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Chapter 59


To what Leagues or Alliances we may most trust; whether those we make with Commonwealths or those we make with Princes.


Since leagues and alliances are every day entered into by one prince with another, or by one commonwealth with another, and as conventions and treaties are concluded in like manner between princes and commonwealths, it seems to me proper to inquire whether the faith of a commonwealth or that of a prince is the more stable and the safer to count on. All things considered, I am disposed to believe that in most cases they are alike, though in some they differ. Of one thing, however, I am convinced, namely, that engagements made under duress will never be observed either by prince or by commonwealth; and that if menaced with the loss of their territories, both the one and the other will break faith with you and treat you with ingratitude. Demetrius, who was named the "City-taker," had conferred numberless benefits upon the Athenians; but when, afterwards, on being defeated by his enemies, he sought shelter in Athens, as being a friendly city and under obligations to him, it was refused him; a circumstance which grieved him far more than the loss of his soldiers and army had done. Pompey, in like manner, when routed by Csar in Thessaly, fled for refuge to Ptolemy in Egypt, who formerly had been restored by him to his kingdom; by whom he was put to death. In both these instances the same causes were at work, although the inhumanity and the wrong inflicted were less in the case of the commonwealth than of the prince. Still, wherever there is fear, the want of faith will be the same.

And even if there be found a commonwealth or prince who, in order to keep faith, will submit to be ruined, this is seen to result from a like cause. For, as to the prince, it may easily happen that he is friend to a powerful sovereign, whom, though he be at the time without means to defend him, he may presently hope to see restored to his dominions; or it may be that having linked his fortunes with another's, he despairs of finding either faith or friendship from the enemies of his ally, as was the case with those Neapolitan princes who espoused the interests of France. As to commonwealths, an instance similar to that of the princes last named, is that of Saguntum in Spain, which awaited ruin in adhering to the fortunes of Rome. A like course was also followed by Florence when, in the year 1512, she stood steadfastly by the cause of the French. And taking everything into account, I believe that in cases of urgency, we shall find a certain degree of stability sooner in commonwealths than in princes. For though commonwealths be like-minded with princes, and influenced by the same passions, the circumstance that their movements must be slower, makes it harder for them to resolve than it is for a prince, for which reason they will be less ready to break faith.

And since leagues and alliances are broken for the sake of certain advantages, in this respect also, commonwealths observe their engagements far more faithfully than princes; for abundant examples might be cited of a very slight advantage having caused a prince to break faith, and of a very great advantage having failed to induce a commonwealth to do so. Of this we have an instance in the proposal made to the Athenians by Themistocles, when he told them at a public meeting that he had certain advice to offer which would prove of great advantage to their city, but the nature of which he could not disclose to them, lest it should become generally known, when the opportunity for acting upon it would be lost. Whereupon the Athenians named Aristides to receive his communication, and to act upon it as he thought fit. To him, accordingly, Themistocles showed how the navy of united Greece, for the safety of which the Athenians stood pledged, was so situated that they might either gain it over or destroy it, and thus make themselves absolute masters of the whole country. Aristides reporting to the Athenians that the course proposed by Themistocles was extremely advantageous but extremely dishonourable, the people utterly refused to entertain it. But Philip of Macedon would not have so acted, nor any of those other princes who have sought and found more profit in breaking faith than in any other way.

As to engagements broken off on the pretext that they have not been observed by the other side, I say nothing, since that is a matter of everyday occurrence, and I am speaking here only of those engagements which are broken off on extraordinary grounds; but in this respect, likewise, I believe that commonwealths offend less than princes, and are therefore more to be trusted.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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