Niccolò Machiavelli.

The 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

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you in your entrenchments •, or when he has not got
much footing in your country, and finds great incon-
veniencies and difficulties in fupporting his troops,
in thefe circumftances the obfervation of Livy is very
juft, who fays, " Nolens \'c(g fortunae committere ad-
verfus hoftem, quern tempus, deteriorem indies, &
locus ahenus, facerct. Not to rifque an engagement
when time and their fituation will daily weaken the
enemy." But in any other cafe, there is no fuch
thing as avoiding an engagement without great dif-


Chap. X. The First Decad of Livv. 591

honour and prejudice to yourfclf. For to fly as Phi-
lip did, is as bad as being routed \ and much more
difgraceful -, becaufe, in that cafe, you give no proof
of your courage : and though he indeed faved him-
felf by flight, another perfon may not hare the fame
good fortune, who is not equally favoured in his re-
treat by the nature of the country. Every one mufl
allow, that Hannibal was a very able and experienced
General : and therefore, if he had found it would
have been for his advantage to fpin out the war with
Scipio in Africa, he certainly would have done it ;
and perhaps (as he was a great Commander, and had
a very good army) in the fame method that Fabius
had obferved in Italy •, but linee he did not, we may
take it for granted he had very good reafons for a<5i:-
ing otherwife. For a General who is at the head of
an army, and finds he cannot keep it long together,
either for want of pay or other fupplies, mud be mad
if he does not hazard a battle, before his troops be-
gin to difband and dwindle away of themfelves : be-
caufe, if he does not, he is fure to be ruined ; but if
he does, he has fome chance to beat the enemy. Be-
fides, if the chance be ever fo fmall, a General ought
always to have a particular regard to his reputation :
and furely it is much lefs difgraceful to be overcome
in battle, after a brave refiitance, than to be ruined bj
doing nothing : upon which account, we may con-
clude, that Hannibal was by neceffuy forced to ad as
he did. On the other hand, if he had been inclined
to prolong the war by avoiding an engagement, and
Scipio durft not have ventured to attack him in his
iirong places, the latter Vv'ould not have fufi^ered any
inconvenience from ir : for he had defeated Syphax
before, and had got fuch footing in Africa, that he
could have fupported himfelf there with as little dif-
ficulty as in Italy. But this was not the cafe with
Hannibal, when he had Fabius upon his hands ; nor
with the Gauls when they were engaged with Sulpi-
tius. Much lefs can thofe avoid an eno;ao;ement who
attempt an invafion : for as foon as ever they fet their

C c 4 foo^

392 Political Discourses upon Bock IIL

toot in an enemy's country, they mufl come to an
action, it the entmy oppoies them upon the confines-,
but if they are fufi^cred to lay fjege to any place, they
will find the neceiruy of fo doing ftill greater : as it
happened to Charles Dujc^ of Bourbon not long ago-,
who was attacked and routed by the Swifs, whilft he
lay before Morat, a town in Switzerland : and to the
French army which had invefled Novara, and wa^
like wife defeated by the fame people.


^jGugh a perfon who has many ensmies to deal 'suith at
the fame tinie^ may he inferior to them all together *, yeS
if he can fuftain their firfl fJoock^ be commonly gets the
better of them*

nPvE AT was the power of the Tribunes at Rome •,
^.^ and indeed it was neceffary it fhould be fo, as
1 iiave faid qiore than once before ; fince the ambir
lion of the Nobility could not have been fuHiciently
controuled without it, and qonfequently mull have
corrupted that Commonwealth mucli fooncr than ic
did. But as nothing is perfedl, and every advantage
is attended with fome inconvenience which at laft oc-
cafions diforders that require new laws and provifions;
\o remedy them : fj the Tribunes in time grew fo in-,
folent, and their authority fo great, that not only the
Nobility but the whole Commonwealth were alarmed
at ic ; and it certainly would either have ptally fwal-
iowed up, or greatly endangered the liberties of thac
State, if Appius Claudius had not hit upon an expe-
dient to prevent it. For as there was alw.iys one cr
other of the Tribunes, who either had a real regard
for the good of his country, or was liable to be cor-
rupted, or prevailed upon by threats, fome means
were found to work upon him in fuch a manner as to
make him oppofe the rell, whenever they endeavoured
\o adt contrary to the inclination of the Senate. FVo


Chap. XI. The First Decad of Livv. ^<^^

this manner of proceeding, which ferved in feme
nieafure to moderate the overgrown power of the
Tribunes, and vvas for a long time of great fervice
to the Roman Republic^ we may obfcrve, chat thoiu;h
feveral other Scates fhould join againft one which is
not by any means fo (Irong as themfelves whilll they
are united ; yet more is to be expedlcd from that one
State, than from all the others, however powerful.
For to omit numberlefs inftances which prove that
one commander has the advantage over a number, a
State thus circumftanced will always find ways and
means to difunite fuch a confederacy, and greatly re-
duce its (Irength.

To confirm this, we have no occafion to look back
into ancient Hiftory for examples •, fince our own
times will furnilh us with fufficient. In the year
1484, all Italy confederated againfl the Venetians ;
and though they were ilripped of all their territories,
and could not fend an army into the field, yet they
found means to corrupt Lewis Sforza, Duke of Mi-
lan, and detached him from the League in fuch a
manner, that they not only recovered what they had
iolt, but had a good part of the Duchy of Ferrara
ceded to them : fo that notwithftanding they had loll
all they had in the war, they v/ere great gainers by
the peace. Not many years ago all Chriftendom
feemed to have combined againfl: France : but before
the end of the W4r the Spaniards deferred the Confe-
deracy, which forced the reft of the Allies to come to
an accommodation. From hence we may fr-e that
v;hen feveral Princes or States unite together againlt
one Prince or Republic, if that Prince or Republic
be flrong enough to fuflain the firft Ifiock and pvo-
trad the war, he wilj certainly prevail againft tlieni
at laft. But if he is not able to do that, the danger
is great indeed, as the Venetians found to their coft
in the year 1508 : for if they could have held the
French at bay till they had gained over iony^ of the
Confederates, they might have warded olf the blow :
but not having ftrength enough to do that, they v,'ere


394 Political Discourses upon Book HI.

reduced to the brink of ruin. The Pope, it is evi-
dent from what happened afterwards, might eafiljr
have been taken off-, for both he and the Spaniards
were reconciled and became their friends, as foon as
they had recovered what they had loll before *, and
both of them would willingly have joined with the
Venetians to defend Lonibardy againft the French,
in order to prevent the latter from becoming too
powerful in Italy. The Venetians then ought to have
given up fome part of their acquifitions, to preferve
the reli: : which indeed would have been ading a
very v/ife part, if it had been done before the war
begun, that it might not appear to be extorted by
necefliCy : for after the war was once commienced, it
mud have looked mean and pitiful, and perhaps
would have done them little or no fervice. But be-
fore that war broke out, there were few people at Ve-
nice that forefaw the dani:;er v/hich 'huno; over their
heads, i\\\\ fewer that knew how to provide againft ir,
and no body at all that was able to point out any re-
medy when it fell upon them. 1 o recapitulate the
contents of this Chapter, 1 lay, that as the Roman
Senate found means to preferve the liberties of their
country againll the ambitious attempts of the Tri-
bunes, chiefly from the number of thofe Magillrates 5
fo any Prince or State that is attuckfd by a Confede-
racy, may likewife be enabled to lupport tlvemfelves
againft it, if they have but the addrefs to difunite
the Confederates.


A Wife General ought to lay his own army under a necffyUy
of fighting : but fieiir to riduce an Enemy to fuch cir-

T|^ /TANY glorious a6lions have been the effefl of
-.VX necedity, as I have fhewn in another place* ;
infjiiiuch that fome Philofophers have affirmed, that

• See the Art of War, bock IV. at the end,


Chap. XII, The First Decad of Livy. 395

pcither the tongue nor the hand (thofe two noble or-
gans which were given to mankind to diftinguifh and
exalc them above all orher creatures) could ever have
done fuch aitonidiing things, if necellicy had not im-
pelled them to it. Some of the moll renowned Com-
rnanders jn iormer times, well knowing the weight of
necelfify, and wiih what a degree of obftinacy and
refolution it inipires an army, always endeavoured to
lay their Soldiers under a necelTity ot fighting: whilll,
on the contrary, they never reduced an enemy to fuch
circumftances •, but rather opened a way for their
efcape, when they became defperate ; though they
uied all means to deprive their own troops of [he like
opportunities. Whoever then would animate either
a garrifon in a town that is befieged to make a brave
defence, or an army in the field to behave themfelves
like men, mud above all things endeavour to con-
vince them of the necefllty of fo doing : and on the
other hand, a wife Commander, before he fits down
before a town, will be able to form a pretty good
judgment whether he fliall nieet with much difficulty
or not in reducing the place, by confidering the de-
gree of necefficy under which the befieged lie of
making an obftmate defence : for if that is great,
their refolution will be proportionable to it*, if other-
wife, there will be io niUch the lefs difficulty in the
matter. Hence it comes to pafs, that towns which
have revolted are much harder to be reduced than
they were to be taken at firft : for as they had not
been guilty of any offence before, they had no pu-
nifhment to fear, and confequently made no great
difficulty of furrendering vj a fuperior force : but
when they have rebelled, and know they deferve tp
be chailized, they will endeavour to defend themfelves
to the laft man. Such a degree of obflinacy is like-
wife owing to the natural hatred which fometimes
fubfifis betwixt neighbouring States : and this pro-
ceeds from ambition on one fide, and iealoufy on the
Other ; efpecially betwixt Princes and Common-
wealths •, of which we have many examples in Tuf-


