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"What Made Napoleon Great?" Topic

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11 May 2019 7:11 p.m. PST
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian01 Oct 2016 11:31 a.m. PST

What attributes made Napoleon so successful?

Grignotage01 Oct 2016 11:39 a.m. PST

Sharp intellect, good subordinates, motivated troops, enemies lacking all or some of these.

JasonAfrika01 Oct 2016 12:00 p.m. PST

He would maneuver himself and the enemy into a position where the outcome was almost inevitable before the battle even started.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2016 12:23 p.m. PST

Battlefield awareness,Courage,Charisma, and an ability to choose some cracking subordinates.
He also had some luck with the enemies he fought.

That's my take anyway!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2016 12:38 p.m. PST

Why is it I keep clicking on one question, and when I get to the thread it's another? And of course he was NOT successful. Successful people do not spend their last years in converted barns under armed guards explaining why it was all someone else's fault.

If you mean "why did he have such a long run of successful campaigns?" Strategic brilliance, a splendid military machine--mind you, he inherited a very good one--charisma and a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of his subordinates, all bound together by being "the foremost realist in Europe."

The realism and the ability to pick subordinates seems to have gone first. After that, his complete inability to quit while he was ahead was pretty well bound to lead him to disaster sooner or later.

basileus6601 Oct 2016 12:42 p.m. PST

A brilliant team of spin-doctors.

Toronto4801 Oct 2016 1:11 p.m. PST

There is the theory that since he controlled his own press his greatness was due to ability to be a spin doctor so much so that it has come down as a saying in France .."To lie like a bulletin"

This is an article that goes further into that theory


Zargon01 Oct 2016 1:58 p.m. PST

It kills me to say this, but he just got things done. The rest of the world leadership of the time just sat around taking snuff and fiddling. I'd bet he'd have the same following today if he brought it on to all the modern snuff fiddlers running the show now.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2016 2:49 p.m. PST

I just read about the battle of Bautzen and I began thinking that Napoleon could see several moves ahead and also, he moved forward having planned his units' placement at the start based on several possible needs as the battlefield changed. He was ready for change. His opponents were not. He also was the sole head of the army with no other players' wishes to bend to.

4th Cuirassier01 Oct 2016 3:07 p.m. PST

The bricole. And lousy opponents, until 1815.

Weasel01 Oct 2016 3:59 p.m. PST

Judging from what I've seen on Napoleonic wargaming forums, he was simultaneously The Devil incarnate AND Corsican Jesus.

Fanch du Leon01 Oct 2016 4:05 p.m. PST

The French revolution.

Stavka01 Oct 2016 4:28 p.m. PST

It kills me to say this, but he just got things done. The rest of the world leadership of the time just sat around taking snuff and fiddling. I'd bet he'd have the same following today if he brought it on to all the modern snuff fiddlers running the show now

Yeah. A leader who would get things done such as, say, building great highways and making the trains run on time. Now where have we heard that before?

Given the events of the last century, I'd have hoped people would have learned their lesson about leaders like that.

Personally, I'll take any amount of inefficient snuff-fiddling any day, given that the alternative usually means the constant fear of being thrown into some jail cell- or worse- for daring to criticize authority, for the colour of my skin, or for my political and religious beliefs.

wrgmr101 Oct 2016 5:54 p.m. PST

Napoleon was extremely detail oriented. He had to do everything himself, and as stated earlier, was extremely energetic, especially early on.
He was a master of manoeuvre and logistics.
He inherited a highly motivated and skilled army, which over time especially in Russia, was decimated.
Napoleon started awarding his troops with medals saying "With such baubles, men can be lead". He remembered the names of certain troops and talked to them using their names. In an army of thousands, being seen and talked to is great motivation.

