Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. As Napoleon, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again briefly in 1815. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.
He was born Napoleone di Buonaparte in Corsica, to a relatively modest family from minor Italian nobility. When the Revolution broke out in 1789, Napoleon was serving as an artillery officer in the French army. Seizing the new opportunities presented by the Revolution, he rapidly rose through the ranks of the military, becoming a general at age 24. The Directory eventually gave him command of the Army of Italy after he suppressed a revolt against the government from royalist insurgents. At age 26, he began his first military campaign against the Austrians and their Italian allies—winning virtually every battle, conquering the Italian Peninsula in a year, and becoming a war hero in France. In 1798, he led a military expedition to Egypt that served as a springboard to political power. He engineered a coup in November 1799 and became First Consul of the Republic. His ambition and public approval inspired him to go further, and in 1804 he became the first Emperor of the French. Intractable differences with the British meant that the French were facing a Third Coalition by 1805. Napoleon shattered this coalition with decisive victories in the Ulm Campaign and a historic triumph over Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz, which led to the elimination of the thousand-year-old Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, the Fourth Coalition took up arms against him because Prussia became worried about growing French influence on the continent. Napoleon quickly defeated Prussia at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, then marched his Grande Armée deep into Eastern Europe and annihilated the Russians in June 1807 at the Battle of Friedland. France then forced the defeated nations of the Fourth Coalition to sign the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. Tilsit signified the high watermark of the French Empire. In 1809, the Austrians and the British challenged the French again during the War of the Fifth Coalition, but Napoleon solidified his grip over Europe after triumphing at the Battle of Wagram in July.
Hoping to extend the Continental System and choke off British trade with the European mainland, Napoleon invaded Iberia and declared his brother Joseph the King of Spain in 1808. The Spanish and the Portuguese revolted with British support. The Peninsular War lasted six years, featured extensive guerrilla warfare, and ended in victory for the Allies. The Continental System caused recurring diplomatic conflicts between France and its client states, especially Russia. Unwilling to bear the economic consequences of reduced trade, the Russians routinely violated the Continental System and enticed Napoleon into another war. The French launched a major invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812. The resulting campaign witnessed the collapse of the Grande Armée and the destruction of Russian cities, and inspired a renewed push against Napoleon by his enemies. In 1813, Prussia and Austria joined Russian forces in the Sixth Coalition against France. A lengthy military campaign culminated in a large Allied army defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. The Allies then invaded France and captured Paris in the spring of 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April. He was exiled to the island of Elba near Rome and the Bourbon monarchs were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and took control of France once again. The Allies responded by forming a Seventh Coalition, which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in June. The British exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died six years later at the age of 51.
Napoleon had an extensive and powerful influence on the modern world, bringing liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled, such as the Low Countries, Switzerland, and large parts of modern Italy and Germany. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe. His legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. British historian Andrew Roberts stated: "The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire".