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Chapter 24


That, commonly, Fortresses do much more Harm than Good.


To the wise men of our day it may seem an oversight on the part of the Romans, that, when they sought to protect themselves against the men of Latium and Privernum, it never occurred to them to build strongholds in their cities to be a curb upon them, and insure their fidelity, especially when we remember the Florentine saying which these same wise men often quote, to the effect that Pisa and other like cities must be held by fortresses Doubtless, had those old Romans been like-minded with our modern sages, they would not have neglected to build themselves fortresses, but because they far surpassed them in courage, sense, and vigour, they refrained. And while Rome retained her freedom, and adhered to her own wise ordinances and wholesome usages, she never built a single fortress with the view to hold any city or province, though, sometimes, she may have suffered those to stand which she found already built.

Looking, therefore, to the course followed by the Romans in this particular, and to that adopted by our modern rulers, it seems proper to consider whether or not it is advisable to build fortresses, and whether they are more likely to help or to hurt him who builds them In the first place, then, we are to remember that fortresses are built either as a defence against foreign foes or against subjects In the former case, I pronounce them unnecessary, in the latter mischievous. And to state the reasons why in the latter case they are mischievous, I say that when princes or republics are afraid of their subjects and in fear lest they rebel, this must proceed from knowing that their subjects hate them, which hatred in its turn results from their own ill conduct, and that again from their thinking themselves able to rule their subjects by mere force, or from their governing with little prudence. Now one of the causes which lead them to suppose that they can rule by mere force, is this very circumstance of their people having these fortresses on their backs So that the conduct which breeds hatred is itself mainly occasioned by these princes or republics being possessed of fortresses, which, if this be true, are really far more hurtful than useful First, because, as has been said already, they render a ruler bolder and more violent in his bearing towards his subjects, and, next, because they do not in reality afford him that security which he believes them to give For all those methods of violence and coercion which may be used to keep a people under, resolve themselves into two; since either like the Romans you must always have it in your power to bring a strong army into the field, or else you must dissipate, destroy, and disunite the subject people, and so divide and scatter them that they can never again combine to injure you For should you merely strip them of their wealth, spoliatis arma supersunt, arms still remain to them, or if you deprive them of their weapons, furor arma ministrat, rage will supply them, if you put their chiefs to death and continue to maltreat the rest, heads will renew themselves like those Hydra; while, if you build fortresses, these may serve in time of peace to make you bolder in outraging your subjects, but in time of war they will prove wholly useless, since they will be attacked at once by foes both foreign and domestic, whom together it will be impossible for you to resist. And if ever fortresses were useless they are so at the present day, by reason of the invention of artillery, against the fury of which, as I have shown already, a petty fortress which affords no room for retreat behind fresh works, cannot be defended.

But to go deeper into the matter, I say, either you are a prince seeking by means of these fortresses to hold the people of your city in check; or you are a prince, or it may be a republic, desirous to control some city which you have gained in war. To the prince I would say, that, for the reasons already given, nothing can be more unserviceable than a fortress as a restraint upon your subjects, since it only makes you the readier to oppress them, and less scrupulous how you do so; while it is this very oppression which moves them to destroy you, and so kindles their hatred, that the fortress, which is the cause of all the mischief, is powerless to protect you. A wise and good prince, therefore, that he may continue good, and give no occasion or encouragement to his descendants to become evil, will never build a fortress, to the end that neither he nor they may ever be led to trust to it rather than to the good-will of their subjects. And if Francesco Sforza, who was accounted a wise ruler, on becoming Duke of Milan erected a fortress in that city, I say that herein he was unwise, and that the event has shown the building of this fortress to have been hurtful and not helpful to his heirs. For thinking that by its aid they could behave as badly as they liked to their citizens and subjects, and yet be secure, they refrained from no sort of violence or oppression, until, becoming beyond measure odious, they lost their State as soon as an enemy attacked it. Nor was this fortress, which in peace had occasioned them much hurt, any defence or of any service them in war. For had they being without it, through thoughtlessness, treated their subjects inhumanely, they must soon have discovered and withdrawn from their danger; and might, thereafter, with no other help than that of attached subjects, have withstood the attacks of the French far more successfully than they could with their fortress, but with subjects whom they had estranged.

