Napoleon I, known as Napoleon Bonaparte before he became emperor, was probably the most brilliant military figure in history. Rising to command of the French Revolutionary armies, he seized political power as first consul in 1799 and proclaimed himself emperor in 1804. By repeated victories over various European coalitions, he extended French rule over much of Europe. He was finally defeated in 1814-15.

Early Life

Napoleon was born on Aug. 15, 1769, to Carlo and Letizia Buonaparte (see BONAPARTE family) at Ajaccio, Corsica. His father secured a scholarship for him to attend French military school at Brienne (1779-84). Ostracized as a foreigner, he devoted himself entirely to his studies and graduated 42d in his class of 58. He then spent a year at the Military Academy in Paris before he was commissioned (1785) a second lieutenant in artillery. Assigned to the Valence garrison, he spent more than half of the next 7 years on furlough in Corsica, often without authorization. He came into conflict with the Corsican nationalist Pasquale PAOLI, and his family was forced to flee to Marseille in 1793.

Bonaparte had welcomed the beginning of the FRENCH REVOLUTION in 1789, and in September 1793 he assumed command of an artillery brigade at the siege of Toulon, where royalist leaders had welcomed a British fleet and enemy troops. The British were driven out (Dec. 17, 1793), and Bonaparte was rewarded with promotion to general of brigade and assigned to the French army in Italy in February 1794.

After the overthrow of the revolutionary leader Maximilien ROBESPIERRE in July 1794, Bonaparte was briefly imprisoned because he was identified with Robespierre's faction. Released in September, he was assigned to fight a rebellion in the Vendee. He refused to go, however, working instead in the topographic section of the army, and eventually his name was stricken (Sept. 15, 1795) from the list of general officers.

On Oct. 5, 1795 (13 Vendemiaire under the Revolutionary calendar), a revolt broke out in Paris, protesting the means of implementing the new constitution introduced by the National Convention. Paul BARRAS, who had been given full military powers, ordered Bonaparte to defend the convention, and aided by Joachim MURAT's cannons, he routed the insurrectionists within four months. Bonaparte was rewarded by the new government, the DIRECTORY, with appointment (March 1796) as commander of the Army of the Interior. Before taking up that post he married (March 9) JOSEPHINE de Beauharnais, the 33-year-old widow of a republican general and erstwhile lover of a series of men, including Barras.

Italian and Egyptian Campaigns

Late in March 1796, Bonaparte began a series of operations to divide and defeat the Austrian and Sardinian armies in Italy. He defeated (April 21) the Sardinians at Mondovi (April 21), forcing them to conclude a separate peace by which Savoy and Nice were ceded to France. Then, in a series of brilliant maneuvers and battles, he won Lombardy from the Austrians. Mantua, the last Lombard stronghold, fell in February 1797 after a prolonged siege; Bonaparte had defeated four attempts to relieve the siege. As he crossed the Alps to advance on Vienna, the Austrians sued for an armistice, which was concluded at Leoben on Apr. 18, 1797. Bonaparte then personally negotiated the Treaty of CAMPO FORMIO (Oct. 17, 1797), ending the war of the First Coalition, the first phase of the FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS.

In addition to attending to his military operations in Italy, Bonaparte engaged in political affairs. He reorganized northern Italy to create (1797) the Cisalpine Republic and negotiated treaties with various Italian rulers. He also purloined invaluable Italian works of art and vast quantities of money, which were sent to Paris to enhance French museums and to bolster French finances.

On his return to Paris, the Directory proposed that Bonaparte invade England. Instead he urged the occupation of Egypt in order to threaten British India. On May 19, 1798, he sailed with an army of more than 35,000 troops on 350 vessels for Alexandria, Egypt. After seizing Malta en route, he reached Egypt on July 1, after evading the fleet of the British admiral Horatio NELSON. There he occupied Alexandria and Cairo, guaranteed Islamic law, and began to reorganize the government. On August 1, however, Nelson attacked and annihilated the French fleet at Abukir Bay. Thus