BMCR 2012.06.12

Histoire et archéologie méditerranéennes sous Napoléon III: actes du 21e colloque de la Villa Kérylos à Beaulieu-sur-Mer, les 8 and 9 octobre 2010. Cahiers de la Villa “Kérylos”, 22

, , , Histoire et archéologie méditerranéennes sous Napoléon III: actes du 21e colloque de la Villa Kérylos à Beaulieu-sur-Mer, les 8 and 9 octobre 2010. Cahiers de la Villa "Kérylos", 22. Paris: De Boccard, 2011. xvi, 275. ISBN 9782877542470. €40.00 (pb).


The result of a 2010 conference held at the Villa Kérylos (Beaulieu-sur-Mer) in celebration of the 150 th anniversary of the integration of the County of Nice with France, this volume brings together opening and closing remarks with thirteen individual contributions of various lengths, detail, and originality. Although the central theme of the gathering is described by Jean Leclant as Napoleon III’s passion for classical antiquity (p. viii), the essays range widely among the topics of politics, antiquarianism, and archaeology during the Second Empire. No doubt, most well known to potential readers of the volume is Napoleon III’s fascination with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, which manifested itself in his historical endeavors, the purchase of the Campana Collection, and the organization of excavations at Alise-Saint-Reine during his reign. Chapters in the volume also shed light however on Napoleon III’s support of the expansion of the institutional context for archaeological and historical studies of antiquity, including the creation of the Musée de Saint-Germain (1862) and the École pratique des hautes études (1868), and the reorganization of the École française d’Athènes (1846), to name a few (p. xi). The emperor also sponsored the scholarly missions of prominent specialists who traveled to Rome, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Romania, Egypt, Phoenicia, Algeria, and Mesopotamia.

The collection opens with three essays that address relations between France and the Italian peninsula, giving particular attention to the place of the Comte de Nice. The first piece by Gilles Pécout provides the general background of the 1860 cession of Nice (and simultaneously Savoy) by France following an agreement between Napoleon III and the Count of Cavour; it is largely a summary of the diplomatic, military, and legal machinations that made possible the controversial exchange of territory that brought about French acquiescence to the continuing consolidation of Italy. The second contribution, by Gilles Ferragu, contextualizes Napoleon III’s policies toward his allies in Italy in light of the long shadow of Napoleon I’s relationship with Rome and his own longstanding passion for classical antiquity (p. 28). Ferragu argues that, even after Napoleon III’s fall from power, the French viewed shared Latinity as an excuse for France’s favored diplomatic status with the Italians. During the Third Republic, the French employed their scientific and cultural presence – especially in Rome at the Académie de France, the École française, and the Vatican Archives – as an opportunity to engage diplomatically with the new state (p. 35). The third essay by Pascal Arnaud addresses the implications of the cession of Nice for archaeological practice in the newly created département of the Alpes-Maritimes, of which it became the capital. In this insightful assessment of the tensions that existed between French-leaning and more resolutely provincial societies in the decades following the annexation of the antiquities-rich region of Nice (p. 51), Arnaud draws attention to the politicization of the research and scholarly networks of regional learned societies.

The next three essays of the volume are dedicated largely to the domestic manifestations of Napoleon III’s interest in classical archaeology and history. In the first piece, André Laronde reconstructs the circle of scholars who assisted Napoleon III in his project on the Histoire de Jules César during the 1860s. Besides drawing attention to the place of well-known figures such as Alfred Maury and Henry-Adrien Prévost de Longpérier in these activities, Laronde documents in detail the nature of and reasons for the long-standing influence of Hortense Cornu, Victor Duruy, and Wilhelm Froehner who made it possible for Napoleon III to achieve success in his classical endeavors (p. 67). Gianpaolo Nadalini’s contribution on the Campana collection adds to our knowledge of the intricacies of the history of the collection of this vast archaeological assemblage in Rome by Giovanni Pietro Campana, and particularly the negotiations with Britain and Russia that preceded its acquisition by France in 1861.1 As rightly noted by Nadalini, the demise of the short-lived Musée Napoléon (1862) permanently enriched provincial museums across France, benefiting not only their curators and conservators but also the members of local learned societies who published research on these classical artifacts (p. 92). Yann Le Bohec’s essay on Napoleon III and Alésia revisits the excavations carried out between 1861 and 1865 at Alise-Sainte-Reine (Côte-d’Or) by Eugène Stoffel and his team of officers, engineers, and Parisian, local, and foreign scholars, and argues for the high standard of the undertaking for its day. More importantly, Le Bohec draws attention to the significant political capital gained by the emperor in focusing on a site of Roman as opposed to Gallic victory (such as Gergovie, which received considerably less attention at this time than it would under the Vichy regime) (p. 99).