DJCoaltrain01 Oct 2016 6:14 p.m. PST


John Miller01 Oct 2016 7:29 p.m. PST

It is my impression that he was an enthusiastic student of military history. And, while I am sure there is more to it than that, I have always thought that had a great deal to do with his impressive "won/loss" record. Just a thought. John Miller

Winston Smith01 Oct 2016 7:32 p.m. PST

He would have made a heck of a wargamer. Especially in campaigns.
He would have been one of the few who actually looked at the maps.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2016 8:01 p.m. PST

Apparently his hat is what made him great. It's said that it is worth 50,000 men on the battlefield. Now that is some hat.

cosmicbank01 Oct 2016 8:31 p.m. PST

The British alway promote thier enemies. It make there victories look bigger.

Ottoathome01 Oct 2016 8:51 p.m. PST

He had total power.

He had no opposition. (Unlike his stablemate Hitler he didn't have his Marshalls trying to kill him).

He was completely unscrupulous and without any moral principles whatsoever.

He was completely selfish and a consummate liar.

Most of all,

He was incredibly lucky.

He had this for 20 years when his luck finally ran out.

These are all the things that Hitler had going for him too, when after 20 years, his luck ran out too.

No Winston, he would not have made a heck of a war gamer. He would have been thoroughly obnoxious, a shameless and bare-faced cheat and no one would have invited him to a game because he was the type of person who had to be the center of attention,-- the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. He would never have sprung for munchies, would have complained about everything, and would have sniped and gossiped about his fellow gamers behind their backs.

No one would have invited him to their games more than once and no one would go to any game he put on.

piper90901 Oct 2016 10:46 p.m. PST

He was a man of great talents and abilities and a shrewd judge of character and talent and ability. An expert like David Chandler labelled him "history's greatest soldier" for good cause. When people criticize Napoleon based on MODERN attitudes and hindsight, I wish they would apply the same criteria to his peers and contemporaries and say which of THEM was a paragon or exemplar of modern (or even contemporary) virtues? The Czar? The Austrian Emperor? The Prussian King? The British Regent? The Spanish monarch (before Joseph, of course). Who among them was so much preferable as a ruler or man?

For all its many sins and failings, Revolutionary France emerged a better society in the end and its legacy was to promote reform and progress throughout Europe within a generation. Napoleon played a large part in cementing this legacy, knowingly or not.

HP2Sport01 Oct 2016 11:20 p.m. PST

The ability to exploit the moment for maximum gain.

raylev302 Oct 2016 1:37 a.m. PST

One variable, among many, was he was able to harness the social changes that had come about in France, a Nation in arms, and used them against the more regressive regimes of the period. Those social changes included merit-based success within the military system and a populace that believed it had a stake in the system.

Other nations of the period were afraid of the social changes that were required to develop a military with people who could act on their own discretion at all levels. Most of the nations, notably Prussia, finally made many of the required institutional changes and, in the end, fought the French on more equitable terms, as France began to militarily atrophy. Of course, after the Napoleonic Wars the newly safe monarchies became more regressive until the social upheavals of the late 1840s.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 5:48 a.m. PST

Simple. He had the best trained drummers in Europe…!

Actually, John Miller makes a good point. Napoleon studied war and generalship, including learning from historical examples. Interestingly, so did Wellington (on his voyage to India in particular).

Many of their contemporaries regarded being given military command as a high-status sinecure that was theirs as a birthright.

Marc the plastics fan02 Oct 2016 6:08 a.m. PST

Cool uniforms for the troops.

Shame revisionist history has to run such people down. Especially when people start using the Hitler comparison. Never see that around over great leaders – Frederick or marlborough etc

Sigh. Haters gotta hate

Winston Smith02 Oct 2016 6:51 a.m. PST

Every bad thing said about Napoleon can be said in spades against Alexander the Great.

Ottoathome02 Oct 2016 7:38 a.m. PST

Hey Marc!

Yup, I admit it I hate tyrants. The only different between tyrants and those criminals who commit class A felonies is that it takes an army to destroy them. Nothing revisionist about it. It's called human decency and a sense of morality.

That you cannot distinguish between a bloody tyrant and Marlborough or Eisenhower is your problem not mine.

Yes Winston that's true. I hate him too.

