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177: The Duellists with Alexander Mikaberidze

We’re going back to 1977 and Ridley Scott’s feature film directorial debut, The Duellists. The movie tells the tale of two soldiers in Napoleon’s army who duel with each other for over a decade. Historian and professor at Louisiana State University, Alexander Mikaberidze, returns to help us separate fact from fiction in the movie.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  01:54

Let’s start by setting up the who the two main characters that we see throughout the movie are Gabrielle Pharaoh and our Monty bear, who are both lieutenants in Napoleon’s army. Were they real people, kinda.


Alexander Mikaberidze  02:08

For his directorial debut, Ridley Scott chose to direct a screenplay adapted from the 1907 novella, rather famous author, Joseph Conrad. By the way the novel was published as the duel in Britain, but it was titled The point of honor United States and you can still find the first editions of it in use bookstores, in Congress story was supposedly inspired by this real duels, although he clearly took liberties with the facts. And the story was about the duel between two officers of Napoleonic army historical individuals of Pierre du monde, the town and Francois for Nia Salah visit who became Oba and Seiko in the movie, and both of them are very colorful and other interesting individuals. youporn was born in cheban s and shorthand in western France in 1765. Like many of his generation, he first saw his action in first military action during the French Revolutionary Wars. In fact, he fought that battle evolving really important battles of this period then he served in the Rhineland, and by 1797, he was already a general so he would have been only 32 years old and a general widely respected for his martial abilities. He supported Napoleon in 1799 when that general sees power to power and then he took part in Napoleonic campaigns and all his distinguishing himself I mean, he, this guy was quite successful and quite capable man for that Marengo for that Outback, where he did a really a remarkable defense with barely 5000 men he was able to stop and Austrian army that was five times larger. And then he earned accolades for his exploits with whom crams Greenland and so on and so on. And with such a stellar record, he had much to expect from the future. And maybe even marshaled about tone right as Napoleon famously says, Every soldier right in my army carries marshals baton if anyone could carry it, it’s probably a DuPont was one of them. But it all changed in 1808. Napoleon sent DuPont to Spain with a motley crew of of this provisional battalions, new new recruits and Swiss troops that were impressed into service and no one particularly excited and turbo fighting. And his task was to secure the southern region of Spain and after initial successes, and he found himself this surrounded by this larger Spanish Army. And in the remarkable decision that affected his entire life, DuPont decided to surrender with some 18,000 men and violin and the news of this French defeat and worse than that, they surrender right that shocked Europe. Napoleon is arrange dewpoint is sent to court martial. He is deprived of his rank and his title cashiered and then sent to a military installation into to be imprisoned there for the rest of the Napoleonic Wars. Now for near Salah visit his counterpart is one of the most dashing and colorful personalities in the French army. He’s much younger than DuPont. He is born in 1773 in a small town of salado in Dordogne region. And he, again like coupon enlisted during the French Revolutionary Wars fought like DuPont, in many of the same areas where DuPont was, but he had this problem with subordination constantly getting into trouble for talking back to the officers. he famously was, you know, challenging the authority of seniors. And he wasn’t, I mean, we still have a portrait of him is of average height, blue eyes, his thin mustache, well built upper body and a slim waist kind of dashing figure. But it is his character that really grabs you because it’s a full of contrast. He’s a womanizer, who is known for his fine singing voice. But he’s also this fierce warrior that challenges anyone for a slight install at least the perception of itself. And he expressed himself openly, always and very bluntly never shying away from publicly criticizing his superiors even Napoleon, whom he accused of betraying republican ideals on more than one occasion. In fact, in 1802, Napoleon’s minister of police famously raised these general famous for his in this quote, famous for his dexterity as the good shot, has publicly stated that he could shoot and kill Bonaparte from a distance of 50 paces. And so he was thrown in jail in and out but as a great officer, it was a brave officer, he also was allowed to continue to serve. And he made steadily made the ranks by 1807. He’s a Baron. And so here you see Napoleon on kinda knowing that this guy’s dangerous Jake is also valuing his employees skills and promoting him. So right in the 70s, a Baron by 1813, he’s actually count of empire and ultimately, for Nia dies in 1827. Now what makes for Nia interesting also is that he’s this notorious duelist, who was always ready to accept the challenge and that creates this aura around him and an aura of this masculinity, but also this very Trigger Happy kinda man. And that then creates this story of this long door. And this story, you know, is I was tracing is part of my research was trying to trace it, I could trace it to mid 19th century. And you can see it, for example, in publications like Charles Dickens, his household words, or Harper’s new monthly magazine, or living cards magazine. I think one of the crucial role in crafting This story was played by a French writer and Neil, column Bay, who have published a popular history of dueling. And in that book, he described various incidents and stories. But he devotes a significant chunk of his book to the story of this for Nia and DuPont. And the way Columbine describes it is that the duel starts in 1794. So the early French Revolutionary story, and he describes this as in as this kind of sensationalized headlines they’re doing the last 19 years right here. Thinking about grab your attention, right. And so it started in 1794, and then ends in 1813. And the story that column A portray describes is essentially the one that we see in the movie column even goes as far as producing this alleged agreement that the two men made on how to find the duel, and the movie shows that and I think Conrad would have encountered this story in one of these periodicals. Probably he read column based work because he was traveling in France right before writing this story in early 1900s. And then he then crafted this wonderful novel, which then inspired the movie, so no contemporary source acknowledges the story’s veracity. And it is only in hindsight that people then wrote about this story.


