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Home > About Ecole Polytechnique > History and heritage > The major periods

The major periods in the School history

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An imperial, military and disciplined school



For ten years, from 1794 to 1804, the École's students led a studious life and some eminent scholars emerged from its ranks, such as the mathematicians Poisson and Poinsot, the physicists Biot and Fresnel, the chemist Gay-Lussac and the astronomer Arago. The École's excellence was certainly the reason why Bonaparte chose to take Monge and Berthollet, both teachers at the École, and 42 students who had either just left or were still studying there with him to Egypt on his scientific and military expedition.

But in the Paris of the Directory, then of the Consulate and the Empire, the young students who worked hard at the École often showed themselves to be lacking in discipline outside, especially as the direction followed by the political regime was not to their taste. In order to regain control of the École, Napoleon decided to give it a military regime and to lodge the students in barracks. A decision was taken in 1804 to move them to the Montagne Sainte Geneviève into the disused premises of the Collège de Navarre and Collège de Boncourt. The École Polytechnique stayed in these prestigious but inconvenient premises until 1976. It also owes its flag and motto to Napoleon: "For country, science and honour".

The Historic Resources Centre


The Historic Resources Centre is a department of the Library. It is responsible for preserving and developing the École's archives and heritage.

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» Contact: Marie-Christine Thooris


"I'm not reduced to killing my hen with the golden eggs", Napoleon is thought to have said in 1814, when the Polytechnique students asked to help defend France, which was under invasion. The hen with the golden eggs, a much-repeated reference, is still visible on the pediment of the public thoroughfare between the Paris gardens in the old school.