The Napoleonic legend, the picture of a liberal conqueror spreading the French Revolution throughout Europe and of the quintessential Romantic man of action, was a potent factor in French history and helped make Napoleon's nephew French emperor as Napoleon III. Estimates of Napoleon's place in history differ widely. He was beyond doubt one of the greatest military leaders in history and dominated his times so completely that European history between 1800 and 1815 is commonly described as the Napoleonic era. But his legacy is mixed.
Napoleon promoted the growth of the modern state through his administrative and legal reforms, and his changes in the map of Europe stimulated movements for national unification. However, his use of such ruthless police chiefs as Joseph Fouché to suppress all opposition, if relatively mild by 20th-century standards, set an ominous precedent. More or less apocryphal sayings and anecdotes illustrating Napoleon's character and manners are as innumerable as the books written about him.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.