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Chapter 12


Whether when Invasion is imminent it is better to anticipate or to await it.


I have often heard it disputed by men well versed in military affairs, whether, when there are two princes of nearly equal strength, and the bolder of the two proclaims war upon the other, it is better for that other to await attack within his own frontier, or to march into the enemy's country and fight him there; and I have heard reasons given in favour of each of these courses.

They who maintain that an enemy should be attacked in his own country, cite the advice given by Croesus to Cyrus, when the latter had come to the frontiers of the MassagetŠ to make war on that people. For word being sent by Tomyris their queen that Cyrus might, at his pleasure, either enter her dominions, where she would await him, or else allow her to come and meet him; and the matter being debated, Croesus, contrary to the opinion of other advisers, counselled Cyrus to go forward and meet the queen, urging that were he to defeat her at a distance from her kingdom, he might not be able to take it from her, since she would have time to repair her strength; whereas, were he to defeat her within her own dominions, he could follow her up on her flight, and, without giving her time to recover herself, deprive her of her State. They cite also the advice given by Hannibal to Antiochus, when the latter was meditating a war on the Romans. For Hannibal told him that the Romans could not be vanquished except in Italy, where an invader might turn to account the arms and resources of their friends, whereas any one making war upon them out of Italy, and leaving that country in their hands, would leave them an unfailing source whence to draw whatever reinforcement they might need; and finally, he told him, that the Romans might more easily be deprived of Rome than of their empire, and of Italy more easily than of any of their other provinces. They likewise instance Agathocles, who, being unequal to support a war at home, invaded the Carthaginians, by whom he was being attacked, and reduced them to sue for peace. They also cite Scipio, who to shift the war from Italy, carried it into Africa.

Those who hold a contrary opinion contend that to have your enemy at a disadvantage you must get him away from his home, alleging the case of the Athenians, who while they carried on the war at their convenience in their own territory, retained their superiority; but when they quitted that territory, and went with their armies to Sicily, lost their freedom. They cite also the fable of the poets wherein it is figured that AntŠus, king of Libya, being assailed by the Egyptian Hercules, could not be overcome while he awaited his adversary within the bounds of his own kingdom; but so soon as he was withdrawn from these by the craft of Hercules, lost his kingdom and his life. Whence the fable runs that AntŠus, being son to the goddess Earth, when thrown to the ground drew fresh strength from the Earth, his mother; and that Hercules, perceiving this, held him up away from the Earth.

Recent opinions are likewise cited as favouring this view. Every one knows how Ferrando, king of Naples, was in his day accounted a most wise prince; and how two years before his death there came a rumour that Charles VIII of France was meditating an attack upon him; and how, after making great preparations for his defence, he sickened; and being on the point of death, among other counsels left his son Alfonso this advice, that nothing in the world should tempt him to pass out of his own territory, but to await the enemy within his frontier, and with his forces unimpaired; a warning disregarded by Alfonso, who sent into Romagna an army, which he lost, and with it his whole dominions, without a battle.

Other arguments on both sides of the question in addition to those already noticed, are as follows: He who attacks shows higher courage than he who stands on his defence, and this gives his army greater confidence. Moreover, by attacking your enemy you deprive him of many opportunities for using his resources, since he can receive no aid from subjects who have been stripped of their possessions; and when an enemy is at his gates, a prince must be careful how he levies money and imposes taxes; so that, as Hannibal said, the springs which enable a country to support a war come to be dried up. Again, the soldiers of an invader, finding themselves in a foreign land, are under a stronger necessity to fight, and necessity, as has often been said, is the parent of valour.

On the other hand, it may be argued that there are many advantages to be gained by awaiting the attack of your enemy. For without putting yourself much about, you may harass him by intercepting his supplies, whether of victual or of whatsoever else an army stands in need: from your better knowledge of the country you can impede his movements; and because men muster more willingly to defend their homes than to go on distant expeditions, you can meet him with more numerous forces, if defeated you can more easily repair your strength, because the bulk of your army, finding shelter at hand, will be able to save itself, and your reserves will have no distance to come. In this way you can use your whole strength without risking your entire fortunes; whereas, in leaving your country, you risk your entire fortunes, without putting forth your whole strength. Nay, we find that to weaken an adversary still further, some have suffered him to make a march of several days into their country, and then to capture certain of their towns, that by leaving garrisons in these, he might reduce the numbers of his army, and so be attacked at greater disadvantage.

But now to speak my own mind on the matter, I think we should make this distinction. Either you have your country strongly defended, as the Romans had and the Swiss have theirs, or, like the Carthaginians of old and the King of France and the Italians at the present day, you have it undefended. In the latter case you must keep the enemy at a distance from your country, for as your strength lies not in men but in money, whenever the supply of money is cut off you are undone, and nothing so soon cuts off this supply as a war of invasion. Of which we have example in the Carthaginians, who, while their country was free from invasion, were able by means of their great revenues to carry on war in Italy against the Romans, but when they were invaded could not defend themselves even against Agathocles. The Florentines, in like manner, could make no head against Castruccio, lord of Lucca, when he attacked them in their own country; and to obtain protection, were compelled to yield themselves up to King Robert of Naples. And yet, after Castruccio's death, these same Florentines were bold enough to attack the Duke of Milan in his own country, and strong enough to strip him of his dominions. Such valour did they display in distant wars, such weakness in those that were near.

But when a country is armed as Rome was and Switzerland now is, the closer you press it, the harder it is to subdue; because such States can assemble a stronger force to resist attack than for attacking others. Nor does the great authority of Hannibal move me in this instance, since resentment and his own advantage might lead him to speak as he spoke to Antiochus. For had the Romans suffered in Gaul, and within the same space of time, those three defeats at the hands of Hannibal which they suffered in Italy, it must have made an end of them; since they could not have turned the remnants of their armies to account as they did in Italy, not having the same opportunity for repairing their strength; nor could they have met their enemy with such numerous armies. For we never find them sending forth a force of more than fifty thousand men for the invasion of any province; whereas, in defending their own country against the inroad of the Gauls at the end of the first Carthaginian war, we hear of them bringing some eighteen hundred thousand men into the field; and their failure to vanquish the Gauls in Lombardy as they had vanquished those in Tuscany arose from their inability to lead a great force so far against a numerous enemy, or to encounter him with the same advantages. In Germany the Cimbrians routed a Roman army who had there no means to repair their disaster; but when they came into Italy, the Romans could collect their whole strength, and destroy them. Out of their native country, whence they can bring no more than thirty or forty thousand men, the Swiss may readily be defeated; but in their own country, where they can assemble a hundred thousand, they are well-nigh invincible.

In conclusion, therefore, I repeat that the prince who has his people armed and trained for war, should always await a great and dangerous war at home, and never go forth to meet it. But that he whose subjects are unarmed, and whose country is not habituated to war, should always carry the war to as great a distance as he can from home. For in this way each will defend himself in the best manner his means admit.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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