Select a Document from the Menu

In What Mode Faith Should Be Kept by Princes”

 By Niccolò Machiavelli


[Machiavelli, Niccolò. In What Mode Faith Should Be Kept by Princes.” Chapter 18 in The Prince. Translated and with an Introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield. Second Edition. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 1998. Pages 68–71. Copyright The University of Chicago. Reproduced with permission of University of Chicago Press (Grant no. 110311; expires 6/19/2022).]

All footnotes are those of the translator.

How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his faith, and to live with honesty and not by astuteness, everyone understands. Nonetheless one sees by experience in our times that the princes who have done great things are those who have taken little account of faith and have known how to get around men’s brains with their astuteness; and in the end they have overcome those who have founded themselves on loyalty.

Thus, you[1] must know that there are two kinds of combat: one with laws, the other with force. The first is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first is often not enough, one must have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man. This role was taught covertly to princes by ancient writers, who wrote that Achilles, and many other ancient princes, were given to Chiron the centaur to be raised, so that he would look after them with his discipline. To have as teacher a half-beast, half-man means nothing other than that a prince needs to know how to use both natures; and the one without the other is not lasting.

Thus, since a prince is compelled of necessity to know well how to use the beast, he should pick the fox and the lion,[2] because the lion does not defend itself from snares and the fox does not defend itself from wolves. So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares and a lion to frighten the wolves. Those who stay simply with the lion do not understand this. A prudent lord, therefore, cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that made him promise have been eliminated. And if all men were good, this teaching would not be good; but because they are wicked and do not observe faith with you, you also do not have to observe it with them. Nor does a prince ever lack legitimate causes to color his failure to observe faith. One could give infinite modern examples of this, and show how many peace treaties and promises have been rendered invalid and vain through the infidelity of princes; and the one who has known best how to use the fox has come out best. But it is necessary to know well how to color this nature, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple and so obedient to present necessities that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived.

I do not want to be silent about one of the recent examples. Alexander VI never did anything, nor ever thought of anything, but how to deceive men, and he always found a subject to whom he could do it. And there never was a man with greater efficacy in asserting a thing, and in affirming it with greater oaths, who observed it less; nonetheless, his deceits succeeded at his will, because he well knew this aspect of the world.

Thus, it is not necessary for a prince to have all the above-mentioned qualities in fact, but it is indeed necessary to appear to have them. Nay, I dare say this, that by having them and always observing them, they are harmful; and by appearing to have them, they are useful, as it is to appear merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious, and to be so; but to remain with a spirit built so that, if you need not to be those things, you are able and know how to change to the contrary. This has to be understood: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are held good, since he is often under a necessity, to maintain his state, of acting against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion. And so he needs to have a spirit disposed to change as the winds of fortune and variations of things command him, and as I said above, not depart from good, when possible, but know how to enter into evil, when forced by necessity.

A prince should thus take great care that nothing escape his mouth that is not full of the above-mentioned five qualities and that, to see him and hear him, he should appear all mercy, all faith, all honesty, all humanity, all religion. And nothing is more necessary to appear to have than this last quality. Men in general[3] judge more by their eyes than by their hands, because seeing is given[4] to everyone, touching to few. Everyone sees how you appear, few touch what you are; and these few dare not oppose the opinion of many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no court to appeal to, one looks to the end. So let a prince win and maintain his state: the means will always be judged honorable, and will be praised by everyone. For the vulgar are taken in by the appearance and the outcome of a thing, and in the world there is no one but the vulgar; the few have a place there[5] when the many have somewhere to lean on. A certain prince of present times, whom it is not well to name,[6] never preaches anything but peace and faith, and is very hostile to both. If he had observed both, he would have had either his reputation or his state taken from him many times.

[1] The formal or plural you.

[2] A possible source for this: Cicero, De Officiis I.11.34; 13.41.

[3] lit.: universally.

[4] lit.: touches.