In what might be characterized as the third thematic section of the volume, four contributors give attention to French overseas scholarly and especially archaeological ventures during the regime of Napoleon III. In the first of these pieces, Michel Sève briefly touches upon some of the activities of French scholars in northern Greece and Macedonia following the establishment of the École française d’Athènes in 1846. Aside from noting that these missions contributed to knowledge of Greece and the Louvre collections, he does not suggest the larger significance of French archaeological intervention in the northern Mediterranean. In his detailed documentation of the goals of Ernest Renan in his travels to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean in 1860 and 1861, the next piece in the volume, Christian Robin sheds light on the professional activities and personal travails of this enigmatic scholar as he searched for epigraphical evidence of the Phoenicians. Aided in this archaeological endeavor by the timely (and serendipitous) appearance of French troops in these regions, Renan harnessed their labor at an advantageous rate (p. 129). Although contemporaries cannot have considered the venture a success on most levels, since Renan found few significant antiquities and suffered the loss of his older sister Henriette (who had accompanied him on the trip and succumbed to malaria in October 1861), Robin argues that the mission allowed Renan important scholarly freedoms and prestige denied to him as an employee of the Bibliothèque nationale (p. 147). In the subsequent chapter, Pierre Morizot’s survey of Roman archaeology in Algeria between the eighteenth century and the Second Empire provides a useful review of French classical antiquities under Napoleon III but adds little new either in the way of documentation or interpretation of these activities.2 Finally, Nicolas Grimal’s piece on Auguste Mariette documents the French scholar’s meteoric rise to professional success at the forefront of Egyptian archaeology following his discovery of the Serapeum of Saqqara; unfortunately, the essay lacks direction and makes no further contribution to our understanding of Mariette’s role in securing France’s monopoly over archaeological activities in Egypt for decades.

Although the last three essays of the volume circle back to France and the reception of antiquities in France during the Second Empire, this part of the volume lacks the coherence of earlier sections. The first piece by Daniel Grange, the strongest of the group, focuses on the Exposition universelle of 1867 as a singular moment by which to understand the complex relationship of France to Egypt, both in terms of scholarly endeavors, from Napoleon I’s expedition and the establishment of the Institut d’Égypte (1798) to Auguste Mariette’s foundation of the Service of Egyptian Antiquities and what would become the Cairo Museum, as well as economic and technological ventures, especially Napoleon III’s orchestration of the construction of the Suez Canal (1859), which was inaugurated in 1869. The display of “French Egypt” at the 1867 exhibition thus highlighted to a broad public the alleged benefits of French intervention, which, although short-lived, influenced Egyptian dignitaries to embrace a program of modernization in Cairo and Alexandria (p. 202). The subsequent essay by Jean-Bernard de Vaivre exactingly documents the Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz’s gift of cannons to Napoleon III, who had a longstanding interest in collecting historical artillery. The exceptional war machines, which were then installed in the Musée d’artillerie (and are preserved today in the Musée d’armée), included twelve cannons made in France in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries for the use of the Knights Hospitaller on the island of Rhodes, prior to their defeat by the Ottomans. Finally, the impressionistic contribution by Roland Recht suggests the growing influence during the Second Empire of improved knowledge of medieval and Renaissance monuments, as evidenced by the creation of the Commission des Monuments historiques (1837) and the compilation of illustrated collections like the Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France (1820-1878) by Charles Nodier, Isidore-Justin-Séverin Taylor, and Alphonse de Cailleux. During the reign of Napoleon III, one first sees their impact on architectural creations and renovations in significant number.

As one might expect from a conference volume of essays, the various chapters contain some repeated information. This overlap is especially in evidence in the presentation of similar biographical information about central players in these historical developments, including Napoleon III, Hortense Cornu, and Auguste Mariette. However, this is a minor difficulty in comparison with the uneven nature of the contributions, with some providing original analysis and succinct conclusions, others summarizing fairly well-known information about the period with no new insight into these topics. All in all, despite these quibbles, this is an important and coherent collection of essays that provides a thoughtful and broad overview of the multiple facets of Napoleon III’s diplomatic involvement in domestic and Mediterranean affairs during his reign and the impact these efforts had on French study, acquisition, and exhibition of classical and medieval antiquities.


1. Curiously, the seminal work of Ève Gran-Aymerich on the fate of the Musée Napoléon III is not cited in the piece. Ève Gran-Aymerich, “Le Musée Napoléon III au Palais de l’industrie, miroir de la politique archéologique du Second Empire,” Bulletin de la Société historique de Compiègne 37 (2001): 29-47.

2. Much of the relevant secondary literature is absent from Morizot’s footnotes. It can be found, among other places, in: Patricia Lorcin, “Rome and France in Africa: Recovering Colonial Algeria’s Latin Past,” French Historical Studies 25.2 (2002): 295-329.