Napoleon's Sword Fetches $6.4 Million

A piece of Napoleonic history was auctioned off Sunday, near Paris, for $6.4 million.

After an intense bidding war, Napoleon Bonaparte's cavalry sword changed hands within the Bonaparte family.

Because it is the only remaining sword held in a private collection, the final sale price far surpassed the estimate of $1.6 million.

"This sword is a monument in France," said auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat. "This is not only a sword, it is also a work of art."

France is intensely protective and proud of Napoleon's possessions, and one of the conditions of the auction was that the sword could not leave France.

Early Victory

Napoleon used the sword at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 to take control of northern Italy from Austria. He had just taken power in a coup and used his victory at Marengo to consolidate his power in France — a history that makes the sword even more valuable. Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804.

Family Ties

Discord within the Bonaparte family was the reason the sword was on the auction block. Part of the family did not want to sell it. An unidentified woman who set off the bidding war bought the sword as a gift for her husband, one of Napoleon's descendants.

Seizing Egypt

Napoleon was so impressed with the swords used by the Mamelukes in Egypt that he ordered this one made in the same shape upon his return to France. It measures 32 inches long and has a curved blade.

Napoleon noticed that the curvature of the blade made decapitations easier.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Napoleonic expert Alexander Grab of the sale. It is not likely that a symbolic possession of his will be available "for a very long time."