Dan LeFebvre  09:42

Well, you mentioned the the timeline, there were that wasn’t according to the movie. It starts in the year 1800 and strausberg. But kind of the nature of the movie and because it’s focusing on these two characters, it doesn’t really explain a lot of the bigger picture of what’s going on. Can you fill in some of the overall historic context of what was going on for Napoleon and his army at that time?


Alexander Mikaberidze  10:03

I think that’s what actually i love about this movie is that it is a war movie. But without large scale, right engagement. It focuses on this, like a micro history on the experience of these two men. And you’re right, it oftentimes it doesn’t provide you with a historical context, because then you follow the exploits of this demand. Through them, right, you use them see this story of Napoleonic Wars? Well, 1800s is an important year for Napoleon. But for Europe, as a whole, as your listeners probably remember that Napoleon came to power in November of 1799, through a coup, a military takeover of power in the in France. And that meant that in 1800, his position is still not insured. Right, he’s just month into the power, his authority is far from being consolidate. And most crucially, he still has to fight what we now call the War of the second coalition that pitted France against the new array of European powers, the most important of which was Austria, at least in 1800. And that summer in 1800, this summer of 1800, Napoleon led the second invasion of Italy, and in mid June defeated the Austrians and this famous battle of Marengo, but Napoleon’s victory overshadows the fact that it didn’t end the war, or that Italy was not actually the only theater of war that an even larger army was a French army was deployed in the Rhineland, right in the northern France on the border was Germany. And it was commanded by this talented French general john victo. Moscow, who also for the Austrians from April to July of 1800. So if we follow this movie’s timeline, then Figo and and bear would have been in moraz army and the French indeed defeat the Austrians at Stoke odds miscarry hostile, different battles. And then in July, there is an armistice. And the armistice allows the armies to rest and it continues through the rest of the summer and most of the fall, and it is only November that the hostilities will be resumed. Then Morrow sees the initiative out maneuvers the Austrians and defeats them at often within this huge battle, which forced the Austrians to sue for peace. Now, if we follow this opening, right scenes of the movie, you see the weather in the movie is kind of cold, right? You see that? Some of the the seconds of the dualist. Right, the officers they are wearing coats, and I think the scenery, the weather, this clothing all implies that the beginning is this fall of 1800, maybe during the armistice between the French and the Austrians, and before the war ends later that year.


Dan LeFebvre  12:54

Yeah, that fills in a lot of extra details of what’s going on. You mentioned earlier, the the personality of accepting the challenges and being dealing with duelists. there and in the movie. We see the reason why these duels start. And it seems to me it’s okay. As I was watching this, it just seemed like really, that’s really what’s going to kick us off. I mean, I’ll explain it real quick, in case you know, is you listening if you haven’t watched the movie in a while, but basically what happens is through it goes and he deals with the nephew of Strasburg’s mayor, and he wins that duel, but then the general orders his arrest since military men aren’t allowed to duel with civilians. So bear goes to arrest for and insults him in the process. Like that’s how he sees it. Right. And so immediately there’s this first duel between Pharaoh and who Baron and happens to leave for injured on top of the insult that he saw. So that kicks off this this duel that we see happening over the course of what some 15 years or so throughout the movie. And it just seemed like after I saw that, I was like really that’s that’s what’s gonna kick this off. Was that really the reason that would start all of this?