And, in truth, fortresses are unserviceable in every way, since they may be lost either by the treachery of those to whom you commit their defence, or by the overwhelming strength of an assailant, or else by famine. And where you seek to recover a State which you have lost, and in which only the fortress remains to you, if that fortress is to be of any service or assistance to you, you must have an army wherewith to attack the enemy who has driven you out. But with such an army you might succeed in recovering your State as readily without a fortress as with one; nay, perhaps, even more readily, since your subjects, had you not used them ill, from the overweening confidence your fortress gave you, might then have felt better disposed towards you. And the event shows that in times of adversity this very fortress of Milan has been of no advantage whatever, either to the Sforzas or to the French; but, on the contrary, has brought ruin on both, because, trusting to it, they did not turn their thoughts to nobler methods for preserving that State. Guido Ubaldo, duke of Urbino and son to Duke Federigo, who in his day was a warrior of much renown, but who was driven from his dominions by Cesare Borgia, son to Pope Alexander VI., when afterwards, by a sudden stroke of good fortune, he was restored to the dukedom caused all the fortresses of the country to be dismantled, judging them to be hurtful. For as he was beloved by his subjects, so far as they were concerned he had no need for fortresses; while, as against foreign enemies, he saw he could not defend them, since this would have required an army kept constantly in the field. For which reasons he made them be razed to the ground.

When Pope Julius II. had driven the Bentivogli from Bologna, after erecting a citadel in that town, he caused the people to be cruelly oppressed by his governor; whereupon, the people rebelled, and he forthwith lost the citadel; so that his citadel, and the oppressions to which it led, were of less service to him than different behaviour on his part had been. When Niccolo da Castello, the ancestor of the Vitelli, returned to his country out of exile, he straightway pulled down the two fortresses built there by Pope Sixtus IV., perceiving that it was not by fortresses, but by the good-will of the people, that he could be maintained in his government.

But the most recent, and in all respects most noteworthy instance, and that which best demonstrates the futility of building, and the advantage of destroying fortresses, is what happened only the other day in Genoa. Every one knows how, in 1507, Genoa rose in rebellion against Louis XII. of France, who came in person and with all his forces to recover it; and after recovering it built there a citadel stronger than any before known, being, both from its position and from every other circumstance, most inaccessible to attack. For standing on the extremity of a hill, named by the Genoese Codefa, which juts out into the sea, it commanded the whole harbour and the greater part of the town. But, afterwards, in the year 1512, when the French were driven out of Italy, the Genoese, in spite of this citadel, again rebelled, and Ottaviano Fregoso assuming the government, after the greatest efforts, continued over a period of sixteen months, at last succeeded in reducing the citadel by famine. By all it was believed that he would retain it as a rock of refuge in case of any reverse of fortune, and by some he was advised to do so; but he, being a truly wise ruler, and knowing well that it is by the attachment of their subjects and not by the strength of their fortifications that princes are maintained in their governments, dismantled this citadel; and founding his authority, not upon material defences, but on his own valour and prudence, kept and still keeps it. And whereas, formerly, a force of a thousand foot-soldiers could effect a change in the government of Genoa, the enemies of Ottaviano have assailed him with ten thousand, without being able to harm him.

Here, then, we see that, while to dismantle this fortress occasioned Ottaviano no loss, its construction gave the French king no sort of advantage. For when he could come into Italy with an army, he could recover Genoa, though he had no citadel there; but when he could not come with an army, it was not in his power to hold the city by means of the citadel. Moreover it was costly for the king to build, and shameful for him to lose this fortress; while for Ottaviano it was glorious to take, and advantageous to destroy it.

Let us turn now to those republics which build fortresses not within their own territories, but in towns whereof they have taken possession. And if the above example of France and Genoa suffice not to show the futility of this course, that of Florence and Pisa ought, I think, to be conclusive. For in erecting fortresses to hold Pisa, the Florentines failed to perceive that a city which had always been openly hostile to them, which had lived in freedom, and which could cloak rebellion under the name of liberty, must, if it were to be retained at all, be retained by those methods which were used by the Romans, and either be made a companion or be destroyed. Of how little service these Pisan fortresses were, was seen on the coming of Charles VIII. of France into Italy, to whom, whether through the treachery of their defenders or from fear of worse evils, they were at once delivered up; whereas, had there been no fortresses in Pisa, the Florentines would not have looked to them as the means whereby the town was to be held; the king could not by their assistance have taken the town from the Florentines; and the methods whereby it had previously been preserved might, in all likelihood, have continued sufficient to preserve it; and, at any rate, had served that end no worse than the fortresses.

