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Chapter 15


That one and not many should head an Army: and why it is harmful to have more Leaders than one.


The men of Fidenae rising against the colonists whom the Romans had settled among them, and putting them to the sword, the Romans to avenge the insult appointed four tribunes with consular powers: one of whom they retained to see to the defence of Rome, while the other three were sent against the Fidenati and the Veientines. But these three falling out among themselves, and being divided in their counsels, returned from their mission with discredit though not with loss. Of which discredit they were themselves the cause. That they sustained no loss was due to the valour of their soldiers But the senate perceiving the source of the mischief, to the end that one man might put to rights what three had thrown into confusion, resorted to the appointment of a dictator.

Here we see the disadvantage of having several leaders in one army or in a town which has to defend itself. And the case could not be put in clearer words than by Titus Livius, where he says, "The three tribunes with consular authority gave proof how hurtful it is in war to have many leaders; for each forming a different opinion, and each abiding by his own, they threw opportunities in the way of their enemies." And though this example suffice by itself to show the disadvantage in war of divided commands, to make the matter still plainer I shall cite two further instances, one ancient and one modern.

In the year 1500, Louis XII. of France, after recovering Milan, sent troops to restore Pisa to the Florentines, Giovambattista Ridolfi and Luca d'Antonio Albizzi going with them as commissaries. Now, because Giovambattista had a great name, and was older than Luca, the latter left the whole management of everything to him; and although he did not show his jealousy of him by opposing him, he betrayed it by his silence, and by being so careless and indifferent about everything, that he gave no help in the business of the siege either by word or deed, just as though he had been a person of no account. But when, in consequence of an accident, Giovambattista had to return to Florence, all this was changed; for Luca, remaining in sole charge, behaved with the greatest courage, prudence, and zeal, all which qualities had been hidden while he held a joint command. Further to bear me out I shall again borrow the words of Titus Livius, who, in relating how when Quintius and Agrippa his colleague were sent by the Romans against the Equians, Agrippa contrived that the conduct of the war should rest with Quintius, observes, "Most wholesome is it that in affairs of great moment, supreme authority be vested in one man." Very different, however, is the course followed by the republics and princes of our own days, who, thinking to be better served, are used to appoint several captains or commissioners to fill one command; a practice giving rise to so much confusion, that were we seeking for the causes of the overthrow of the French and Italian armies in recent times, we should find this to be the most active of any.

Rightly, therefore, may we conclude that in sending forth an army upon service, it is wiser to entrust it to one man of ordinary prudence, than to two of great parts but with a divided command.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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