Charles Minard’s Classic Infographic Shows the True Human Cost of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was the costliest campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon’s forces numbered 680,000 when they crossed the Neman River on 24 June. Less than six months later, more than 500,000 were either dead, injured, or had deserted.

The implementation of a scorched earth policy by the Russians, combined with the harsh Russian winter, starved the French army to the point of collapse.

In the Spring of 1815 the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history's most accomplished generals, escaped his jailers and returned to Paris in what is known as the 'Hundred Days'. With his imperial ambitions re-ignited, an Anglo-allied force met him near the village of Waterloo. The battle that followed would be a watershed moment in European history, finally ending Napoleon's military career and ushering in a new era of relative peace.Watch Now

This infographic, produced in 1869 by French engineer Charles Minard tracks the size of the French army over the course of the Russian campaign. Their march through Russia is displayed in beige and their retreat in black. The size of the army is displayed at intervals beside the columns but their diminishing size is a sufficient visual clue to the devastating toll exacted by the campaign.

At the bottom of the image, an additional chart highlights the temperatures encountered by the French as they retreated during the harsh Russian winter, which reach as low as -30 degrees.