5g6 Political Discourses upon Book III.

cany, where thefe mutual kifpicions put both parties
Dpon their guard, and make them obftinate in de-
fending themleives. So that, if v/e compare the towns
which lie near Florence, with thofe that arc near Ve-
nice, we fhall have no occafion to wonder (as many
do) that the Florentines have fpent more and gained
lels in their wars than the Venetians ; fince the la'ter
did not meet with fo vigorous an oppohtion from the
places they attacked, as the former did : becaufe
thofe that lay near Venice having been ufed to live
under Princes and accuilomed to fervitude, were fo
far from being averfe to any change of Mailers, that
it was a thing they often wiflied for : fo that though
the States wiiich lay near the Venetians were llronger
and more powerful, than thofe that bordered upon
the Florentines, yet they were reduced with more
eafc than the latter, becaufe they had not been ac-
cuftomed to liberty, and therefore did not make fo
obftinate a defence.

When a General therefore lays fiege to any place,
lie ought to make ufe of all his addrefs to convince
the befieged they are not under any neceflity of de-
fending themfclves to the lad extremity : for which
purpofe, he fhould promife them pardon if they have
oifended ; that fo they may not be reduced to defpair
by the ppprehenfion of punifhment : or if they are
afraid of lofing their liberties, he fhould affure them
he has no delig;n of infrino;in": them, or of doinor
them the lead: injury of any kind whatfoever -, and
that he has no further intention than to reflrain the
ambition of fome few particular men amongll them.
Such a method of proceeding often facilitates the re-
duclion of a town : and though theie pretences are
eafily k(^vi through by men of fngacity and penetra-
tion, yet they gen-rally impofe upon the vulgar •,
who being deOrous of prefent t?Sc and quiet, are not
aware cf the hook that is concealed under fuch pro-
mifes, and confequently are often gulled either out
of their lives or liberties that way : as it happened ro
the Florentines ftot long ago, and to Crallus and his


Chap. XIII. The First Decad of Livy. ^97

army of old. For though that General was convin-
ced himfclf there was no confidence to be put in the
Parthians, and that they made him fair promifes, only
to footh his Soldiers in fuch a manner that they mighc
not think themfelves in defperate circumftances, and
under a necefiity of being itridly upon their guard ;
yet his men were fo blinded with the offers of peace,
that not being able to make them fee the danger they
were in, both he and his army were cut oft. — The
SamniteSj at the iniligation of fome fev/ of their
countrymen, who had more ambition than the refi"^
made an incurfion into the territories of a State in al-
liance with the Romans, and plundered all the coun-
try in contempt of the treaties that fubfifted betwixc
them : but repenting of what they had done, they
afterwards fent AnibaiTadors not only to ^{k pardon
of the Romans, but to aiTure them they would like-
wife make ample reftitution, and deliver up the Au-
thors of thofe hoftilities into their hands. This fub-
mifTion however, being reje6led at Rome, and the
Ambafifadors returning without any hopes of pardon^
Claudius Pontius their General, in order to animate
his men to behave valiantly, reprefented to them in
an harangue, that fince the Romans would accept of
no fatisfadion, but were determined to make war up-
on them, though they had offered to accommodate
matters in an amicable manner, they were under ar>
ablblute neceffjty of taking up arms for their own
defence j '* Juftum eft bellum (faid he) quibus ne-
ceffarium ; & pia arma quibus nulla nifi in armis fpes
etl : a war is always juft when neceffary ; and it is a
man's duty to take up arms when there is no other
way left to preferve himfelf ;" upon which neceffity
alone he founded his hopes of vid:ory. But that we
may have no occafion to fay any thing more upon
this lubjecl, I fnall here add Tome other examples from
the Roman Pliftory which feeni worthy of notice.
In a war with the Veientes, Caius Maniiius being at
the head of the Roman army, which lay encamped
not far from the enemy j the latter found trjeans to


