Napoleon's sister Caroline. Another Napoleonic marshal, Jean Bernadotte, became heir to the Swedish throne in 1810 (see Charles XIV).

An attempt (1809) by Austria to reopen war against France was defeated at Wagram (July 6, 1809) and resulted in the cession of Illyria to France by the Treaty of Schönbrunn. The Papal States were declared annexed to France (1809), and when Pope Pius VII replied with an excommunication, he was imprisoned and later was forced to sign an additional concordat. Napoleon secured an annulment of his marriage with Josephine, who was unable to bear him a child, and was married in Mar., 1810, to Marie Louise, the daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I (formerly Holy Roman Emperor Francis II). A son was born to them (the "king of Rome," later known as the duke of Reichstadt or Napoleon II), thus insuring the imperial succession.

Decline and Fall

Great Britain had never submitted, and the Continental System proved difficult to enforce. Napoleon's first signs of weakness appeared early in the Peninsular War (1808–14). The victory of 1809 over Austria had been costly, and the victory of Archduke Charles at Aspern (May, 1809) showed that the emperor was not invincible. Everywhere forces were gathering to cast off the Napoleonic yoke.

Napoleon's decision to invade Russia marked the turning point of his career. His alliance with Czar Alexander I, dating from the treaties of Tilsit and extended at the Congress of Erfurt (1808), was tenuous. When the czar rejected the Continental System, which was ruinous to Russia's economy, Napoleon gathered the largest army Europe had ever seen. The Grande Armée, some 500,000 strong, including troops of all the vassal and allied states, entered Russia in June, 1812. The Russian troops, under Mikhail Kutuzov, fell back, systematically devastating the land.

After the indecisive battle of Borodino (Sept. 7), in which both sides suffered terrible losses, Napoleon entered Moscow (Sept. 14), where only a few thousand civilians had stayed behind. On Sept. 15, fires broke out all over Moscow; they ceased only on Sept. 19, leaving the city virtually uninhabitable. With his troops decimated, his prospective winter quarters burned down, his supply line overextended, and the Russian countryside and grain stores empty, Napoleon, after sending an unsuccessful feeler to the czar for peace, began his fateful retreat on Oct. 19. Stalked by hunger, the Grande Armée, now only a fifth of its original strength, reached the Berezina River late in November. After the passage of that river, secured at a terrible sacrifice, the retreat became a rout.

In December Napoleon left his army, returning to Paris to bolster French forces. Of his allies, Prussia was the first to desert; a Prussian truce with the czar (Dec. 30) was followed by an alliance in Feb., 1813. Great Britain and Sweden joined the coalition, followed (Aug., 1813) by Austria, and the "War of Liberation" began. At the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig (Oct. 16–19), Napoleon was forced to retreat. In November the allies offered Napoleon peace if France would return to her natural boundaries, the Rhine and the Alps. Napoleon rejected the offer, and the allies continued their advance. They closed in on Paris, which fell to them on Mar. 31, 1814.

Napoleon abdicated, first in favor of his son and then unconditionally (Apr. 11). He was exiled to Elba, which the allies gave him as a sovereign principality. His victors were still deliberating at the Congress of Vienna (see Vienna, Congress of) when Napoleon, with a handful of followers, landed near Cannes (Mar. 1, 1815). In the course of a triumphant march northward he once more rallied France behind him. King Louis XVIII fled, and Napoleon entered Paris (Mar. 20), beginning his ephemeral rule of the Hundred Days.

Attempting to reconstruct the empire, Napoleon liberalized the constitution, but his efforts were cut short when warfare began again. Napoleon was utterly crushed in the Waterloo campaign (June 12–18). He again abdicated and surrendered himself to a British warship, hoping to find asylum in England. Instead he was shipped as a prisoner of war to the lonely island of Saint Helena, where he spent his remaining years quarreling with the British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, talking with his ever-dwindling group of followers, and dictating his memoirs., He died May 5, 1821, officially from stomach cancer, but the presence of arsenic in samples of his hair have led some modern researchers to suggest he was poisoned. Napoleon's remains were ordered to be returned to France by Louis Philippe in 1840 and were entombed under the dome of the Invalides in Paris.

Napoleon's Legacy

The Napoleonic legend, the picture of a liberal conqueror spreading the French Revolution throughout Europe and of the quintessential Romantic man of action, was a potent factor in French history and helped make Napoleon's nephew French emperor as Napoleon III. Estimates of Napoleon's place in history differ widely. He was beyond doubt one of the greatest military leaders in history and dominated his times so completely that European history between 1800 and 1815 is commonly described as the Napoleonic era. But his legacy is mixed.

