The "Art of War" by Sun Tzu is to my knowledge one of the most important and oldest books (besides Clausewitz, Machiavelli) about the philosophy of war and military strategy.

Were historians able to find out if the French translation from 1772 influenced Napoleon and significantly changed the planning and course of battles compared to battles before this date?

  • Interesting question; I suspect the answer is yes, to some degree. But he also would have admired other great leaders of the Early Modern period, and above all Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, being such a lover of classical antiquity as we all know.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 23:13

2 Answers 2


According to Gary Gagliardi, Napoleon was particularly indebted to Sun Tzu for the combination of "Chang" and Ch'i.

That is, the combination of a direct attack, which could be repulsed with difficulty, followed by a "smaller," but more lethal surprise attack that would administer the coup de grace to the enemy.

On the other hand, Napoleon apparently paid less attention to Sun Tzu's precepts of climate and ground, which led to his downfall in Russia.

  • 1
    +1 for climate and ground. Sun Tzu is not the most important war book in China though. There are plenty more.
    – user4951
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 4:54
  • 2
    It should be noted that the link you provide admits it may be a myth, and all its provided evidence is circumstantial. A good argument nontheless.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 19:58
  • @JimThio sure, but here the point is if Napoleon actually read them or not ;)
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 17:14
  • did he? Did he not?
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 6:07

Being a voracious reader, there is little doubt that Napoleon may have read the Jesuit translation of the Art of War by Sun Tzu. He may have dismissed the wisdom of Sun Tzu or at least never mentioned the Asian strategist, because of the preference he had for the authors of antiquity. Perhaps Sun Tzu simply confirmed that which he had already gleaned from Arrian, Polybius and Caesar; since his deep reading and reflection upon these authors would have already led him to the profound advise given by Sun Tzu. It is possible, but not cited, that the 13 chapters of the Art of War made it into his personal, portable library he used whilst on campaign. One can easily see many examples of the Art of War exercised in the Ulm/Austerlitz campaign, yet that does not mean - necessarily - that Napoleon referred to Sun Tzu alone concerning his use of deception, encirclement and surprise.

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