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The plague in Bonaparte's Army of Orient, 1798–1801

Tchoudinov Alexander

In Bonaparte's memoirs on the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801, dictated on the island of St. Helena, the theme of the plague sounds episodically – only where it is useful to maintain the “golden legend” about himself that the former emperor elaborated. The plague is not mentioned at all in these memoirs after the story about his departure from Egypt. Moreover, in one of the texts, also dictated by Napoleon at St. Helena, it was explicitly stated that his successors at the head of the Army of Orient no longer had to deal with the plague. However, the author of the article, relying on the reports of French army doctors, on the diaries and memoirs of other militaries, on official documents, shows that the plague was a constant companion of the Army of Orient in Egypt and Syria from the first to the last day of the campaign. The French owed a significant share of their losses to this disease. The plague in the Nile Delta broke out almost simultaneously with the beginning of the Egyptian expedition, or, more precisely, the expedition arrived at the very center of the epidemic. The first wave of the disease lasted until the spring of 1799. The garrison of Alexandria was particularly affected by it. The first wave did not have time to extinguish here, as the main army forces that went to Syria were engulfed by the second wave, even more deadly. And although the plague was by no means the main cause of the unsuccessful outcome of the Syrian campaign for the French, it contributed a lot to it. At last, the peak of the epidemic occurred precisely in the last year of the expedition, contrary to everything that Bonaparte later claimed.

Keywords: history, France, Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801, epidemic, plague
Link: Tchoudinov A. The plague in Bonaparte's Army of Orient, 1798–1801 // Annual of French Studies 2021: Epidemics in the history of France.М. P. 63-90.

The study is sponsored by the Russian Science Foundation, grant 20-18-00113.


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