[5] One manuscript says “the few have no place there . . .”; and the authorities have divided, Casella, Russo, and Sasso accepting “no place,” Chabod and Bertelli “a place.”

[6] Apparently Ferdinand the Catholic [King of Spain], whom Machiavelli unhesitatingly names in Chapter 21.

“The Dictatorial Authority Did Good, and Not Harm, to the Roman Republic”

 By Niccolò Machiavelli


 (Formally published 1531)

[Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Dictatorial Authority Did Good, and Not Harm, to the Roman Republic.” Book 1, Chapter 34 in Discourses on Livy. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. 73–75. Reproduced with permission of University of Chicago Press (Grant no. 110177; expires 4/10/2022).]


34. The Dictatorial Authority Did Good, and Not Harm, to the Roman Republic; and That the Authorities Citizens Take for Themselves, Not Those Given Them by Free Votes, Are Pernicious to Civil Life

The Romans who invented in that city the mode of creating the dictator[1]  have been condemned by some writer[2]  for a thing that was the cause, in time, of the tyranny of Rome. He cites the fact that the first tyrant[3]  in that city commanded it under the dictatorial title; he says that if it had not been for this, Caesar would not have been able to put an honest face on his tyranny under any public title. This thing was not well examined by the one who holds the opinion, and it was believed against all reason. For it was neither the name nor the rank of dictator that made Rome servile, but it was the authority taken by citizens because of the length of command. If the dictatorial name had been lacking in Rome, they would have taken another; for it is forces that easily acquire names, not names forces. One sees that while the dictator was appointed according to public orders, and not by his own authority, he always did good to the city. For magistrates that are made and authorities that are given through extraordinary ways, not those that come through ordinary ways, hurt republics; so one sees that in Rome the result was that in so much course of time no dictator ever did anything but good to the republic. 

There are very evident reasons for this. First, if a citizen wishes to be able to offend and to seize extraordinary authority for himself, he must have many qualities that in a noncorrupt republic he can never have. For he needs to be very rich and to have very many adherents and partisans, which he cannot have where the laws are observed; and even if he had them, men like these are so formidable that free votes do not concur in them. Besides this, the dictator was appointed for a time, and not perpetually, and so as to obviate only the cause by means of which he was created; and his authority extended to being able to decide by himself regarding remedies for that urgent danger, and to do everything without consultation, and to punish everyone without appeal.[4]  But he could not do any­thing that might diminish the state, as taking away authority from the Senate or from the people, undoing the old orders of the city and making new ones, would have been. So, when the brief time of his dictatorship, the limited authorities he had, and the noncorrupt Roman people are added up, it was impossible for him to escape his limits and to hurt the city; and one sees by experience that he al­ways helped.

And truly, among the other Roman orders, this is one that deserves to be considered and numbered among those that were the cause of the greatness of so great an empire, for without such an order cities escape from extraordinary accidents with difficulty. Because the customary orders in republics have a slow motion (since no council and no magistrate can work anything by itself, but in many things one has need of another, and because it takes time to add these wills together), their remedies are very dangerous when they have to remedy a thing that time does not wait for. So republics should have a like mode among their orders; and the Venetian republic, which is excellent among modern republics, has reserved authority to a few citizens who in urgent needs can decide, all in accord, without further consultation.[5]  For when a like mode is lacking in a re­public, it is necessary either that it be ruined by observing the orders or that it break them so as not to be ruined. In a republic, one would not wish anything ever to happen that has to be governed with extraordinary modes. For although the extraordinary mode may do good then, nonetheless the example does ill; for if one sets up a habit of breaking the orders for the sake of good, then later, under that coloring, they are broken for ill. So a republic will never be perfect unless it has provided for everything with its laws and has established a remedy for every accident and given the mode to govern it. So, concluding, I say that those republics that in urgent dangers do not take refuge either in the dictator or in similar authorities will always come to ruin in grave accidents.

