Niccolò Machiavelli.

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the whole army muil prcfently be ruined. At the
battle of Ravenna, where Monfieur de Foix, the
French General, was killed, and which was very well
fought (confidering the difcipline of the times) the
French and Spanifh armies were drawn up in the man-
ner juft now defcribed ^ that is, they both had their
lines extended to a great length, and clofe together :
fo that they could not be very deep, nor make any
more than one front to the enemy. And this they
always do in large plains, like thofe about Ravenna :
for, as they are fenfible of the diforder they mull fall
into, if they fhould be obliged to retreat, by one
line falling back upon another, they endeaw)ur to
avoid that danger as much as pofiible, by making a
large front : but when the country is full of enclo-
fures, and there is not room enough for that ; if they
fhould happen to fall into confufion, they know of
no remedy for it. In the fame manner, they march
through an enemy's country, whether it be to plunder,
or forage, or upon any other occafion. Thus, at the
battle of St. Regolo, betwixt the Florentines and the
Pifans, in the war which was occafioned by the defec-
tion of the latter from the former, upon the arrival
of Charles VIII. in Italy, the defeat of the Floren-
tines was entirely owing to their own Cavalry, which,
being polled in the front, was firfl charged by the ene-
my, and happening to be broke, fell back upon the
Infantry, and threw them into fuch diforder, that
they all ran away together : and I have often heard
Criaco del Borgo, an old Officer in the Florentine In*
fantry, fay, that he had never feen them defeated, but
when they had been lirfl difordered by their own Horfe.
The Swifs, who excel all other nations at prefent in
the art of war, always take particular care, when they


Chap. XVII. The First Decad of Livy. 271
fervc in the French armies, to be pofted in the fianks,
that their Cavalry, if it fliould chance to be hard prelT-
cd, may not recoil upon them.

Now though thefe things feem not only very eafy to
be underftood, but alfo to be put in pradice ; yec
there is not fo much as one General in our times, that
has hitherto endeavoured either to revive the ancient
difcipline, or corredl the modern : and, notwithftand-
ino they have fometimes drawn up their armies in three
lines, the Brft of which, they call the Van-guard ; the
fecond, the Main-hattk ; and the third, the Rear-
guard \ yet it has been for no other purpofe, but for
the crreater conveniency of encamping : but when
they come to adlion, they almoft always employ them
all three together in one attack, as I faid before. And
fmce many, to excufe their ignorance, pretend that
there are feveral articles in the ancient military difci-
pline, which the ufe of artillery will not allow them
to pradlife in thefe times, I (hall difcufs that point in
the next chapter, and fliew what weight there is in
luch allegations.


What account is to he made of Artillery at prefent : and
whether the opinion which the Generality have conceived
of it is jujlly founded^

WHEN I confider how many pitched battles the
Romans fought, 1 cannot help reReding at
the fame time upon a general received opinion, which
is, that if there had been artillery in thofe times, the
Romans could not have over-run Provinces, made fo
many people^ tributary, nor have performed feveral
other great exploits fo eafily as they did -, that (ince it
came into ufe, men have not fnewn themfeives fo bold
and intrepid as they did formerly •, and laftly, that
armies are now much more backward in coming to a
dole engagement, and cannot poUibly obferve the an-

272 Political Discourses upon Bcok IL

cient difcipline : fo that it Teems as if the whole bur-
ners of war would in time be difpatched by artillery
only. As I apprehend therefore, that it may not be
foreign to our purpole, to examine whether thefe opi-
nions are founded upon reafon, or not ; whether the
ufe of artillery has added to, or diminifhed the flrengih
of armies ; and whether it has given Generals more
or lefs opportuniries of diftinguifhing their courage;
I (hall begin with the firft article, viz. that the Roman
arms could not have made fo great a progrtfs, if the
ufe of artillery had then been known.

In anfwer to this, 1 fay, that war is either oiTenfive
or defenfive : fo that we muft examine in the firft
place, in which of thefe two kinds of war artillery is
the moft effe6lual : and though there is much to be
urged on both fides ; yet, I am of opinion, that it
docs much more mifchief to thofe that 2,6: upon the
defenfive, than the often five. For the fotaer are ge-
nerally befieged, either in fome town or fortified camp:
if it be in a town, it mufb either be in a fmall one
(like moft fortrefTcs) or a large one. In the former
cafe, the befiesed are undone : for fuch is the force of
artillery, that it will beat down the thickeft wall in a
few days : (o that, if thofe within have neither any
place of fecurity to retire to, nor room to throw up
ditches or ramparts to defend themfelves, the enen/y
of courfe muft enter the breach. Nor will their ar-
tillery fave them : for it is now received as a general
maxim, that when a breach is furioufly ftormed by a
great number of men at once, it cannot be long de-
fended by artillery. The aftaults of the Ultramon-
tanes, in particular, are fo fierce, that it is not pofTiblc
to fuftain them : whereas thofe of the Italians, who
lead up their men by few at a time, and in detached
parties, are eafily repelled : but this may more pro-
perly be called Skirmifljing^ than any thing elfe, and
thole that approach a breach in fo cool a manner,
where there is any artillery planted, are all fare to be
knocked on the head ; becaufe, in this cafe, it muft
do great execution : whilft others who rufli impetu-