Personal logo jhancock Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 9:54 a.m. PST

Musket length? Bricoles color? ;-)

Garth in the Park02 Oct 2016 10:07 a.m. PST

He was a lot better at winning wars than he was at winning the peace. In so many cases he blew the advantages of a decisive military victory by setting up a peace that virtually guaranteed that there would be another coalition against him in short order. Whether it was annexing foreign land, overthrowing regimes and replacing them with his puppets, imposing fines even on his supposed allied states, much less on his former enemies, or forcing them to raise armies for his use, at great cost to their manpower and treasuries, he just had a special talent for making people hate and resent him.

A reformed legal system is all well and good, but I'd rather keep my old legal system, if it means I can also keep my house and land, my son's life, and my bank account.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 11:36 a.m. PST

"The Gods favour those who put themselves in their path."

Here's a question. At what point in the Great War did the situation in Europe change from Republican France establishing itself as a power in Europe, while sponsoring revolution in neighbouring countries at the expense of the Ancien Regime, with Bonaparte as a prominent servant of the cause, to an Imperialist project to bind W.Europe in a unified system conceived by Napoleon I and maintained to greater or lesser degree by military force. Could the system have evolved without military power to enforce it?

And another. Was there point at which the other Powers would have accepted Napoleon I as the first of a new dynasty and gone back to business as usual ( with, you know, a war every 10 or 15 years to adjust accounts)? If so, why didn't that happen? The interruption to business and trade was costing a fortune. I am told that in Britain we are still paying for it. Could Europe ever have emerged onto the broad, sunlit uplands with Napoleon I on the throne of throne of France?

langobard Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 5:28 p.m. PST

At its simplest, he wasn't great.

The great do not die in exile.

That is why neither he nor others like Hannible are tagged 'the Great', while others, such as Frederick who (proportionally) took on greater challenges, and perhaps 'merely' survived as Frederick did get the accolade.

He was an outstanding soldier who assembled a cast of other excellent soldiers around him. His military gifts and achievements are certainly up there with the best.

My own view is that he was a product of the Revolution and his successful survival of that particular epoch demonstrates that he was at least a good politician for the French, and the Code Napoleon is a lasting civil achievement that few others can boast of.

As others have noted though, he was lousy at international politics. It simply didn't matter how good a soldier he was, or how good he was for the majority of the French populace, if he couldn't achieve a lasting peace.

The lingering memories of the excesses of the Revolution are almost certainly a mark against him with the rest of Europe, not to mention a propaganda gift to his enemies. And seemingly his own need to accept only his solution to any given problem meant that it was unlikely he would have been accepted in his lifetime (assuming he dies in 1820 no matter what).

Sadly, merely being one of the great soldiers of history does't win you the accolade 'the great' if you die defeated and in exile though.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 6:12 p.m. PST

… merely being one of the great soldiers of history does't win you the accolade 'the great' if you die defeated and in exile though.

Then why is he and his military campaigns still being studied above and beyond any other commander during the period 1792-1815?

langobard Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 6:43 p.m. PST

@Brechtal: Napoleon and his campaigns are studied because he is one of histories great captains, and Napoleon is arguably the first of the modern great captains routinely commanding forces not merely of multiple divisions or corps, but of multiple armies in campaigns.

Hannibals campaigns and battles are similarly studied.

That doesn't alter the fact that both ended their military careers defeated and exiled, and neither has been granted the accolade of 'the Great'.

So, Napoleon: Great soldier, skilled French politician, utterly ineffective international statesman. The last comment pretty much undoes his achievements under the first comments and leaves us with the balance of a skilled French politician which isn't all that great.

Merely my 2cents worth.

Old Contemptibles Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 10:23 p.m. PST


Marc the plastics fan02 Oct 2016 11:42 p.m. PST

Hi Otto. Happy Christmas

Rivoli veteran03 Oct 2016 3:01 a.m. PST

Read 'Napoleon the great' by Andrew Roberts and you will understand what made this man one of greatest in history ,or better still download the audiobook ,all 38 hours of it ,yes 38 hours , very good to paint with.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 3:40 a.m. PST

That certainly would appear to be Andrew Robert's own assessment of himself.

