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Chapter 42


That Promises made on Compulsion are not to be observed.


When, after being subjected to this disgrace, the consuls returned to Rome with their disarmed legions, Spurius Posthumius, himself one of the consuls, was the first to contend in the senate that the terms made in the Caudine Valley were not to be observed. For he argued that the Roman people were not bound by them, though he himself doubtless was, together with all the others who had promised peace; wherefore, if the people desired to set themselves free from every engagement, he and all the rest who had given this promise must be made over as prisoners into the hands of the Samnites. And so steadfastly did he hold to this opinion, that the senate were content to adopt it, and sending him and the rest as prisoners back to Samnium, protested to the Samnites that the peace was not binding. And so kind was Fortune to Posthumius on this occasion, that the Samnites would not keep him as a prisoner, and that on his return to Rome, notwithstanding his defeat, he was held in higher honour by the Romans than the victorious Pontius by his countrymen.

Here two points are to be noted; first, that glory may be won by any action; for although, commonly, it follow upon victory, it may also follow on defeat, if this defeat be seen to have happened through no fault of yours, or if, directly after, you perform some valiant action which cancels it. The other point to be noted is that there is no disgrace in not observing promises wrung from you by force; for promises thus extorted when they affect the public welfare will always be broken so soon as the pressure under which they were made is withdrawn, and that, too, without shame on the part of him who breaks them; of which we read many instances in history, and find them constantly occurring at the present day. Nay, as between princes, not only are such compulsory promises broken when the force which extorted them is removed, but all other promises as well, are in like manner disregarded when the causes which led to them no longer operate.

Whether this is a thing to be commended or no, and whether such methods ought or ought not to be followed by princes, has already been considered by me in my "Treatise of the Prince" wherefore I say no more on that subject here.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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