Niccolò Machiavelli.

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the fecret. Such a refolution as this may be formed
by any perfon whatfoever, high or low, rich or poor,
an intimate or a ftranger ; for every man has an op-
portunity one time or other, of coming near his
Prince ; and he that can do that may eaGly take his
revenge, if he has been injured. Paufanias (of whom
we have had occafion to fpeak before) killed Philip
of Macedon as he was going to the Temple in the
midft of his guards, with his Son on his right hand,
and his Son-in-law on the left. But as he was a No-
bleman, and familiar v/ith his Prince, we fhall quote
two other examples of meaner quality : the firfc is a
poor miferable Spaniard, who dabbed Ferdinand

A a 2 King

556 Political Discourses upon Book III.

King of Spain in the throat ; and though the wound
was not mortal, yet it fhewed that he had both refo-
lution and opportunity lufficient to have killed him.
■The next is a Turkilh Dervis, who drew a dagger
upon Bajazet, father of the prefcnt Sultan, with which
he ftruck at him, but milled his blov/. From thefe
indances, and many others of the fame kind, which
it would be tedious to enumerate, we may conclude
that there are many perfons who wifh to take the fame
rqvenge upon Princes that have injured them, (as
there is no danger in wifhing) though few have cou-
rage to attempt it : for fmce fcarce any one that
ventures to ilrike fiich a blow, efcapes being cut to
pieces upon the fpot, it deters people from embark-
ing in an undertaking wherein they are almoft fure to
perifh. So much for the rcfolution and attempts of
a fingle perfon : kt us now proceed to Confpiracies,
in which more are concerned.

We find in Hiftory that Confpiracies are always
formed and conduced cither by great mien, or fuch
as are intimate with their Prince : no other men caa
think of confpiring, except they be fools -, becaufe
private perfons, and fuch as have not the opportunity
of frequent accefs to him, mufl want all thofe means
and conveniencies that are neceffary for the execution
of fuch defigns. In the firft place, they cannot meet
with affociates that will be faithful to them, as they
have nothing to give them, nor is it in their power
to buoy them up with fuch hopes and promifes as ge-
nerally make men willing to expofe themfelves to great
dangers, when it is well known they are not able to
fulfil them : lo that when the fecret is communicated
to three or four perlons, fome one of them betrays
the reft, and they are all ruined. But, fuppofing
they {hould not be betrayed ; yet they muft have fo
many obftacles and impediments to encounter when
they come to the point of execution (not having free
accefs to their Prince) that it is not poflible they
fhould fucceed : for, if great men, and luch as meet
with a ready admifljon into his prefence, find many


Chap. VI. The First Decad of Ljvy. ^5^7

fuch difficulties (as we fhall mention hereafter) It may
reafonably be expected, that thofe of meaner condi-
tion muft find infinitely more and greater. Such men
therefore, when they are not abfoliuely reduced to
defpair by the certainty of lofing either their lives or
their eftates, may be outrageoufly provoked at their
Prince, but confidering they are too weak to rev-enge
themfelves, they generally vent their rage in libels
and curfes, and leave it to men who have greater abi-
lities and fairer opportunities to avenge their caufe :
for if any one is hardy enough to attempt it himfelf,
without waiting for fuch afilftance, it may truly be
faid of him, that his courage is greater than his

All Confpiracies therefore have been formed by
great men and favourites of Princes -, of vvhom, as
many have been encouraged to it by being too much
carefled, as have been provoked to it by fuffcring
the fcverefb injuries, which we might fliew at large
from the ingratitude of Perennius to Commodus,
Plautianus to Severus, and Sejanus to Tiberius, who
had all been advanced to fuch honours, authority,
and riches, by their refpe^live miafters, that they
wanted nothing but the title of Emperor; and as
they afpired to that alfo, they engaged in confpiracies
againft their Princes, and all met with the fate they
juilly deferved. That indeed, which was formed not
long ago by Giacopo Appiano againfl: Pietro Gamba-
corti, Lord of Pifa, was more fuccefsful ; for, thouglx
Appiano had been brought up, carefied, and pre-
ferred to great eminence by him, he depofed his be-
nefadlor, and feized upon the Government. Another
attempt of this kind happened in our own times,
when Coppola confpired againfl: Ferdinand, King of
Arragon, who had heaped lo many favours upon him,
and exalted him to fuch a degree of power, that he
* feemed to be King himfelf in every thing but the
name, but not content with that, he lofl; his life by
grafping at the crown. Now if fuccefs may reafon-
ably be expeded in any plot that is carried on by

A a 3 grea?