Alexander Mikaberidze  14:01

Yes. There are a lot of egos at stake. I have to say, the way obear behaves was not that particularly insulting. I think the mistake that he made if it was even a mistake was to present the the letter to Pharaoh publicly right at the at the reception right of that of that lady, I think that was Pharaoh was pissed off at. Now, granted, he might have been upset even if it was done right if you were had waited and done it as he was walking in the street. But here’s the thing, all of this, all of this can be boiled down to this notion of the point of honor, which was a very, very important concept in this early modern society, especially in the military society, such as you know, France or England or Germany. And then you see that most prevalent cause for dueling was this point of honor and then that Nirvana hides the little things that were perceived as being a slice on the honor. One of my favorite books is his dueling kind of handbook that was published right? About this time. And the full title is quite, quite a mouthful to pronounce. It’s the only appropriate guide through all the dueling and to get in all that and all that. But so let’s call it the dueling handbook. What made this book interesting is that it laid out essentially the ground rules and all this how it was done. And if we read through the second chapter of it, then you’ll see that it mentions various examples of why the duels were fought. So for example, it mentions that major dog, major Dawson, was challenged by another officer for merely asking him to take another cup. This is my cup man, dig the or the columnar Montgomery was killed in a duel over disagreement on what the dog would look like. or one contemporary observed that, in this quote, I have known a challenge sent to a person for going out of the room abruptly and leaving and men of honor in the midst of conversation. Leading the conversation. Yeah, don’t you dare to cut this this conversation? Oh, my favorite one is, again, some of these, of course, questions of veracity. But at least the contemporaries believed that was this was a good enough reason to challenge was the popular story of a gentleman who shot his adversary, in consequence of mistaking anchovies for capers. And look inside many examples like this. In the by the ritual of duel, private resentments were lifted above this merely personal level of revenge, the competence or the dualist honor merged into that of a class to which both and his rival belonged into which they were kind of making this joint obesogens. Right, it was a corporate kind of honor that all of these members, they, because both obear and Pharaoh are kind of members of the corporate militarized cast, and they are behaving to uphold this honor. And then the movie shows you that well, because it’s not just about their individual honors, it also then becomes regimental honors. Right, and now it’s the honor of the entire regiment that stake that if you back down that your fellow comrades will be pissed off. And so you see the complexity of of it. So even though it might start it might start over an issue that too much looks asinine, and ridiculous is the the larger points of honor individual honor group on our corporate honor the class on our kinda constructs, all plus play the role in preventing this man from backing down.


Dan LeFebvre  18:06

You’re talking about the handbook. And I wanted to ask you about this, because the movie sets up some rules for the way that duels are supposed to happen. And some of those that we see soldiers have equal rank. And that’s the, that’s the only types of duels that are going to be tolerated. No dueling while the nation is at war, or they both must agree to the weapon of the duel. And there’s always you mentioned the seconds, there’s always someone there that must be besides the duel, and I’m assuming that that’s to kind of make sure that the rules are going to be followed. There’s one instance where in one of the duels I think they just grabbed some random guy who was nearby, you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be soldiers or anything, right? How well does the movie do explaining the rules around duels and how they take place?


