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Chapter 23

That in chastising their Subjects when circumstances required it the Romans always avoided half-measures.

"Such was now the state of affairs in Latium, that peace and war seemed alike intolerable." No worse calamity can befall a prince or commonwealth than to be reduced to such straits that they can neither accept peace nor support war; as is the case with those whom it would ruin to conclude peace on the terms offered, while war obliges them either to yield themselves a spoil to their allies, or remain a prey to their foes. To this grievous alternative are men led by evil counsels and unwise courses, and, as already said, from not rightly measuring their strength. For the commonwealth or prince who has rightly measured his strength, can hardly be brought so low as were the Latins, who made war with the Romans when they should have made terms, and made terms when they should have made war, and so mismanaged everything that the friendship and the enmity of Rome were alike fatal. Whence it came that, in the first place, they were defeated and broken by Manlius Torquatus, and afterwards utterly subdued by Camillus; who, when he had forced them to surrender at discretion to the Roman arms, and had placed garrisons in all their towns, and taken hostages from all, returned to Rome and reported to the senate that the whole of Latium now lay at their mercy.

And because the sentence then passed by the senate is memorable, and worthy to be studied by princes that it may be imitated by them on like occasion, I shall cite the exact words which Livius puts into the mouth of Camillus, as confirming what I have already said touching the methods used by the Romans to extend their power, and as showing how in chastising their subjects they always avoided half-measures and took a decided course. For government consists in nothing else than in so controlling your subjects that it shall neither be in their power nor for their interest to harm you. And this is effected either by making such sure work with them as puts it out of their power to do you injury, or else by so loading them with benefits that it would be folly in them to seek to alter their condition. All which is implied first in the measures proposed by Camillus, and next in the resolutions passed on these proposals by the senate. The words of Camillus were as follows: "The immortal gods have made you so entirely masters in the matter you are now considering, that it lies with you to pronounce whether Latium shall or shall not longer exist. So far as the Latins are concerned, you can secure a lasting peace either by clemency or by severity. Would you deal harshly with those whom you have conquered and who have given themselves into your hands, you can blot out the whole Latin nation. Would you, after the fashion of our ancestors, increase the strength of Rome by admitting the vanquished to the rights of citizenship, here you have opportunity to do so, and with the greatest glory to yourselves. That, assuredly, is the strongest government which they rejoice in who obey it. Now, then, is your time, while the minds of all are bent on what is about to happen, to obtain an ascendency over them, either by punishment or by benefits."

Upon this motion the senate resolved, in accordance with the advice given by the consul, to take the case of each city separately, and either destroy utterly or else treat with tenderness all the more important of the Latin towns. To those cities they dealt with leniently, they granted exemptions and privileges, conferring upon them the rights of citizenship, and securing their welfare in every particular. The others they razed to the ground, and planting colonies in their room, either removed the inhabitants to Rome, or so scattered and dispersed them that neither by arms nor by counsels was it ever again in their power to inflict hurt. For, as I have said already, the Romans never, in matters of moment, resorted to half-measures. And the sentence which they then pronounced should be a pattern for all rulers, and ought to have been followed by the Florentines when, in the year 1502, Arezzo and all the Val di Chiana rose in revolt. For had they followed it, they would have established their authority on a surer footing, and added much to the greatness of their city by securing for it those lands which are needed to supply it with the necessaries of life. But pursuing that half-hearted policy which is most mischievous in executing justice, some of the Aretines they outlawed, some they condemned to death, and all they deprived of their dignities and ancient importance in their town, while leaving the town itself untouched. And if in the councils then held any Florentine recommended that Arezzo should be dismantled, they who thought themselves wiser than their fellows objected, that to do so would be little to the honour of our republic, since it would look as though she lacked strength to hold it. Reasons like this are of a sort which seem sound, but are not really so; for, by the same rule, no parricide should be put to death, nor any other malefactor, however atrocious his crimes; because, forsooth, it would be discreditable to the ruler to appear unequal to the control of a single criminal. They who hold such opinions fail to see that when men individually, or entire cities collectively, offend against the State, the prince for his own safety, and as a warning to others, has no alternative but to make an end of them; and that true honour lies in being able and in knowing how to chastise such offenders, and not in incurring endless dangers in the effort to retain them. For the prince who does not chastise offenders in a way that puts it out of their power to offend again, is accounted unwise or worthless.

How necessary it was for the Romans to execute Justice against the Latins, is further seen from the course took with the men of Privernum. And here the text of Livius suggests two points for our attention: first, as already noted, that a subjugated people is either to be caressed or crushed; and second, how much it is for our advantage to maintain a manly bearing, and to speak the truth fearlessly in the presence of the wise. For the senate being met to determine the fate of the citizens of Privernum, who after rebelling had been reduced to submission by the Roman arms, certain of these citizens were sent by their countrymen to plead for pardon. When these had come into the presence of the senate, one of them was asked by a senator, "What punishment he thought his fellow citizens deserved?" To which he of Privernum answered, "Such punishment as they deserve who deem themselves worthy of freedom." "But," said the consul, "should we remit your punishment, what sort of peace can we hope to have with you?" To which the other replied, "If granted on fair terms, a firm and lasting peace; if on unfair, a peace of brief duration." Upon this, though many of the senators were displeased, the wiser among them declared "that they had heard the voice of freedom and manhood, and would never believe that the man or people who so spoke ought to remain longer than was needful in a position which gave them cause for shame; since that was a safe peace which was accepted willingly; whereas good faith could not be looked for where it was sought to impose servitude." So saying, they decided that the people of Privernum should be admitted to Roman citizenship, with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining; declaring that "men whose only thought was for freedom, were indeed worthy to be Romans." So pleasing was this true and high answer to generous minds, while any other must have seemed at once false and shameful. And they who judge otherwise of men, and of those men, especially, who have been used to be free, or so to think themselves, are mistaken; and are led through their mistake to adopt courses unprofitable for themselves and affording no content to others. Whence, the frequent rebellions and the downfall of States.

But, returning to our subject, I conclude, as well from this instance of Privernum, as from the measures followed with the Latins, that when we have to pass sentence upon powerful States accustomed to live in freedom, we must either destroy them utterly, or else treat them with much indulgence; and that any other course we may take with them will be unprofitable. But most carefully should we avoid, as of all courses the most pernicious, such half-measures as were followed by the Samnites when they had the Romans shut up in the Caudine Forks, and would not listen to the counsels of the old man who urged them either to send their captives away with every honourable attention, or else put them all to death; but adopted a middle course, and after disarming them and making them pass under the yoke, suffered them to depart at once disgraced and angered. And no long time after, they found to their sorrow that the old man's warning was true, and that the course they had themselves chosen was calamitous; as shall, hereafter, in its place be shown.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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