2^8 Political D^s^coursfs upom Book III-,

great men againft Princes, that furely is mofi: likely
to fucceed, which is concluded by thofe vvholc au-
thority is almoft equal to that of the Prince himfelf,
and who have all the opportunities and convenicncies
they can wiih for : but that eagernefs to become So-
vereigns which induces them to form fuch projtdsj
.blinds them when they come to put them in execu-
tion : for, if they could condud them with prudence
and coolnefs, it would be impofTible they fliould mif-

A Prince therefore, who would preferve hlmfcIf
from fuch clangers, fhould be more upon his guard
againft thcle whom he has honoured with the ereateft
favours and authority, than ihofe whom he has mofl:
cruelly oppreiTed ; the former have many opportu-
nities of hurting him, but the latter can have few or
none •, and their motives are equal, fince the defire of
reigning is at leaft as (trcng as that of revenge. He
ought never to give fuch a degree of power to any
favourite, as to put him on a level with himfelf, but
to leave an interval, as it were, and fomething more
to be wifhed for ; led, if he fhould not be content
with what he had, he fliould afpire immediately to
the crown •, this caution being negledled, he mull be
greatly befriended by fortune, if he does not meet
with the fame fate which the Princes did whom we
have juft now mentioned. But to refume the order
of our difcourfe. — As thofe that engage in Confpi-
racies mud be great men, and have free accefs to
their Prince, i fnall fay fomerhing of the execution
of fuch undertakings, and the caufes or circum-
ilances that contribute either to their fuccefs or mif-
carriage. And fince they are always attended with
great danger, both before, and after, as well as at
the time of executing, (as 1 have already faid) very
few of them fucceed •, it being almoli injpoflible
that fomething (hould not happen, in one or other
of thefe three periods, that mud render them abor-
tive. — To begin with the firil and miOft important.
The Confpirators muft be very fortunate as well as
2 artful.

Chap. VI. The First Decad of Livv. ^-^

artful, if their defign is not difcovcred whilfl it is
carrying on : as it eafily may be, either by the infor-
mation of fome, or the fufpicion and conjecStures of
others. Now fuch difcoveries are owing either to
the want of fidelity or caution in the accomplices ;
the former of which may eafily be accounted for, as
fuch defigns are never communicated but to thofe
you either havefo much confidence in, that you think
they will cheerfully run the rifque of their lives oa
your account, or are difaffedled to their Prince : and
though fuch a degree of fidelity may be found per-
haps in one or two perfons, yet when the fccrec comes
to be imparted to numbers, it is impoflibie they
fliould all prove true to you ; for great indeed mult
be their affedion, if the profpeil of danger, and
the fear of death are not more powerful. Befides
men are often deceived in the friendfhip which they
think others have for them •, for they cannot be fure
of it, except they have fufficiently tried them before;
and experiments of this kind would certainly be very
hazardous : and though you may have had fome
proofs of their fidelity in other things of truft and
importance, you are not upon that account to de-
pend upon their fidelity in thefe matters, becaufe they
are attended with infinitely more danger and terror.
But if you build your hopes upon their difafl^ediion to
their Prince ; in this likewife you are liable to be
fatally miftaken : for as foon as you have opened
your defigns to fuch people, you give them an op-
portunity of obtaining his favour ; and then fureiy
their difcontent muft either be very great, or your
influence over them exceeding powerful, if they
continue any longer fleddy to you. Hence ic is,
that fo many confpiracies have been difcovered and
nipped in the very bud ; and that, when any one has
been kept private a confiderable time, it has been
looked upon as next to a miracle ; efpecially where
many were concerned in it ; as there vvere in that of
Pifo againfl Nero, and lately in that of the Pazzi
againfl Lorenzo and Guiliano de' Medici at Florence;

A a 4 td

|6o Political Discourses upon Book 111,

to y^hich, above iifcy perfons were privy, and yec
it was not diicovered till ic came to be put in exe-

Ic likewife happens, that confpiracies are fometin^es
difcovered from want of proper caution and difcre-
tion in the Confpiratcrs ; that is, when any of them
either chances to talk of their defjgns with fo little
referve, that they are overheard by a fcrvant or fonie
other perfon j as it happened to the fons of Brutus,
whofe negotiaiions with Tarquin's AmbafTadors were
brought to light in that manner ; or when they
lightly difclofe them to fome carelefs perfon whom
they iove •, as Dymnus did, who having joined in a
confpiracy with Phil nas againft Alexander the Great,
inadvertently blabbed it out to Nicomachus, a boy
he vv^as fond of, who prefently carried it to Cebaiinus
his brother, and Cebaiinus to the King.