Napoleon promoted the growth of the modern state through his administrative and legal reforms, and his changes in the map of Europe stimulated movements for national unification. However, his use of such ruthless police chiefs as Joseph Fouché to suppress all opposition, if relatively mild by 20th-century standards, set an ominous precedent. More or less apocryphal sayings and anecdotes illustrating Napoleon's character and manners are as innumerable as the books written about him.


See Napoleon's memoirs, dictated to E. de Las Cases et al., and his correspondence. See also biographies by V. Cronin (1971), F. McLynn (1997), A. Schom (1997), P. Johnson (2002), P. Dwyer (2 vol., 2008–13), and A. Roberts (2014); P. Geyl, Napoleon: For and Against (1949); studies of Napoleon and his era by J. C. Herold (1955), G. Lefebvre (2 vol., tr. 1969), J. Tulard (1971), L. Bergeron (1981), O. Connelly (1985, 1987), R. Asprey (2001), I. Woloch (2001), P. G. Dwyer (2001), and D. Lieven (2010).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon I." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon I." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon I." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from



(Napoléon vu par Abel Gance)

France, 1927

Director: Abel Gance

Production: Westi/Société générale de films, Paris; black and white, 35mm, Polyvision (some versions without Polyvision); running time: originally about 270 minutes, but the film has always existed in several versions, some up to 5 hours in length; length: originally about 32 reels. Released 7 April 1927, Paris. Released without Polyvision 1929, New York. Re-released 1934 with sound. In 1971 Napoléon— Bonaparte et la Revolution was re-released with sound and with some footage added and some eliminated. In 1981 Napoléon, the original version, was restored by Kevin Brownlow and re-released in its entirety with music by Carl Davis, also re-released in the US by Francis Coppola with some footage cut and music by Carmine Coppola. Filmed 1925–26 in France.

Producers: Wengoroff and Hugo Stinnes; screenplay: Abel Gance; photography: Jules Kruger, Léonce-Henry Burel, Jean-Paul Mundwiller, assisted by Lucas, Briquet, Emile Pierre, and Roger Hubert; editors: Marguerite Beaugé and Henritte Pinson; production designers: Alexandre Benois, Schildnecht, Jacouty, Meinhardt, and Laourie; music: Arthur Honegger; consultants: Jean Arroy, Jean Mitry, and Sacher Purnal; assistant directors: Henry Krauss, Alexandre Volkov, and Viatcheslaw Tourjansky.

Cast: Albert Dieudonné (Bonaparte); Vladimir Roudenko (Young Bonaparte); Edmond van Daele (Robespierre); Alexandre Koubitsky (Danton); Antonin Artaud (Marat); Abel Gance (Saint-Just); Pierre Batcheff (Hoche); Maxudian (Barras); Chakatouny (Pozzo di Borgo); Philippe Hériat (Salicetti); Nicolas Koline (Tristan Fleuri); Daniel Mendaille (Fréron); Alexandre Bernard (Dugommier); Philippe Rolla (Masséna); Robert Vidalin (Camille Desmoulins); Roger Blum (Talma); Paul Amiot (Fouquier-Tinville); Boudreau (La Fayette); Georges Lampin (Joseph Bonaparte); Alberty (J.-J. Rousseau); R. de Ansorena (Desaix); Jack Rye (Louis XVI); Armand Bernard (Jean-Jean); Albert Bras (Monge); Georges Cahuzac (Beauharnais); Favière (Fouché); Harry Krimer (Rouget de Lisle); Genica Missirio (Murat); Rauzena (Lucien Bonaparte); Viguier (Couthon); Vonelly (André Chenier); Jean d'Yd (La Bussière); Gina Manès (Joséphine de Beauharnais); Annabella (Violine Fleuri); Suzanne Blanchetti (Marie-Antoinette); Eugénie Buffet (Letizia Bonaparte); Damia (la Marseillaise); Yvette Dieudonné (Elisa Bonaparte); Marguerite Gance (Charlotte Corday); Simone Genevois (Pauline Bonaparte).



Gance, Abel, Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, Paris, 1927; selections in Ecran (Paris), April-May 1958.


Arroy, Jean, En tournant "Napoléon" avec Abel Gance: Souvenirs etimpressions d'un sans-culotte, Paris, 1927.

Sadoul, Georges, French Films, London, 1953.

Icard, Roger, Abel Gance, Toulouse, 1960.

Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By, London and New York, 1969.

Mast, Gerald, Film/Cinema/Movie, New York, 1977.

