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Chapter 49

That a Commonwealth to preserve its Freedom has constant need of new Ordinances. Of the services in respect of which Quintius Fabius received the surname of Maximus.

It must happen, as I have already said, in every great city, that disorders needing the care of the physician continually spring up; and the graver these disorders are, the greater will be the skill needed for their treatment. And if ever in any city, most assuredly in Rome, we see these disorders assume strange and unexpected shapes. As when it appeared that all the Roman wives had conspired to murder their husbands, many of them being found to have actually administered poison, and many others to have drugs in readiness for the purpose.

Of like nature was the conspiracy of the Bacchanals, discovered at the time of the Macedonian war, wherein many thousands, both men and women, were implicated, and which, had it not been found out, or had the Romans not been accustomed to deal with large bodies of offenders, must have proved perilous for their city. And, indeed, if the greatness of the Roman Republic were not declared by countless other signs, as well as by the manner in which it caused its laws to be observed, it might be seen in the character of the punishments which it inflicted against wrong-doers. For in vindicating justice, it would not scruple or hesitate to put a whole legion to death, to depopulate an entire city, or send eight or ten thousand men at a time into banishment, subject to the most stringent conditions, which had to be observed, not by one of these exiles only, but by all. As in the case of those soldiers who fought unsuccessfully at CannŠ, who were banished to Sicily, subject to the condition that they should not harbour in towns, and should all eat standing.

But the most formidable of all their punishments was that whereby one man out of every ten in an entire army was chosen by lot to be put to death. For correcting a great body of men no more effectual means could be devised; because, when a multitude have offended and the ringleaders are not known, all cannot be punished, their number being too great; while to punish some only, and leave the rest unpunished, were unjust to those punished and an encouragement to those passed over to offend again. But where you put to death a tenth chosen by lot, where all equally deserve death, he who is punished will blame his unlucky fortune, while he who escapes will be afraid that another time the lot may be his, and for that reason will be careful how he repeats his offence. The poisoners and the Bacchanals, therefore, were punished as their crimes deserved.

Although disorders like these occasion mischievous results in a commonwealth, still they are not fatal, since almost always there is time to correct them. But no time is given in the case of disorders in the State itself, which unless they be treated by some wise citizen, will always bring a city to destruction. From the readiness wherewith the Romans conferred the right of citizenship on foreigners, there came to be so many new citizens in Rome, and possessed of so large a share of the suffrage, that the government itself began to alter, forsaking those courses which it was accustomed to follow, and growing estranged from the men to whom it had before looked for guidance. Which being observed by Quintius Fabius when censor, he caused all those new citizens to be classed in four Tribes, that being reduced within this narrow limit they might not have it in their power to corrupt the entire State. And this was a wisely contrived measure, for, without introducing any violent change, it supplied a convenient remedy, and one so acceptable to the republic as to gain for Fabius the well-deserved name of Maximus.


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Niccolo Machiavelli

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