In this new order the mode of electing is to be noted, as it was wisely provided by the Romans. For since the creation of the dictator brought some shame for the consuls, who as heads of the city had to come under obedience like oth­ers, and since they supposed that disdain among the citizens had to arise from this, they wished the authority of electing him to be in the consuls. They thought that if an accident came in which Rome might have need of this kingly power, they would have to make him voluntarily; and in making him themselves, it would pain them less. For wounds and every other ill that a man does to himself spontaneously and by choice hurt much less than those that are done to you by someone else. Indeed, in the last times the Romans used to give such authority to the consul instead of to the dictator with these words: “Let the consul see that the republic comes to no harm.”[6]  To return to our matter, I conclude that by seeking to crush them, Rome’s neighbors made them order themselves not only to be able to defend themselves but able to attack them with more force, more counsel, and more authority.


[1] Livy, II 18. 

[2] The writer or writers have not been clearly identified. 

[3] Presumably Sulla. 

[4] Livy, HI 29; IX 34.

[5] Presumably the Council of Ten, instituted in 1310 as an extraordinary measure to deal with a revolt, then regularized in 1355.

[6] Quoted in Latin. Cf. Livy, III 4; VI 19.

“That to Use Fraud in Managing War Is a Glorious Thing,”

 “That the Fatherland Ought to Be Defended, Whether with Ignominy or with Glory,”


 “That Promises Made through Force Ought Not to Be Observed” 

 Discourses on Livy, Book III, Chapters 40–42 

 By Niccolo Machiavelli


 (Formally published 1531)

[Machiavelli, Niccolo. Book 3, Chapters 40–42 in Discourses on Livy. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. 299–302. Reproduced with permission of University of Chicago Press (Grant no. 110177; expires 4/10/2022).]


40.  That to Use Fraud in Managing War Is a Glorious Thing

Although the use of fraud in every action is detestable, nonetheless in managing war it is a praiseworthy and glorious thing, and he who overcomes the enemy with fraud is praised as much as the one who overcomes it with force. One sees this by the judgment those make of it who write the lives of great men, who praise Hannibal and others who were very notable in such modes of proceeding. Of the very many examples of that to be read I shall not repeat any. I shall say only this: that I do not understand that fraud to be glorious which makes you break faith given and pacts made; for although this may at some time acquire state and kingdom for you, as is discoursed of above,[1] it will never ac­quire glory for you. But I speak of the fraud that is used with the enemy who does not trust in you and that properly consists in managing war, as was that of Hannibal when at the lake of Perugia[2] he simulated flight so as to enclose the consul and the Roman army, and when he lit up the horns of his herd to escape the hands of Fabius Maximus.[3] 

Like such frauds was the one that Pontius, captain of the Samnites, used to enclose the Roman army within the Caudine Forks.[4] Having put his army close to the mountains, he sent more of his soldiers in shepherds’ clothing with a very large herd to the plain. When they were taken by the Romans and asked where the Samnites’ army was, they all agreed, according to the order given by Pontius, to say that it was at the siege of Nocera.[5] That thing, believed by the consuls, made them trap themselves within the Caudine cliffs, where, after they entered, they were at once besieged by the Samnites. This victory, had through fraud, would have been very glorious for Pontius if he had followed the counsels of his father, who wished the Romans either to save themselves freely or all be killed, and not to take the middle way, “which neither provides friends nor removes enemies.”[6] That way was always pernicious in things of state, as was discoursed of above in another place.[7] 


41. That the Fatherland Ought to Be Defended, Whether with Ignominy or with Glory; and It Is Well Defended in Any Mode Whatever

