Napoléon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. He also remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in history.
Napoleon had an extensive and powerful impact on the modern world, bringing liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled, especially the Low Countries, Switzerland, and large parts of modern Italy and Germany. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe.
His lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been highly influential. Roberts says, “The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”
Napoleon was born in Corsica to a relatively modest family from the minor Italian nobility. He supported the French Revolution in 1789 while serving in the French army, and tried to spread its ideals to his native Corsica. He rose rapidly in the Army after he saved the governing French Directory by firing on royalist insurgents.
In April 1796, he began his first military campaign against the Austrians and their Italian allies, scoring a series of decisive victories and becoming a national hero. Two years later, he led a military expedition to Egypt that served as a springboard to political power. He engineered a coup in November 1799 and became First Consul of the Republic. Intractable differences with the British meant that the French were facing a Third Coalition by 1805. Napoleon shattered this coalition with decisive victories in the Ulm Campaign and a historic triumph at the Battle of Austerlitz, which led to the elimination of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1806, the Fourth Coalition took up arms against him because Prussia became worried about growing French influence on the continent. Napoleon quickly knocked out Prussia at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, then marched the Grand Army deep into Eastern Europe, annihilating the Russians in June 1807 at Friedland and forcing the defeated nations of the Fourth Coalition to accept the Treaties of Tilsit. Two years later, the Austrians challenged the French again during the War of the Fifth Coalition, but Napoleon solidified his grip over Europe after triumphing at the Battle of Wagram.
Hoping to extend the Continental System, Napoleon invaded Iberia and declared his brother Joseph the King of Spain in 1808. The Spanish and the Portuguese revolted with British support. The Peninsular War lasted six years, featured brutal guerrilla warfare, and culminated in an Allied victory. Napoleon launched an invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812.
The resulting campaign witnessed the catastrophic retreat of the Grand Army, and encouraged his enemies. In 1813, Prussia and Austria joined Russian forces in a Sixth Coalition against France. A chaotic military campaign culminated in a large Allied army defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813.
The Allies invaded France and captured Paris, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April 1814. He was exiled to the island of Elba near Rome. The Bourbons were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and took control of France. The Allies responded by forming a Seventh Coalition, which ultimately defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in June. The British exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. His death in 1821 at the age of 51 was received with shock and grief throughout Europe.
Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.
A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.
Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.
Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.
Forethought we may have, undoubtedly, but not foresight.
England is a nation of shopkeepers.
Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals.
Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.
An army marches on its stomach.
All religions have been made by men.
Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.
A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.
Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.
A true man hates no one.
Ability is nothing without opportunity.
Ambition never is in a greater hurry that I; it merely keeps pace with circumstances and with my general way of thinking.
Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.
The great proof of madness is the disproportion of one’s designs to one’s means.
There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time.
There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed.
There are only two forces that unite men – fear and interest.
There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.
The word impossible is not in my dictionary.
The truest wisdom is a resolute determination.
The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided. It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.
The surest way to remain poor is to be an honest man.
The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.
The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.
The infectiousness of crime is like that of the plague.
Respect the burden.
The herd seek out the great, not for their sake but for their influence; and the great welcome them out of vanity or need.
A Constitution should be short and obscure.
The French complain of everything, and always.
The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue.
The extent of your consciousness is limited only by your ability to love and to embrace with your love the space around you, and all it contains.
The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.
The best cure for the body is a quiet mind.
The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.
The army is the true nobility of our country.
The act of policing is, in order to punish less often, to punish more severely.
Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.
Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them.
The human race is governed by its imagination.
If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.
It requires more courage to suffer than to die.
It is the cause, not the death, that makes the martyr.
In politics… never retreat, never retract… never admit a mistake.
In politics stupidity is not a handicap.
In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.
Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.
Imagination rules the world.
If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.
A man cannot become an atheist merely by wishing it.
If they want peace, nations should avoid the pin-pricks that precede cannon shots.
Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.
I made all my generals out of mud.
I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.
I have only one counsel for you – be master.
I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.
I am the successor, not of Louis XVI, but of Charlemagne.
I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other.
History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.
History is a set of lies agreed upon.
He who knows how to flatter also knows how to slander.
If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.
Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.
There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.
A leader is a dealer in hope.
He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.
A celebrated people lose dignity upon a closer view.
Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult.
A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.
France has more need of me than I have need of France.
From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.
Let the path be open to talent.
Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.
Medicines are only fit for old people.
One should never forbid what one lacks the power to prevent.
One must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.
Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
Music is the voice that tells us that the human race is greater than it knows.
Men take only their needs into consideration – never their abilities.
Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.
A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories.
Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Throw off your worries when you throw off your clothes at night.
Water, air, and cleanness are the chief articles in my pharmacy.
To do all that one is able to do, is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do, is to be a god.
Victory belongs to the most persevering.
You must not fear death, my lads; defy him, and you drive him into the enemy’s ranks.
War is the business of barbarians.
Women are nothing but machines for producing children.
With audacity one can undertake anything, but not do everything.
When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes.
When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to the level of their mediocrity.
What is history but a fable agreed upon?
We must laugh at man to avoid crying for him.
You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.