Chap. XVII. The First Decad OF Livy. 273

ouHy into the breach in great numbers at the fame
lime, and puPn each other forwards, are fare to fuc-
ceed in fpitc of the artillery, except there are anjr
ditches, or other works within to impede them : for
thouoh fame of them mud be killed, there will be
enough left to carry the place. The truth of this has -
been fuflicienrly experienced at the fiege of many-
towns, which the Ultramontanes have taken in italy^
particularly at that of Brefcia : for that town having
revolted from the French to the Venetians, and tiie
Citadel only holding out for them, the Venetians, ia
order to fecure ihemfclves from any fallies that mighc
be made from thence, fortified the ilreet that leads
from the Citadel down into the town, planting as ma^
ny cannon as they pcfTibly could, both in the front
and flanks, and every other part of it where there was
any room -, but Monfieur de Foix made fo liule ac-
count of them, when he arrived there with n body of
horfe to relieve the Citadel, that he ordered his mea
to difmount, and pufhing through this (Ireet, prefent-
ly made himfelf mafter of the whole town, without
fuftaining any confiderable lofs. So that thofe who
are to defend a fmall town after a breach is made, and
have neither any place of fecurity to retire into, nor
ditches or ramparts to obllrucl: the enemy, but are re-
duced to depend upon their artillery alone, muil foon
be obliged to furrender.

If the town to be defended is a large one, and the
befieo-ed have all the conveniencies juil now men-
tioned to trull: to, artillery will iTill be of much more
fervice to the befiegers than zo them. For, in the
firft place, if you expect to do any material execution^
your Guns muft be planted upon f^me eminence thae
is elevated above the level of the town •, otherwife,
any little breatl-work which the enemiy may throw up
will be fufficient to cover them from your fire : io
that being forced to mounr. your cannon, perhaps up-
on platforms, at the top of the walls, or Ibmc other
fuch elevated place, you muft labour under two diffi-
culties ; in the firft place^ you cannot make ufe of

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274 Political Discourses' up-OM Book IL

lach heavy pieces as the enemy may, becaufe the fpace-
there will be too flrait to manage them, as they oughr
to bt* managed : and'in the next, if that was pofTible
to be done, yet yon could not make parapets there
ffrong enough to fecnre them ; both which the be-
iiegers may eafily do, as they are upon a plain field,
and have both room and materials fuflicient for both
thoffe purpofcs. It is hardly poifjble therefore, for the-
befieged tb keep their cannon upon fuch an elevation,,
if the enemy has many and heavy pieces ; and, if
they plant them on a fiat, they will be of little or no
iervice, as I fiiev^ed before : fo that after all, the place
niuft be maintained as in former times, chiefiy by dint
of fmall arms and the courage of the Soldier. Now>
though fmali arms are of Ibme fervice to the befieged,
yet, not of io much as to balance the mifchief done
By the enemy's artillery, v.'hich batter down their walls
into the ditches in fuch a manner, that when the af-
fault is given, the befieged fufFcr more now-a-days,,-
than they did formerly -, for their walls being levelled^.
and their ditches EWtd up, they are no longer any fe-
curity to them, as they were before the uie of cannon-
was known : and therefore, as 1 faid above, artillery
h of much girate - fervice to thofe that befiege towns^
fhan to thofe t^hat are befiesed.