As was said above,[8] the consul and the Roman army were besieged by the Samnites, who had set very ignominious conditions on the Romans (which were: wishing to put them under the yoke and sending them back to Rome dis­armed), and because of this the consuls were as though dazed, and all the army in despair. Lucius Lentulus, the Roman legate, said that it did not appear to him that any policy whatever for saving the fatherland was to be avoided; for since the life of Rome consisted in the life of that army, it appeared to him it was to be saved in every mode, and that the fatherland is well defended in whatever mode one defends it, whether with ignominy or with glory. For if that army saved itself, Rome would have time to cancel the ignominy; if it did not save itself, even though it died gloriously, Rome and its freedom were lost. And so his counsel was followed.[9]  That advice deserves to be noted and observed by any citizen who finds himself counseling his fatherland, for where one deliberates entirely on the safety of his fatherland, there ought not to enter any consider­ation of either just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or ignominious; indeed every other concern[10] put aside, one ought to follow entirely the policy that saves its life and maintains its liberty. That is imitated by the sayings and deeds of the French so as to defend the majesty of their king and the power of their kingdom, for they hear no voice more impatiently than that which would say: such a policy is ignominious for the king. For they say that their king cannot suffer shame in any decision whatever of his, whether in good or in adverse fortune, because whether he loses or wins, all—they say—are the king’s affairs.


42. That Promises Made through Force Ought Not to Be Observed

When the consuls returned to Rome with the army disarmed and the igno­miny they received, the first to say in the Senate that the peace made at Caudium ought not to be observed was the consul Spurius Postumius. He said that the Roman people was not obligated, but that he and the others who had promised the peace were indeed obligated; and so if the people wished to free itself from every obligation, it had to give him and all the others who had prom­ised it into the hands of the Samnites as prisoners. He held to this conclusion with so much obstinacy that the Senate was content with it, and sending him and the others to Samnium as prisoners, they protested to the Samnites that the peace was not valid. So favorable was fortune in this case to Postumius that the Samnites did not detain him, and when he returned to Rome, Postumius was more glorious with the Romans for having lost than was Pontius with the Samnites for having won.[11]  Here two things are to be noted: one, that glory can be acquired in any action whatever, because in victory it is acquired ordinarily; in loss, it is acquired either by showing that such a loss did not come by your fault or through doing at once some virtuous action that cancels it. The other is that it is not shameful not to observe the promises that you have been made to prom­ise by force; and when the force is lacking, forced promises that regard the public will always be broken and it will be without shame for whoever breaks them. Various examples of this are read in all the histories; and every day in present times they are seen. Not only are forced promises not observed among princes, when the force is lacking, but all other promises are also not observed when the causes that made them promise are lacking. Whether this is a praiseworthy thing or not, or whether like modes ought to be observed by a prince or not, is disputed by us at length in our treatise Of the Prince,[12] so for the present we shall be silent about it.


[1] I. See N. Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, II.13; N. Machiavelli, The Prince, 18.

[2] Lake Trasumennus.

[3] Livy, The History of Rome, XXII.4,16–17. See also Plutarch, Fabius Maximus, 6; Polybius, Histories, III.83–84, 93. Hanni­bal did not simulate flight according to Livy or Polybius.

[4] Livy, History of Rome, IX.2–3.

[5] Actually Lucera.

[6] Quoted in Latin from Livy, IX.3. The consuls were Titus Veturius Calvinus and Spurius Postumius.

[7] See Discourses, II.23.4.

[8] In the preceding chapter.

[9] Livy, History of Rome, IX.4.

[10] Lit.: respect.

[11] Livy, History of Rome, IX.8–12.

[12] Machiavelli, The Prince, 18; the title is given in Latin.

Dialogue on the Regime of Florence


By Francesco Guicciardini


[Guicciardini, Francesco. Dialogue on the Regime of Florence. Translated by the Witherspoon Institute. Princeton, N.J. 2017. Translating the text as edited by Roberto Palmarocchi in Franceso Guicciardini. Dialogo e Discorsi del Reggimento di Firenze. Bari: Giuseppe Laterza & Figli. 1932. Libro Secondo. 161–163.]

All footnotes are those of the translator.



Now we need to think about something else, because we have two mortal wounds: the loss of Pisa and the Medici exiles, who through the friends that they have in Florence[1] and [its] dominion, and through the great reputation of [their] house, will give us [work] to do.[2] And because we have heard your opinion about Pisa, I would like you to give us some reminder about how we could conduct ourselves concerning the Medici matters.


