Napoleon’s lost treasure…

One of the things which continually boggles my mind is the amount of treasure Napoleon and the French forces looted from the countries they conquered.  This is looting on a scale not seen since, well, the Romans, if then. 

For example, when he invaded Malta in 1798, ostensibly to liberate the Maltese people from their traditional (read repressive) rulers, the Knights of St. John, within a week he had also ‘liberated’ seven million francs worth of treasures from island’s monasteries, churches and residences.  

Equally, so many valuables such as gold plate and personal jewelry had been ‘liberated’ that there was never enough time to take a full accounting. 

 A few short weeks later, when he left the island in order to ‘liberate’ Egypt from its Ottoman Turk overlords, the state treasury was emptied.  That’s right, totally emptied.  And at least half of it went into Napoleon’s own, er, purse.

In Egypt, he liberated as much treasure, ancient and modern, as he could find.  

But sadly, due to his abandoning his army just a year later, he didn’t have enough time to pack.  And when the British navy was brought in to repatriate the abandoned French troops, they (strangely) refused to allow the French to take all their stolen booty with them. 

And all this, after Napoleon had ‘liberated’ the treasures of Italy, including the iconic bronze horses from the facade of of San Marco in Venice…to adorn the Arch de Triomphe, of course.

Much of the artwork ended up for a while in the Louvre.  But in the post-1815 peace dealings, the French were forced to send back much of what they’d stolen.  Though many works still remain in French hands or had been ‘lost’ by the soldiers assigned to transporting them.

Now it transpires that Napoleon had similar plans for the wealth of Russia and particularly that of Moscow…but the weather may have prevented him from carting off all the goodies, which included jewelry, candles, paintings and even  the large cruciform bell from the heart of the Kremlin.  Two hundred wagons’ worth, one is led to understand.  

And, in a twist of irony, nearly 200 years since the crossing of the Nieman by Napoleon and his troops, a Russian historian, Aleksandr Serjoghin is saying that he knows where it’s hidden.  For allegedly, due to the, er, inclement weather, the French troops dug a vast pit and buried it–intending to return for it at a later date.  (Again, it would seems Napoleon left the packing late, just before he, er, abandoned his troops…) 

The Russian scholars start digging soon.  So soon, we’ll know…And how brilliant is that?

As for the rest…?  Well, one day, I shall take the time to add up the amount he pillaged from treasuries throughout Europe (if I can count that high) …much of which just, er, disappeared into his pocket. 

I guess it’s an expensive business being an emperor…

As a post script (28-viii-10), I feel I should add that according the Dominic Lieven’s fine Russia Against Napoleon, 1807-1815, most of what the French troops took or intended to take home from Russia, following their occupation and pillaging of Moscow, ended up in the Berezina.  Or scattered across the plains as the horses died from the cold in early November–without animals to pull the wagons, the treasures were simply abandoned.

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6 comments on “Napoleon’s lost treasure…

  1. Toby Neal says:

    Fascinating!
    You can read mine to learn about the eating habits of native cultures. LOL!

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Don’t laugh. I always read stuff about eating habits of places I have to write about. It teaches you so much. I admit, it was a bit tricky finding info on that about early 19th century rural Poland, but I stuck with it…

  2. Rudolf says:

    I have a metal detector (my daughters)… how much is a one -way ticket to Russia, and do you know enough to make it worth me kidnapping you on the way?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      The Russians are being suitably vague about where they’re digging for just this very reason…I’ve never wanted the stuff, you know, I just…well…I just want to gape I suppose.

      I think it would be interesting for the world to have to literally see just what a greedy thief Napoleon was…because that’s a whole aspect of his character that’s just swept under the carpet usually…

  3. Metal Detecting is a hobby for most, looking for that lost ring can be a parttime job for others, then a very few that treasure hunt do the research of our past and use that to find what has been lost…remember Mel Fisher? He did yrs of research, many yrs in the water, lost part of his family during the 16 yrs looking for what he believed was lost…he did succed.

  4. […] them flowing out of the city onto the roads to Kaluga, weighed down by packs stuffed with booty, dragging sledges piled high with pillage, wearing layers and layers of clothing they had stolen […]

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