As t") h^ third cafe, that is, when you. are not iri'
^y toV-/n, but in an encampment v/hich you have
ftrongly fortified, in order to avoid fighting an enemy;
except you can do it with great advar.tage : 1 affirm,
that even in that fituation, you have no better means
to ifccure yoa from b.^ing forced to an engagement,
than the ancients iiad ; and that fometimes you v;ill
find yourfelf in worfe circumfl:ances than they ever
did ', which is owing to the ufe of artillcj-y. For, if
,a numerous army fliould attack you v/iih any advan-
tage of ground (which probably ibme neighbouring:
eminence may give them) or come upon you before
you have finifhed your entrenchments, and fufiici-
ently covered yourfelf, they will prefently diflod'ge
you', and oblige you to fight them whether you v/ouid

V ex

Chap. XVII. The First Decad of Livy." 175

or not : as it happened ro the Spaniards at the battle
of Ravenna, who having fortified themfelves upon the
banks of the Konco, in iorr.^ vvorks which they had
not raifed high enough, and being fired upon by the
French from a hill above them, were forced to march
out of their entrenchnnents and come to action. Euc
fuppofing (as it mufl often happen) that the place
which you have made choice of for your encampmienc
fhould command the whole country round about itj
and that you have fortified yourielf in fuch a manner
that the enemy, upon reconnoitring your camp, does
not think proper to attack it-, they will then have re-
courfe to fuch methods of annoyance as were prac-
tifed of old,, when an armiy was fo ported, that it could
not othervvife be forced to decamp : that isj they will
fcour the adjacent country, take and plunder your
towns, and cut off your convoys, till at lad you will
be under a necefilty of coming to a battle, in which
(as 1 lliall fhew prefently) the ufe of artillery is of no
great importance. So that confidering v,'hat has been
faid, and that the wars which the Romans had carried
on were almoft always of the ofFenfive kind ; it will
appear that they would have had (Lill greater advan-
tages, and their conquers been maore rapid and confi-
derabie^ if the ufe of artillery had been common in
that age.

With regard to the fecortd allegation^ that meri
have not the fame opportunity of diftinguifhing their
courage, that they had before great guns v/ere in-
vented ; I anfwer^ that it is very true, they have nor,
and that the danger is much greater, where they make
their afTault in fmall parties, when they have wails to
fcale, or fome other attack of that kind to carry on,
and inftead of rufhing on all together with fury and
refolution, advarwze, as it were^ one by one, in a cold
and fearful manner. It is likewife true, that the Ge-
nerals and other Officers of armies are more txpofed
to danger at prefenc, than they were in former times,
as they may be killed by a Cannon ball at a great di-
ftance, and would not be ever the fafer if they were iii

T 2 ih«

2j6 Political Discourses upon Book IL

the very rear, and furrounded by the braveft of their
men. No remarkable lolTcs however, or very few of
either kind have been fullained of late, even in fieges:
for it has not been much in falhion to attempt a Sea-
lade upon well fortified towns, nor to make feeble af-
faults, but to proceed by way of blockade, as former-
ly ! and, in thofe few towns that have been taken by
itorm, the danger was not greater than in former times;
for in thofe days, the befieged in all towns had their
machines and engines of war, which (though perhaps
they might not occaiion fo much terror) did no lefs
execution. As to the danger which Generals and
other Cffjcers are expofed to, it may be anfwered, that
fewer Commanders v/tre killed during the twenty-four
years which the laft wars in Italy continued, than in
any ten years war, in the time cf the Romans : for
except Count Lodovico della Mirandoia, (who was
killed at Ferrara when the Venetians invaded that
State not long ago) and the Duke of Nemours (who
was killed at Cirignuola) there was not one General
OiTicer ilain by a cannon ball : for Monfieur de Foix
died bv the fword, at the battle of Ravenna. So that
if particular men do not fhew {o much valour at pre-
fenc as in former times, it is not owing to the ufe of
artillery, hut to bad dilMpline and the weaknefi: of our
armies ; rui when there is no courage in an united corps,
it rannot be exieded in individuals.

As to the third allegation, that armies cannot ea-
fily now be brought to a clofe engagement, and that
the decifion of battles will orobablv in time be left
to the artillery ; 1 anlwcr, that this is altogether falfe,
and will alway? be adjudged fo by thole who ftiall
chink fit to revive the ancient military difcipline and
mr..»''er of fighting : for he thas w-.tild make a good
army, (houla accurtom his foldirrs eiiher in real or
Si'^ni fij.,hr^, to advance fo nea^ the enemy, that they
may not only m.ake bfe of their ihort weapons, but
ciofe in and gr-apple wirh them : and in fuch cafes ta
depend much more upon his Infantry than his Caval-
ry, for reafons that fliail be given in the next Chapter*


