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Had he been born a few weeks earlier, Napoleon would have been Italian. *
* What a terrifying thought.
He was born with the Italianized version of his name, "Buonaparte," on the island of Corsica which belonged to Genoa until the Genoese sold their rights to the French Crown. The skinny Napoleon had a difficult adolescence. Badly dressed and with a heavy Corsican accent, his rustic manners were out of place among the smart young nobles who attended the same military school as he did. The future emperor, the "booted jacobin," was a bad boy who was often absent: in six years, he notched up to 38 months of leave for 33 months of presence under the French flag.**
** So in fact he was quite Italian, then.
In 1791, he spent several months in Corsica to help Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican liberator, who would go on to hate and distrust the "Buonaparte" family. He exceeded his leave of absence and was struck off on January 1, 1792. Although a civilian once more, he was promptly appointed colonel of a battalion of volunteers that would fire on demonstrators protesting against the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Without being ordered to do so, he took the citadel of Ajaccia. ***
*** You may say self-motivated, I say rude.
Later, he took part in the revolutionary days of 20 June and August 10, 1792. His participation in the siege of Toulon (though he did not take the city all by himself) and his mastery of artillery gained him the admiration of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre who appointed him brigadier general and put him in command of the artillery of France's Army of Italy.
Following the failed royalist putsch of 13 Vendémiaire where, under the orders of Paul Barras (whose mistress he would go on to marry), he gunned down the Voltigeurs, he returned to Italy, this time as General-in-Chief. It was during the next four years that his life forever changed. Better than anyone, he knew how to exploit his victories and cover up his defeats for the sake of public opinion. In France, everyone remembered the Battle of the Pyramids (which he won), while hardly anyone remembered the Battle of Aboukir Bay (which he lost). Widely recognized by the age of 30, he sought neither to be an aristocrat, nor a revolutionary. When his mother reprimanded him one day, he famously replied: "io sono imperatore." In 1799, he affirmed "io sono Bonaparte." He had become second to none. He had also mostly lost his Corsican accent.