Napoleon was a colossal figure of nineteenth century Europe. He had an unfettered conviction in his own destiny and that of Europe. He paved the way for a very impressive modern European Empire. In doing so, he swept away much of the old feudal systems and customs of Europe. Napoleon helped to usher in a new era of European politics. He established a Napoleonic code of religious tolerance, rational values and a degree of liberalism. Yet, he was a man of paradoxes: his naked ambition led to costly wars with 6 million dead across Europe. His liberalism and tolerance was imposed with ruthless efficiency and conquest of foreign lands. Sri Aurobindo later summed up the paradox of Napoleon by saying, “Napoleon was the despotic defender of democracy.”
On July 1, 1798, Napoleon and his army traveled to the Middle East to undermine Great Britain's empire by occupying Egypt and disrupting English trade routes to India. His military campaign proved disastrous. On August 1, 1798, Admiral Horatio Nelson's fleet decimated Napoleon’s forces in the Battle of the Nile. Napoleon's image was greatly harmed by the loss, and in a show of newfound confidence against the commander, Britain, Austria, Russia and Turkey formed a new coalition against France. In the spring of 1799, French armies were defeated in Italy, forcing France to give up much of the peninsula. In October, Napoleon returned to France.