Napoleon's attack on Egypt in 1798 was the first on a Middle Eastern country by a Western power in modern times. With 335 ships and 40,000 men, it was the largest long-distance seaborne force the world had ever seen. Napoleon's assault was intended to be much more than a colonial adventure, however, for he took with him over one hundred and fifty scientists, mathematicians, artists and writers - a 'Legion of Culture' - with a view to bringing Western civilization to 'backward' Egypt.
Ironically, what these intellectuals discovered in Egypt would transform our knowledge of Western civilization and form the basis of Egyptology. But there were also setbacks. Nelson's destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile apparently put an end to Napoleon's secret plans to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and invade India.
Napoleon was just twenty-eight when he invaded Egypt and it was an episode which contained in embryo many seminal events of his later career and set the standard for his brilliant, ambitious and ultimately disastrous career.