Drafting the Great Army: Optimal Conscription in Napoleonic France

47 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2020 Last revised: 6 Apr 2020

See all articles by Louis Rouanet

Louis Rouanet

George Mason University

Ennio Emanuele Piano

Middle Tennessee State University

Date Written: February 20, 2020


The ability to mobilize large armies for the purposes of national defense and territorial expansion is a key feature of the modern state. Post-revolutionary France was among the first European powers to adopt large-scale conscription to man its army. For its conscription efforts to be effective, the French government had to overcome the obstacle posed by desertion. This article develops a framework to study the optimal response to the threat of desertion in designing conscription policies. We argue that geography was a major determinant of the administrative costs of enforcing conscription. Using a novel data-set on conscription and desertion from Napoleonic France, we show that regions with higher terrain ruggedness were more prone to desertion. We also show that, in response to the variation in enforcement costs across regions, the national government adjusted its conscription policies accordingly: More Frenchmen were drafted in regions where the administrative costs of conscription were lower.

Keywords: Desertion, Conscription, Great Army, Napoleonic Empire

JEL Classification: E02, E41, E65, N1

Suggested Citation

Rouanet, Louis and Piano, Ennio Emanuele, Drafting the Great Army: Optimal Conscription in Napoleonic France (February 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3541407 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3541407

Louis Rouanet

George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

Ennio Emanuele Piano (Contact Author)

Middle Tennessee State University ( email )

Murfreesboro, TN
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics