The invasion of Egypt in 1798 is a well-documented instance of Napoleon’s conscious mimicry of the founder of Alexandria. Less well explored is how Alexander was used by British politicians, pamphleteers and historians as a marker for Napoleon’s achievement and ‘greatness’, and also how the British cited him in an effort to understand the threat Bonaparte posed as their imperialist competitor in India or even as a potential conqueror of England. There had been a demand for ancient role models who displayed concern for the protection of society and the law, and for the promotion of the common good, which was manifest in a turn towards the heroes of republican Rome and democratic Athens in the eighteenth century. Concomitantly, Alexander’s reputation had been slandered by moralists and novelists, amongst whom Henry Fielding scorned his ‘virtues’ of ambition, pillage and murder. With the threat of Napoleon came a need to comprehend such ‘virtues’ and the achievements of a general unparalleled in recent times. The responses covered in this paper demonstrate how linking Alexander and Bonaparte was especially useful in conceptualising foreign policy and bolstering national self-esteem, but also how the ambivalence of their association made for tendentious, uncomfortable comparisons and revealed latent self-doubt. By suggesting Napoleon was another Alexander, for example, one could express moral indignation at his conquests, but also expose fear of his military genius and admit a certain admiration for his methods. The Napoleonic threat was significant in making Alexander a necessary, if not unproblematic, paradigm once more. After beating Bonaparte the British would start to appropriate Alexander for themselves.

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