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Careers open to talents? The case of the technical corps in Napoleonic Italy

Cuccoli Lorenzo

The article analyses the “exportation” of the meritocratic practices typical of the French technical corps to the Italian technical corps during the Napoleonic era. It is argued that both the practice of competitive examinations to select the officers, and their advancement based on talent, encountered difficulties in Italy. The immediate necessity of filling the cadres during the Republican period meant that officers were directly commissioned into the corps, examination being consistently enforced only in the engineering corps. This senior generation came to dominate the upper hierarchy of both the artillery and the engineering corps. A military school was then created in Modena, where aspirants were selected by competitive examination and trained before entering the corps. They were thus theoretically more qualified than the officers of the “senior generation”, but their career prospects were penalised in comparison because the scarcity of positions in the Italian corps and the preference given to seniority provided only a limited turnover, especially in the higher ranks. This divergence is all the more significant because the “senior generation” was constituted chiefly by traditional elites, while the Modena graduates had a more post-Revolutionary character. In any case, promotions in the Italian technical corps seem to have only a loose correlation to talent and merit.

Keywords: Napoleonic era, Italy, meritocracy, army
Link: Cuccoli L. Careers open to talents? The case of the technical corps in Napoleonic Italy // Annual of French Studies 2019: The era of Napoleon and her memory.М. P. 217-228.