The Battle of Somo-Sierra (November 30, 1808)

The Battle of Somo-Sierra (November 30, 1808)

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Battle of Somo-Sierra in Castile, November 30, 1808.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet / J. Schormans

Publication date: September 2006


The Battle of Somo-Sierra (November 30, 1808)


Historical context

The internal difficulties of Spain and the need to maintain the continental blockade established by decree in Berlin on November 21, 1806 prompted Napoleon to seize Spain. Quick victories like those of Burgos (November 10), Tudela (November 23) and Somo-Sierra (November 30) opened the road to Madrid for him.

Image Analysis

“The Emperor, marching on Madrid by the road to Buitrago, encountered in the Somo-Sierra mountain 13,000 Spaniards, who, by the aid of their formidable position, hoped to defend the passage. Arrived near the top of the road, the Emperor orders the attack; Immediately the French infantry climbed the steep slopes of the mountain to the right and left and engaged the fire with the enemy, which a thick fog still hid. The road was cut off by several ditches which the enemy had dug to hamper the march; however, the Emperor having given the signal, General Montbrun, at the head of the brave Poles of the Imperial Guard, forming the vanguard of this elite corps, crosses these obstacles, and rushes on a battery of sixteen cannon pieces defended by the infantry. The effect of the powder dispersed the clouds from the mountain, and we saw this happy fearlessness crowned with the most brilliant success [This is the moment that the painting represents.] The Spanish army was cut down and put to flight, and the Emperor arrived the next day at the gates of Madrid, which soon surrendered. »(Booklet of the Salon of 1810, n ° 495.)


Besides the obvious desire to glorify the heroism of the imperial army, in particular that of the light horse recruited from among the young Polish aristocracy, the meaning of this composition due to an official painter is to be read in the details featuring the Emperor who discovers here a mass grave of French soldiers: we see him reproach a Spanish colonel for the cruelty with which his compatriots murdered French prisoners whose bodies lie under the arch of a bridge. The Spanish colonel replied: "I am at your disposal", which disarmed the victor. In the foreground in the center, the French prisoner, captured with his comrades in arms in a previous battle and forced to serve among the Spaniards, discovers to his compatriots, who have just freed him, the cross of the Legion of Honor and his cockade which he has hidden over his heart. Faced with these testimonies of bravery and loftiness specific to French troops, the routed Spanish army under cannon fire seems doomed to anonymity: we are far from the critical interpretation of the Spanish Civil War. that Baron Lejeune will deliver under the Restoration, in his representation of the assault on the monastery of San Engracia (1827, National Museum of the Palace of Versailles).

  • battles
  • Spain
  • Great Army
  • napoleonic wars
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Mountain


Yveline CANTAREL-BESSON, Claire CONSTANS Bruno FOUCART Napoleon Images and history. Paintings of the Palace of Versailles (1789-1815) Paris, RMN, 2001. Roger DUFRAISSE and Michel KERAUTRET Napoleonic France. External aspects Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1999.Gunther ROTHENBERG Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars 1796-1815 Paris, Autrement, 2000 Jean TRANIE and Juan-Carlos CARMIGNANI Napoleon: the Spanish campaign: 1807-1814 Paris, Pygmalion, 1998.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "The battle of Somo-Sierra (November 30, 1808)"

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