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Chapter 6


Of the Methods followed by the Romans in making War.


Having treated of the methods followed by the Romans for increasing their power, we shall now go on to consider those which they used in making war; and in all they did we shall find how wisely they turned aside from the common path in order to render their progress to supreme greatness easy.

Whosoever makes war, whether from policy or ambition, means to acquire and to hold what he acquires, and to carry on the war he has undertaken in such a manner that it shall enrich and not impoverish his native country and State. It is necessary, therefore, whether for acquiring or holding, to consider how cost may be avoided, and everything done most advantageously for the public welfare. But whoever would effect all this, must take the course and follow the methods of the Romans; which consisted, first of all, in making their wars, as the French say, great and short. For entering the field with strong armies, they brought to a speedy conclusion whatever wars they had with the Latins, the Samnites, or the Etruscans.

And if we take note of all the wars in which they were engaged, from the foundation of their city down to the siege of Veii, all will be seen to have been quickly ended some in twenty, some in ten, and some in no more than six days. And this was their wont: So soon as war was declared they would go forth with their armies to meet the enemy and at once deliver battle. The enemy, on being routed, to save their country from pillage, very soon came to terms, when the Romans would take from them certain portions of their territory. These they either assigned to particular persons, or made the seat of a colony, which being settled on the confines of the conquered country served as a defence to the Roman frontier, to the advantage both of the colonists who had these lands given them, and of the Roman people whose borders were thus guarded at no expense to themselves. And no other system of defence could have been at once so safe, so strong, and so effectual. For while the enemy were not actually in the field, this guard was sufficient; and when they came out in force to overwhelm the colony, the Romans also went forth in strength and gave them battle; and getting the better of them, imposed harder terms than before, and so returned home. And in this way they came gradually to establish their name abroad, and to add to their power.

These methods they continued to employ until they changed their system of warfare, which they did during the siege of Veii; when to enable them to carry on a prolonged war, they passed a law for the payment of their soldiers, whom, up to that time they had not paid, nor needed to pay, because till then their wars had been of brief duration. Nevertheless, while allowing pay to their soldiers that they might thus wage longer wars, and keep their armies longer in the field when employed on distant enterprises, they never departed from their old plan of bringing their campaigns to as speedy an end as place and circumstances allowed, nor ever ceased to plant colonies.

Their custom of terminating their wars with despatch, besides being natural to the Romans, was strengthened by the ambition of their consuls, who, being appointed for twelve months only, six of which they had to spend in the city, were eager to bring their wars to an end as rapidly as they could, that they might enjoy the honours of a triumph. The usage of planting colonies was recommended by the great advantage and convenience which resulted from it. In dealing with the spoils of warfare their practice, no doubt, in a measure changed, so that in this respect they were not afterwards so liberal as they were at first; partly, because liberality did not seem so necessary when their soldiers were in receipt of pay; and, partly, because the spoils themselves being greater than before, they thought by their help so to enrich the public treasury as to be able to carry on their wars without taxing the city; and, in fact, by pursuing this course the public revenues were soon greatly augmented. The methods thus followed by the Romans in dividing plunder and in planting colonies had, accordingly, this result, that whereas other less prudent princes and republics are impoverished by war, Rome was enriched by it; nay, so far was the system carried, that no consul could hope for a triumph unless he brought back with him for the public treasury much gold and silver and spoils of every kind.

By methods such as these, at one time bringing their wars to a rapid conclusion by invasion and actual defeat, at another wearing out an enemy by protracted hostilities, and again by concluding peace on advantageous terms, the Romans continually grew richer and more powerful.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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