HOW MANY KINDS OF SOLDIERY THERE ARE, AND CONCERNING MERCENARIES
Having discoursed particularly on the characteristics of such
principalities as in the beginning I proposed to discuss, and having
considered in some degree the causes of their being good or bad, and
having shown the methods by which many have sought to acquire them and
to hold them, it now remains for me to discuss generally the means of
offence and defence which belong to each of them.
We have seen above how necessary it is for a prince to have his
foundations well laid, otherwise it follows of necessity he will go to
ruin. The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or
composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good
laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are
well armed they have good laws. I shall leave the laws out of the
discussion and shall speak of the arms.
I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state
are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed.
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one
holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor
safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline,
unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have
neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is
deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by
them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other
attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend,
which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are
ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if
war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should
have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by
nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on
mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared
valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed
what they were. Thus it was that Charles, King of France, was allowed
to seize Italy with chalk in hand;[*] and he who told us that our sins
were the cause of it told the truth, but they were not the sins he
imagined, but those which I have related. And as they were the sins of
princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty.
[*] "With chalk in hand," "col gesso." This is one of the bons mots of
Alexander VI, and refers to the ease with which Charles VIII
seized Italy, implying that it was only necessary for him to send
his quartermasters to chalk up the billets for his soldiers to
conquer the country. Cf. "The History of Henry VII," by Lord
Bacon: "King Charles had conquered the realm of Naples, and lost
it again, in a kind of a felicity of a dream. He passed the whole
length of Italy without resistance: so that it was true what Pope
Alexander was wont to say: That the Frenchmen came into Italy with
chalk in their hands, to mark up their lodgings, rather than with
swords to fight."
I wish to demonstrate further the infelicity of these arms. The
mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they
are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own
greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others
contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you
are ruined in the usual way.
And if it be urged that whoever is armed will act in the same way,
whether mercenary or not, I reply that when arms have to be resorted
to, either by a prince or a republic, then the prince ought to go in
person and perform the duty of a captain; the republic has to send its
citizens, and when one is sent who does not turn out satisfactorily,
it ought to recall him, and when one is worthy, to hold him by the
laws so that he does not leave the command. And experience has shown
princes and republics, single-handed, making the greatest progress,
and mercenaries doing nothing except damage; and it is more difficult
to bring a republic, armed with its own arms, under the sway of one of
its citizens than it is to bring one armed with foreign arms. Rome and
Sparta stood for many ages armed and free. The Switzers are completely
armed and quite free.
Of ancient mercenaries, for example, there are the Carthaginians, who
were oppressed by their mercenary soldiers after the first war with
the Romans, although the Carthaginians had their own citizens for
captains. After the death of Epaminondas, Philip of Macedon was made
captain of their soldiers by the Thebans, and after victory he took
away their liberty.
Duke Filippo being dead, the Milanese enlisted Francesco Sforza
against the Venetians, and he, having overcome the enemy at
Caravaggio,[*] allied himself with them to crush the Milanese, his
masters. His father, Sforza, having been engaged by Queen Johanna[+]
of Naples, left her unprotected, so that she was forced to throw
herself into the arms of the King of Aragon, in order to save her
kingdom. And if the Venetians and Florentines formerly extended their
dominions by these arms, and yet their captains did not make
themselves princes, but have defended them, I reply that the
Florentines in this case have been favoured by chance, for of the able
captains, of whom they might have stood in fear, some have not
conquered, some have been opposed, and others have turned their
ambitions elsewhere. One who did not conquer was Giovanni Acuto,[%]
and since he did not conquer his fidelity cannot be proved; but every
one will acknowledge that, had he conquered, the Florentines would
have stood at his discretion. Sforza had the Bracceschi always against
him, so they watched each other. Francesco turned his ambition to
Lombardy; Braccio against the Church and the kingdom of Naples. But
let us come to that which happened a short while ago. The Florentines
appointed as their captain Pagolo Vitelli, a most prudent man, who
from a private position had risen to the greatest renown. If this man
had taken Pisa, nobody can deny that it would have been proper for the
Florentines to keep in with him, for if he became the soldier of their
enemies they had no means of resisting, and if they held to him they
must obey him. The Venetians, if their achievements are considered,
will be seen to have acted safely and gloriously so long as they sent
to war their own men, when with armed gentlemen and plebians they did
valiantly. This was before they turned to enterprises on land, but
when they began to fight on land they forsook this virtue and followed
the custom of Italy. And in the beginning of their expansion on land,
through not having much territory, and because of their great
reputation, they had not much to fear from their captains; but when
they expanded, as under Carmignuola,[#] they had a taste of this
mistake; for, having found him a most valiant man (they beat the Duke
of Milan under his leadership), and, on the other hand, knowing how
lukewarm he was in the war, they feared they would no longer conquer
under him, and for this reason they were not willing, nor were they
able, to let him go; and so, not to lose again that which they had
acquired, they were compelled, in order to secure themselves, to
murder him. They had afterwards for their captains Bartolomeo da
Bergamo, Roberto da San Severino, the count of Pitigliano,[&] and the
like, under whom they had to dread loss and not gain, as happened
afterwards at Vaila,[$] where in one battle they lost that which in
eight hundred years they had acquired with so much trouble. Because
from such arms conquests come but slowly, long delayed and
inconsiderable, but the losses sudden and portentous.
