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.