Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1769, where was Napoleon Bonaparte born?

And the answer: Corsica.

Born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Napoleon's family descended from Italian nobility. As a military leader, he rose to prominence during the French Revolution, and crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804.

Photo credit: public domain.

Although Napoleon was born on newly-declared French soil, his relationship to the nation was largely informed by the tumultuous politics of the late 16th century. As he was completing his studies in Corsica, he was promoted to be an officer in the artillery division of the French army. Around the same time, the French Revolution began, and the French monarchy fell to the forces of the masses. It was during the chaos and violence of the ensuing Reign of Terror that Napoleon began to gain fame, winning his first major victory against Royalist forces. After the battle, he was celebrated as a war hero.

Napoleon's battles with forces that opposed the new Republic of France won him favor with French leaders, and he was appointed Commander in Chief of the French military. With this new power and prestige, Napoleon began to expand French influence in surrounding regions. He first laid claim to Austria, and by 1799 Napoleon had acquired many new territories in Europe. Turning his attention to the eastern Mediterranean, he then attempted to conquer Egypt (and discovered the Rosetta Stone on accident).

When he returned to France, he returned with a plan: overthrow the current French government. This plot came to be known as the Coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire, and represented a successful effort to dismantle the current French government and set up a new one called The Consulate. Naming himself First Consul, Napoleon had not only conquered France, but all of eastern Europe.

As First Consul, Napoleon instituted many popular reforms that helped stabilize the country. He offered free secondary education and created the Bank of France, which won him public favor. However, Napoleon's desire to conquer was his ultimate downfall. After the Consulate was transformed into the French Empire in 1804, Napoleon embarked on a series of wars now known as the Napoleonic Wars, which challenged surrounding and adjacent nations for their land. In 1813, though, the combined forces of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden defeated Napoleon's armies in Europe, forcing him to abdicate the throne. He was banished to the island of Elba, and although was able to make his escape, Napoleon ultimately fell to British powers 100 days later. At the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon fell for good.

Learn more about Napoleon's life and legacy on the French empire below.

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