Chap. XVIL The First Decad of Livy. 277

Whoever purfues this method, vviil have but little to
fear from artillery ; for, by thus clofing with the ene-
my, the Infantry will find it much eafit^r to avoid the
fire of their artillery, than to fiiflain the weight of.
Elephants, Chariots armed with Scythes, and other
fuch inventions, nov/ laid afide, which the Roman In-
fantry had to encounter, and yet always found lome
means to elude their force : and certainly they would
more readily have found means to efcape the fire of
great Guns, becaufe the danger from them is fooner
over, than it was from Elephants and armed chariots,
the mifchief occafioned by the latter, continuing as
long as the battle lafled, but the execution done by
the former being chiefly over before the adbion begins;
which danger, neverthekfs the Infantry may in a good
meafure efcape, either by taking the advantage of
fome fort of cover from the nature of the country,
or by failing flat upon their bellies during the fire.
This precaution however, as experience hath fully
(hewn,Js not altogether necefiary, elpecially againft
very heavy cannon : for it is almoit impoliibie not to
point them either too high or too low ; in one of
which cafes, the balls will fly over you, and in the
other, they will not reach you : and after the batrle is
once begun, it is evident that neither heavy pieces nor
light ones can do you any damage : Mr, if they are
placed in the front of the enemy's army, t'v-^y muH: of
courfe fall into your hands ; if in the rear, k mull:
hurt themfelves more than you -, and if upon either
of their flanks, it can orall you but lictle before vou
come at it by moving either to the right or left. This
is clear from the example of the Svv'ifs at Novara, in
the year 151:3, who boldly marched up to >he French
camp, which was very ftrongly fortified, not only with'
artillery, but deep entrenchments, and took it fword
in hand, notwithftanding thefe impediments, though
they had no Cavalry, nor fo much as one piece of

Another reafon that may be given for the inefiicacy
of artillery is, that ic muft be fecured either by a wall,

T 3 or

zyS Political Discourses upon Book II.

or a rampart, or a ditch, or fomething of that kind,
if you expe6l any fervice from it ; otherwife it will
either fall into the enemy's hands, or be of no ufe : as
it happens in field battles, where it is guarded only
by men. In the iianks they cannot be employed tq
any grea*: purpofe, excppt the fame method is fol?
lowed that the ancients obferved in managing theip
engines of war, which were placed our of the ranks,
that they might not occafion any diibrder amongft
their own forces ; and whenever thofe that ^tftndtd
them were attacked and hard prefled, either by Car
valry or otherwife, they drew them off and retired
with them into the main body of the army. He that
does not manage artillery in this manner, does not un-
derftand the nature of it, and puts his confidence in
what will muft probably deceive him. The Turk
indeed obtained two or three vidlories over the Sophy
of Perfia and the Sultan of Egypt, by the afTiitance
of artillery : but that was owing to the confufion into
which their Cavalry were thrown by the thunder of
fuch unufual explofions, rather than to any great exe-
cution it did. 'I o conclude therefore, I fay, that ar-
tillery may be of ufe in an army, where the Soldiers
are brave and difciplined in the ancient manner : but
if they are not, it will be cf little or no fervice againft
a refolute and courageous enemy *,


Whether in conformity to the authority of the Romans^
and the example of ancient military difcipline^ one ought
to make more account of Infantry than Cavalry*

IT may be clearly demonflrated by many proofs and
examples, that the Romans gave the preference
to their Infantry, and depended much more upon
them than their Cavalry, in all enterprizes and expe-

♦ See the Art of War, Book III, & paflim,


Chap. XVIII. " The First Decad of Livy. 279

-dicions. In the battle betwixt them and the Latins,
near the Lake of Ref>illum, their troops beginning
to give way, the Roman General ordered his Cavalry
to difmount, and renew the hghi on foot-, after which,
they recovered their ground, and got the day : from
whence it appears, that they put moue coniiderjce.ia
^Jtheir men when they were on foot, than on horieback.
The fame expedient was made uie of upon many
'Other occafions, when they were reduced to excrcmi*
ties •, and they always found their accoiini in it. It is
^o no purpoie in this cafe to objcil the opinion of
Hannibal at the battle of ;Cann;£ -, who finding the
Confnls had ordered their Cavalry to difmount, laid
in a taunting manner, " .Quam maliem vindos rnihi
Jtraderent equites, i. e. They might as weW have deli-
vered them up to me tied and bound:" for though,
without doubt, he was a General of confummate cx-
.perience, yet the opinion of zivy one man ought not
CO be kt in competitvon v/ith the united judgnient
;and pradicc of fo many able Commanders, ^s were
bred under the Roman Republic, elpccially v/hen ve-
jry ftrong arguments, exclufivc of fuch sui auth-.-rityv,
4T:ay be adduced to fupport one, and refute th-e other.
3VIen on. foot may eafily march through places -where
Jiorfe. cannot come : they keep their ranks loettrr, and
are foon rallied if they happen to be thrown into dif-
order : whereas .it is a -very dilHcult matter to mike
?:ijorfes keep their ranks, and almoft impofuble to rally
•-.them, when they arc once broken, Befides, fomc
^horfes, like feme n.en, being dull and heavy, and
others fiery and high Ipirired ; it may happen thtif a
coward may be mounted upon an unruly horfe, anu a
iDrav-e fellow upon a jade : in either of which cales,
'.confufion niuft naturally enfue. A body of Lnfantry
well difciplined ^nd drav,'n up, will foon break a
vlquadron or .Cavalry : but the fame number of Ca-
•valry will find jc a hard mar.ier to break a body of In-
ifantry : the truch of which aiTertion is confirmed, not
'pnly by many facts and examples, both of ancient and
modern date, but by the authority of all thofe that

