Everyone in civilization has heard of Napoleon, so this historical entry will skip over the boring bits and get right to the bloodletting.
Born in Corsica, Napoleone di Bounaparte (he later Frenchified his name) was a second lieutenant in the artillery regiment La Fere at the time of the French Revolution. Since France was soon at odds with every European monarchy, there were lots of chances for advancement. He distinguished himself by defeating Austria in Italy in a brilliant campaign culminating in the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797 AD), and then convinced the revolutionary government to strike at England by invading Egypt. But the political situation in France was unstable and Napoleon returned to Paris, giving himself the ultimate promotion in the coup of 18 Brumaire in which the French Directorate was overthrown. In 1804, he made himself emperor.
For the next decade, Napoleon I fought off the great and lesser powers of Europe – Austria, Prussia, Russia, England, Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sweden, Saxony and everyone else – in an attempt at security, for France and for himself. And beat down each coalition that was cobbled together among former enemies. His battles were legendary, his campaigns still studied by military men. His organizational skills and logistical innovations allowed the motivated French armies and their growing list of allies to take on all comers in all corners of Europe.
But even Napoleon couldn’t overcome attrition, and eventually his stubborn enemies – who just wouldn’t stay beaten – turned the tide. In Russia and in Spain, the French suffered losses in men and material that couldn’t be replaced. And the coalition allies even learned to cooperate, as at Leipzig in 1813 and at Waterloo in 1815. Even in defeat, so feared was Napoleon that the British imprisoned him on the remote isle of St. Helena, where he died in 1821 at the age of 51.