The Palestinian port city of Jaffa had been a critical port and military location since the Crusades. Jaffa was a ferocious battlefield when Napoleon invaded Egypt. The French army had a difficult time invading the fortress and executed reckless retribution and plunder in return.
Was it a retaliation of God? The French army faced a catastrophe. Bubonic plague swept through the region. This undermined the morale of the French army and Napoleon, who had felt defeat, pondered what to do. On March 7, 1799, Napoleon appeared at the pest house. Perhaps the soldiers were moved by his visit or resentful about his appearance. Soldiers staggered around Napoleon, and some tried to touch him.
Painter Antoine-Jean Gros captured this moment through painting. The officer behind Napoleon hides his mouth with a handkerchief, frightened at the thought of being infected by dying soldiers. Still, Napoleon continues to speak to the soldiers without any trace of anxiety. Of course, this moment is an imaginary one. It is not clear how Napoleon behaved in the hospital. When Napoleon gave up on invading Egypt, he issued a secret order to kill all the plague patients.
Napoleon ordered the scene to be painted before being crowned emperor in 1804. He intended to cover up his failure with propaganda. The painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David in which Napoleon is depicted in a red cape on a white horse as if to say “follow me” or “impossible is in the dictionary of fools” is far from what the real Napoleon was like. He was a genius of public propaganda. He knew what moved the people and used propaganda to move the hearts of people, even covering up failures. However, even such political tactics could not save Napoleon. Propaganda could be used to cover the eyes of the people, but tactics would not do to dominate the world.