These, then, are the conclusions to which I come, namely, that fortresses built to hold your own country under are hurtful, and that those built to retain acquired territories are useless; and I am content to rely on the example of the Romans, who in the towns they sought to hold by the strong hand, rather pulled down fortresses than built them. And if any, to controvert these views of mine, were to cite the case of Tarentum in ancient times, or of Brescia in recent, as towns which when they rebelled were recovered by means of their citadels; I answer, that for the recovery of Tarentum, Fabius Maximus was sent at the end of a year with an army strong enough to retake it even had there been no fortress there; and that although he availed himself of the fortress for the recovery of the town, he might, without it, have resorted to other means which would have brought about the same result. Nor do I see of what service a citadel can be said to be, when to recover the city you must employ a consular army under a Fabius Maximus. But that the Romans would, in any case, have recovered Tarentum, is plain from what happened at Capua, where there was no citadel, and which they retook, simply by the valour of their soldiers.

Again, as regards Brescia, I say that the circumstances attending the revolt of that town were such as occur but seldom, namely, that the citadel remaining in your hands after the defection of the city, you should happen to have a great army nigh at hand, as the French had theirs on this occasion. For M. de Foix being in command of the king's forces at Bologna, on hearing of the loss of Brescia, marched thither without an hour's delay, and reaching Brescia in three days, retook the town with the help of the citadel. But here, again, we see that, to be of any service, the citadel of Brescia had to be succoured by a de Foix, and by that French army which in three days' time marched to its relief. So that this instance cannot be considered conclusive as against others of a contrary tendency. For, in the course of recent wars, many fortresses have been taken and retaken, with the same variety of fortune with which open country has been acquired or lost; and this not only in Lombardy, but also in Romagna, in the kingdom of Naples, and in all parts of Italy.

And, further, touching the erection of fortresses as a defence against foreign enemies, I say that such defences are not needed by the prince or people who possess a good army; while for those who do not possess a good army, they are useless. For good armies without fortresses are in themselves a sufficient defence: whereas, fortresses without good armies avail nothing. And this we see in the case of those nations which have been thought to excel both in their government and otherwise, as, for instance, the Romans and the Spartans. For while the Romans would build no fortresses, the Spartans not merely abstained from building them, but would not even suffer their cities to be enclosed with walls; desiring to be protected by their own valour only, and by no other defence. So that when a Spartan was asked by an Athenian what he thought of the walls of Athens, he answered "that they were fine walls if meant to hold women only."

If a prince who has a good army has likewise, on the sea-front of his dominions, some fortress strong enough to keep an enemy in check for a few days, until he gets his forces together, this, though not necessary, may sometimes be for his advantage. But for a prince who is without a strong army to have fortresses erected throughout his territories, or upon his frontier, is either useless or hurtful, since they may readily be lost and then turned against him; or, supposing them so strong that the enemy is unable to take them by assault, he may leave them behind, and so render them wholly unprofitable. For a brave army, unless stoutly met, enters an enemy's country without regard to the towns or fortified places it leaves in its rear, as we read of happening in ancient times, and have seen done by Francesco Maria della Rovere, who no long while ago, when he marched against Urbino, made little of leaving ten hostile cities behind him.

The prince, therefore, who can bring together a strong army can do without building fortresses, while he who has not a strong army ought not to build them, but should carefully strengthen the city wherein he dwells, and keep it well stored with supplies, and its inhabitants well affected, so that he may resist attack till an accord be agreed on, or he be relieved by foreign aid. All other expedients are costly in time of peace, and in war useless.

Whoever carefully weighs all that has now been said will perceive, that the Romans, as they were most prudent in all their other methods, so also showed their wisdom in the measures they took with the men of Latium and Privernum, when, without ever thinking of fortresses, they sought security in bolder and more sagacious courses.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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