By early 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte, having been assigned
by the Directory (a ruling body of five corrupt politicians) the daunting task of planning the amphibious invasion of England,
came to the conclusion that such a task was presently impossible, and would be for many years -- at least until the Royal
Navy’s presence in the English Channel had been withered down. Instead, Bonaparte suggested to the Directory an alternate
invasion route: Egypt.
The desire to strike back at England was strong; having
somewhat organized the Second Coalition against France that same year, the country was a constant thorn in France’s
side. Securing Egypt would create a unique staging area for a further invasion into India, where France would be able to gain
valuable allies against England’s presence there, including the Tippoo Sultan among others. Napoleon was convinced
Egypt was the key to success in Asia, after all, both Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire secured Egypt as a step in
this direction. The Royal Navy’s fleet in the Mediterranean was very small, much of it tasked with keeping an
eye on the Spanish fleet. France would try to "secure" Mameluke-run Egypt for the Ottoman Empire. The Mamelukes
were slave-traders and had been oppressing the Egyptian people for nearly 500 years, its liberation would be hailed as a humanitarian
gesture through much of Europe. Above all, the Directory agreed because it would put the publicly popular Bonaparte far from
France, where he could overthrow them should the chance ever occur.
After some scrambling to build, pay for and man a full
invasion fleet, Bonaparte set sail on May 19, 1798. The combined fleet, sailing from several ports in southern France and
Italy, consisted of over 350 ships of various types including thirteen ships of the line and numerous transport vessels. Bonaparte
would bring with him 167 civilian scholars and scientists, Army of the Orient, a force of some 35,000 men, battle-hardened
from war with Austria, and a crack staff of general officers.
The convoy headed for Malta, where it could easily take
the island for a supply base. Afterwards, it was off to hit the shores of Egypt in early July.