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Chapter 33


That to insure victory in battle you must inspire your Men with confidence in one another and in you.


To insure an army being victorious in battle you must inspire it with the conviction that it is certain to prevail. The causes which give it this confidence are its being well armed and disciplined, and the soldiers knowing one another. These conditions are only to be found united in soldiers born and bred in the same country.

It is likewise essential that the army should think so well of its captain as to trust implicitly to his prudence; which it will always do if it see him careful of its welfare, attentive to discipline, brave in battle, and otherwise supporting well and honourably the dignity of his position. These conditions he fulfils when, while punishing faults, he does not needlessly harass his men, keeps his word with them, shows them that the path to victory is easy, and conceals from them, or makes light of things which seen from a distance might appear to threaten danger. The observance of these precautions will give an army great confidence, and such confidence leads to victory.

This confidence the Romans were wont to inspire in the minds of their soldiers by the aid of religion; and accordingly their consuls were appointed, their armies were enrolled, their soldiers marched forth, and their battles were begun, only when the auguries and auspices were favourable; and without attending to all these observances no prudent captain would ever engage in combat; knowing that unless his soldiers were first assured that the gods were on their side, he might readily suffer defeat. But if any consul or other leader ever joined battle contrary to the auspices, the Romans would punish him, as they did Claudius Pulcher.

The truth of what I affirm is plainly seen from the whole course of the Roman history, but is more particularly established by the words which Livius puts into the mouth of Appius Claudius, who, when complaining to the people of the insolence of the tribunes, and taxing them with having caused the corruption of the auspices and other rites of religion, is made to say, "And now they would strip even religion of its authority. For what matters it, they will tell you, that the fowls refuse to peck, or come slowly from the coop, or that a cock has crowed? These are small matters doubtless; but it was by not contemning such small matters as these, that our forefathers built up this great republic." And, indeed, in these small matters lies a power which keeps men united and of good courage, which is of itself the chief condition of success.

But the observances of religion must be accompanied by valour, for otherwise they can nothing avail. The men of Praneste, leading forth their army against the Romans, took up their position near the river Allia, on the very spot where the Romans had been routed by the Gauls, selecting this ground that it might inspire their own side with confidence, and dishearten their enemies with the unhappy memories which it recalled But although, for the reasons already noted, this was a course which promised success, the result nevertheless showed that true valour is not to be daunted by trifling disadvantages. And this the historian well expresses by the words he puts in the mouth of the dictator as spoken to his master of the knights "See how these fellows, in encamping on the banks of the Allia, have chosen their ground in reliance upon fortune. Do you, therefore, relying on discipline and valour, fall upon then centre." For true valour, tight discipline, and the feeling of security gained by repeated victories, are not to be counteracted by things of no real moment, dismayed by empty terrors, or quelled by a solitary mishap. As was well seen when the two Manlii, being consuls in command against the Volscians, rashly allowed a part of their army to go out foraging, and both those who went out and those who stayed behind found themselves attacked at the same moment For from this danger they were saved by the courage of the soldiers, and not by the foresight of the consuls. With regard to which occurrence Titus Livius observes, "Even without a leader the steadfast valour of the soldiers was maintained."

Here I must not omit to notice the device practised by Fabius to give his army confidence, when he led it for the first time into Etruria. For judging such encouragement to be especially needed by his men, since they were entering an unknown country to encounter a new foe, he addressed them before they joined battle, and, after reciting many reasons for expecting a victory, told them, that "he could have mentioned other favourable circumstances making victory certain, had it not been dangerous to disclose them." And as this device was dexterously used it merits imitation.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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