Each wound is great, and the greater one is that of the Medici; because many chance events[3] can come about that [could make] the Pisa matters end soon, but very few [such events] could make the danger from the Medici not last many years; for the latter is an evil that is within and touches our vital parts. Concerning Pisa I refer to that which I said above, adding that this evil, which is difficult to heal, would need a strong medicine: to speak bluntly[4]cruelty; which perhaps a prince or a state of one man would use, but a government of [the] people would be most averse to it. I say that the Pisans are our most stubborn enemies, nor do we have hope of taking hold of them ever, unless by force; therefore it would be necessary to kill always all the Pisans that shall be taken in war, in order to lessen the number of [our] enemies and make the others more afraid. And if they should do the same to you by means of your own [soldiers among their captives], the loss would be little because with money you would get other [soldiers];[5] at least put [the captives you take] in prison so that that they could have no hope of leaving until you recovered Pisa. Because if you began to handle the matter[6] by the custom of Italian wars, with bounties and prisoner-exchanges, you would foment a war longer than you might wish; and one who managed[7] this point well—that is, killing or imprisoning everyone, or killing part of them and imprisoning part of them according to what the progress of affairs counseled,[8] but never to let any of them go—would make them so cowardly[9] that it would greatly ease this undertaking for you.

The last rout that the Genoans dealt to the Pisans at Meloria afflicted them so that never after did Pisa recover its strength. The cause was that [the Genoans] never let their prisoners go, [of] which there was a very great number; whence it came about that Pisa not only could no longer count on those that had been taken (which died in prison) but further it lost the offspring that would have been born to them had they remained in Pisa. And if one should say that by proceeding thus one would acquire a reputation for cruelty and even of [having] little conscience, I would admit to you both [points]; but I would tell you further that he who wishes nowadays to hold on to dominions and states should, where one can, use compassion[10] and goodness, and where one cannot do otherwise, it is necessary that he use cruelty and little conscience. And for that reason did your great-grandfather Gino write in those last Memoirs of his, that he needed to make [his] ten men of war persons that loved their country more than their soul, because it is impossible to rule and govern states—if one wishes to hold on to them in the way they are held today—according to the precepts of the Christian law.

How will one be able in conscience to make a war out of greed[11] for broadening one’s domain, in which [war] one commits so many slaughters, so many sackings, so many violations of women, so many burnings of houses and of churches, and countless other evils? And nevertheless he who in a senate for this reason[12] and no other would argue against embarking on a useful undertaking with a likelihood of success, would be refuted by everyone. But let us say further: How could you in conscience welcome a war for the greater defense of the lands that you possess?Indeed, if war is not rightly[13] made against you and no one demands war with you,[14] how can you hold on to your domain, in which, if you consider rightly, there is perhaps nothing that is yours, if you have occupied the whole or at least the greater part with weapons, or by buying it from one who did not for his part have any reason in your favor?[15] And the same arises for everyone else, because all states, that consider rightly their origin, are violent; and, setting aside the republics (in their own country, and not beyond), there is no power that is legitimate, and less so that of the emperor that has so much authority that he lays down what is right for the rest.[16] Nor do I exempt the priests from this rule: their violence is twofold, because to hold you down they use spiritual and temporal weapons.

You see to what a man would be reduced who wished to direct states with the strictness of conscience. Therefore, when I have spoken about killing the Pisans or taking them prisoner, I perhaps have not spoken in a Christian manner, but I have spoken according to the reason and usage of states. Nor will he speak in a more Christian manner than me who, [although] refusing to be so cruel, will counsel that [we] make every effort to take Pisabecause that means nothing else than to be the cause of countless evils in order to occupy something that in conscience is not yours. And he who does not recognize this has no excuse before God, because as the friars are accustomed to say, “that is crass ignorance.” He who does recognize it can put forward no reason why in the one case one has to observe one’s conscience, [but] in the other one does not have to take it into account. I have wished to say this not in order to pass judgment in these difficulties that are great (for he who wishes to live entirely according to God can ill attempt not to distance himself entirely from the life of the world, and ill can one live according to the world without offending God) but in order to speak according to what the nature of things aims at[17] in truth, since the occasion has drawn us into this reasoning (which we can carry on among ourselves, but it would not therefore do to engage in it with others, nor where there were more persons [present]).

