A Patriotic School: The Recruitment of the Italian Legion in France, 1799–1800

  • Katia Visconti
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


It is something of a commonplace to say that Napoleon Bonaparte played a decisive role in the transformation of the offensive war—launched by France in April 1792—from a truly revolutionary undertaking to one dominated by mere power politics. It is difficult to explain his extraordinary success, however, without recalling that Bonaparte consistently stressed the concept of a crusade—one that became less concerned with liberty over time and instead increasingly became a civilizing mission—in relation to his repeated military operations. He was never able to understand these as something wholly separate from the revolutionary aggression to which he owed all his fortune. His Italian excursions remain exemplary in this regard: From the very first campaign, he brought together the concepts of the venture’s subversive nature with its intent to enlighten the peninsula. In this context, at least on a formal level, he included full recognition of the principle of Italian nationalism and insistently promoted himself as a figure concerned with the establishment, through arms, of liberty. And, as is known, Bonaparte in fact would develop this particular political argument on the occasion of his second advance into Italy, when, with the Cisalpine Republic restored, he promoted its transformation into the Italian Republic, installing himself promptly as its president. At the same time, however, and this is equally well known, during the transformation of the First Cisalpine Republic into the Second, and thence into the Italian Republic, Bonaparte, by this time First Consul, reformulated the terms of the federative links between the revolutionary state and France.


French Government Italian Citizen Compulsory Military Service French Republic French Army 
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  1. 2.
    For a reconstruction of the climate that led to the constitution of the Italian Legion, see Anna Maria Rao, Esuli: L’immigrazione politica italiana in Francia (1792–1802) (Naples, 1992), 208–223, 264–275, 326–336; Bernard Gainot: ‘Aspects particuliers des relations militaires entre la France et la Péninsule italienne, 1796–1814’, Cahiers du Centre d’Etudes en Histoire de la Défense (Troisièmes rencontres franco-italiennes d’Histoire militaire) 2 (2006): 33–44Google Scholar

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© Katia Visconti 2013

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  • Katia Visconti

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