Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), who became ruler of France and was one of history's greatest military commanders, is the figure most clearly associated with the beginning of the modern era in France. Born into a bourgeois family on the island of Corsica, Bonaparte managed to forge an impressive career, thanks in part to the many vocational opportunities that opened up following the French Revolution (1789–1794). He attended a military college and graduated with honors at the age of 16 while demonstrating exceptional abilities in the fields of mathematics, history and geography. A few years later, he successfully completed his studies at the prestigious École Militaire, and was the first native of Corsica to achieve this feat. He began his military service as a junior artillery officer.
Shortly before the French Revolution, Napoleon made contact with rebel leaders in Corsica and expressed great sympathy with their cause and struggle against France. With the outbreak of the revolution, Bonaparte deeply identified with its principles out of hatred for the French nobility, many of whose members he had studied with during his years in military academies. Bonaparte recognized the great possibilities that had opened up in the wake of the revolution and supported its ideas. Under the revolutionary regime - le Directoire ("The Directory") - Napoleon Bonaparte was promoted to the rank of general in 1795.