Napoleon; William Sidney Smith; Naval History; Akko
The modern port of Akko, Israel, has been essential to movement and trade in the eastern Mediterranean since the Hellenistic period, and used as a harbor since the Neolithic. Its many incarnations and occupations over the centuries are documented by the cultural material laying on and under the bed of the harbor, and it is an area of great fascination for historians and underwater archaeologists. One particular pivotal event in the modern history of the port, however, continues to beguile researchers.
Napoleon's failed siege of Acre (modern-day Akko), Israel in the spring of 1799 was a turning point in his eastern campaign. Had he succeeded in gaining control of the port, he would have been well-positioned to challenge Britain's influence in the East. It was only through the assistance of the British naval commander Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith that the city was able to withstand the siege; Smith kept up a constant bombardment of Napoleon's position from his fleet for over two months. Understandably, underwater archaeologists have been eager to discover evidence of the siege in the port, but the task is complicated by the presence of wreckage from naval conflicts of the 1830s and 1840, and also the persistence of certain misinformation about how Smith conducted Acre's defense. Using historical maps, letters, drawings, and other documents, this poster presents a new interpretation of the 1799 siege of Acre, and introduces two recently-discovered shipwrecks, one or both of which may have sank as a result of Smith's strategy.
The 1799 siege was critical for both the British and Napoleon. Victory for the British here was key—if Napoleon had taken the port and continued on, Britain would have lost her trade routes through the Middle East and never would have become the dominant European superpower that she was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My original interpretation regarding Smith’s strategy has the potential to change the way this pivotal moment is studied and understood by archaeologists.