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Napoleon's Empire - European Politics In Global Perspective


Due to new approaches on entangled, transfer and global histories, the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon has been subject to considerable changes during the last decades. Building upon older notions of an “Age of Revolutions,” the end of the Ancien Régime in France was put in the broader context of revolutionary movements across the Atlantic. Following this trend, the significance of the Napoleonic era is no longer confined to central Europe alone, but is examined as a transnational phenomenon with global repercussions. Rather than being viewed an abrupt onset of nationalism and western modernization, the decades around 1800 are now understood as part of a global and often war-driven transformation process. In its course, traditional forms of legitimacy made way for multiple modernities.

By reshaping global landscapes and refining state sovereignty, the Napoleonic Empire also played a crucial role in realigning international power structures on a worldwide scale. Far beyond its well-known modernizing impact on the domestic policy of the states of its “Inner Empire” in Central and Western Europe, the French expansionism contested or even shattered early modern empires in the Atlantic world, around the Mediterranean and across the Baltic Sea. When Napoleon died at St. Helena, the map of the western hemisphere had completely changed: Gone was the Spanish and Portuguese supremacy over South America, abandoned the 1000 year-old Holy Roman Empire. After giving up its western provinces and its prerogative over the German states, the Habsburg dynasty reinvented itself as head of an Austrian nation and tightened its grip on its eastern territories. In the south-eastern Mediterranean, Napoleon’s adventure in Egypt catalyzed centrifugal powers in the Ottoman Empire, helping Russia to evolve even more as superpower of the north. The map of Scandinavia was completely redrawn, and while the declining Dutch empire was increasingly confined to Indonesia, the restructuring of the area around the Baltic Sea set a final end to Danish great power ambitions, making space for Russia’s and Prussia’s geopolitical ambitions.

Whereas much of Napoleon’s politics can be understood as aiming at re-installing France’s colonial supremacy lost to Great Britain in the Seven Year’s War, he actually did not only strip France off her imperial possessions, but also induced the final downfall of other traditional sea powers. Ironically, Napoleon’s anti-British expansionism was crucial for Great Britain’s rise to world power in the nineteenth century. 

Thus, the volume “Napoleon’s Empire: European Politics in Global Perspective” aims at underlining the interconnections between regional and global developments in- and outside Europe. While taking a look at the changing faith of France’s European neighbor states, the essays also trace the redistribution of power in the major areas of imperial reconstruction: The Iberian Atlantic as well as the often neglected northern states around the Baltic Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

For the first time, essays on all countries affected by Napoleonic Imperialism are represented in one volume. 28 leading experts in the field inquire the impact of the Napoleonic era on more than 23 different countries and areas, thereby covering not only Central and Western Europe as is usually done, but also dealing with the Ibero-Atlantic Area, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe across the Baltic See and the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Ottoman Empire.


Ute Planert (ed.), Napoleon’s Empire: European Politics in Global Perspective, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2016.