Friday, July 13, 2012

Napoleon in Egypt: Battle of the Pyramids (1798)

In 1512 a man named Selim became ruler of the Ottoman Empire. The capital of that empire was the city of Constantinople. Since 1930 that same city has been called Istanbul.

In 1517 Selim and his army conquered Egypt. After that, Egypt remained an Ottoman province for almost 300 years.

In the 1700s, however, some Egyptian leaders were happy to work with French and English leaders. They didn't even ask their ruler in Constantinople for permission. They did this to increase their own power in relationship to the Ottoman ruler as well as other Egyptian leaders. It was into this changing situation that Napoleon came.

In August 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte, a 28-year-old French army leader, spoke with rulers in France. He told them he thought that it would be good, both for him and for them, if he used a French army to take control of Egypt. In March 1798, the rulers of France agreed.

These French rulers then gave control of 35,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors, 27 warships, and 200 supply ships to Napoleon. They gathered most of these men, supplies, and ships in the great Mediterranean port of Toulon. Men and ships left Toulon with Napoleon and under his command on May 19, 1798.

Napoleon, along with his soldiers and sailors, got to Alexandria, Egypt, late at night. Before sunrise on July 1, Napoleon ordered 5,000 soldiers ashore to fight Egyptian defenders of Alexandria if necessary. It wasn't. City leaders surrendered to Napoleon without fighting.

After Napoleon’s soldiers and supplies got safely ashore, most of the French ships returned to France. Only 13 large warships and 4 small ones stayed behind to protect the French army.

Leaving 10,000 soldiers in Alexandria to keep control of the city, Napoleon led the rest to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, on July 7. On July 21, near Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza, the first major battle between Napoleon’s soldiers and Egyptian soldiers took place. As many as 20 Egyptian soldiers died for every French soldier killed. This event has since been called the Battle of the Pyramids.

French soldiers first entered Cairo on the evening of July 21. On July 22, the Egyptian leaders of Cairo, like those in Alexandria, surrendered control of their city to Napoleon.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.