“The ancient Egyptians have achieved great things well before their time. We would do well to learn from them.”…Napoleon Bonaparte
Shortly after the end of the War of First Coalition, the War of the Second Coalition began. Britain had moved against French interests in India, and Napoleon convinced France to attack Egypt in order to cut their mortal enemies off. However, this angered the Ottoman Empire, the mighty Oriental power that ruled all of the Middle East, including Egypt. So the Ottomans allied themselves with Britain against France, and four other nations, Russia, Austria, Spain, and Sardinia, followed suit.
Although the Directorate did not spare Napoleon much army in terms of the invasion, they were better armed than the Ottomans. Napoleon sailed on this great ship manned by Admiral Villenueve, a navy man from the Bourbon days who was spared for his seamanship. When they landed with just 15,000 French troops, they discovered that the Mameluke warriors, who served the Ottomans, came forth to meet them in battlefield with an army thirty times their size. Berthier was shocked, but a general of Napoleon’s stature would not show fear…not one iota of it. I was amazed!
Berthier: “Lord General, we are like a needle in the midst of the Mameluke sea. Surely, it is safer to board Admiral Villeneuve’s ships and head back to Paris. The Ottomans would never attack Europe. We do not need this war.”
Napoleon: “Don't be foolish, Berthier. The quality of the French army is second to none. The Ottomans may be brave, but the quality of their guns are nothing next to our muskets. I shall not flee from a bunch of marauding barbarians, and you mustn’t think of them as cowards. They had once invaded the heartlands of Europe in the Battle of Vienna and challenged all but the Polish Sobieski and the great warrior Eugene of Savoy many generations ago.”
Berthier: “Neither of them were French, General Bonaparte.”
Napoleon: “Your history is as appalling as your mathematics is brilliant, Berthier. Savoy was born French!”
Berthier: “But you are not, General”…Suddenly, Berthier regretted his words, for his cheekiness seemed to step over the bounds as Napoleon threw an angry look his way.
Napoleon: “Enough of this, Berthier. I shall address the troops now.”
Dutifully, Berthier scampered on to do his bidding, only whispering a reply, “Yes, my Generale.”
“Men of France, this war was not started by us,” Napoleon began. “The monarchists of all colors, even those who are not of Christian faith, have united against us. Us, revolutionaries and atheists, who wouldst have opposed the Crusades had it been our choice. Though today, we encroach on Ottoman lands, let it be known that they have encroached upon our liberties and our French values first. Let it be known that we are to free Egypt, to liberate them from Ottoman yoke, and not to make conquest merely for the glory of France.”
The French propaganda of freedom to Egypt annoyed the Mamelukes and Ottoman forces, and so they opened the attack on Napoleon’s army much as he wanted. The French fired mercilessly at the enemy, who fell like birds of the sky. Very few Frenchmen were shot to death, and only a few were cut down by the scabbards of the enemy who approached too near. The number of dead enemies were more numerous than the stars. Soon, the Mamelukes retreated. Napoleon hath conquered Egypt. The thirty-something general, who years before had been our “Little Corporal”, was now master of an area larger than France itself.
At first, Napoleon’s goal was to civilize the Egyptians. One day, he tried to show them how the balloon worked with hot gas through science. The Egyptians were superstitious, but Berthier totally blew it with some screwups. The balloon did not fly, and Napoleon was very embarrassed.
Instead, the Egyptians showed him some ancient scrolls, and Napoleon realized how brilliant the ancient Egyptians must have been when the French (then known as Celtic Gauls) were still climbing silly trees by the Seinne. His respect for ancient Egypt grew more and more each day. On some days, I could see Napoleon admiring the Pyramids of Giza, the ruins of the Library of Alexandria, and the enigmatic Sphinx. All these things and the ancient scrolls piqued his interest and every inquisitive mind.
While I believe that Napoleon was a great general, I also felt that he never became a true genius until he learned the secrets of ancient Egypt. An archaeologist that we brought into Egypt, Mr. Rosetta, was the man who found inscriptions that would later become world-famous. The stone, known as the Rosetta Stone, contained Greek letters on one side and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on the other. By reading the translations, Mr. Rosetta decoded the entire language! He was such a genius, and it was such men that worked for our Leader Napoleon Bonaparte.