Alexander Mikaberidze  18:50

I think overall, he does a good job of conveying both the essence of dueling and but also the, the ritualistic nature of it, the primary duty of seconds, right so to to explain to duel involves the primary, right the combatants themselves, that people who have some issues of honor to resolve, and then they have seconds, each of them must have seconds. And usually, these seconds would be very well, you know, kind of carefully chosen. And you’ll see in a second why the primary duty of seconds was to guarantee fair play an equal chance for both of their men. And they did that by agreeing on specific time, plays weapons procedure that would have been fair to both sides, and also by seeing to it that no illicit advantage was taken by one side over the other. So think about I think the movie shows where they check the weapons right so that the source had to be the same length pistols had to be given the same charge of powder. You know, things like sun must not be in the either man’s eyes, right. And the very existence of seconds implies that in earlier times, if there were no seconds no scrutineers like them, there would have been the widespread irregularities, right? So one side screwing the other. In it’s costing days, toilets classic sense. The duel was a secluded kind of affair. It was a private affair taking place in a secluded place with few spectators. This was not something that you would show off. Now partly, this was to avoid police interference and all governments took measures to suppress dueling. Think about the fate you know the the great story of Alexander Dumas, muskie, musketeers, and originally his restrictions on dueling and to Napoleon himself right past, you know, castigating and indeed, persecuting people engaged in dueling because this was a waste of life, really, a waste of resources, human resources, the government tried to restrict it. And therefore, you know, this dueling usually took place in a secluded area to avoid police interference. But it was also kind of conveying a reflection of of the code of behavior this honor code that you didn’t need to have people to protect, Your Honor. Right, you just need the other guy who slighted Your Honor, and you will deal with him. It was in also irresponsibility of the seconds to be ready. And that’s important one, to be ready to testify to what happened both in public when you know, later on, people ask you, Hey, you know, Dan, and Alex for the duo. What happened? Well, if I have a second, he will, as a witness be able to say we as a father duel, and, you know, then, indeed events this slide, to show that it was honorably done. But it was also the our job to prepare accounts for any court proceedings that might result from the dueling. So then it’s very important. For example, it’s better that it’s especially important when the important individuals are involved. This brings to mind a duel that took place later on in 1854. But still, a duel that involves French ambassador and American ambassador in Madrid, the duel was taking place over a French ambassador, they were at the ball. And the French ambassador made a sarcastic remark about a woman. And fortunately for him, it was overheard. And so he was challenged to a duel by American ambassador. And then the British ambassador was actually forced to be in a second. And he actually drew an account to be forwarded to individual governments. Now, fortunately, not none of the men die. The second is agents of their principles, had the distinct kind of role of lawyers and lawyers in both negotiating the ground rules, lawyers as representing the side’s lawyers as defending the honor and the perception of the dualists. Opposed, duel. So choosing them was very important process, you wouldn’t just choose anybody. And that’s where I think the movie just takes a little bit of a license where they just grab somebody, right? You will do it. But that will be an extreme case, last resort. Otherwise, you will pay attention. Who is your second, I can only imagine how many wars might have started from duels between diplomats. And I’ll tell you that the Russian Emperor Paul, who is actually in power in 1800, when the movie starts, Paul famously sends out the appeal saying that, hey, instead of a country’s fighting the wars, why don’t they have those states get together and slug it out?


Dan LeFebvre  23:45

I bet the heads of state didn’t like that, they prefer sending everybody else to war.


Dan LeFebvre  23:58

In the movie, even though there are rules to dueling, we noticed that not all the duels between Feraud and d’Hubert, are as civil as the others. For example, I appoint one of them out that we see in the movie, it’s an 1801 and osburgh. There’s, I think it was the third duel, and the two are dueling in a cellar you get both of them are exhausted, they’re extremely bloody. And it’s the first time that it really looks like they’re just out to kill each other no matter what it takes. And they might have if the soldiers that were second in the room, I hadn’t stepped in to stop the fight. And of course, as I was watching us, I was like, Okay, well, these people are actually watching the fight the entire time, so they let them get to that point of being that bloody and exhausted. So at what point did these duels turn from what looks more like a gentleman’s duel into this desire to just kill the other guy at all costs?


Alexander Mikaberidze  24:49

I think it’d be dependent on the on the men themselves. In most cases, the duels would have been over with a the first kind of drop of blood, but that’s it. You satisfy your point of honor and you exactly the revenge. But in so in other cases, indeed, you know, one side would have insisted on continuing the fight. And there of course, then the seconds would have played an important role of interfering of of making sure that convincing the size that hey, that’s it, it’s resolved, you should be satisfied. But yes, I mean, there were occasions when they fought all out to death. And I think that seen the duel in Oxford is quite, to me, it is quite interesting how it was done, because it shows you the, I think, the more realistic kind of side of this fight that these guys are not just like in the old Hollywood movies, right? You’re fleeing and all that when they’re fencing for an hour. Still kind of agile and excited. A couple minutes into the fight, they already exhausted right there swinging, barely sort of the saber, and you see how tired really exhausted there? And I like that a realistic portrayal of it. But to go back to your question, it all will depend on particulars of a duel. Some of them were indeed and will bloody airfares than others. Overall, looking at dueling at the time, was it more common for those duels to turn into one person killing each other? Or was it more common to have that you know, just drawing first blood and have it be more of a superficial thing, the killing was would have been more of a rare occurrence. And then the severe injuries or would have been a more common outcome of a duel. The interesting thing about dueling is that even though in the movie it is mostly done with sabers, and it’s only towards the end that they use the pistols during this period, the choice of weapon would have been a crucial decision to make. And I know that you know there are so if you read the contemporary writings, you see that, for example, that French were considered more skilled at the Sabre. And so if you’re choosing to fight a French officer or whoever, maybe you would not have chosen right, if you are not, if you are Spaniard, or Italian or whoever, right, you will have chosen a weapon of your benefit. And then that then would have also determined to what extent the bloodedness of the battle. So, with a pistol, you essentially have a shot. And with a shot, you potentially can kill a person, right, and certainly a lot of them would have been killed. But in most cases, you would have injured the person grievously. And when the saber, I think the the outcome could be deadly, if that makes sense.


