Tuesday, 7 December 2021

200 Years 200 Objects

J'étais soldat de Napoléon!, the latest publication from Éditions Soixante, is a beautifully produced, lavish publication to round off the Napoleonic bicentennial. This hard-cover book, with its a gorgeously tactile, pseudo-leather wrap, 255 pages—heavy, glossy-stock—of exquisite, full-colour photographs is a collectors' edition at an affordable price. I pre-ordered my copy in October and took delivery last week. I have been drooling over it ever since!

Organised into 13 thematic chapters, each page is a photograph of an item of uniform, arms, equipment or other fascinating object from the soldiers of Napoleon's Grande Armée. Presentation of these 200 objects is grouped according to 'Napoléon et Bonaparte', 'Officers généreaux',  'Aides de camp', 'Service de sante', 'Infanterie de la Garde impériale', 'Cavalerie de la Garde impériale', 'Armes savantes Gardes impériale' (covering artillery, engineers, train), 'Infanterie de ligne', 'Cavalerie de ligne', 'Armes savantes de ligne' (from artillery, sappers, engineers), 'Troupes étrangères et corps spéciaux', 'Marine' and 'Demi-solde' (covering keep-sakes, mementos, the King of Rome's toy soldiers).

Many of these items will be familiar to readers from photographs in other books, on websites, or perhaps visits to the museums and collections in which they are held. What makes this so marvellous is the vast array of items that are gathered into one publication but, most importantly, the quality of the photography.

The photographs are so clear that you feel that you can almost touch the items; the worn shoes with their hob-nail soles, the texture of the shako badge, the braid on the dolman or the plume on the helmet. You could put on the coat and cuirass or roll the dice!

It is truly like having a museum in your own house (hands).

Also, being in book form, brings the items so much closer than the same photographs on the web.

Just one of the photos of uniform items that are included; a dolman, pelisse and bicorne (shown on a separate page) of an officer of the light cavalry (from Musée de l'armée in Paris).

The items of uniform and equipment included in the book are numerous and truly magnificent, but it is some of the 'other items of interest' that really grabbed my attention on first looking through the book. The lottery for selecting conscripts, the dice used by soldiers in their games, the toy soldiers of the King of Rome and, a base representing 36 men, a planning piece used by Napoleon, at the camp of Boulogne in 1805, atop a map —the original Kriegsspiel!

Lottery to select conscripts. From Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Dice used by soldiers (from Ligny Museum).

Lead soldiers of the King of Rome. As the notes say, looking very much like tirailleurs of the guard in 1814-15 (from a private collection).

A block (base or unit in our terms!) representing 36 soldiers. As used by Napoleon in planning while at Boulogne. The inscription underneath, which is shown in a separate photo, reads 'This piece comes from a wargame made for Napoleon at the Camp of Boulogne and was used extensively to study manoeuvres' (my translation).

The text on each page briefly describes the object and then, in the first person, the object tells the reader a little about itself. Included (in the majority of cases, but unfortunately not all) is a note of the location/origin of the item. At the end of the book, a thematic table/glossary groups the items according to several categories: diverse souvenirs, awards and decorations, equipment of a soldier, items on campaign, kits and portfolios, boots and shoes, harness and saddlery, fanions and emblems, headress, portraits, drawings and prints, busts and statues, blade weapons, firearms, infantry equipment, cavalry equipment, badges, epaulettes, and, the largest category, uniforms.

This wonderful book has been nominated as the book of the month by la Fondation Napoléon. I am not surprised. It deserves to be book of the year.



    First impressions 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
    Presentation 10/10 (weighting 0.1)
    Content 10/10 (weighting 0.3)
    Supporting content—pictures, maps, appendices 10/10 (weighting 0.2)
    Sources 9/10 (weighting 0.2)—a few of these are missing
    Value for money 10/10 (weighting 0.1)

Total 9.8/10 rounds to 10!


Bourgeot, V and Aiolfi, X (2021) J'étais soldat de Napoléon! L'Esprit du Temps, Paris. 272 pp.