Originally, three equal Consuls made up the government established by Bonaparte and Sieyès after the coup of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799), which established the Consulate in France (1799–1804). Napoleon, however, soon arose as the strongest of the three.
The term consul was as part of Bonaparte's attempt to liken himself to a Roman ruler of ancient times. He later strengthened his ties with Rome by constructing triumphal arches (such as the Arc de Triomphe) and monuments in the style of ancient Rome.
The title of consul was used in Rome by the two most powerful magistrates in the government. The consuls ran the Republic (along with the Senate) and were the highest ranking military figures. Both consuls had equal authority and could veto each other. This was supposed to combat the onset of a tyranny. However in times of crisis the Senate could appoint one figure as a dictator.
The French system, installed during the breakdown of the government of the First French Republic, was similar except that there were three consuls instead of two. Bonaparte, by far the most ambitious and charismatic of the three, rose to become the most prominent. A fixed referendum later invested him with the title of "First Consul for Life", which was similar to being elevated to the position of dictator in ancient Rome, except that in the Roman system a dictator's term was limited to just six months. Napoleon stayed on for much longer, eventually proclaiming himself Emperor of the French.