T 4. .hav-e

^8o Political Discourses upon Book 11,

have written upon military affairs, and the pravftice
of States, whence we learn, that all v/ars at firfi v/ere
carried on by horlemen, becaule the art or drawing
vip foo'^ was noc knov.n ; but after that was found
pur, it was foon firen how much the latter were to be
preferred to the former. Cavalry however, are very
necefiary in an aimy, to fccur the roads, to recon-
noitre the country, to make incurfions, to plunder or
forage, to face the enemy's horfe, and to purfue them
>vhen they fly : but the main ftrength and vigour of
an army certainly confifts in its Inraniry, and there-
fore they are m.oft to be depended on. Amongfc the
rnany fatdl errors by which the Italian Princes have
made their country a Have to foreigners, none have
contribirced more to it, than their negleding to train
up good bands of Infantry, and applying all their
' care and attention to their Cavalry : and this has been
wholly owing to the knavery of the Commanders and
the ilupidity of the Princes. For during thefe lail
twenty five years tiie Italian Soldiery have been en-
tirely in the hands of Commanders, who noi. having
a foot of land in the world, are no better than Ad-
venturers or Soldiers of fortune ; and ccnfequendy
make it a trade to hire thrmlclves and the Soldiers
that follow their banners, to fuch as have not lenfe
enough to keep any forces of their own. Eut as they
thought there would be no occaiion for a large body
of foot, which could neither be often employed, nor
, long maintained in pay, and that a fmall one would
not aniwer their end, they refolved to make u!e of
horfe only*, imagining that two or three hundred Cui-
rafliers would give them fufncient reputation, and not
be too many to be pa.d by thole that hired them. To
keep up their credit therefore, and to make th^em-
felves ncceffary, it has been their conftant endeavour
to difparage the ufe of Infantry, and to recommend
that of Cavalry : in which they have fucceeded lo
well, that in the largefl armies there is but a very
fmall proportion of foot. To this error, and fome
pthers (but to this chicfiy) it is owing, that the Italian


Chap. XVIII. The First Decad of Livy. 281

Soldiery are now become fo weak and contemptible,
that their ccantry has not only been over- run, buc
oricv(.uilv v)iunderecl and laid wade by every Ultra-
montane ir: his turn.

Buc to ih-w more fully the error of preferring the
ufe of C ivalry to that of Infantry, 1 fhali produce
another ex.:a)ple from the pratftice of the Romans,
whii'h happened at the fiege of Sora : tor a party of
horie Tally mg out of the town to attack their camp,
a Roman Colonel advanced to repulfe them at the
head ot another [arty •, but the Commanders on both
fidrs being killed at the hrft onfct, and the fight ftill
continuing after they were flain, the Romans dif-
iDOunted in order to attack the enemy with more ad-
vantage, v./hich forced them to do the fame, to defend
tljcmie»ves more effedlually, though they were at laft
drivc-n bark again into the town. Nothing, I think,
can be a ftronger proof than this, that Infantry was
in greater elleem amiOngfl them than Cavalry : for
though indeed, their Generals had fometimes caufed
their horfemen to difmount upon other occafions, yet
that, was to lupport their Infantry, when it was hard
preffed or overpowered : but, in this cafe they did not
difmount to fuccour their own Infantry, for they had
none there, nor to engage another body of the ene-
my's foot : but fighting on horfeback againil another
party of horfe, they thought if they could not deal
with them that way, they (hould eafily be able to
manage them the other. I conclude therefore, that
it is hardly poHible to break a well-difciplined body
of foot, except they are oppofed by another that is
better. Crafilis and Mark Anthony, two Roman Ge-

Online LibraryNiccolò MachiavelliThe works of Nicholas Machiavel ... : translated from the originals : illustrated with notes, annotations, dissertations, and several new plans on the Art of war (Volume 3) → online text (page 26 of 44)