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Lesson 8. Interpreting Modern War Jomini

Advance Sheet, Lesson 8



This lesson examines the theoretical writings of Jomini and the differences between his and Clausewitz’ fundamental perspectives on warfare.


This eighty-minute lesson is at the staff-group level. The lesson author is Dr. Thomas M. Huber.


1. Analyze Jomini’s theory of war.

2. Compare and contrast Jomini’s and Clausewitz’ theories. Analyze the basis of their differences in perspective.


3.    Explain how theory and principles of war apply at the operational level of war.



a. Bring to class:

(1) C600 Term I Syllabus/Book of Readings.

(2) Paret.

b. Required reading:

(1) Introduction to Lesson 8, C600 Term I Syllabus/Book of Readings.

(2) Paret: John Shy, "Jomini, Part III," pp. 164- 76.

(3) Reading 8A: "Excerpts from Introductory Material to Summary of the Art of War," by Antoine-Henri de Jomini.

(4) Reading 8B: "Excerpt from The Art of War," by Antoine-Henri de Jomini.

(5) Reading 8C: "Napoleon’s Maxims on Command."


a. Do Jomini and Clausewitz differ fundamentally in their view of war? How?

b. Are Jomini’s and Clausewitz’ views contradictory or complementary?

c. Does Jomini’s understanding of what is required of a successful commander differ significantly from Clausewitz’?

d. What weaknesses does Shy find in Jomini’s theories? Do you agree?

e. Do you agree with Shy that immutable principles have a strong appeal for professional soldiers who are "conservative by nature"? Do American officers rely too heavily on a "cookbook" approach to their profession?

f. How do Jomini and Napoleon compare in their views of what constitutes effective command?


A699, The Evolution of Military Thought.


Dr. Robert H. Berlin, Military Classics, Historical Bibliography No. 8.


1779 Jomini born in Payerne, Switzerland.

1780 Clausewitz born in Burg, Germany.

1805 Napoleon appoints Jomini to be a staff colonel.

Jomini publishes Treatise on Grand Military Operations.

1806 Clausewitz is captured during Jena campaign and spends a year in France as a prisoner.

1810 Jomini becomes a brigadier general.

1812 Clausewitz serves with the Russian Army.

1813 Jomini serves as Ney's chief of staff.

Jomini joins the Russian Army as a major general and aide-de-camp to Czar Alexander.

1815 Battle of Waterloo. Clausewitz serves as a corps chief of staff.

1826 Dennis Hart Mahan, highest ranking graduate in the U.S. Military Academy class of 1824, begins four years of study in France.

1830 Jomini organizes the Russian military academy.

Mahan becomes an instructor at USMA.

1831 Clausewitz dies.

1833 Clausewitz widow publishes his On War.

1838 Jomini publishes his Summary of the Art of War.

1869 Jomini dies.

1870 Franco-Prussian War yields decisive victory for Prussia.

1873 First English translation of Clausewitz' On War is published.






Thomas M. Huber

Although serious military thinkers today are more likely to refer to Clausewitz, in the Napoleonic age itself, Antoine de Jomini was more likely to have that distinction. It is probably fair to say that in general Clausewitz addressed the political and strategic levels of war and Jomini addressed the operational level. The two were born only a year apart. They held similar staff-officer positions in the Napoleonic wars, albeit in different armies. Jomini was by far the more celebrated thinker in his own lifetime.

Jomini was born in 1779 to a mercantile family in Switzerland and spent his youth working as an apprentice clerk in banking and commercial establishments in Switzerland and later in Paris. From the beginning of his career Jomini was preoccupied with military history and the military art. He read avidly about the campaigns of Frederick the Great in order to discover his methods and was especially influenced by Henry Lloyd’s historical accounts of Frederick’s campaigns. In 1804 Jomini published his famous Treatise on Grand Military Operations, based on Frederick’s campaigns. (Note that Jomini had acquired the essential principles of Napoleonic method the same way Napoleon had acquired them, by a close analysis of Frederick.) Jomini showed the manuscript to Marshal Michel Ney and in 1805 was accepted by Ney as an unpaid volunteer member of his staff during the Ulm campaign. After Austerlitz Jomini managed to get a copy of his work to Napoleon himself. At first Napoleon was alarmed that a book that perfectly revealed his system had been published so that anyone who wished could see it. Upon reflection, however, he became calmer and noted that old commanders would never read it and that young officers who might read it did not command.

