The Egyptian Campaign


Napoleon in EgyptWhile Bonaparte waited for the right moment to seize power, he looked to win new glories. Great Britain dominated the seas and enjoyed unbridled success in overseas trade. France was still at war with Great Britain, and Bonaparte hoped to disrupt British trade routes to India and establish French domination in the exotic east. He eluded a British fleet, captured the port of Malta, and on July 1, 1798, landed with 35,000 soldiers in Egypt.

Bonaparte quickly captured Alexandria, and then on July 3, led his soldiers across the desert toward Cairo — and a looming battle. For centuries the Egyptians had been part of the Turkish Empire, ruled by the fiercest warriors in the Middle East — the Mamelukes. Remarkable for their courage, pride, and cruelty, the Mamelukes waited fearlessly for the French armies.

On July 21, 1798, after marching two weeks across the desert, Bonaparte’s armies came within sight of the pyramids — and 10,000 Mamelukes drawn up on horseback across the sands. “Soldiers,” Bonaparte said, “from the height of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you.” The Mamelukes charged. Bonaparte’s men stood in tight formation and held their fire until the Mamelukes reached within fifty paces of their ranks.

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