Dan LeFebvre  24:58

It makes it but you’re talking about how it might be beneficial. Like if you’re an Italian Fighting, fighting a Frenchman to not choose saber. Wouldn’t they have to both agree on what weapon was used?


Alexander Mikaberidze  27:50

Yes. So it would still have haggling back and forth. Again, seconds would play the role and essentially making sure that whatever weapon is chosen is fair to both sides.


Dan LeFebvre  28:06

Okay, I was gonna say cuz it seems like they’re not getting along to begin with. And now they have to agree on this thing that they’re not could agree on.


Alexander Mikaberidze  28:13

The honor things, because if you keep resisting then my offer of saber. I’m gonna question your honor again.


Dan LeFebvre  28:21

Okay, that makes sense. And there’s another point in the movie that I wanted to ask about the kind of the historical context there. Throughout most of the movie, the fact that the two men are soldiers, it almost seems like a backdrop to the story of their duels. But one of the first times that we see for a new bear in the army facing an enemy other than each other is in Russia in the year 1812. It’s freezing cold there. The two men separate themselves from the rest of the soldier and they go off to duel yet again. But when they do a group of caustics, stumble upon them, and then the two duelists have to team up together to fight off this group of caustics. Can you give some more historical context around what was going on there?


Alexander Mikaberidze  29:07

The scene, as you said, is taking place in 1812. And in June of that year, late June, Napoleon leads one of the largest armies the Europe has seen on this all out invasion of Russia, and the campaign, it lasts only six months, and yet it is one of the greatest military catastrophes. And Napoleon was able to push the Russian armies back. He captures major Russian towns, including small lens, Moscow, but ultimately he’s unable to defeat Russians in the field. And in all our battle, right, the Battle of Borodino in September on September 7, of 1812 is indecisive. Both sides claim victory. And so Napoleon in October is forced to retreat. He can simply stay there he already stayed there to spend more than that. month in Moscow amidst the ruins of the burned out city in realizes the peace is not coming Russians are still willing to fight on. So he has no choice but to order the army to retreat. And there’s the French army retreats, the Russian army pursues it and starts essentially nibbling and nipping at his heels and attacking it. So we see the series of important battles that take place at Malia slovis. At the asthma at crasner, on the outskirts of Smolensk. And then you see this big show down on the on the banks of the berezina River in November. And that’s rather famous battle, because here, Russians had an opportunity to entrap Napoleon, with three armies converging one from the east, one from the west and one from the north, essentially capturing this army on the banks of this river and maybe wiping it out capturing Napoleon killing him whatever history would have been quite different. But through a combination of Russian own incompetence, misinformation, as well as Napoleon and his armies brilliance, the French army escapes. And so I think what you see in the movie is effectively the, the last stage of this invasion. Because until then, until then, the winter was not that cold. I mean, we imagined right the rot in Napoleon’s invasion in Russia is being called almost through the entire campaign. He went, it was called he came out it was God. But actually, the October and November, we’re not that cold. In fact, one of the reasons when Russians were in position of being able to interact Napoleon on the banks of betters in the river, was the thought in November that made that broke up ice on the river. And it was a challenge for the French to cross the river. But it is after this event, so it takes place in late November, November 26, to 29th. So after that event that really the winter sets in, and that thing the movie shows you that more of a December period when you see this Blizzard and cold and misery. And that’s also the moment when the army factory disintegrates. And that’s what you see in the scene, where there is no Regiment, right? There is no unit cohesion. This is individual soldiers trying to survive and fight off. And one of the books that published is the is the eyewitness accounts from this campaign. And I think let me just give you a glimpse of what Russians saw as they were attacking right there. You know, the movie shows you the French side, but this is what the Russians so it’s a it’s a small excerpt from Russian soldier Rafael Soto who describes the following. And let me read it out. We marched along the wooded area, the snow was firm and shallow. So we took advantage of a clear weather to wear off the main road occasionally, and travel along the edges of the forest. When we encountered dozens of frozen French corpses, lying and heaps in every direction. This terrible sites had become so ordinary to us that we no longer paid any attention to them. As I was traveling one day, I suddenly noticed the creature lurking inside the woods, curious, went to check and saw a weird creature kneeling and leaning into the pine tree. It was dressed in the most grotesque cloth head covered with a woman’s hand warmer mufe that was tied with a cloth, a traditional Russian body warmer hanging from his shoulders. The rest of the clothing was in rags, and so torn and see through that there was no doubt about the owners gender, only the tops of his boots survived. And his feet were wrapped in a straw through which I could see his bare toes. This half human was holding a small crucifix, staring it with his clouded, emotionless eyes. I think the movie right this shows you that kind of experience when there is no uniform that this man Where is just rags misery, and just really the the only thing on their mind is survival.