Kramer, Steven, and James Welsh, Abel Gance, Boston, 1978.

Brownlow, Kevin, Napoléon: Abel Gance's Classic Film, London, 1983.

Icart, Roger, Abel Gance; ou, Le Promethée foudroyé, Lausanne, 1983.

King, Norman, Abel Gance: A Politics of Spectacle, London, 1984.

Groppali, Enrico, Abel Gance, Florence, 1986.

Kaplan, Nelly, Napoléon, London, 1994.


Graham, James, in New York Times, 5 June 1927.

"France Films Her Napoleon," in New York Times, 4 March 1928.

Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times, 12 February 1929.

Gance, Abel, "Les Nouveaux Chapitres de notre syntaxe," in Cahiersdu Cinéma (Paris), October 1953.

Gance, Abel, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1954.

Thompson, Howard, in New York Times, 25 September 1967.

Lenning, Arthur, "The French Film—Abel Gance," in The SilentVoice: A Text, New York, 1969.

Brownlow, Kevin, in Films and Filming (London), November 1969.

Blumer, R. H., "The Camera as Snowball," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1970.

Greenspun, Roger, "Bonaparte and the Revolution," in New YorkTimes, 16 October 1971.

McKegney, Michael, in Village Voice (New York), 11 November 1971.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Abel Gance's Napoleon and the Revolution," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1971–72.

Canby, Vincent, in Film 71/72, New York, 1972.

Gilliatt, Penelope, in New Yorker, 6 September 1976.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Napoléon—A Personal Involvement," in Classic Film Collector (Indiana, Pennsylvania), 23 August 1977.

Everson, William K., in Variety (New York), 12 September 1979.

Grant, F., in Broadcast (London), 8 December 1980.

Eisenschitz, B., "The Music of Time: From Napoleon to NewBabylon," in Afterimage (London), no. 10, 1981.

Pappas, P., "The Superimposition of Vision: Napoleon and the Meaning of Fascist Art," in Cineaste (New York), no. 2, 1981.

Brownlow, Kevin, in American Film (Washington, D.C), January-February 1981.

Everson, William K., "The Many Lives of Napoleon," in FilmComment (New York), January-February 1981.

Elley, Derek, in Films (London), February 1981.

Welsh, James M., in Films in Review (New York), March 1981.

Allen, W., interview with Kevin Brownlow, in Stills (London), Autumn 1981.

Assayas, O., "Mensonges et vérités," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1981.

Hogenkamp, B., in Filmfaust (Frankfurt), December 1981-January 1982.

French, Sean, "The Napoleon Phenomenon," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1982.

Abel, R., "Change and Counter-Change: Coherence and Incoherence in Gance's Napoléon," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1982.

Vallerand, F., "Napoléon Coppola et les autres," in Séquences (Montreal), April 1982.

Verstappen, W., in Skoop (Amsterdam), June 1982.

Tobin, Yann, "Sur Napoléon d'Abel Gance: La Folie du docteur Gance," in Positif (Paris), June 1982.

Aristarco, G., in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), August-October 1982.

Icart, Roger, "La Representation de Napoleon Bonaparte dans l'oeuvre d'Abel Gance," in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Autumn 1982.

"Napoléon Issue" of Cinématographe (Paris), November 1982.

Arnaud, C., and Jean Mitry, "Sur les ailes de l'aigle: Notes sur Napoléon," in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1982.

Philpott, R., "Whose Napoleon?," in Framework (Norwich), 1983.

Jeancolas, J.P., "Gance au Havre," in Positif (Paris), January 1983.

Lardeau, Y., "L'Empereur contre-attaque," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1983.

Bassan, R., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1983.

Leblanc, G., "Gance dans le regard de l'aigle," in Cinéthique (Paris), May 1984.

Weijel, H., in Skoop (Amsterdam), November 1984.

"Napoléon Issue" of Skrien (Amsterdam), November-December 1984.

Nørrested, C., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1984.

Deburchgrave, K., in Film en Televisie (Brussels), January 1985.

Filmfaust (Frankfurt), January-February 1987.

Stewart, Garrett, "Leaving History: Dickens, Gance, Blanchot," in The Yale Journal of Criticism (New Haven), vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 1989.

Arnold, Gordon B., "From Big Screen to Small Screen: Napoleon Directed by Abel Gance," in Library Journal (New York), vol. 114, no. 9, 15 May 1989.

Lafaye, C., "Gance et 'son' Napoléon," in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan, France), no. 53, 1990.

