|Battle of the Pyramids|
|Part of the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria during the War of the Second Coalition|
The Battle of the Pyramids
by Louis-François Lejeune
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|289 killed or wounded||10,000 killed or wounded|
The Battle of the Pyramids, also known as the Battle of Embabeh, was a major engagement fought on 21 July 1798, during the French Invasion of Egypt. The battle took place near the village of Embabeh, across the Nile River from Cairo, but was named by Napoleon after the Great Pyramid of Giza visible nearly 9 miles away.
After capturing Alexandria and crossing the desert, the French army, led by General Napoleon Bonaparte, scored a decisive victory against the main army of the local Mamluk rulers, wiping out almost the entire Ottoman army located in Egypt. It was the first battle where Bonaparte personally devised and employed the divisional square tactic to great effect. The deployment of the French brigades into these massive rectangular formations repeatedly threw back multiple cavalry charges of the Mamluks.
The victory effectively sealed the French conquest of Egypt as Murad Bey salvaged the remnants of his army, chaotically fleeing to Upper Egypt. French casualties amounted to roughly 300, but Ottoman and Mamluk casualties soared into the thousands. Napoleon entered Cairo after the battle and created a new local administration under his supervision. Along with the Battle of the Nile, this battle was part of a great global rivalry between France and Britain; the French objective was to establish a base from which to continue its campaign against British India. After the French fleet was destroyed by Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, Bonaparte marched through the Levant until his advance was stalled by Anglo-Turkish forces at Acre.
After landing in Ottoman-controlled Egypt and capturing Alexandria on 2 July 1798, the French army led by General Bonaparte marched down the desert toward Cairo. They met the forces of the ruling Mamluks nine miles (15 kilometres) from the Pyramids and only four miles (6 kilometres) from Cairo.[b] The Mamluk forces were commanded by two Georgian mamluks, Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey, and had a force of powerful and highly trained cavalry at their command as well as fellahin militia acting as infantry. On 13 July after French scouts located Murad's encampment, Bonaparte ordered an advance toward the enemy's forces, engaging them during the brief battle of Chobrakit. After the destruction of their flagship by French field artillery the Mamluks retreated instead of engaging, the skirmish ending in a minor French victory.
On 21 July, after marching all night, the French caught up with the Ottoman force in the vicinity of the village of Embabeh, after one hour rest the men were ordered to get ready for battle. Bonaparte ordered an advance on Murad's army with each of the five divisions of his army organised into hollow rectangles with cavalry and baggage at the center and cannon at the corners. Bonaparte exhorted his troops to remain steady and keep their ranks closed up when facing the Mameluke cavalry.
“Soldiers! You came to this country to save the inhabitants from barbarism, to bring civilisation to the Orient and subtract this beautiful part of the world from the domination of England. From the top of those pyramids, forty centuries are contemplating you”— General Bonaparte pre-battle Order of the Day, 
The French divisions advanced south in echelon, with the right flank leading and the left flank protected by the Nile. From right to left, Bonaparte posted the divisions of Louis Charles Antoine Desaix, Jean-Louis-Ébénézer Reynier, Charles-François-Joseph Dugua, Honoré Vial and Louis André Bon. In addition, Desaix sent a small detachment to occupy the nearby village of Biktil, just to the west. Murad anchored his right flank on the Nile at the village of Embabeh, which was fortified and held with infantry and some ancient cannons, his left flank was anchored on the village of Biktil, where the rest of his cannons were placed there to protect from French flanking movements. His Mamluk cavalry deployed in the center, between these villages. The other Mamluk army, commanded by Ibrahim Bey, stood across the Nile and watched the events unfold, unable to cross and intervene. Murad Bey's original plan was to repulse the French attacks on his fortified flanks, and then attack their demoralized center.
The Mamluks, being a force that was still largely feudal and medieval in all of its practical characteristics, including its military, were completely at odds with the modern standing French army. The majority of the Egyptian army was drafted Fellahin (peasants), its maw was the Mamluk horse. An episode during the battle that demonstrated the rift between the armies occurred when a Mamluk rider, dressed in heavy armour, rode to within only a few steps from the French lines and demanded a duel. The French responded with gunfire.