[*] Battle of Caravaggio, 15th September 1448.
[+] Johanna II of Naples, the widow of Ladislao, King of Naples.
[%] Giovanni Acuto. An English knight whose name was Sir John
Hawkwood. He fought in the English wars in France, and was
knighted by Edward III; afterwards he collected a body of troops
and went into Italy. These became the famous "White Company." He
took part in many wars, and died in Florence in 1394. He was born
about 1320 at Sible Hedingham, a village in Essex. He married
Domnia, a daughter of Bernabo Visconti.
[#] Carmignuola. Francesco Bussone, born at Carmagnola about 1390,
executed at Venice, 5th May 1432.
[&] Bartolomeo Colleoni of Bergamo; died 1457. Roberto of San
Severino; died fighting for Venice against Sigismund, Duke of
Austria, in 1487. "Primo capitano in Italia."--Machiavelli. Count
of Pitigliano; Nicolo Orsini, born 1442, died 1510.
[$] Battle of Vaila in 1509.
And as with these examples I have reached Italy, which has been ruled
for many years by mercenaries, I wish to discuss them more seriously,
in order that, having seen their rise and progress, one may be better
prepared to counteract them. You must understand that the empire has
recently come to be repudiated in Italy, that the Pope has acquired
more temporal power, and that Italy has been divided up into more
states, for the reason that many of the great cities took up arms
against their nobles, who, formerly favoured by the emperor, were
oppressing them, whilst the Church was favouring them so as to gain
authority in temporal power: in many others their citizens became
princes. From this it came to pass that Italy fell partly into the
hands of the Church and of republics, and, the Church consisting of
priests and the republic of citizens unaccustomed to arms, both
commenced to enlist foreigners.
The first who gave renown to this soldiery was Alberigo da Conio,[*]
the Romagnian. From the school of this man sprang, among others,
Braccio and Sforza, who in their time were the arbiters of Italy.
After these came all the other captains who till now have directed the
arms of Italy; and the end of all their valour has been, that she has
been overrun by Charles, robbed by Louis, ravaged by Ferdinand, and
insulted by the Switzers. The principle that has guided them has been,
first, to lower the credit of infantry so that they might increase
their own. They did this because, subsisting on their pay and without
territory, they were unable to support many soldiers, and a few
infantry did not give them any authority; so they were led to employ
cavalry, with a moderate force of which they were maintained and
honoured; and affairs were brought to such a pass that, in an army of
twenty thousand soldiers, there were not to be found two thousand foot
soldiers. They had, besides this, used every art to lessen fatigue and
danger to themselves and their soldiers, not killing in the fray, but
taking prisoners and liberating without ransom. They did not attack
towns at night, nor did the garrisons of the towns attack encampments
at night; they did not surround the camp either with stockade or
ditch, nor did they campaign in the winter. All these things were
permitted by their military rules, and devised by them to avoid, as I
have said, both fatigue and dangers; thus they have brought Italy to
slavery and contempt.
[*] Alberigo da Conio. Alberico da Barbiano, Count of Cunio in
Romagna. He was the leader of the famous "Company of St George,"
composed entirely of Italian soldiers. He died in 1409.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.