As to difcoveries that arife from fufpicions and
conjedtures, we have an inOance in the Fifonian con-
fpiracy againil Nero : for Scevinus, one of the Con-
fpirators, having made his will the day before Nero
v/as to have been difpatched, ordered Melichius his
frcedman to whet an old rufty dagger, made all his
flaves free, diftributed fums of money amongfl: them,
and caufed feveral bandages and pledgets for wounds
to be got in readinefs : from all which preparations,
Melichius fufpedtino; that fomethinc^ extraordinary
was in hand, went and informed Nero of it, who
caufed Scevinus to be immiediately apprehended, and
then fecured Natales, another of the Confpirators,
with whom he had been feen talking in private for a
long time the day before : and as ihey did not agree,
when examined, in the account which they gave of
that converfation, they were forced at lad to difcover
the whole, by which all thofe that had any fhare in
it were utterly ruined. It is impoflible therefore to
prevent difcoveries being occafioned, either by want
of fidelity, prudence, or caution, whenever the ac-
complices exceeci the number of three or four : and
if more than one of thcfe (hould be taken up on


Chap.VI. The First Decad cf Livy. ^6t

furpicion, and examined, the whole mud come ouc,
fmcc they cnnnor poflibly agree in the lame flory :
one man indeed, if he is a perfon of great refolution,
may perhaps conceal his alfociates ; but if they have
not as much courage as himfelf, they will be apt to
betray themfelves by flying : for if there fhould be
a deficiency of fteadineis and refolution either in him
that is taken up, or in them that are at liberty, the
conlpiracy mull infallibly be difcovered. There is
indeed a very rare and uncommon example of fide-
lity in thole that cOx^fpired againfl Hieronymus, King
of Syracufe : for though, accordmg to Livy, one of
them, named Theodcrus, was apprehended, and put
to the torture, he refolutely concealed the names of
his accomplices, and accufed fome of the King's
friends •, whilll the other Confpiratcrs had fuch con-
fidence in the courage and conliancy of Theodorus,
that nor fo much as one of them either fled out of the
City, or betrayed the lead fign of fear. — Such arc
the difiicukies that occur in forming a confpiracy
and conducting it to execution -, but as there are
dangers, there are alio fome v/ays of guarding againft

I'he firft, the fafcfl:, and perhaps, the only one, is
not to give your accomplices time to difcover you ;
for which purpofe, they fhould not be made privy to
your defign till it is upon the very point of execution.
Thole that obfcrve this rule will at lead efcape the
dangers that may happen whilfl: the plot is carrying
on, and very often all others, for we may venture to
alBrm, that all the confpiracies that have been thus
conduced, have fucceeded ; and that it is in any wife
man's power to a6t in the fame manner. Let tsvo or
three examples fufnce. Nelematus not being able to
bear with the tyranny of Arifloiimus, King of Epirus,
affembled fevcral relations and friends in his own
houfe, and exhorting them to deliver their country,
fome of them defired time to confider of ir, and
make neceffary preparations for fuch an undertaking :
VJpon which, he ordrred his fervants to lock the doors,


362 Political Discourses upon Book III;

and protefted that if they would not take an oath to
proceed dired;ly to execution, he would deliver thern
all up prifoners to Ariftotimus : being terrified with
thefe menaces, they all took the oath, and following
him, immediately fell upon the Tyrant, and happily
recovered their liberties by tiie conJudl of Nelematus,
l^he next is of one of the Magi, who had got pof-
feflion of the Kingdom of Perfia by artifice ; but the
cheat being difcovered by Ortanus, a Nobleman of
that Kingdom, he privately conferred \v\ih fix other
great men, and conjured them to afllft him to kill
the Ufurper, and fee their country free : Ibme of
them however fecming rather fcrupulous about the
matter, and delirins: further time to confider of it,
Darius (one of the fix v^hom he had called together)
got up and faid, " Either refolve to do it indantly,
or I Will inform againil you all j" which had fuch an
effedl upon them, that without any further delay or
hefitation, they unanimouQy determined to concur
with him, and fucceeded in the enrerprize. The
method v.'hich the Etolians took to rid themfelves of
Nabis, the Tyrant of Sparta, was not unlike the two
examples juft quoted : for they fent Alexamenes,
one of their Citizens, with thirty horfe and two hun-
dred foot, as auxiliaries ; but communicated the fe-
cret to Alexamenes alone, whofe commands they or-
dered all the reft to obey on penalty of perpetual ex-
ile. Alexamenes accordingly marched to Sparta ;
and not communicating his commiiTion to any one
till he had an opportunity of executing it, foon found
means to difpatch the Tyrant. In this manner all the
perfons abovementioned efcaped the dangers that ufu-
ally occur, in bringing confpiracies to maturity ; and
others may likewile fucceed by the fame precaution,
\\hich is in every one's pov^er, as I fhall fnew from
the example of Pifo, whom I have UiCntioned before.
Pifo was a man of great diftinction, and in fuch con-
fidence with Nero, that the latter went frequently to
fup with hini in his gardens ; he therefore, might
eafily introduce fome of his friends whiiil Nero v/as