39S Political Discourses upoi^ Book III,

force feme part of his entrenchments : upon which,
Manilius hailed with a body of troops to fuccour his
camp, and fhiit up all the avenues to it in fo cift^clual
a manner that he thought it impoflible for the enemy
to make their efcape. But the Veientes feeing they
were thus enclofed on every fide, exerted themfelves
with fuch fury that they killed Manilius, and would
have dettroyed his whole army, if one of the Tri-
bunes had not wifely opened them a way for their
retreat. Hence we fee that whilft the Veientes were
under a neceffity of fighting, they fought defperate-
]y : but as foon as tiicy had an opportunity of re-
treating, they chofe rather to do that than fight any
longer. The Volfci and ^^qui having invaded the
Roman territories, two Confuls were fent at the head
of two different armies to oppofc them •, and furpri-
fing the enemy in their camp, they enclofed them in
fuch a manner, that Vettius Mettius their General,
finding they mull either fight their way through, or
all be cut to pieces, bravely called out to his Soldiers,
" Ite mecum, non murus, non vallum ; armati ar-
niatis obdant •, virtute pares, quse ultimum ac maxi-
mum telum eft, neceffitate fuperiores eftis : follow
me, there is neither wall, nor rampart in the way ;
you have arms in your hands, as v/ell as they ; your
courage is equal ; and in point of neceffity, which is
the (harpeft and befi weapon, you are fuperior ;" in
which paflTage, it is remarkable that Livy calls Ne-
cefiTuy " the fharpeft and beft weapon." — Caniillus,
the wifeft General Rome ever had, havino; entered
Veil by Storm., commanded his Soldiers with a loud
voice to fpare every man that laid down his arms :
and this he did to facilitate the total redudion of
that town, which otherwife, perhaps, might have
been a matter of great difficulty, if he had laid the
ganifon under a neceffity of defending themfelves to
the lad extremity. But as they were encouraged by
thcfe orders to lay down their arms, the town was
taken wichoui: much bloodfiied j and many other


Chap. XIII. The First Decad of Livy. 599

Generals have fince made ufe of the fame expe-
dient ^,

CHAP. Xlll.

I TVheth'r a good General a'-id a had arm}\ or a good
army and a bad General, are mojl to be depended

WH£N Coriol^nus was baniflied, he retired to
the Volici ; and having raifed an army amongft
them, marched back tg Rome at the head of it, \v%
* order to revenge himfelf upon his Fellow-citizens :
but being prevailed upon by .the tears and entreaties of
his Mother, rather than any confideration ot the Ro-
man arms, he defifted from the enterprize. From
this event, fay Livy, it plainly appeared that the Ro-
mans were more indebted to the excellency of their
Generals than the valour of their Soldiers, f jr the
aggrandizement of their Commonwealth : for though
they had always beat the Volfci before ; yet they were
not able to cope with them, after they had got Corio-
lanus at the head of their forces.

Now though Livy feems to be of this opinion, yet
we fee from many other paffages in his Hiilory, that
the bravery of the Soldiers alone often did very
great things, and that they fometimes ftood more
firm, and fought with greater refolution after their
General was killed than they had done before : as
it happened in the army which the Romans had in
Spain under the command of the two Scipio's, in
which, the Soldiers behaved fo well after the death
of thofe Generals, that they not only defended them-
felves, but fubdued the enemy, and maintained poiTef-
fion of the whole Province for the Romans. So that

* See a further difcufilon of this matter, book \. chap, xlvil. of
Montaigne's Ellays : and book vii. of the Art of War. 'Dbere is
much good (t\\(Q without doubt in the old faying, make a golden
bridge for a flying enemy. See aifo book ii. chap. xvii. of thele Dii-

. upon


400 Political Discourses UPON Book lit,-

upon enquiry, we (hall find fome inftances in which the:
Viilour of the Soldiers alone gained a vidlory ; and
others, wherein the condu(5l of the Commander only
had the fame efFedl : from whence we may conclude,
that if either one or the other of them is able to efFedt
. great things fingly, nothing can (land before them
when united.

