Napoleon Didn’t Really Shoot Cannons at Egypt’s Pyramids

As Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” opens for Thanksgiving holiday viewing, scenes from the film’s trailers are making waves. That was especially true of a sensational depiction of French troops led by Joaquin Phoenix as the French emperor firing cannons at the pyramids of Giza.

“I don’t know if he did that,” Mr. Scott told The Times of London. “But it was a fast way of saying he took Egypt.”

There is no evidence that French invaders launched artillery at the pyramids, or that Napoleon’s troops shot the nose off the Sphinx, another piece of popular apocrypha (evidence suggests that the nose was chiseled off centuries before Napoleon’s time).

“From what we know, Napoleon held the Sphinx and the pyramids in high esteem and used them as a means of urging his troops to greater glory,” said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. “He definitely did not take pot shots at them.”

While creative license is expected in Hollywood biopics, Mr. Scott’s cinematic choices prompted memes, discussion and lighthearted dunking, including riffs about Napoleon battling mummies.

Some historians have criticized Mr. Scott, but many hope “Napoleon” will generate interest in the events that inspired the film. And while Napoleon didn’t literally hurl projectiles at the pyramids, his invasion of Egypt had a profound effect on Egyptian cultural heritage and how the world understands it today.

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