In the spring of 1797, with a direct assault against Britain out of the question, Napoleon Bonaparte suggested threatening Britain's rich commerce with India by invading Egypt. A unique feature of the expedition, which set sail on 19 May 1798, was the large number and high calibre of the attached civilians. In addition to assisting in the formulation of practical measures for the rule of Egypt, the 167 savants, led by Baron Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825), accompanied the army to every corner of the country. On these journeys they studied every aspect of the life of Egypt and its peoples. Their studies of the great monuments of ancient Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 paved the way for the science of Egpytology.
Following on the huge success of Denon's Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte pendant les campagnes du general Bonaparte (1802), Napoleon ordered the Imperial Press to begin publication of the visual record set down by the Egyptian expedition. Initially, the work was published in instalments between 1809 and 1829. Four hundred copper engravers worked for 20 years on the Description. They gathered information sufficient to produce what was the largest publication in the world at that time. Most of Egypt's heritage known at the time was systematically catalogued, mapped, and meticulously drawn, from the obelisks to the vast statues on the banks of the Nile, as well as the country's flora and fauna.