Dan LeFebvre  34:11

Wow, yeah, that hearing that from the other side, too. It puts that into perspective, I get where he’s saying it’s become commonplace. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.


Dan LeFebvre  34:22

Earlier, we talked about one of the rules that the two duelists have to be of equal rank. And in the movie, they both Pharaoh and poohbear start off as lieutenants but throughout the movie, they get promoted to captain major Colonel General enough. So yeah, that same time that they’re able to continue these duels over the years. Was it a common occurrence in Napoleon’s army for soldiers to rise through the ranks that much? Or were the promotions that we see in the movie of the to do list more of an anomaly?


Alexander Mikaberidze  34:55

No, actually, the differential army causing it, you know, because of the impact of revolution. And this removal, the qualifying restrictions on for example, they say, you know, you have to be unable to advance or, you know, simply giving you the advancement for the, you know, years of service, because of the restructuring that the French army experience, you do see a rapid rise through the ranks, and especially during the Revolutionary period, and then the fact that Napoleonic period had significant stretches of a war for you know, 1805, the Worf, third coalition 1806 1807, the war fourth coalition, and then you have started a six year long war in Spain, at the same time, you have a war fifth coalition in 1809. Because of this stretches of warfare, you have opportunities to distinguish yourself. And as I mentioned, I mean, DuPont is rising steadily in both in 14 years, right, rising steadily through the ranks, because they have ample opportunity to distinguish themselves. So you can intervene in a battle, right charge where the head of the of your unit and earn a promotion to a major and then another battle, and maybe a few months later, right, you do something extraordinary. And again, you’re recognized for it, and that fluidity, then fast track for people who are brave people who were smart, dedicated, was a hallmark of the French army. So it’s not surprising that, you know, the movie shows them advancing through the ranks so quickly.


Dan LeFebvre  36:35

Okay. Yeah, I was curious about that, because that did strike me as perhaps it would be a little bit odd to have soldiers rising through the ranks that quickly or that that much, you know, it’d be like at the end of the war, you’re gonna end up with everybody being generals.


Alexander Mikaberidze  36:49

Fortunately, generals die, too.


Dan LeFebvre  36:53

That’s true. That’s true.


Alexander Mikaberidze  36:56

Think about the Battle of Borodino in September of 1812, is oftentimes known as the Battle of generals, because dozens of them are shot guilds name. All that in vacancy. vicious, then you get an RNA and a willing officers underneath him. Yeah,


Dan LeFebvre  37:15

I guess that is does bring up a good point of just the warfare being different than rat, you know, rather than we think, you know, these, especially these days, even, you know, fighting a lot of wars where you’re not the generals aren’t necessarily the boots on the ground.


Alexander Mikaberidze  37:27

And I think that’s actually one of the things is that why the army oftentimes clamors right for military kind of service, they are more war because at the time of war, and I’m talking about the early modern kind of period. You see that both in France and Russia, there is eagerness among the military officers to cease war. I mean, they know it’s brutal. They know that the threat of it but they also know that it gives them a chance, a chance of glory, chances promotion of a better social standing, and they are eager to seize those opportunities.


Dan LeFebvre  38:04

After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in the movie, General fro is one of the bonapartist who is rested and set to be an example and be executed. Did that sort of thing happen after Napoleon’s defeat?