....Then the column that came to fight Murad Bey was divided according to methods known to them (The French) in warfare, and it approached the barricades, so that it surrounded the soldiers from behind and in front of it, and its drums sounded, and it sent its successive guns and cannons, and the wind became fiercer, and the smoke became dark, and the world was darkened by the smoke of gunpowder and the dust of the wind. For people it seemed that the earth shook and the sky fell on it.— ʻAbd al-Rah̤mān al-Jabartī's History of Egypt
Napoleon ordered Desaix's square to advance to the right (towards the Egyptian center) and the rest of his squares to the left (in the direction of Embebeh), Murad Bey saw an opportunity and ordered his defterdar Ayyub Bey to attack the French squares, at about 15:30, the Mamluk cavalry hurled itself at the French without warning. The divisional squares of Desaix, Reynier and Dugua held firm and repelled the horsemen with point-blank musket and artillery fire. Unable to make an impression on the French formations, some of the frustrated Mamluks rode off to attack Desaix's detached force. This was also a failure. Meanwhile, nearer the river, Bon's division deployed into attack columns and charged Embabeh. Breaking into the village, the French routed the garrison. Trapped against the river, many of the Mamluks and infantry tried to swim to safety, and hundreds drowned. The French reported a loss of 29 killed and 260 wounded. Murad's losses were far heavier, perhaps as many as 10,000 including 3,000 of the elite Mamluk cavalry, and his defterdar Ayyub Bey was also killed in the battle. Murad Bey himself was also wounded in the cheek with a hit from a saber. Murad escaped to Upper Egypt with his 3,000 surviving cavalry, where he carried out an active guerrilla campaign before being defeated by Desaix in late 1799.
Upon hearing news of the defeat of their legendary cavalry, the waiting Mamluk armies in Cairo dispersed to Syria, Bonaparte entered the conquered capital of Egypt on 24 July. On 11 August French forces caught up with Ibrahim Bey inflicting on him a crushing defeat at Salalieh.
After the Battle of Pyramids, Napoleon instituted French administration in Cairo and suppressed the subsequent rebellions violently. Although Napoleon tried to co-opt the local Egyptian ulema, scholars like Al-Jabarti poured scorn on the ideas and cultural ways of the French. Despite their cordial proclamations to the natives, with some French soldiers even converting to Islam in order to take Muslim wives, clerics like Abdullah al-Sharqawi, who headed Napoleon's Cairo government or divan, later described the French as: "‘materialist, libertine philosophers … [who] deny the resurrection, and the afterlife, and … [the] prophets" while for the French, mathematician Joseph Fourier regretted that "the Muslim religion would on no account permit the development of the mind".
The Battle of the Pyramids signalled the beginning of the end of seven centuries of Mamluk rule in Egypt. Despite this auspicious beginning, British Admiral Horatio Nelson's victory in the Battle of the Nile ten days later effectively ended Napoleon's ambitions in Egypt.
Cultural depictions Edit
See also Edit
- Historian David Chandler asserts that Bonaparte's 25,000-strong army outnumbered Murad's 6,000 Mamluks and 15,000 infantry, while Andrew Roberts indicates a force of 6,000 Mamluks and 54,000 Arab irregulars against 20,000 French, military historian Gustave Léon Niox gives a total of 50,000 Mamluks and irregulars. According to Paul Strathern author of Napoleon in Egypt, “There is no denying that the combined Egyptian force was superior in number but the caliber of some of its conscripted men cannot be compared with that of the French”
- Engulfed by the west bank portion of the city of Cairo, nothing remains of the battlefield today.
- Roberts 2015, p. 132.
- Chandler 2009, p. 224.
- Niox 1887, p. 110.
- Strathern 2008, p. 119.
- Chandler 2009, p. 226.
- Strathern 2008, p. 128.
- Addington, Larry (1994). The patterns of war since the 18th century. Indiana University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0253301321.
- Armoush, Muhammad (2018). Modern contemplations of the French campaign.
- Legat, Michel (2012). With Bonaparte in the East: 1798–1799, testimonies. p. 224. ISBN 978-2-7587-0082-1.
- De Bellaigue, Christopher (2017). "Chapter 1: Cairo". The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason – 1798 to Modern Times. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation. pp. 4–12. ISBN 978-0-87140-373-5.
- Cole, J. (2007). Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East. St. Martin's Publishing Group. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-230-60741-5.
- De Bellaigue, Christopher (2017). "Chapter 1: Cairo". The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason – 1798 to Modern Times. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-87140-373-5.
- Russell, Q. (2021). Mediterranean Naval Battles That Changed the World. Pen & Sword Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-5267-1601-9.
- the MET.
- Chandler, D.G. (2009). The Campaigns of Napoleon. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4391-3103-9.
- "Battle of the Pyramids, July 21, 1798". metmuseum.org.
- Niox, G.L. (1887). Géographie militaire. Géographie militaire (in French). Dumaine.
- Roberts, A. (2015). Napoleon: A Life. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-14-312785-7.
- Strathern, P. (2008). Napoleon in Egypt: 'the Greatest Glory'. Vintage. ISBN 978-1-84413-917-0.
Further reading Edit
- Cole, Juan, Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 1403964319
- Herold, J. Christopher, Bonaparte in Egypt – London, Hamish Hamilton, 1962.
- Herold, J. Christopher, The Age of Napoleon. New York, American Heritage, 1963.
- Moorehead, Alan, The Blue Nile New York, Harper & Row, 1962.
- Media related to Battle of the Pyramids at Wikimedia Commons