[1] The dialogue is set in Florence.

[2] ci daranno che fare

[3] accidenti

[4] in vulgare

[5] perché con danari ne aresti degli altri: reading aresti as a corruption of avresti, a variant of avreste.

[6] trattarla

[7] governassi

[8] consigliassi

[9] gli invilirebbe tanto

[10] pietà

[11] cupidità

[12] That is, that such a war would be unjust.

[13] bene

[14] nessuno non ve le dimandi

[15] chi non vi aveva drento [dentro] alcuna ragione. Dentro literally means “inwardly.” Presumably Guicciardini describes instances when one state acquires another merely by offering money to the ruler, in which the purchased state has no other reason—such as reasons of the common good—to become annexed to the purchaser apart from the annexed ruler’s desire for money.

[16] dà ragione agli altri

[17] ricerca

The Reason of State, Book 1

By Giovanni Botero


 [Botero, Giovanni. Book I, Chapter 1 in The Reason of State. Translated by P. J. and D. P. Waley; with an introduction by D. P. Waley. London: Routledge and K. Paul. 1956. 3–15.] 


1.      Reason of State defined

STATE is a stable rule over a people and Reason of State is the knowledge of the means by which such a dominion may be founded, preserved and extended. Yet, although in the widest sense the term includes all these, it is concerned most nearly with preservation, and more nearly with extension than with foundation; for Reason of State assumes a ruler and a State (the one as artificer, the other as his material) whereas they are not assumed—indeed they are preceded—by foundation entirely and in part by extension. But the art of foundation and of extension is the same because the beginnings and the continuations are of the same nature. And although all that is done to these purposes is said to be done for Reasons of State, yet this is said rather of such actions as cannot be considered in the light of ordinary reason.


2.      The classification of dominion

There are many kinds of dominion: old, new, poor, rich, or distinguished by other qualities of this sort; but coming closer to our purpose, let us say that some dominion is powerful and some is not, some is natural, some is acquired. By natural we mean dominion where those who rule do so by the will of their subjects, either explicitly, as by the election of kings, or implicitly, as by legitimate succession; and the succession may be either apparent or doubtful. By acquired we mean dominion which has been bought by money or its equivalent, or won by arms; and it may be won by arms either by main force or by treaty, and the treaty may be made either at the discretion of the victor or by negotiation. And the greater the resistance offered to the acquisition the worse will be the quality of the dominion. Furthermore, some dominions are small, others are large, others of a middle size, not absolutely but comparatively, and with respect to their neighbours. Thus a small dominion is one that cannot stand by itself, but needs the protection and support of others; such are the republics of Ragusa and Lucca. A middle-sized dominion has sufficient strength and authority to stand on its own without the need of help from others; such is the signory of Venice and the kingdom of Bohemia, the duchy of Milan and the county of Flanders. Those dominions are large which have a distinct superiority over their neighbours, such as the empires of the Turk and of the Catholic King. Again, some dominions are compact, others dis­persed: the parts of a compact dominion are contiguous, whereas the members of a dispersed dominion do not form a continuous whole. Such was formerly the empire of the Genoese when they were masters of Famagusta and the Ptolomaid, Faglie Vecchie, Pera and Caffa, and such is now that of the Portuguese, with their possessions in Ethiopia, Arabia, India and Brazil, and that of the Catholic King.


3.      Of subjects

Subjects, without which there can be no dominion, are by nature constant or fickle, amenable or proud, given to commerce or to arms, of our holy faith or of some sect; and if sectaries, they may be either infidels, or Jews, or schismatics, or heretics; if heretics, they may be Lutherans, Calvinists, or followers of some similar impiety, and the more contrary they are to truth, and the more distant from it, the worse they are to be held. Again, either they are all subjects in the same degree, with the same cause and form of subjection, or they differ in this, as the Aragonese and Castilians do in Spain, the Burgundians and Bretons in France.


