The Napoleonic Wars

Alexander Mikaberidze

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
The Napoleonic Wars

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The Napoleonic Wars represent a turning point in European affairs and a major break with the past. The starting point for the Napoleonic Wars is usually considered the signing of the Peace of Amiens between France and Britain in 1802, while the end point is set in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and his exile from France in 1815. These wars constitute a continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars that broke out in 1792 and ranged France against shifting alliances of other European powers. The French Revolution unleashed a torrent of political, social, cultural, and military changes. Never before had European states resorted to a mobilization of civilian and military resources as total as during this period, which resulted in fundamental changes for the societies and armies in question. The French Revolutionary Wars were undertaken to defend, and then to spread, the effects of the French Revolution. Ideological aspects of the Napoleonic Wars are often emphasized as a main source of the conflict, but Europe was not divided along ideological lines. Although ideology did matter, the conflict was largely driven by geopolitical considerations that were similar to those existing during the wars waged by Louis XIV. As in the early 1700s, the rise of a powerful French state in the early 1800s threatened the balance of power in Europe and led to the creation of broad coalitions to prevent France from achieving complete dominance on the European continent. In addition, the Napoleonic Wars were influenced by a long-standing colonial and commercial rivalry between France and Britain. Under Napoleon’s leadership, France emerged as the dominant continental power, extending its imperium from the Atlantic coastline of Spain to the plains of Poland. Along the way, the French armies spread revolutionary ideals to the occupied territories, prompting important changes in Europe. To defeat Napoleon, “the revolution incarnate,” as the Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich described him, the European monarchies were compelled to adopt revolutionary reforms and utilize elements of revolutionary ideology for their own benefit. The French military strategy, army organization, and transformation of royal subjects into citizens and soldiers, the awakening of the people to a sense of their rights, and the channeling of their patriotic energies and passions against a foreign enemy—all these ideas had been formulated in France during the Revolution as it sought to survive attacks of European coalitions, but these same ideas were then borrowed by the European monarchies in their struggle against France.

Article.  20017 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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