Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, has become a worldwide cultural icon generally associated with tactical brilliance, ambition and political power. His distinctive features and costume have made him a very recognizable figure in popular culture.

He has been portrayed in many works of fiction, his depiction varying greatly with the author's perception of the historical character. In the 1927 film Napoleon, young general Bonaparte is portrayed as a heroic visionary. On the other hand, he has been occasionally reduced to a stock character, depicted as short and bossy, sometimes comically so. The historical accuracy of Napoleon being short is questionable, but he certainly was not as short as commonly depicted.


  • Napoleon is an important character in Tolstoy's classic novel, War and Peace, where considerable space is devoted to Tolstoy's interpretation of his historical role. He consequently also appears in the adaptations and films of this novel, listed in the following section.
  • Napoleon features prominently in the BBC Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventure World Game, where the Second Doctor must avert a plot to change history so that Napoleon is victorious. In an alternate timeline created by the assassination of the Duke of Wellington prior to Waterloo, Napoleon is persuaded to march on to Russia after the victory of Waterloo, but he dies shortly afterwards, his empire having become so overextended that the various countries collapse back into the separate nations they were before, thus degenerating into a state of perpetual warfare (Although this situation is made worse due to the intervention of the Doctor's old enemies the Players)

Film and televisionEdit

Note: the name immediately following the title of the film is the name of the actor portraying Napoleon

Music and songsEdit

  • The Tori Amos song "Josephine" from her 1999 album To Venus and Back is sung from the viewpoint of Napoleon during his unsuccessful invasion of Russia.
  • The Mark Knopfler song "Done with Bonaparte" from his 1996 album Golden Heart is sung from the viewpoint of a soldier in Napoleon's army. The song recalls the soldier's many battles serving in Napoleon's Grande Armee.
  • The Ani DiFranco song "Napoleon" satirizes the desire to continuously "conquer"; more specifically musicians who sign with big labels, thus employing "an army of suits" in order to "make a killing" rather than just "make a living".
  • Swedish Pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 with the song "Waterloo," which uses the battle as a metaphor for a person surrendering to love similar to how Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo.
  • The song "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay is loosely based on Napoleon's reign.
  • During the Napoleonic Wars, a nursery rhyme warned children that Bonaparte ravenously ate naughty people.[1]
  • Bright Eyes recorded a song called "Napoleon's Hat" for Lagniappe, an album released by Saddle Creek Records to raise funds for the Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
  • The Charlie Sexton song "Impressed" references Napoleon and Josephine (from Pictures for Pleasure)

Computer and Video GamesEdit

The campaigns of Napoleon have been depicted in the sixth installment of the Total War (series) series Napoleon: Total War. Player have a chance to follow Napoleon's Italian, Egyptian or Russian campaigns.

Other references in popular cultureEdit

  • Psychonauts, a video game developed by Double Fine Productions, features a level in which the player is to aid the future kin of Napoleon Bonaparte in a board game which was based on the battle of Waterloo.

Napoleon's heightEdit

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British propaganda of the time depicted Napoleon as of smaller than average height (see contemporary caricature right) and the image of him as a small man persists in modern Britain. His actual height was about 1.7m (5 feet 7 inches), average height for the time or slightly taller.[2] Confusion has sometimes arisen because of different values for the French inch (pouce) of the time (2.7 cm) and for the Imperial inch (2.54 cm).[3]

Napoleon's nickname of le petit caporal has added to the confusion, as some non-Francophones have mistakenly interpreted petit by its literal meaning of "small". In fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers. Petit ami and petite amie are French for "boyfriend" and "girlfriend", and mon petit chou ["my little cabbage"] is a term of affection.

Napoleon also surrounded himself with the soldiers of his elite guard, who were usually six feet or taller.

Whether truly short or not, Napoleon's name has been lent to the Napoleon complex, a colloquial term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people who are physically short. The term is used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.

Napoleonic delusions of grandeurEdit

Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most famous humans in the Western world. As delusional patients sometimes believe themselves to be an important or grandiose figure (see Delusion), he was a notable object of such delusions.

This idea has often been used in popular culture:

  • In the 1922 film Mixed Nuts, Stan Laurel plays a book salesman whose only volume for sale is a biography of Napoleon. When the character receives a blow to the head, he comes to believe that he is Napoleon and is subsequently admitted to a mental institution.[4]

This cliché has itself been parodied:

  • The award-winning video game Psychonauts features a mental patient locked in an obsessive mindgame with Napoleon, who is fighting for his mind.
  • In the Bugs Bunny film Napoleon Bunny Part, the actual Napoleon is dragged away by psychiatric attendants, who believe he is delusional.[5]
  • In The Emperor's New Clothes, Ian Holm plays Napoleon who stumbles into the grounds of an asylum and finds himself surrounded by other "Napoleons" - he cannot reveal his identity for fear of being grouped with the deluded.[6] Holm also played a less-than-serious Napoleon in the 1981 film Time Bandits.
  • The Discworld novel Making Money features a character who believes himself to be Lord Vetinari, imitating Vetinari's mannerisms and entertaining delusions of grandeur. It is later revealed that the local hospital has an entire ward for people with the same delusion, where they engage in competitions to determine who is the "real" Vetinari.
  • In a episode of cult 1960s British TV sci-fi show The Prisoner called The Girl Who Was Death, which unusually for the series was a light-hearted comedy tale parodying the spy thriller genre, the villain believed he was Napoleon and acted accordingly, at one point asking protagonist Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan): "Are you the Duke of Wellington?".


  1. "Bogeyman", "Period glossary", Retrieved 07-03-2007.
  2. Napoleon's height was put at just over 5 pieds 2 pouces by three French sources (his valet Constant, General Gourgaud, and Francesco Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy) which, using the French measurements of the time, equals around 1.69m. ("La taille de Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon Bonaparte's height)". 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2008-05-28. ) Two English sources (Andrew Darling and John Foster) put his height at around 5 ft 7 ins, equivalent, on the Imperial scale, to 1.70m. This would have made him around average height for a Frenchman of the time. ("La taille de Napoléon (Napoleon's height)". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-05-30.  "How tall was Napoleon?". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2005-12-18. ) Nonetheless, some historians have claimed Napoleon would have been measured with a British measure at his autopsy, since he was under British control at St Helena, implying the 5 ft 2 ins is an Imperial measure, equal to about 1.58 meters. On the other hand, Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon's personal physician, despised the English, considered their touch "polluting," and may never have used their yardstick to measure his emperor. (Antommarchi, F. G (1826). The Last Days of Napoleon: Memoirs of the Last Two Years of Napoleon's Exile. London: H.Colburn. pp. p157. Retrieved 2007-11-01. )
  3. "Weights and Measures". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  4. Garza, Janiss, Allmovie. "Mixed Nuts (1925)", Review Summary, The New York Times. Retrieved 09-25-2006.
  5. "Napoleon Bunny-part", Scripts, Delenea's Bugs Bunny Page. Retrieved 07-18-2007.
  6. French, Philip (The Observer). "The Emperor's New Clothes", The Guardian, 02-04-2004. Retrieved 07-19-2006.

fr:Légende napoléonienne

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