Chap. VI. The First Decad of Livr. 563
there, and fuch only as he knew to be nien of refolu-
tion, and fit for an undertaking of that kind : after
which, he might have communicated to them his de-
fign of afiafiinating the Emperor immediately, and
prevailed upon them to afTui in the affair, when ihey
had not time to demur, and the opportunity was fo
fair, that it was impofTible it Hiculd miicarry. And
if we confider other confpiracies, we (hall find that
there have not been many which might not have been
fuccefstully conduced in fon:e fuch a manner ; but
as few men are fufHciently converfant either in Hif-
tory, or the affairs of the world, they ofcen are guilty
of great errors ; efpecially in undertakings of fo
extraordinary a nature ^^ thofe we are fpeaking of.

A plot then fliould never be communicated till it
becomes abfolutely neceflary, and is ripe for execu-
tiouj and in that cafe, it fiiould be communicated to
one man only, who has either fufficiently convinced
you of his fidelity by many repeated trials, or has
had as much provocation to confpire as yourfeif ; for
it is an eafier matter to find one man that will be
faithful to you than a number, and confequently
there mufl: be lefs danger of being difcovered. Be-
fides, if he (hould betray you, you v;ill even in that
cafe have a better chance to fave yourfeif, than when
more are concerned : for I have heard wife men fay,
that you may trufl one perfon with any fecret, pro*-
vided you give nothing under your hand, which m.ay
afterwards be produced in evidence againfl you,whic{i
ought m.ofb carefully to be avoided ; becaufe in that
cale the pofitive denial of one man, will have as much
weight as the affirmation of another : but if your
o,wn hand-writing appears againfl you, you are un-
done, as there can be no ilronger teflimony of your
guilt, Plautianus having formed a dcfign to kill the
Emperor Severus and his Son Antoninus, communir
cated the affair to Saturninus, one of the Tribunes ;
who, inftead of concurring with him, refolved to dif-
cover it to the Emperor : but as he was afraid that
when be came to make c>;ood his charg-e, Plautianus


3^4 Political Discourses upon Book III,
would meet with more credit than himfelf, he defired
to have the particulars of the matter in writing to
ccnfider of; that lb there might be no doubt con-
cerning the truth of his information, Plautianus
therefore, blinded by ambition, raflily gave him the
particulars he demanded in his own hand v/riting,
which afterwards ferved to convidt him*: whereas,
without that proof and fome other circumdances to
confirm it, he would have bailed the Tribune, as he
boldly and poficively afierted his innocence : from
whence it appears that there is fome fecurity againfl
the accufation of one perfon only, when a man can-
rot be convided by his ov/n writing, or fome other
ftrong and circumftantial proofs, which he ought to
guard againil" with particular care. In the Pifonian
confpiracy a woman was concerned whole namjC was
Epicharis, and who had been one of Nero's miftrefles.
This woman finding it neceffary to draw a certain
Captain of Nero's guards into the plot, acquainted
him with the affair, but concealed the namics of the
confpirators : io that although the Captain betrayed
her, and inform.ed Nero of the defign, fhe denied it
with fuch firmnefs that the Emperor was confounded,
and Ihe efcaped with impunity. Whoever then im-
parts a fecret of this kind to one man only, and that
too by word of m.outh, has but two things to fear :
the firil is, that he may voluntarily inform againil
him ; and the next, that he may do it when appre-
hended upon fome fufpicion or difcovery of his own
a-flions, and be forced to accufe him by torture : in
both which cafes he may in fome meafure defend
himfelf; for in one, he may infift that it is owing to
private malice in the informer ; and in the other, he
may alledge that the accufation is falfe and extorted
by the extremity of pain. It is bed however either
not to trufl: any one at all with fuch a defign, till it
is ready for execution, and to imitate the example of
thofe whom we have mentioned above ; or, if it

' • In this planner Catiline likewife was convi^icd.