Napoleon, impressed by Jomini’s service to Ney and with his manuscript, commissioned Jomini as a colonel in the French army and assigned him to Marshal Ney’s staff. Napoleon drew Jomini onto his own staff for the Jena and Eylau campaigns of 1806 and 1807. Jomini won the Cross of the Legion of Honor for his service at Eylau. After Friedland Napoleon made Jomini Ney’s chief of staff, and Jomini accompanied Ney to Spain. There, Ney, influenced by staff officers who were alienated from Jomini, asked for his reassignment. At this point Napoleon intervened and promoted Jomini to brigadier general and stationed him in Paris with the assignment of writing a history of the revolutionary wars and of Napoleon’s Italian campaigns. Jomini took part in the Russian campaign of 1812, mostly in rear area staff capacities, such as military governor of Smolensk. Jomini served as Ney’s chief of staff again in the south German campaigns of 1813, and after Bautzen Ney recommended him for promotion to major general. Berthier, Napoleon’s chief of staff, who had always disliked Jomini, at this point instead of promoting him ordered his arrest for failing to submit certain reports. Jomini was so dismayed by the unfairness of this that he resigned from the French army and accepted a commission in the Russian service. He held a Russian commission, albeit mostly inactive, for the next fifty-six years and was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. He retired to Switzerland temporarily rather than take part in the allied campaigns on French soil in 1814 and 1815. He later served as head of the committee to found the Russian Military Academy and advised the tsar during the Crimean War of 1853- 56. He advised Napoleon III at the time of his campaign in Italy in 1859.

Although Jomini held a commission in the Russian army, he spent almost all of his time after 1815 in Paris working as a military consultant or publishing works of military history, biography, and theory. As the premier contemporary interpreter of Napoleon’s way of war, he was much sought after and widely read. He made a good income from the sale of his voluminous works and may have been the first professional military theorist in modern Europe. Most read today is his Summary of the Art of War of 1838. Jomini died at Passy outside Paris in 1869 at the age of ninety, just in time not to witness the discrediting of the Napoleonic tradition of warfare in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

Jomini’s thought was popular in his own day, and in various forms, it is popular still. Jomini’s approach to war was in extreme contrast to Clausewitz’. Clausewitz served in an army that until 1813 always lost. His vision of war was skeptical and brooding. He saw war as balky, irrational, and always threatening to escape control. For Clausewitz war was tragic and Clausewitz is associated by some observers with the romantic tradition that emerged in philosophy and art after 1815. Clausewitz always lost and he tried to explain why war was so hard. Jomini, except for 1812, always won, and he tried to explain why war was so easy. His view of war was optimistic and rational. He saw war as subject to certain unchanging rules that anyone could master. For him war was heroic, though one might also be tempted to say prosaic. Jomini is associated by some observers with the rational Enlightenment tradition of philosophy that prevailed prior to 1815.

Jomini’s ideas really were not a theory of war: they were a theory of deployment. Jomini has been accused from time to time of merely offering a cookbook of war, this by persons who do not reflect on how extraordinarily useful a cookbook may be. His basic ideas, many of them influenced by his reading of Henry Lloyd, include interior and exterior lines, the decisive point, concentration of strength against weakness, annihilation of the enemy force, the primary importance of the offensive, surprise, and the potentially decisive role of logistics. The essential object of all this was to win a favorable result through the concentration of strength against weakness. Jomini felt these were fundamental, almost mathematical principles of war and that they were good for all time. These ideas were absorbed by Dennis Hart Mahan into the curriculum of the then-fledgling United States Military Academy in 1830, where Civil War leaders on both sides learned them. They have become part of the training of the U.S. Army today in the form of the Principles of War, which may be thought of as merely Jomini writ short. Most modern services today teach these principles in some form.

It is important to remember what Jomini is and what Jomini is not. Almost all of his work answers one question: how does one deploy units successfully in the main battle? For officers who must answer this question, Jomini’s ideas, the Principles of War, are extremely useful and extremely important. For officers trying to answer any other questions, Jomini is not so useful. A cookbook is all-important for cooks but not very helpful for anyone else. There is almost no treatment of politics, no strategy, no technological change, no strategic resource base, no psychology, no people’s war, no adversary, and indeed no unexpected adversity in Jomini’s work. The operator must remember that while the Principles of War are an essential tool, they are likely to be only one of the many tools he needs for victory.

Jomini as the classical theorist of deployment has had enormous influence on modern ground services as we have seen. Jomini would also influence later theorists of naval and air deployment in the use of technologies that in Jomini’s day had not yet been imagined. As we shall see later on, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Julio Douhet, and Bernard Brodie would eventually apply some of Jomini’s basic ideas to naval warfare, air warfare, and nuclear warfare respectively.

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