Alexander Mikaberidze  38:17

Yes, it did. And in fact, historians refer to it as the second why terror falling upon his defeat, and the return of the borbone dynasty right King Louis 18th is restored on the throne of France. People suspected of having ties with Napoleonic authorities or peoples are associated with a revolutionary era all suffered some kind of repercussions, arrests, or wars. We know that about 70,000. officials were dismissed from their positions in the aftermath of Waterloo. The army was purged, and dozens and dozens of senior officers were shared more than this, Marshal Michel name, the bravest of the brave men, who in many respects represented the French army at this is going to ask the players right it’s the man who wrote came from Russia shrouded this bar of bravery and gallantry Well, he is detained, charged with treason, convicted and executed, as was General Charles Angelica who share the love By the way, in a decamp to the Emperor Napoleon, who was also after Waterloo, detained and sent to a hastily convened court martial, convicted and shot in August. By the way, Napoleon later on left money to leverage away children in his last will. A month later in September, two brothers, Constantine and says are the first Shay, who distinguished themselves during revolution earn generals epaulets fighting the royalist will also detained, charged with subversion and support from Napoleon and shot on September 12. Actually, both of them shot at the same time. Moreover, the Royal his crowds were eager to settle scores with his supporters with the previous regime. And there are hundreds of cases of mob lynchings of Napoleonic loyalists in the south of France, for example, in my say, over a dozen of Mamelukes, you know, the soldiers of Napoleon’s mamluk Squadron were massacred by the mob. On August 2. Marshall of friends, get your money on boom, was murdered in cold blood in Avignon and his body was dumped in the wrong River. Though it was later recovered. Two weeks later, General john d. vermell. was assassinated in dade in broad daylight into news with a city’s mayor refusing to sanction the investigation of these murder or the prosecution of the man responsible for these vile deeds. Overall, therefore, it creates this aura of suspicion and sanction of attacking prosecuting or doing something events people associated with Napoleonic era and especially right if you follow this movie’s setup, if you are a general who is as pro Napoleon as fit all right, diehard bonapartist then you would have been a target right away.


Dan LeFebvre  41:27

It sounds like some of those people were higher level so it would be using an EMS as an example. So these characters in the movie, you know, being generals certainly could be doing it pretty much. Just make an example of them.


Alexander Mikaberidze  41:40

Exactly. I mean, I live in Louisiana, and Louisiana is a good place to talk about this because many of these generals manual this officers who watch what happened to navy and Bruin and others, pack their things and came to Louisiana. If your listeners live in, in Alabama, Louisiana, they would definitely can travel and see places like Marengo county in Alabama, which is named after the great battle of Marengo established by the French officers or in Louisiana, they can drive through the city of Jena, Louisiana, although it should be pronounced Yana, also named after the great battle against the Prussians. So many other people simply fled and came here and then waited out. Quite a few have ever returned later on in, you know, 1820s when they haven’t come


Dan LeFebvre  42:31

back in the movie, the way that these duels and there’s one final duel between Ferraro and obear and it takes place on who bears property. And although the movie doesn’t really stay the year we know that it happened after Napoleon’s defeat that was being 1815. So sometime after that, for this duel, instead of sabers, the men are given two pistols. And we see for fires both of his shots probably too too quickly fires both of them first. And then new bear has one shot left and he has for Darius. He can kill him if he wants to. But he doesn’t. Instead he says, Well simply declare that Pro is dead, right? Is that how the dueling between these two men really came to an end?


Alexander Mikaberidze  43:12

Or at least that’s how Carmen de Mille Colombia described it in his book on how it was perceived by the contemporaries, at least how they believed it happened. And I think what made this duel unique and why I think it also grabbed the attention Was that it? It usually the the, the dueling with pistols was done at a certain interval. And then the seconds would determine whether it’s 12 paces or 25 or 12, right. But it would be two men standing right back to back they will count those paces turned around, and they will shoot one at a time. Now the story about this duel I think that we know why grabbed it is because it allows this man supposedly to scatter in the wooded area right at hand. each other is a primal, right where you’re hunting your opponent. For the filmmaking purpose, I think it creates this kind of tension where you don’t know what exactly will happen and who will get and how and, and Pharaoh indeed, as you say, right? He rushes but he’s awesome with a saber. But clearly with a pistol, he’s a bit too trigger happy. So he fires both shots. And then that gives obear an opportunity to save his shot. Because by saving this shot, right, he effectively owns Pharaoh’s life, since he can always right have that opportunity to shoot him. I love that ending where he comes back home, right and he it actually tells his wife Yes, it’s all over Pharaoh’s essentially dead. And that scene. That scene the last car is the last scene of the movie with Pharaoh goes on climbs on top of it. Mountain Magnum. I’m being generous to that way alifair Hill and the lugs down this opening this stuff. And he’s wearing this uniform, right with a gray overcoat and this Napoleonic hat. And he’s the Ridley Scott just sets it perfectly with his zooms out and select Napoleon himself. Right. Pharaoh has become the opponent this downcast kind of tragic figure who stands on the hill, it looks down on the valley below. I get I get goosebumps just okay.


