Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: Napoleon in Egypt

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

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Join our newest history course from Michael Birrell and learn all about Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt.

When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798 with 335 ships and 40,000 men, it was the largest long-distance sea-borne force in history.

Napoleon took with him more than 150 scientists (or savants) including mathematicians, linguists, artists and writers, with a view to recording everything they saw in this strange and exotic country.

What these intellectuals found in Egypt, including the Rosetta Stone, would transform our knowledge of the history civilisation and form the basis of the science of Egyptology.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • describe why the French chose to invade Egypt
  • identify lives of the various scientists who accompanied Napoleon
  • describe how the scientists in the expedition recorded their discoveries
  • study the ‘Description of Egypt’.


1. Outward bound

The Directory, ruling France after the French Revolution, ordered a military expedition to conquer Egypt to undermine British interests in the East. Led by Napoleon Bonaparte, an expedition was sent to conquer and study this mysterious country. Taking the island of Malta en route, the vast expeditionary force landed near Alexandria virtually unopposed.

2. Battles

Napoleon took the decision to march to Cairo in the heat of summer resulting in many French casualties. Near Cairo Napoleon was victorious over the Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids with the death of about 6000 Egyptians. The British fleet under Horatio Nelson soon discovered the French fleet at Abukir Bay and almost completely destroyed it at the Battle of the Nile, leaving the French without any means of return to France.

3. The Institute of Egypt

Napoleon now consolidated his hold on Egypt, crushing a rebellion in Cairo. The numerous scientists (more than 150 of them) began their scientific investigation of the country, with Napoleon founding the Institute of Egypt as a way of propagating the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Rosetta Stone was discovered in July 1799 but would soon be taken as war booty by the British.

4. Into the unknown

The scientists in the French force set about recording, drawing and copying the fabulous monuments of the ancient Egyptians, many never seen by Europeans before. The savants were fascinated also by the unique plants and animals in the region, and the customs of the Egyptians. Meanwhile, Napoleon led a military campaign into Palestine and Syria but was forced to retreat from Acre.

5. Aftermath

In August 1799 Napoleon abandoned his troops in Egypt and returned to France where he subsequently became First Consul in a coup d'état. Late in his reign, Napoleon saw to the publication of the ‘Description of Egypt’, the knowledge acquired by the French savants during the expedition. This went to press between 1809 and 1821 and formed the basis of the science of Egyptology.

Intended audience

Interested members of the public.

Delivery style

  • Five interactive lectures delivered over one-day
  • Talks and discussion
  • Q&A time


You will be provided with course handouts in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • Another fascinating course. I can't get enough of them. Incredibly interesting and a great way to spend a Saturday!
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