Comuzio, E., "La musica dell'Imperatore salvata dal diluvio," in Cineforum (Bergamo, Italy), May 1990.

Gordon, M., "Some Things I Saw," in Salmagundi (Saratoga Springs, New York), Fall-Winter 1990–1991.

Gerstenkorn, Jacques, "L'empire de l'analogie," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 6–7, 1991.

Seville, J., "The Laser's Edge: Napoléon vu par Abel Gance," in Classic Images (Muscatine), no. 194, August 1991.

Conforti, A., and M. Lori, "La metafora nel cinema: Napoléon di Abel Gance," in Cineforum (Bergamo, Italy), July-August 1992.

Fernandez, C., " Napoléon vu par Abel Gance: el poder de la mirada—Napoleon y el aguila," in Film-Historia (Barcelona), vol. 5, no. 1, 1995.

* * *

The showing of Napoléon vu par Abel Gance on 7 April 1927 at the Opéra in Paris was in every sense a triumphant occasion. For the invited audience it meant the culminating point of the restoration of French cinema after its virtual annihilation in 1914. For writer-director Abel Gance himself it was the climax to 18 years of work in the cinema and 10 years of rigorous and innovative exploration of the visual potential of the medium. Napoléon alone had taken three years of unremitting research, writing and shooting, cost several million francs, involved thousands of extras and a team of a dozen assistants and at least eight cameramen and directors of photography.

The project had been initially conceived as a massive six-part work which was to include the whole of Napoleon's life. The eventual six hours of edited footage in fact covers only a portion of the first part of this grandiose scheme, so the scale of Gance's imagination is immediately apparent. The truncation of the project means that though Napoléon has a greater sweep than any other Gance epic, it lacks the tragic resolution which usually completed Gance's tales of heroic endeavour, whether that of Jean Diaz in J'accuse, Savaronola in Lucrèce Borgia, or Beethoven in Un grand amour de Beethoven. Despite its length, the film offers only the education and shaping of its hero, leaving him at an early point of triumph—the entry of his armies into Italy.

It is the technical aspects of Napoléon that have always received the most attention. The context in which Gance was working was one highly receptive of visual experimentation. After the constriction of the pre-1914 system organised by Charles Pathé and Léon Gaumont, in which Gance had made his debut, the new postwar generation to which he belonged strove to give a new dignity to the cinema. Despising the underfinanced, totally commercially oriented cinema of the early 1910s, with its philistine disregard for artistic aspiration and its conception of films as products to be made as if they were canned peas, Gance and his contemporaries strove to develop the visual potential of the new medium, experimenting with mobile cameras and the new editing techniques pioneered by the emergent Hollywood narrative cinema and indulging in a profusion of optical effects—masks and superimpositions, distorting lenses and pulled focus. All of these tendencies reach their climax in Napoléon. To help with the massive project and the manipulation of the crowd scenes, Gance sought the assistance of fellow directors Henry Krauss, Alexandre Volkov and Viatcheslaw Tourjansky. With the aid of a team of cinematographers led by Jules Kruger, Léonce-Henry Burel and Jean-Paul Mundwiller, Gance moved his camera in every conceivable fashion—to imitate a ship tossed by a storm, the view from a galloping horse or even a snowball in flight. As if this welter of visual effects were not in itself sufficently dazzling, Gance arranged for the screen width to be tripled at the end, so that Napoleon's entry into Italy, recorded in widescreen and with triptych effects, becomes a stunningly unique visual experience.

The climate of French 1920s cinema was conducive to Gance's project, and there was nothing to restrain his exuberant imagination. The most successful films of the decade were super-productions with an exotic, literary or historical flavour, and Napoléon was designed to outmatch them all. It combined breathtaking virtuosity with a totally personal conception of the subject, and not until the 1970s masterpieces of Coppola and Spielberg do we find a similar harnessing of the entire resources of an industry to an unfettered personal vision. Central to Gance's conception was a 19th-century romantic view of the artist. It has been well observed that just as Un grand amour de Beethoven depicts the artist as hero, Napoléon offers a view of the hero as artist. Though Gance himself played the role of Saint Just, he identified himself as creator of the film with Napoleon (played by Albert Dieudonné) as creator of a new France and master of the forces of history. Napoleon—man of action, politician and military genius— becomes a largely passive figure, a pensive visionary. Much stress is placed on Napoleon's childhood, and the hero's ability to crush dissent with a steely gaze is anticipated in early scenes of the schoolboy leading his side in a snowball fight. The boy is endowed with an all-too-symbolic pet eagle. But if these early scenes are often lively and well-realised, the most remarkable feature of this inevitably uneven work is the handling of action, nowhere better shown than in the celebrated scenes which intercut shots of Napoleon at sea in a tiny boat rocked by a storm with the human storm in the Convention in revolution-torn Paris.