But if it fhould be afked, whether a good army
■with a bad General, or a good General with a bad
army is moft to be dreaded ; it may be anfwered,
that in Cccfar's opinion, no great account is to be
made either of one or the other. For when he march-
ed into Spain againft Afranius and Fetreius, who
were at the head of a good army, he Teemed to de-
ipife the enemy, " quia ibat ad exercitum fine duce,
becaufe he was going to fight an army without a Ge-
neral," hinting at the weaknefs of thofe two Com-
manders. On the contrary, when he led his forces
into I'heiFaly againft Pompey, he faid, " Vado ad
ducem fine exercitu, I am now going to fight a Gene-
ral without an army " It may likewife be demanded,
whether it is eafier for a good General to make a good
army ; or for a good army to make a good General ?
But this queftion I think is prefently anfwered : for
certainly many able Soldiers in an army may fooner
difcipline and inftrudl one man how to do his duty,
than one man can form, difcipline, and model a
whole army. When Lucullus was lent againft Mi-
thridates, he was totally unacquainted with military
affairs : but as he had a very good army and many
excellent officers under him, they foon made him an
able General. The Romans not havinij; free men
tnow to recruit their armies, were forced to arm a
number of Slaves, and gave the command of them to
Senipronius Gracchus, who difciplined them in fuch
a manner, that in a very ftiort time they became good
Soldiers. Felopidas and Epaminondas (as 1 have
fhewn elfewhere) having delivered their countrymen
the Thcbans from the yoke of Sparta, foon made
fuch Soldiers of the very peafants, that they not only


Chap. XIV. The First Decad ov Livr. 4.01

-fupporced a war againft the Spartans, but totally
ftibducd them at lail*: from which w^ fee there are
examples on both fides, and that it is tMcher in ih^
power of a good army to make a gocd General, or of
a good General to make a good army. The befl:
army in the world liowever will be api: to grow info-
lent and mutinous, if it has not an able General to
curb and rcftrain the licer.tioufnefs of the Soldiers 5
as the Macedonian troops did after the death of
Alexander the Greats and the Roman Veterans in
the time of their civil wars. So that I think a eocd
General who has time to arm and difcipline a body of
new raifed men in a proper m.anner, is much more
to be depended upon than an infolent army, even of
Veterans, v^hich has made a fudden and tumultuary
choice of fome officer to command it. Thofe Generals
therefore are certainly Vv'orthy cfthehighed praife and
admiration vvho have not only gained vi(5lories but have
been previouQy obliged to form and difcipline their
P troops before they led them on to battle. For this
is a tafk that is doubly arduous^ and requires fuch
rare abilities that if it had fallen to the lot of many
who have made a great figure in the world, perhaps
they would not have been fo much admired and
X extolled*


Thai new irtventiGns and fudden cries fometlmes havs

firange effe^s in battle,

F what importance a fudden rumour, or un-
ufual phasnomenon, or chance word m.^y be in
tim.e of battle (amongfl: m.any other inftances) we
have a remarkable one in an eneag^ement betwixt the
Romans and the Volfci, where Q^iintius the Roman
General obferving one wing of nis army was be-

• See book i. chap. xxi. and book i, of tb$ Art of War.

Vol. III. Dd ginnipg

402 Political Discourses upon Book III.

ginning to give way, called out aloud to the Soldiers
" to ftand their ground, for the other wing had beaE
the enemy;" an artifice which lo animated his own
men, and itruck fuch a terror into the other army,
that he got the day by it. Now if fuch things have
a great effed: in a v/ell difciplined army, certainly
they mufl have a much greater in one that is ill difci-
plined and apr to be thrown into diforder by every
little accident : for a proof of which, let me relate
an event that happened in our own times. Not many
years ago the City of Perugia was divided into two
fadions, the Oddi and the Baglioni ; the latter of
whom prevailing, the former were baniihed. But
having raifed fome forces and condudled them with
great privacy to a place near Ferucria, they were lee
into the town one night by fome of their friends, and
got as far as the main fquare without being difcovercd.
But as the Streets in that City were barricadoed with
ftrong chains, the Oddi had a man at the head of their
forces with an iron maul to break the links of the
chains, and make way for the horfe: by which means
they had penetrated as far as the great fquare, and
had only one chain to break which fecured the paf-
fa2;e into it. But a fudden alarm being raifed when
they came thither, the man who was to break that
chain was fo prciied upon by the Soldiers behind him,
that not having room to m,ana2;e i'hQ maul, he called
out to them, ''Keep back, kccrp back;"' which cry
palling from one to another, thofe in the rear began
to run avyay, and were foon followed by all the reft
in fuch Gonfufion that the defign was totally defeated.
From hence we may obferve that good order and
difcipline are necefiliry in an army, not only to pre-
vent confufion in time of battle, but to fecure it

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