1815Guy03 Oct 2016 6:04 a.m. PST

Les Bulletins.

"When the Legend is better than the truth, print the Legend"

Gazzola03 Oct 2016 7:18 a.m. PST

'Napoleon was thus not some nemesis-doomed monster, a modern exemplar of ancient Greek drama or any of the dozens of historical constructions that have been thrust upon him. Rather, Napoleon's life and career stand as a rebuke to determinist analyses of history which explain events in terms of vast impersonal forces and minimize the part played by individuals. We should find this uplifting, since, as George Home, that midshipman on board HMS Bellerophon, put it in his memoirs, 'He showed us what one little human creature like ourselves could accomplish in a span so short.'
Napoleon the Great? Yes, certainly.'
(page 814: Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 7:52 a.m. PST

The Bulletins were never intended as history, but as propaganda. Even then, there is much that is in them that is accurate-sort of like Marbot.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 8:58 a.m. PST

He was a lot better at winning wars than he was at winning the peace.

How do you 'win a 'peace' when the enemies that you have defeated are just waiting for a chance for another go?

Great Britain never wanted a lasting peace except on her terms, and Austria wanted revenge for her repeated defeats. Prussia wanted to be overlord of Germany and Russia had definite designs on Poland.

So, please explain your comment on 'winning a 'peace.'

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 9:55 a.m. PST

…utterly ineffective international statesman…

Creator of the Confederation of the Rhine, organized northern Italy into an effective kingdom under excellent administration, creator of the Duchy of Warsaw, architect of the Treaty of Tilsit.

That doesn't seem ineffective to me…

basileus6603 Oct 2016 11:26 a.m. PST

Creator of the Confederation of the Rhine

Which was effective only as an organization to provide the Grande Armee with a pool of trained soldiers at low cost.

organized northern Italy into an effective kingdom under excellent administration

Again, what he organized was an effective system of explotation of the Italian resources in favor of France's interests.

creator of the Duchy of Warsaw

See above

architect of the Treaty of Tilsit

Which put the basis for the conflict with Prussia and Russia.

That doesn't seem ineffective to me…

It does to me.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 1:35 p.m. PST

Longevity would seem to be one bench mark of effectiveness.

"He who builds his house on sand" and all that.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 2:19 p.m. PST

Winston, he would have cheated as a wargamer. We don't have many, but we certainly don't need more.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2016 6:01 p.m. PST

I recall reading in a long-forgotten source (long-forgotten for me, that is) that Napoleon's reputation as a soldier and a ruler was such that he didn't need to be referred to as 'the Great.'

While I cannot recall where I read it, I do remember that made a lot of sense to me at the time. I think I was in my first year of college and that was a long time ago.

Ottoathome03 Oct 2016 8:09 p.m. PST

Who asked him to Brechtel

Hitler created the Reichs protectorate of Poland, or whatever it was called. Occupied Northern France, and created the satellite states of Slovakai and several others others out of the rump of Checkoslovakia. Mostly in the same area of Europe. All of them were swept away once he was dumped down the garbage chute of history. Any low gangster can terrorize the neighborhood into paying him protection money. He simply organizes his crime, as Napoleon did. Call it respect, call it ability, call it ruthlessness. Call it what you want. It's crime. The local dry cleaner, or grocery store owner doesn't ask to be forced to pay protection money.

Garth in the Park03 Oct 2016 8:26 p.m. PST

I'll bet, though, that if you gave the local grocery store owner control of an absolute monarchy, he'd prove to be a right nasty b---ard.

Gazzola04 Oct 2016 5:07 a.m. PST


You mean like the British 'gangsters' at Copenhagen 1807. LOL

Ottoathome04 Oct 2016 5:32 a.m. PST


Copenhagen was a military action. Nelson did not change borders, unroot indigenous societies and organize people so they could be mulcted of everything they had for the benefit of a foreign power. It was a military action pure and simple. He did not attempt to change a peoples way of life to suit his own will.

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