In the 1980s Napoléon became probably the most celebrated of all silent masterpieces. Kevin Brownlow's 20-year self-imposed task of bringing together all extant footage of the film is a remarkable endeavour, but for film historians it raises a whole host of questions about authenticity and authorship. There are now two quite different Napoléon restorations, Brownlow's own English version with its music by Carl Davis and preservation of silent running speed, and the version distributed in the United States by Francis Coppola's company which is cut, run at the inappropriate speed of 24 frames a second and endowed with a questionable score by Coppola's father. Moreover, far from simply constituting a restoration of a mutilated film and a recreation of the viewing conditions of silent cinema with full orchestral accompaniment, Brownlow's five-hour version is as much a modern interpretation and distortion as Henri Langlois's seven- or eight-hour compilations of episodes from Judex or Les vampires. These versions led to the rediscovery of Louis Feuillade's work and the restoration of his reputation, but by compressing up to a dozen episodes, designed to be seen separately at fortnightly intervals, into a single massive viewing session, Langlois created a work that owed nothing to 1920s conceptions of film narrative and time-span. This new relationship of film and spectator can have an immediate "modern" impact, as the films of Jacques Rivette, one of the Cinémathèque Francaise's most faithful habitués, show, but it is not a recreation of the 1920s experience.

Similarly, Brownlow's "original" version corresponds to none that was ever shown in Paris in the 1920s, and there is nothing to indicate that audiences then would have accepted this five-hour endurance test. The actual Napoléon, like so many silent films, existed in several versions, and the 1927 showings were either of a shortened version with triptych effects (as at the premiere in the Opéra) or a four- or six-episode version without triple screen and shown over a period of weeks. Despite such paradoxes, the Brownlow version has many virtues, not least of which has been its revival of interest in silent cinema. Moreover, whereas Gance's own reworkings of his material—the 1934 sound version, the re-edited 1971 compilation Bonaparte et la revolution—like his 1960s feature Austerlitz, are simplifications and at times trivialisations, this 1980s version restores the work to full complexity and to its status of one of the 1920s most remarkable achievements.

—Roy Armes

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

Napoleon I


The Russian people first discovered Napoleon as the young and bright general who stood out during the military campaigns of Italy in 17961797 and of Egypt in 17981799. By that time, he was deeply admired in Russia for his military genius by both civilians and soldiers such as Alexander Suvorov, who saw in him a "new Hannibal." Later on, Napoleon's victories over European armies reinforced the myth of his military invincibility, until the retreat of Berezina in OctoberNovember 1812.

Politically, the coup d'état by which Napoleon came to power in October 1799 (Eighteenth Brumaire) at first reassured the tsar Paul and the conservative and liberal elites, who saw in this new authoritarian regime the end of disorders and excesses brought by the French Revolution. But this feeling did not last: Napoleon's proclamation of his First Consulate for life on August 4,1802, followed by the establishment of the Empire on May 18, 1804, triggered strong negative reactions. For liberals, including the young tsar Alexander I, who acceded to the throne in March 1801, Napoleon became a tyrant who betrayed the Enlightenment ideas through personal interest. For the conservatives, the self-crowned man lacked legitimacy, and his huge political ambitions were dangerous for the European balance.

Alexander first chose to ignore the Napoleonic threat. In 1801 the young tsar decided to maintain Russia outside the European conflict and adopted a pacifist diplomacy: On October 8, 1801, a peace treaty was officially signed with France. But this position became increasingly difficult to maintain when France started to pose a serious threat to Russian interests in the Mediterranean and in the Balkans. So in 1805, Alexander decided to join Austria and Britain in the Third Coalition. The tsar wanted to play a major role in the international theater, lead the fight against Napoleon, and, after the victory, promote a new European order, liberated from the tyrant. However, the military operations were a disaster for Russia, and on December 2, 1805, the battle of Austerlitz was a personal humiliation for Alexander, who, as commander of the Russian forces, ignored General Mikhail Kutuzov's advice not to enter battle before the arrival of more troops.

After the defeat of Friedland on June 14, 1806, judging that his forces were unable to continue fighting, the tsar decided to pursue peace with Napoleon. Napoleon was in favor of an agreement with Russia, as his focus had shifted to political control of Central Europe and the war against Britain. On July 79, 1807, several treaties were signed at Tilsit between the two emperors. The terms were difficult for Prussia, which was partitioned. The Polish provinces forming the Duchy of Warsaw under Saxony and the provinces west of the Elbe were combined to make the Kingdom of Westphalia, which had to pay an indemnity. Russia suffered no territorial losses but had to recognise Napoleon's dominant position in Europe and take part in the continental blockade of British trade. In compensation Russia obtained peace, freedom of action in Eastern

Europe, and the opportunity to gain Finland from Sweden militarily (18081809), Bessarabia from the Ottoman Empire (with the Bucharest treaty in 1812), and Georgia from Persia (by the Gulistan treaty in 1813).

Despite these large successes, Russia remained hostile toward Napoleon. In 1805 the Orthodox Church declared Napoleon the Antichrist. And for most of the Russian elite who had been raised with French language and culture, Napoleon was the archetypal expression of Barbary, not a Frenchman but a "damned Corsican."

Despite its renewal on September 27, 1808, at Erfurt, the Russian-French alliance was indeed fragile. The two countries had opposite views on the Polish question and were rivals in the Balkans and in the Mediterranean. The Continental blockade became more and more expensive for that Russian economy and was denounced by Alexander in December 1810.

These tensions led Napoleon to initiate a war that he expected to be short. He invaded the Russian territory on June 24, 1812, with an army of more than 400,000 men. On June 28, the French were already in Vilna, and on August 18 they entered Smolensk, forcing the Russians to retreat.

For the Russian people, the invasion was a national trauma, not only because of the brutality of the warin one day, at the battle of Borodino, on September 7, 1812, the Russians lost 50,000 men and the French 40,000but also because of its blasphemous dimension: Napoleon did not hesitate to use churches as stables. On September 14, when Napoleon entered the sacred capital, Moscow the Mother, he found the city empty and devastated by fires, which went on for five days. The burning of Moscow was a terrible shock, and it generated feelings of resentment from the Russian people toward Alexander. But soon it united all the Russians, whatever their social class, in a patriotic and mystic struggle against the invader. Napoleon's promise to liberate the Russian peasants from serfdom had no effect on the people, who, along with the tsar and his elite, sensed the urgency of a physical, moral, and spiritual danger.

For Napoleon, the situation was impossible: On the one hand the lack of supplies prevented him from going any farther; on the other hand, he was unable to force Alexander to negotiate. On October 16, the retreat of the Grand Army began in difficult conditions. Subject to cold, hunger, and typhus, attacked by the partisan movement and by peasants on their way back, less than 10 percent of the Grand Army was able to leave the Russian territory in December 1812.

The French defeat was a fatal blow to the Napoleonic adventure and made Alexander the conqueror of Napoleon and the "savior of Europe." In February 1815, Napoleon tried to regain his lost power, but the adventure did not last, and the Hundred Days did not harm Alexander's prestige. The tsar personally took part in the Congress of Vienna and engaged in the construction of a new political and geopolitical order in Europe. During the congress, Alexander's Russia took great advantage of the victory over Napoleon from both diplomatic and territorial points of view. But beyond this geopolitical concrete outcome, the collective and messianic triumph over the invader constituted in Russia a major step toward the birth of a modern national identity.

See also: alexander i; austerlitz, battle of; borodino, battle of; kutuzov, mikhail iliaronovich; france, relations with; french war of 1812; tilsit, treaty of; vienna, congress of; war of the third coalition


Cate, Curtis. (1985). The War of the Two Emperors. New York: Random House.

Hartley, Janet. (1994). Alexander I. London: Longman.

Palmer, Alan. (1967). Napoleon in Russia. London: Simon and Schuster.

Tarle, Eugene. (1979). Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, 1812. New York: Octagon Books.

Wesling, Molly. (2001). Napoleon in Russian Cultural Mythology. New York: Peter Lang.

Marie-Pierre Rey

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon I." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

