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Dominique Larrey and Bonaparte's Egypt Expedition


 André J. Fabre                     Octobre 2012              

Dominique Jean Larrey was a French military surgeon who participated in all the campaigns of Napoleon ..

 The rise of a brillat career

 An orphan since the age of 13, he started his medical studies in Toulouse where he brilliantly in 1786, a thesis on the "bone caries" but his ambition is to continue his studies in Paris where he arrived in 1787 after six weeks of grueling work. Thanks to an uncle doctor, he found support from a celebrated surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu, Pierre Joseph Desault.

In 1787, Larrey was appointed surgeon to the Royal Navy and in 1792, surgeon assistant surgeon in the army of the Rhine. He then took part in the Italian campaign with a devotion that draws him to the attention of Napoleon. Larrey was appointed chief surgeon of the Army of the East.

 Military surgeon In Egypt

 The French expedition to Egypt, from May 1798 to September 1801, will highlight the exceptional qualities of Larrey.

Excellent surgeon, he was able to amputate a limb in less than a minute. Technical requirement of a time when anesthesia did not exist.

He was a pioneer in providing assistance to the wounded on the battlefield, organizing "mobile ambulances" carrying stretchers ... a camel. During this time, he initiated the modern method of army surgery, field hospitals and the system of army ambulance corps. After seeing the speed with which the carriages of the French flying artillery maneuvered across the battlefields, Larrey adapted them as Flying Ambulances for rapid transport of the wounded and manned them with trained crews of drivers, corpsmen and litterbearers. Larrey also increased the mobility and improved the organization of field hospitals, effectively creating a forerunner of the modern MASH units. He established a rule for the triage of war casualties, treating the wounded according to the seriousness of their injuries and urgency of need for medical care, regardless of their rank or ns

 A precursor in tropical Medicine

 Larrey had to deal with many medical problems that beset the French soldiers, trachoma, hepatitis, yellow fever, tetanus and leprosy, cholera or syphilis ....

Particularly interesting is the description given by the dreaded Larrey parasites encountered in Egypt, especially filarial he called "elephantiasis" or "sarcocele" and the terrible hirudiniases swamps Egyptian

Larrey also proved during the Egyptian Campaign, a precursor of the methods that would overcome the hygienism next century. He attached great importance to the fight against climate effects of chronic malnutrition st: and he received the sacrifice of the French cavalry horses to provide enough meat-ration for soldiers

Larrey devoted himself particularly to the problems posed by the onset of scurvy in the expeditionary force. The long experience on board vessels ll'amena to treat soldiers by tamrarinades, prepared tamarind which is known to this high content of vitamin C.

Finally, an original contribution Larrey (maggot) is the use, in an era that was unaware of aseptic larvae of Diptera to disinfect wounds

Larrey has shown keen observer of Egyptian traditional medicine, particularly in the use of various spices, coffee and treacle where opium was in large part. He was even interested obstetric techniques, organizing lectures by midwives in the villages.

A large team of scientists, including Gaspard Monge, Berthollet Louis and Etienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire had participated in the Egyptian Campaign. Larrey brought a personal contribution with his comments on the relationship between Niles and the health of residents.

 Companion of Napoleon Great Battles

 On his return from Egypt, a brilliant career awaited him. He would participate as chief surgeon of the Grand Army in all the campaigns of Napoleon is on the battlefield of Wagram they pose given the title of Baron of the Empire

 A glorious achievement of life

 Once peace returned, Larrey became a member in 1820, by order of Louis XVIII, at the Royal Academy of Medicine: the majestic statue, white marble, is still present in the Great Hall of the Academy.

Napoleon said of him in his Memorial of St. Helena: "This is the most virtuous man I ever met. He left in my mind the idea of a truly good man. "

 Many other Physicians of the French Army of Egypt could be cited

René-Nicolas Dufriche, baron Desgenettes (1762-1837) Head Physician of the Armée d'Orient of BonaparteFamous for his refusal of euthanasy on the diseases d=soldiers in St John of Acre

Antoine Dubois (1756-1837)  Head of the 108 surgeons in Egypt Expédition, futue bsterician of Marie Louis

Claude Louis Berthollet  (1748-1822) a member of the physics and natural history section of the Institut d'Égypte. Lived from 1822 to his death in Biels

Jean-François Xavier Pugnet (1765-1846) Lazaret of Carmel. Lived from 1822 to his death in Biel in Switzrland


 The scientists and doctors who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt in 1798 undertook a survey that is one of the great intellectual achievements of the 19th century. It left a record of the health and wellbeing of the people, especialy in Cairo

In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt with an army of 55 000 men. With his army was a party of 300 men of science and letters whose objective was to record the culture of Egypt. The result was an extensive series of writings and engravings known as the Description de L’Égypte.1 Part of this great work was devoted to recording the health and wellbeing of the people of Egypt, as observed by Bonaparte’s surgeons and physicians. In this article we draw attention to some of their achievements.2

 An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists ("savants") assigned to the invading French force. Among its resultant discoveries was the Rosetta Stone. One of the scientists was Joseph Fourier, and while in Egypt he did some of the empirical work upon which his "analytical theory of heat" was founded. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Napoleon's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda obfuscating the true imperialist motives of the invasion.

In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Napoleon also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Mameluke oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam. This ended Napoleon's campaign in what some at home in France believed as a failure. However, Napoleon's reputation as a brilliant military commander remained intact despite his obvious failures during the campaign.

The history did not, up till now, underline the role of the Military Health Service. But it was tremendous, in spite of its poor facilities because its strong subordination to the omnipotent Supply Services Through the description of the conditions of the daily life of soldiers, the author reviews the measures which aimed at the protection of the troops against the usual troubles faced at by an army in the field at the end of the 18th Century: thirst and hunger, long marches with heavy equipment, affective isolation increased by the roughness of battles, diseases among with plague that caused heavy casualties. So, are reviewed in this framework many problems peculiar to that period of time: recruitment, uniforms, food, cantonments, spirits of the troops, personal hygiene as well as collective one; and consequently the measures taken by the French Military officers attached to that expedition to prevent some diseases and epidemics


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Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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