4.      The causes of the downfall of states

The works of nature fail through two kinds of cause, intrinsic and extrinsic. We call intrinsic causes excess and corruption of the essential qualities, extrinsic causes fire, the sword, and other forms of violence. In the same way States come to ruin through internal or external causes: the incapacity of the ruler is an internal cause, either by his extreme youth or his ineptitude or his stupidity, or loss of his reputation, which may come about in many ways. Cruelty towards subjects, and licentiousness, which dishonours all men and in particular the noble and generous, also bring ruin upon the State; for licentiousness drove the kings and the decemvirs from Rome, introduced the Moors into Spain and lost Sicily for the French. Dionysius the Elder, when he heard that his son had consorted with the wife of an honoured citizen, rebuked him severely, asking him whether he had ever known his father to behave in such a way. The young man answered: ‘If you did not, it was because you were not the son of a king’. ‘And you will not be the father of a king’, he replied, ‘if you do not mend your ways’.

It is a common subject of debate why more states are ruined through the licentiousness of their rulers than through their cruelty. But it is not really hard to account for this since cruelty arouses fear as well as hatred of him who uses it. Licentiousness begets hatred together with contempt, so that whereas cruelty is opposed by hatred but supported by fear (although weakly, for this lasts but a short time), licentiousness has no support because both hatred and contempt work against it; and furthermore cruelty takes life or power from him who is offended, which licentiousness does not.

Other internal causes of the ruin of states are envy, rivalry, discord, ambition among the great, fickleness, inconstancy and passion in the people, and the inclination of both to favour a different rule. Ambitious and foolish princes often bring ruin upon their States by dispersing their strength in an attempt to undertake what is beyond their means, as we see in the enterprises of the Athenians and the Spartans, and still more in those of Demetrius King of Macedon and Pyrrhus King of Epirus. The stratagems and power of enemies are external causes: thus the Romans ruined the Macedonians, and the barbarians the greatness of Rome. But which are the most pernicious causes? Without doubt, internal causes; for it rarely happens that external causes bring about the downfall of a state which has not already been corrupted by internal ones. From these two kinds of simple cause a third arises, which may be called mixed, when the subjects come to agreement with the enemy and betray to them their country or their prince.


5.      Whether it is a greater task to extend or to preserve a state

Clearly it is a greater task to preserve a state, because human affairs wax and wane as if by a law of nature, like the moon to which they are subject. Thus to keep them stable when they have become great and to maintain them so that they do not decline and fall is an almost superhuman undertaking. Circumstances, the weakness of the enemy and the deeds of others all play a considerable part in conquest, but only most excellent qualities can hold what has been conquered. Might conquers, but wisdom preserves: many are mighty, but few are wise. In turbas et discordias pessimo cuique maxima vis; pax et quies bonis artibus indigent.[1]  Moreover he who conquers and enlarges his dominions has only to labour against the external causes of ruin, but he who strives to maintain what he already holds has to contend with both external and internal causes. Territory is acquired a little at a time, but it must all be preserved together as a whole; for this reason Heracles, when he wishes to persuade the Romans not to extend their empire beyond Europe, reminds them parari singula acquirendo facilius potuisse, quam universa teneri posse.[2] The Spartans showed that it was of more importance to preserve one’s own property than to acquire that of others, by punishing those who lost in battle not their sword but their shield; and among the Germans scutum reliquisse prcecipuum flagitium, nec aut sacris adesse, aut concilium inire ignominioso fas;[3] and the Romans called Fabius Maximus the shield and Marcellus the sword of the republic, and they certainly rated Fabius above Marcellus. Aristotle was also of this opinion, for he says in his Politics that the principal task of the legislator is not to form and establish a city but to make provision for its long continuance;[4] and when the wife of Theopompus King of Sparta accused him of having weakened his authority by associating the senate or council of ephors with him in the exercise of supreme power, he answered that the more stable and strong his authority, the greater it would be.