Napoleon I

Napoleon I (1769–1821) ( Napoleon Bonaparte) Emperor of the French (1804–15), b. Corsica. One of the greatest military leaders of modern times, he became a brigadier (1793) after driving the British out of Toulon. In 1796 he married Joséphine de Beauharnais and gained command in Italy, where he defeated the Austrians and Sardinians (see French Revolutionary Wars). In 1798 he launched an invasion of Egypt, but was defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Abukir Bay. In 1799 he returned to Paris, where his coup of 18 Brumaire (November 9) set up the Consulate. As First Consul, he enacted domestic reforms such as the Code Napoléon, while defeating the Austrians at Marengo (1800) and making peace with the British at Amiens (1802). Efforts to extend French power led to the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). After the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) Britain controlled the seas, but Napoleon's Grand Army continued to score notable land victories at Austerlitz (1805) and Jena (1806). The Continental System attempted to defeat Britain by a commercial blockade that led indirectly to the Peninsular War. In 1810, after obtaining a divorce from Joséphine, Napoleon married Marie Louise who bore him a son, the future Napoleon II. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with a million-man army. Forced to retreat by hunger, more than 400,000 soldiers perished in the Russian winter. In 1813, Napoleon was routed by a European coalition at Leipzig. In March 1814, Paris was captured and he was exiled to Elba. In March 1815, he escaped and returned to France, overthrowing the Bourbon King Louis XVIII. The Hundred Days of his return to power ended with defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (June 1815). Napoleon was exiled to St Helena, where he died.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon I." World Encyclopedia. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon I." World Encyclopedia. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon I." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


Napoleon the name of three rulers of France, of the Bonaparte dynasty established by the Corsican-born Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), emperor 1804–14 and 1815.

The name Napoleon is used particularly in allusion to someone who has the strategic and military capacities of Napoleon I; the belief on someone's part that they are Napoleon is sometimes cited as a type of derangement.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


Napoleon see NAP3.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Napoleon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Napoleon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . (January 19, 2018).

