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Chapter 38

Of the Qualities of a Captain in whom his Soldiers can confide.

Valerius Corvinus, as I have said already, was sent in command of an army against the Samnites, who were then new enemies to Rome. Wherefore, to reassure his soldiers and familiarize them with their adversaries, he made them engage with them in various unimportant passages of arms. But not thinking this enough, he resolved before delivering battle to address his men, and by reminding them of their valour and his own, to make it plain how little they should esteem such enemies. And from the words which Titus Livius puts in his mouth we may gather what manner of man the captain ought to be in whom an army will put its trust. For he makes him say:--"Bear ye also this in mind under whose conduct and auspices you are about to fight, and whether he whom you are to obey be great only in exhorting, bold only in words, and all unpractised in arms; or whether he be one who himself knows how to use his spear, to march before the eagles, and play his part in the thickest of the fight. Soldiers! I would have you follow my deeds and not my words, and look to me for example rather than for commands; for with this right hand I have won for myself three consulships, and an unsurpassed renown." Which words rightly understood give every one to know what he must do to merit a captain's rank. And if any man obtain it by other means, he will soon discover that advancement due to chance or intrigue rather takes away than brings reputation, since it is men who give lustre to titles and not titles to men.

From what has been said it will likewise be understood that if great captains when matched against an unfamiliar foe have had to resort to unusual methods for reassuring the minds even of veteran soldiers, much more will it be necessary for them to use all their address when in command of a raw and untried army which has never before looked an enemy in the face. For if an unfamiliar adversary inspire terror even in a veteran army, how much greater must be the terror which any army will inspire in the minds of untrained men. And yet we often find all these difficulties overcome by the supreme prudence of a great captain like the Roman Gracchus or the Theban Epaminondas, of whom I have before spoken, who with untried troops defeated the most practised veterans. And the method they are said to have followed was to train their men for some months in mimic warfare, so as to accustom them to discipline and obedience, after which they employed them with complete confidence on actual service.

No man, therefore, of warlike genius, need despair of creating a good army if only he have the men; for the prince who has many subjects and yet lacks soldiers, has only to thank his own inertness and want of foresight, and must not complain of the cowardice of his people.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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