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Chapter 19


That Acquisitions made by ill-governed States and such as follow not the valiant methods of the Romans, tend rather to their Ruin than to their Aggrandizement.


To these false opinions, founded on the pernicious example first set by the present corrupt age, we owe it, that no man thinks of departing from the methods which are in use. It had been impossible, for instance, some thirty years ago, to persuade an Italian that ten thousand foot-soldiers could, on plain ground, attack ten thousand cavalry together with an equal number of infantry; and not merely attack, but defeat them; as we saw done by the Swiss at that battle of Novara, to which I have already referred so often. For although history abounds in similar examples, none would have believed them, or, believing them, would have said that nowadays men are so much better armed, that a squadron of cavalry could shatter a rock, to say nothing of a column of infantry. With such false pleas would they have belied their judgment, taking no account that with a very scanty force of foot-soldiers, Lucullus routed a hundred and fifty thousand of the cavalry of Tigranes, among whom were a body of horsemen very nearly resembling our own men-at-arms. Now, however, this error is demonstrated by the example of the northern nations.

And since what history teaches as to the superiority of foot-soldiers is thus proved to be true, men ought likewise to believe that the other methods practised by the ancients are in like manner salutary and useful. And were this once accepted, both princes and commonwealths would make fewer blunders than they do, would be stronger to resist sudden attack, and would no longer place their sole hope of safety in flight; while those who take in hand to provide a State with new institutions would know better what direction to give them, whether in the way of extending or merely of preserving; and would see that to augment the numbers of their citizens, to assume other States as companions rather than reduce them to subjection, to send out colonies for the defence of acquired territories, to hold their spoils at the credit of the common stock, to overcome enemies by inroads and pitched battles rather than by sieges, to enrich the public purse, keep down private wealth, and zealously, to maintain all military exercises, are the true ways to aggrandize a State and to extend its empire. Or if these methods for adding to their power are not to their mind, let them remember that acquisitions made in any other way are the ruin of republics, and so set bounds to their ambition, wisely regulating the internal government of their country by suitable laws and ordinances, forbidding extension, and looking only to defence, and taking heed that their defences are in good order, as do those republics of Germany which live and for long have lived, in freedom.

And yet, as I have said on another occasion, when speaking of the difference between the methods suitable for acquiring and those suitable for maintaining, it is impossible for a republic to remain long in the peaceful enjoyment of freedom within a restricted frontier. For should it forbear from molesting others, others are not likely to refrain from molesting it; whence must grow at once the desire and the necessity to make acquisitions; or should no enemies be found abroad, they will be found at home, for this seems to be incidental to all great States. And if the free States of Germany are, and have long been able to maintain themselves on their present footing, this arises from certain conditions peculiar to that country, and to be found nowhere else, without which these communities could not go on living as they do.

The district of Germany of which I speak was formerly subject to the Roman Empire, in the same way as France and Spain; but on the decline of the Empire, and when its very name came to be limited to this one province, its more powerful cities taking advantage of the weakness and necessities of the Emperors, began to free themselves by buying from them their liberty, subject to the payment of a trifling yearly tribute; until, gradually, all the cities which held directly from the Emperor, and were not subject to any intermediate lord, had, in like manner, purchased their freedom. While this went on, it so happened that certain communities subject to the Duke of Austria, among which were Friburg, the people of Schweitz, and the like, rose in rebellion against him, and meeting at the outset with good success, by degrees acquired such accession of strength that so far from returning under the Austrian yoke, they are become formidable to all their neighbours These are the States which we now name Swiss.

Germany is, consequently, divided between the Swiss, the communities which take the name of Free Towns, the Princes, and the Emperor; and the reason why, amid so many conflicting interests, wars do not break out, or breaking out are of short continuance, is the reverence in which all hold this symbol of the Imperial authority. For although the Emperor be without strength of his own, he has nevertheless such credit with all these others that he alone can keep them united, and, interposing as mediator, can speedily repress by his influence any dissensions among them.

The greatest and most protracted wars which have taken place in this country have been those between the Swiss and the Duke of Austria; and although for many years past the Empire and the dukedom of Austria have been united in the same man, he has always failed to subdue the stubbornness of the Swiss, who are never to be brought to terms save by force. Nor has the rest of Germany lent the Emperor much assistance in his wars with the Swiss, the Free Towns being little disposed to attack others whose desire is to live as they themselves do, in freedom; while the Princes of the Empire either are so poor that they cannot, or from jealousy of the power of the Emperor will not, take part with him against them.

These communities, therefore, abide contented within their narrow confines, because, having regard to the Imperial authority, they have no occasion to desire greater; and are at the same time obliged to live in unity within their walls, because an enemy is always at hand, and ready to take advantage of their divisions to effect an entrance. But were the circumstances of the country other than they are these communities would be forced to make attempts to extend their dominions, and be constrained to relinquish their present peaceful mode of life. And since the same conditions are not found elsewhere, other nations cannot adopt this way of living, but are compelled to extend their power either by means of leagues, or else by the methods used by the Romans; and any one who should act otherwise would find not safety but rather death and destruction. For since in a thousand ways, and from causes innumerable, conquests are surrounded with dangers, it may well happen that in adding to our dominions, we add nothing to our strength; but whosoever increases not his strength while he adds to his dominions, must needs be ruined. He who is impoverished by his wars, even should he come off victorious, can add nothing to his strength, since he spends more than he gains, as the Venetians and Florentines have done. For Venice has been far feebler since she acquired Lombardy, and Florence since she acquired Tuscany, than when the one was content to be mistress of the seas, and the other of the lands lying within six miles from her walls. And this from their eagerness to acquire without knowing what way to take. For which ignorance these States are the more to be blamed in proportion as there is less to excuse them; since they had seen what methods were used by the Romans, and could have followed in their footsteps; whereas the Romans, without any example set them, were able by their own prudence to shape a course for themselves.

But even to well-governed States, their conquests may chance to occasion much harm; as when some city or province is acquired abounding in luxury and delights, by whose manners the conqueror becomes infected; as happened first to the Romans, and afterwards to Hannibal on taking possession of Capua. And had Capua been at such a distance from Rome that a ready remedy could not have been applied to the disorders of the soldiery, or had Rome herself been in any degree tainted with corruption, this acquisition had certainly proved her ruin. To which Titus Livius bears witness when he says, "Most mischievous at this time to our military discipline was Capua; for ministering to all delights, she turned away the corrupted minds of our soldiers from the remembrance of their country." And, truly, cities and provinces like this, avenge themselves on their conquerors without blood or blow; since by infecting them with their own evil customs they prepare them for defeat at the hands of any assailant. Nor could the subject have been better handled than by Juvenal, where he says in his Satires, that into the hearts of the Romans, through their conquests in foreign lands, foreign manners found their way; and in place of frugality and other admirable virtues--

"Came luxury more mortal than the sword, And settling down, avenged a vanquished world."[1]

And if their conquests were like to be fatal to the Romans at a time when they were still animated by great virtue and prudence, how must it fare with those who follow methods altogether different from theirs, and who, to crown their other errors of which we have already said enough, resort to auxiliary and mercenary arms, bringing upon themselves those dangers whereof mention shall be made in the Chapter following.

[Footnote 1:

Sævior armis
Luxuria occubuit victumque ulciscitur orbem.
Juv. Sat. vi. 292.]


Niccolo Machiavelli

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