"Napoleon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


napoleonantipodean, Crimean, Judaean, Korean •Albion •Gambian, Zambian •lesbian •Arabian, Bessarabian, Fabian, gabion, Sabian, Swabian •amphibian, Libyan, Namibian •Sorbian •Danubian, Nubian •Colombian • Serbian • Nietzschean •Chadian, Trinidadian •Andean, Kandyan •guardian •Acadian, Akkadian, Arcadian, Barbadian, Canadian, circadian, Grenadian, Hadean, Orcadian, Palladian, radian, steradian •Archimedean, comedian, epicedian, median, tragedian •ascidian, Derridean, Dravidian, enchiridion, Euclidean, Floridian, Gideon, Lydian, meridian, Numidian, obsidian, Pisidian, quotidian, viridian •Amerindian, Indian •accordion, Edwardian •Cambodian, collodion, custodian, melodeon, nickelodeon, Odeon •Freudian • Bermudian • Burundian •Burgundian •Falstaffian, Halafian •Christadelphian, Delphian, Philadelphian •nymphean • ruffian • Brobdingnagian •Carolingian • Swedenborgian •logion, Muskogean •Jungian •magian, Pelagian •collegian •callipygian, Cantabrigian, Phrygian, Stygian •Merovingian • philologian • Fujian •Czechoslovakian • Pickwickian •Algonquian • Chomskian •Kentuckian •battalion, galleon, medallion, rapscallion, scallion •Anglian, ganglion •Heraklion •Dalian, Malian, Somalian •Chellean, Machiavellian, Orwellian, Sabellian, Trevelyan, triskelion •Wesleyan •alien, Australian, bacchanalian, Castalian, Deucalion, episcopalian, Hegelian, madrigalian, mammalian, Pygmalion, Salian, saturnalian, sesquipedalian, tatterdemalion, Thessalian, Westphalian •anthelion, Aristotelian, Aurelian, carnelian, chameleon, Karelian, Mendelian, Mephistophelian, Pelion, Sahelian •Abbevillian, Azilian, Brazilian, caecilian, Castilian, Chilean, Churchillian, civilian, cotillion, crocodilian, epyllion, Gillian, Lilian, Maximilian, Pamphylian, pavilion, postilion, Quintilian, reptilian, Sicilian, Tamilian, vaudevillian, vermilion, Virgilian •Aeolian, Anatolian, Eolian, Jolyon, Mongolian, napoleon, simoleon •Acheulian, Boolean, cerulean, Friulian, Julian, Julien •bullion •mullion, scullion, Tertullian •Liverpudlian •Bahamian, Bamian, Damian, Mesopotamian, Samian •anthemion, Bohemian •Endymion, prosimian, Simeon, simian •isthmian • antinomian •Permian, vermian •Oceanian •Albanian, Azanian, Iranian, Jordanian, Lithuanian, Mauritanian, Mediterranean, Panamanian, Pennsylvanian, Pomeranian, Romanian, Ruritanian, Sassanian, subterranean, Tasmanian, Transylvanian, Tripolitanian, Turanian, Ukrainian, Vulcanian •Armenian, Athenian, Fenian, Magdalenian, Mycenaean (US Mycenean), Slovenian, Tyrrhenian •Argentinian, Arminian, Augustinian, Carthaginian, Darwinian, dominion, Guinean, Justinian, Ninian, Palestinian, Sardinian, Virginian •epilimnion, hypolimnion •Bosnian •Bornean, Californian, Capricornian •Aberdonian, Amazonian, Apollonian, Babylonian, Baconian, Bostonian, Caledonian, Catalonian, Chalcedonian, Ciceronian, Devonian, draconian, Estonian, Etonian, gorgonian, Ionian, Johnsonian, Laconian, Macedonian, Miltonian, Newtonian, Oregonian, Oxonian, Patagonian, Plutonian, Tennysonian, Tobagonian, Washingtonian •Cameroonian, communion, Mancunian, Neptunian, Réunion, union •Hibernian, Saturnian •Campion, champion, Grampian, rampion, tampion •thespian • Mississippian • Olympian •Crispian •Scorpian, scorpion •cornucopian, dystopian, Ethiopian, Salopian, subtopian, Utopian •Guadeloupian •Carian, carrion, clarion, Marian •Calabrian, Cantabrian •Cambrian • Bactrian •Lancastrian, Zoroastrian •Alexandrian • Maharashtrian •equestrian, pedestrian •agrarian, antiquarian, apiarian, Aquarian, Arian, Aryan, authoritarian, barbarian, Bavarian, Bulgarian, Caesarean (US Cesarean), centenarian, communitarian, contrarian, Darien, disciplinarian, egalitarian, equalitarian, establishmentarian, fruitarian, Gibraltarian, grammarian, Hanoverian, humanitarian, Hungarian, latitudinarian, libertarian, librarian, majoritarian, millenarian, necessarian, necessitarian, nonagenarian, octogenarian, ovarian, Parian, parliamentarian, planarian, predestinarian, prelapsarian, proletarian, quadragenarian, quinquagenarian, quodlibetarian, Rastafarian, riparian, rosarian, Rotarian, sabbatarian, Sagittarian, sanitarian, Sauveterrian, sectarian, seminarian, septuagenarian, sexagenarian, topiarian, totalitarian, Trinitarian, ubiquitarian, Unitarian, utilitarian, valetudinarian, vegetarian, veterinarian, vulgarian •Adrian, Hadrian •Assyrian, Illyrian, Syrian, Tyrian •morion • Austrian •Dorian, Ecuadorean, historian, Hyperborean, Nestorian, oratorian, praetorian (US pretorian), salutatorian, Salvadorean, Singaporean, stentorian, Taurean, valedictorian, Victorian •Ugrian • Zarathustrian •Cumbrian, Northumbrian, Umbrian •Algerian, Cancerian, Chaucerian, Cimmerian, criterion, Hesperian, Hitlerian, Hyperion, Iberian, Liberian, Nigerian, Presbyterian, Shakespearean, Siberian, Spenserian, Sumerian, valerian, Wagnerian, Zairean •Arthurian, Ben-Gurion, centurion, durian, holothurian, Khachaturian, Ligurian, Missourian, Silurian, tellurian •Circassian, Parnassian •halcyon • Capsian • Hessian •Albigensian, Waldensian •Dacian • Keatsian •Cilician, Galician, Lycian, Mysian, Odyssean •Leibnizian • Piscean • Ossian •Gaussian • Joycean • Andalusian •Mercian • Appalachian • Decian •Ordovician, Priscian •Lucian •himation, Montserratian •Atlantean, Dantean, Kantian •bastion, Erastian, Sebastian •Mozartian • Brechtian • Thyestean •Fortean • Faustian • protean •Djiboutian •fustian, Procrustean •Gilbertian, Goethean, nemertean •pantheon •Hogarthian, Parthian •Lethean, Promethean •Pythian • Corinthian • Scythian •Lothian, Midlothian •Latvian • Yugoslavian •avian, Batavian, Flavian, Moldavian, Moravian, Octavian, Scandinavian, Shavian •Bolivian, Maldivian, oblivion, Vivian •Chekhovian, Harrovian, Jovian, Pavlovian •alluvion, antediluvian, diluvian, Peruvian •Servian • Malawian • Zimbabwean •Abkhazian • Dickensian •Caucasian, Malaysian, Rabelaisian •Keynesian •Belizean, Cartesian, Indonesian, Milesian, Salesian, Silesian •Elysian, Frisian, Parisian, Tunisian •Holmesian •Carthusian, Malthusian, Venusian

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"napoleon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"napoleon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (January 19, 2018).

"napoleon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from