Dan LeFebvre  45:33

It was a beaut, yeah, it was a beautiful scene at the at the end there to kind of give a kind of an overview summary of the duals that we see throughout the movie that spans 15 years. First one is in Strasburg and 1800. There are two and Oxburgh in 1801. And then the next one is in Lubbock in 1806, followed by the one in Russia, we talked about an 1812 and then another one in tours in 1814. And then the seventh and final duel that we talked about happening sometime after Napoleon’s defeat and Waterloo in 1850. They don’t really mention the actual year in the movie, is that a pretty accurate summary of the duels between these two men over the course of the year?


Alexander Mikaberidze  46:14

If we follow a meal Coinbase timeline, then no. And then it says that the timeline should start earlier, right in 1794. And then the last a bit longer to 1813. We again, the details are missing. So we don’t know exactly how many duels were fought whether they were indeed fighting in Lubich in 1806. But if you follow this reasoning, and if you believe that, you know, they lay down that pack that unless there are military, you know, military responsibilities aside, they could, they should have no excuse not to fight. And that if they’re within 90 miles of each other 90 miles a distance. But if they’re actually 90 miles, they have to travel half of a distance to meet each other. So if you follow that kind of, we take it at face value, then I think they would have had ample opportunity to see each other. Except, of course, the problems with for example, DuPont carrier, right? I think it’s more believable if DuPont and 40 and 40 each other in reality in earlier years during the Revolutionary Wars, rather than a post 1808 period, because eight plus eight, you know, eight, DuPont is in prison. And then when he comes out of prison, of course, he’s already on the other side. He’s in the borbone employed. So the timeline wise, I think we have to shift it to earlier period. And then the number of duels will have to we’ll you know, we’ll have to be determined. But clearly the contemporaries, or at least the, the generation removed from it believed that this was, indeed, what happened, that there was a fault, a series of duels, that it lasted a long period of time, long enough to impress the the contemporaries that this was a unique affair.


Dan LeFebvre  48:02

Overall, how do you feel that the movie did capturing just the essence of the story throughout the entire thing,


Alexander Mikaberidze  48:09

this is one of my favorite movies. And I love what Ridley Scott did in terms of eye for detail of uniforms, conversation interaction, by not focusing on a broader picture by not giving us the charges, like the previous movie that we’ve discussed blonder cheeks, right Waterloo, the mass scenes of 10 1000s of right of soldiers, none of that is in this movie. Instead, the story is about this handful of men, Pharaoh in your bare there seconds, the unit cohesion, right is the perception of honor, you get a sense of what it was like on a local level, right? what it was like to be in the unit, and be an officer and be engaged in these interactions. And I love it. And as I said one of my favorite movies.


Dan LeFebvre  48:55

Thank you so much for coming on the chat about the dualist your most recent book, it’s called the Napoleonic wars in global history. But you’ve written a number of fantastic books about the Napoleonic era. For someone listening who wants to learn more about that era. Can you give an overview of your books and maybe a recommendation for which one to start with?


Alexander Mikaberidze  49:12

Thank you, you know, I’ve explored the full panic worse and for so many years now, one of the books that your listeners might find interesting is the book on the Battle of the Buddha, Xena is very tragic about another kind of heroic event that becomes one of the myths kind of of the poliana wars. The word berezina becomes these associated with a catastrophe. And it still is oftentimes, you know, sometimes used in the French conversation. But I also have a separate book on the eyewitness accounts of 1814. Essentially the last campaign that ends Napoleonic Wars, we’re not going to come and watch a movie. And the reason I mentioned in this book is because it’s in that book, you see what happens at the end of Napoleonic Wars when the French are defeated the Allies end Paris. And there are so many interactions between the two sides that have been engaged in this protracted conflict with each other. In the contemporary newspapers all talked about constant dueling that was taking place between the two sides in one of the newspaper landmines, that there are numerous daily engagement in Paris. In one case, this newspaper mentioned that there was a mass showdown of over 100 officers from the French and the German sides. Just slogging it out right? There’s all the frustration and emotion and I love reading this kind of contemporary content and sharing it with them so that the book I think gives you this more of a local flavor and and a local taste of what it was like to be in 1814 to be an 1812


Dan LeFebvre  50:52

can you really call it a duel if there’s like hundreds of people


Alexander Mikaberidze  50:57

you will love this because in the newspapers, and it’s been publicized in various ways, but this one comes from a British newspaper. And what they say is that they say, quote, it was more of an Irish affair, and then it did dueling on national dispute. And by calling an Irish affair, what they call it is stereotypically Irish, this kind of right punching. So you can see here even even while talking about the can pass the opportunity to snipe


Dan LeFebvre  51:30

thank you again so much for your time. I appreciate you coming on.


Alexander Mikaberidze  51:33

Thank you so much.



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