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Chapter 33

That the Romans intrusted the Captains of their Armies with the fullest Powers.

In reading this History of Titus Livius with a view to profit by it, I think that all the methods of conduct followed by the Roman people and senate merit attention. And among other things fit to be considered, it should be noted, with how ample an authority they sent forth their consuls, their dictators, and the other captains of their armies, all of whom we find clothed with the fullest powers: no other prerogative being reserved to itself by the senate save that of declaring war and making peace, while everything else was left to the discretion and determination of the consul. For so soon as the people and senate had resolved on war, for instance on a war against the Latins, they threw all further responsibility upon the consul, who might fight or decline battle as he pleased, and attack this or the other city as he thought fit.

That this was so, is seen in many instances, and especially from what happened during an expedition made against the Etruscans. For the consul Fabius having routed that people near Sutrium, and thinking to pass onward through the Ciminian forest into Etruria, so far from seeking the advice of the senate, gave them no hint whatever of his design, although for its execution the war had to be carried into a new, difficult, and dangerous country. We have further witness to the same effect, in the action taken in respect of this enterprise by the senate, who being informed of the victory obtained by Fabius, and apprehending that he might decide to pass onward through the aforesaid forest, and deeming it inexpedient that he should incur risk by attempting this invasion, sent two messengers to warn him not to enter Etruria. These messengers, however, did not come up with the consul until he had already made his way into that country and gained a second victory; when, instead of opposing his further advance, they returned to Rome to announce his good fortune and the glory which he had won.

Whoever, therefore, shall well consider the character of the authority whereof I speak, will see that it was most wisely accorded; since had it been the wish of the senate that a consul, in conducting a war, should proceed step by step as they might direct him, this must have made him at once less cautious and more dilatory; because the credit of victory would not then have seemed to be wholly his own, but shared by the senate on whose advice he acted. Besides which, the senate must have taken upon itself the task of advising on matters which it could not possibly understand; for although it might contain among its members all who were most versed in military affairs, still, since these men were not on the spot, and were ignorant of many particulars which, if they were to give sound advice, it was necessary for them to know, they must in advising have made numberless mistakes. For these reasons they desired that the consul should act on his own responsibility, and that the honours of success should be wholly his; judging that the love of fame would act on him at once as a spur and as a curb, making him do whatever he had to do well.

This matter I have the rather dwelt upon because I observe that our modern republics, such as the Venetian and the Florentine, view it in a different light; so that when their captains, commissaries, or provedditori have a single gun to place in position, the authorities at home must be informed and consulted; a course deserving the same approval as is due to all those other methods of theirs, which, one with another, have brought Italy to her present condition.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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