One day, Napoleon caught French soldiers bullying an Egyptian local. He punished and reprimanded the man brutally. We could not understand him. I, for one, asked him why he did that. “After all,” I said, “There are nothing but savages.”
But Napoleon would not hear of it. “There are not savages. The ancient Egyptians had achieved great things well before their time. We would do well to learn from them.” Such was the respect that Napoleon had for indegenious people of that country.
But army life was harsh, and the Battle raged on. Though Napoleon continued to improve the fortunes of the Egyptians, some of them remained loyal to the Ottomans, their former oppressive masters. One day, we found that the Ottoman army and their Mameluke beys had amassed a force greater than anything in Europe at Abu Qir.
Napoleon hath become so used to Egypt it was getting hard to leave everything behind. At the time, his informants told Napoleon that his wife, Josephine, hath committed adultery! For a man of conservative Corsican sensibilities, such a thing was inconceivable. At this time, Napoleon committed an adultery with the beautiful Madame Floures and stayed with her in the orpulent palace of Muhammad Ali, pasha of Egypt.
Nevertheless, war takes us to strange places, so he deserted her and marched upon Abu Qir in Syria. Such is the fate of great men and fair damsels in the days of the French Revolution. Now, the Ottoman forces were led by Sultan Murad and his son Crown Prince Mustafa themselves, but if Napoleon had any fear, he did not show it. In those days, I or even fearless Lannes or Murat would not have fought for any other general, certainly not fiercely. They said Kellermann was the man of our times, but I’d say Napoleon Bonaparte was more than his match.
I could not be sure how many Ottoman troops were ahead of us. It sure looked like 100,000 men.
“Surrender now, or face the consequences!” Prince Mustafa said.
“Say that to yourself!” Napoleon replied. If he felt any fear, he did not show it. We fired all our muskets without fears and slew many Ottomans. They too had guns and cannons, but it was not the best of kinds. Many of our men fell, but far more of theirs. In the end, only a few brave Ottomans entered the French ranks, but Lannes and Murat, though badly injured, showed them just how well a Frenchman could use his sword. We were heroes that day. I wonder if Alexander the Great could claim such a great victory as we did at Abu Qir. It was a magnificent sight to behold, and General Napoleon simply knew no bounds to his ambitions or possibility.
By sunset, the Ottomans had retreated, and the Mamelukes had surrendered. Our army was badly injured, but we found the dead body of Crown Prince Mustafa. Napoleon ordered me to return his body to Constantinople where the Sultan now cowered behind the safety of his palace.
I saw tears in the eyes of Sultan Murad, who was injured himself, and yet, I gritted my iron heart and said, “I am Captain Juppe, emissary of the General Napoleon Bonaparte. If you do not withdraw your troops from Egyptian borders, France shall march upon Constantinople itself.”
Upon hearing this, the Sultan agreed to surrender, but he also said, “You must know, Captain Juppe. My allies of the Second Coalition will not forgive me for this, particularly Britain. Even as we speak, the Admiral Horatio Nelson has sent a big navy to Egypt. You may very well be trapped. Do not blame me for the deeds of Britannia.”
“I shall not,” I replied, and then I took the white flag back to the French camp in exchange for Prince Mustafa’s body. We would not march to Constantinople but would go back to Egypt. I could see Napoleon’s smiling face as I entered. Who would not be happy to see the beautiful Madame Floures? If Helen of Troy were alive, I’d imagined she’d look like the glorious beauty on Earth too.
Napoleon: “What did Sultan Murad say, Allian?”
I (Allian Juppe): “Constantinople surrenders, on grounds that you do not march into their premises. The Sultan grants you five thousand talents of gold as recompense but warns you that the British fleet is even now in the Nile, and asks that you not hold it against him. For his fatherly heart is broken, and he has no will to fight the might of France anymore even as his allies comes to his rescue.”
“Shit!” Napoleon exclaimed, “There is no time to rest. We must march back to Alexandria (Egypt) at once.”
And so that was how the great battle of Abu Qir was fought, and that was how it came time for us to return to fight our most formidable enemy…Nelson.