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In the year 1794, the sultan Selim III reigned over the Ottoman Empire. He was young, intelligent and determined to reform, to modernize, to reinforce his empire. Most of all, he wished to thoroughly reorganize his army, the famous ottoman army which had conquered one of the biggest empires of the planet but which was also full of decadence, in the midst of deliquescence. And so he contacted foreign powers. His ambassadors solicited European countries for officers who would train the ottoman army.

There was a public call for tenders. The Ottoman government received many applications, all carefully examined one by one by a Commission appointed for that purpose.

And so it is that the Commission received the application of a young French officer. The Terror had just ended, many officers and soldiers found themselves unemployed. The Commission investigated this young officer and gave the government a negative review. The young French candidate had been an enraged revolutionary, very close to Robespierre and could spread harmful and reprehensible ideas amongst the ranks of the ottoman army. And so the officer was turned down. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

In reality, he was not an enraged revolutionary, but had been very close to Robespierre’s brother and had more or less used him to further his career. He had hence been associated with Robespierre and, after the fall and death of the two brothers, had deemed preferable to put a bit of distance between himself and France, where the post-Terror witch-hunt was in full swing.

I found those facts in ottoman archives as I was doing research for my book “Sultana” and this anecdote fascinated me.

What would have happened if the ottoman government had accepted Napoleon Bonaparte? Would he have become one of the great generals of the Turkish army?

by Prince Michael of Greece