Chap, VI. The F]RST Decad OF Livy, 365

fliould become necefTary to communicate your inten-
tions fooner, not to admit of more than one accom-
plice ; for if there be fome danger even in this, there
is certainly much more in having many. Such is
the condudc generally obferved by chofe who find that
if they do not kill their Prince he will certainly kill
them ; in which cafe, the neceflicy is (o urgent that
they have nothing to do but to provide immediately
for their own fafety : and thefe fudden refolutions are
commonly fuccefsful, as may appear from the two
following examples.

The perfons in whom the Emperor Comm.odus put
mod confidence were Letus and Eledtus, two Cap-
tains of the Prretorian bands, and IVlarcia, his favou-
rite Miflrefs. But as they fometimes took the liberty
to reprefent to him how much he debafed both him-
felf and his authority by his fcandalous courfe of
life, he refolved to put them, to death ; in confequence
of which, he v;rote dov/n their names, and thofe of
fome others whom he defigned to have difpatched the
enfuing night, upon a piece of paper, which he laid
under his pillow ; but going out of his apartment to
bathe, a boy v;hom he v^as fond of happening to be
left behind, who finding the paper, carried it into an-
other room, where he vvas met by Marcia^ who took
it out of his hand and read it. Upon which, fiie
immediately fent for Letus and Hlecfus, and ac-
quainting them with the danger they were in, they
murdered the emperor that very evening. The next
infiance relates to Antoninus Caracalia ; who being
in Meibpotamia with his army, had appointed Ma-
crinus his Lieutenant, a man more converfant in ci-
vil intrigues than military affairs. And as the Em-
peror, like all bad Princes, v/as confcious of his own
demerits, and fufpe(51:ed that fome confpiracy was
forming; againfi: him, he wrote to his friend Maternia-
nps at Kome, defiring him to confuk the Aftrologers
upon this fubjedf, and to let him know their anfwer.
In anfwer to which, Maternianus fent him word that
he had obeyed his orders, and that the Aftrologers^


^66 Political Discourses, &c.' Book III.

laid Macrinos afpircd to the Empire: but as the let-
ter fell into the hands of Macrinus inflead of the
Emperor, and the LicLitenant perceiving he muft ei-
ther kill his Matter, before he could receive any other
letters from Rome, or be killed himfelf, ordered Mar-
tialis, a Centurion who was firmly attached to his
interefts, (and whofe brother Caracalla had put to
death but a few days before) to difpatch him -, which
he accordingly did without any difficulty or oppofi-
tion. We fee then, that when the necefHty is fo
prelTing that it allows no time for deliberation, it has
the fame efred with the method taken by Nclematus
to difpatch the Tyrant of Hpirus : we likewife fee the
truth of what I laid down in the beginning of this
difcourfe, viz. that threats are more prejudicial to
Princes, and occafion more dangerous confpiracies,
than the actual commiffion of violence : upon which
account, a Prince ought ftudioufly to avoid making
ufc of them ; and either to carefs thofe whom he ful-
pe6ts, and make them his friends by kind and bene-
ficent meafures -, or to fecure himfelf againd them
fome other way ; but never to reduce them to fuch a
defperate fituation, that they muft either kill him or
be killed themfelves.

As to the dang;ers which attend the execution of a
plot, they arife either from fome fudden change in
the plan and order of it, or from want of courage in
thofe that are to ftrike the finiQiing ftroke, or from
fome blunder, or laftly, from doing things by halves,
and leaving fome of thofe alive, who were marked
out for flaughter. With regard to the firft, there is
nothing that occafions fo much confufion and per-
plexity in any bufmefs as an unforefecn change in the
firft eftablifhed plan •, and if thefe fudden alterations
are prejudicial in all cafes^ they muft be particularly
fo in military operations, and in fuch enterprizes as
we are now fpeaking of : for in affairs of this nature,
nothing is more neceffary than that every man fhould
know the part he is to ad, that he may thoroughly
prepare himfelf for it : bccaufe when men have once


Chap. VI. The First Decad of Livy, 567

duly confiderecl theie macters with themfelves and
dwelt upon theni iome time, and determined to pro-
ceed, they mufl: of neccfiuy be embarralled to fach a
degree by any variation of orders at the moment of
execution, that every thing will be turned upfide
down, and all their defigns entirely defeated. It is
therefore much berter to proceed according to the
plan fird eltablifned, though it may be artended with
fome inconveniencies, than to run into more and
greater embarraffments by reverfing it, which mull
be the cafe vvhen the neceinty is urgent, and the time:

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