The French invasion of Russia: retracing history and historic information graphics.

Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia, a painting by Adolph Northen, image from wikipedia

The French invasion of Russia

The French invasion of Russia of 1812 was the turning point of the Napoleonic Wars. After suffering this defeat, the power of the French emperor decreased and two years later he was exiled. The campaign began on 24th June 1812 moving from the city of Kaunas (Kowno) and found no remarkable resistance until the battle of Borodino, where 40000 French soldiers died. When Napoleon reached Moscow, the French forces were reduced to the half because of the difficulty to move forward through the Russian country. The city of Moscow had been evacuated by the population, so it was very difficult to provide food for the army; thus, a month later, the French army retreated in a disastrous way. Only 10000 soldiers survived the cold and the hunger caused by the Russian Winter.

Retracing historic information graphics: Minard's thematic map

The French engineer Charles Joseph Minard is considered to be father of the information graphics because of his seminal works on trade and transportation flows. He said: "The aim of my carte figurative is less to express statistical results, better done by numbers, than to convey promptly to the eye the relation not given quickly by numbers requiring mental calculation ."

He made a representation of the French invasion of Russia, where the destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armee in the last months of 1812 is rendered in his dramatic force; the width of the line representing the route of the French army is proportional to the amount of soldiers.

Drawing a map with LIONoso

LIONoso allows us to reproduce Minard's map and to do something more: to represent the temporal evolution of the events . This is done by the usage of arrows and LION's sweeping visualization: time is selected as the variable to be "swept" and a movie in time is created by clicking the "advance" button in the control window. A geographical map can be added in the background by right-clicking in the scatterplot window and selecting "add a background image". The x and y coordinates of the scatterplot contain the coordinates in pixel with respect to the background image.

Two different representations are shown:

  • The first chart shows our animation with Minard's map on the background.

  • The second chart uses a current map of the Russian country as background (taken from

LIONoso and Napoleon: retracing historic visualizations.

A youtube movie showing how to setup the LIONoso visualization is below.


The French invasion of Russia - wikipedia
Charles Joseph Minard - pioneer fo information graphics - wikipedia

Download the LIONoso-ready data file: russian_campaign.lion