Proposal- Napoleons effect on the views of Egyptian Archaeology

Starting in the 1770s, the French had grown interested in Egypt.  They saw this country as a tremendous commercial and agricultural potential because of the Nile Valley.  Egypt also had strategic importance to the Anglo-French rivalry.  This meant under French control, Egypt could be used to threaten British commercial interests in the region and to block Britain’s overland route to India  Before the French Invasion, the country was part of the world’s most powerful empires.  Because of low Nile floods, plagues, famine and loss of trade and revenue which in turn caused an economic devastation and civil unrest.  France saw this as the perfect time to attack.  In May 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte sailed with 328 ships and came to land with 38000 soldiers.  With him he also brought a group of 167 scholars which he picked himself.  These were mathematicians, zoologists, chemists and engineers.  They spent about three years exploring and learning everything about Egypt’s history, culture, environment and resources.  By bringing researchers, this was the first large scale systematic study of Egypt.  These scholars were later to be known as the Scientific and Artistic Commission, researching for the Institute of Egypt.  This research they found wrote the Description de L’Egypt, the most comprehensive information on the monuments and antiquities of Egypt.  The researchers did topographical surveys, studied animals and plants that were native to Egypt, collected and classified minerals, and looked at how the country dealt with industry and trade.  Through all of this many other discoveries were made that we still study today.  Napoleons excavations found the Temple of Luxor, Temple of Philae, and the Temple of Dendera.  He also found the Valley of the Kings.  As each site was discovered, they were mapped, measured and drawn out to record how they were found.

Even though the military invasion did not follow through, this was a major turning point for the history of Egyptian archeology.  Napoleon had a vested interest in the culture and ancient history of Egypt therefore he paved the way for Egypt to be seen in a new light and ensured the history of this new land to be preserved.  He had created a new excitement in the people of Europe to learn about the culture and ancient history of Egypt.  Napoleon’s appreciation toward the Egyptian culture and history shaped how Europe saw Egypt in the late 1700s and 1800s and how museum studies are done still to this day.

At this time, Egypt was still a mystery to the majority of Europeans.  They had seen evidence of mummies, hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian monuments that were found.  The fact that ancient Egyptians mummified people instead of traditionally burying their dead made the country look even more “exotic” to the Europeans because it was such a foreign idea to them.  It was not until after the French invasion that the hieroglyphs were no longer unreadable and were able to be translated.  Also I was incredibly hard to believe that men, even thousands of men, were able to create and engineer such grand structures in a time with basically no technology.  This all added to the mystery of the culture and its people.


2 thoughts on “Proposal- Napoleons effect on the views of Egyptian Archaeology

  1. I think this will be an interesting research paper and will certainly demonstrate the importance of Napoleon’s scientific and artistic contributions to Egyptian archaeology. My first comment though is that you need references for all of this information; part of the assignment was to include at least three sources that you will be using to write your paper. In structuring your paper, I think it will be helpful to pick two or three important archaeological discoveries made by Napoleon and his team to discuss in detail. Perhaps you can use the temples you mentioned or other tombs; this will give the paper some depth and a strong archaeological focus.

    You might also want to expand on the idea that Napoleon’s research in Egypt sparked the advancement of European/Western studies in Egypt. Without Napoleon, European scholars and universities might not have developed Egyptology departments or sent archaeologists to further investigate the rich cultural heritage of Egypt. You can also talk about the influence of this historic interest in Egypt on scholars (and popular culture) today. I imagine that the artistic and scientific works produced by Napoleon’s team are still being used by Egyptologists and Egyptian archaeologists today, which says a great deal about it’s importance.

  2. This is a fantastic subject because it is another example of how interest in Egypt was constantly fostered by so many different people and movements. It is also a testament to just how much Napoleon was able to accomplish and still contribute to this day. However, this seems to be a very broad topic and maybe it would serve your purpose better to give a slight overview and then focus on a few specific instances of Napoleon’s involvement or discovery of new sites, artifacts, etc. Definitely the most obvious if the Rosetta Stone and the crazy important impact it had on how much we are able to understand about the ancient Egyptian world in the present. (116)
    Napoleon’s grand expedition not only provided a wealth of new information on the subject but created/used/impacted archaeological practices during the time, and some of which like you said are still used today. It would be prudent to discuss what these were specifically and how some of them are still helpful today and why they are helpful.

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