But how does it happen, we may ask, that those who conquer are more honoured than those who preserve? It is because the results of conquest are more obvious and more popular, they cause more stir and noise, they make an outward show and have the virtue of novelty, which man so desires and enjoys. Military enterprises offer more wonders and delights than the arts of preservation and peace, but the greater the wisdom and power of judgment of the ruler the less novelty and tumult there is in a peaceful state. As many more people will stop to gaze at a tumbling torrent than at a calm river, although rivers are a more noble sight than torrents, so he who acquires is more admired than he who maintains; and yet, as Florus says, difficilius est provincias obtinere quam facere: viribus parantur, iure retinentur.[5]  And Livy says: excellentibus ingeniis citius defuerit ars qua civem regant, quam qua hostem superent.[6]


6.      Whether large, small or middle-sized empires are more lasting

Certainly those of the middle size are more easily held, for the weakness of small empires exposes them to the might and abuse of great ones which devour them and profit by their ruin, like large fish feeding upon smaller ones, and birds of prey upon smaller birds. Thus Rome grew great through the suppression of the surrounding cities, and Philip of Macedon through the oppression of the Greek republics. Large States are envied and feared by their neighbours, who often league together and united accomplish what one alone cannot do. But they are also more susceptible to the internal causes of ruin because riches increase with greatness and vices with riches, particularly luxury, arrogance, license and avarice, the root of all evil. States which have reached their peak through frugality have degenerated through opulence. Furthermore, greatness leads to confidence in one’s own powers, and confidence to negligence, idleness and contempt both of subjects and enemies, so that States may retain their position through their past reputation rather than their present resources or qualities. And just as alchemy produces what seems gold to the eye but is proved false by a touchstone, so such States have great fame but little strength, like trees which are high and widespread yet within are hollow and rotten, or men who are great in body but weak in stamina: and this a time of trial will discover. So long as Sparta was contained within the boundaries prescribed by Lycurgus she grew in valour and in reputation above all the cities of Greece; but when she had extended her rule and subjugated the Greek cities and the kingdoms of Asia, she declined, so that whereas before Agesilaus’s time the city had never seen the smoke, still less the weapons of an enemy, after the Athenians had been defeated and Asia laid waste she saw her citizens flee before the Thebans, an ignoble and despised race. The Romans also, after over­coming the Carthaginians, stood in awe of the Numantines for fourteen years. They had conquered many kingdoms and added many new provinces to their empire, but they were cut to pieces by Viriathus in Spain, by the banished Sertorius in Lusitania and by Spartacus in Italy; they were besieged on all sides and famished by pirates. Valour thrusts a way to greatness through the midst of difficulties, but when this is achieved it is immediately stifled by riches, enervated by pleasure and degraded by sensuality; it weathers severe storms and threatening tempests on the high seas, but ship­wrecks and is lost in harbour. Then noble thoughts and high purposes and honourable enterprises fall away and their place is taken by pride, arrogance, avarice among those in office, and insolence among the populace. Clowns find more favour than captains, chatterers than soldiers, adulation than truth; wealth is held in honour above virtue, gifts above justice; simplicity gives way to deceit, goodness to malice, so that as the State grows the foundations of its strength are sapped. Iron generates the rust which corrodes it, ripe fruits bring forth the worms which rot them, and great States give birth to the vices which gradually, or sometimes at one stroke, overthrow them. Enough has been said of great States.

Middle-sized States are the most lasting, since they are exposed neither to violence by their weakness nor to envy by their greatness, and their wealth and power being moderate, passions are less violent, ambition finds less support and licence less provocation than in large States. Fear of their neighbours restrains them, and even if feelings are roused to anger they axe more easily quieted and tran­quillity restored. Rome is an instance of this, for before she became powerful such rebellions as there were lasted only a short time, ended at the least sign of a foreign war, and never led to the spilling of blood: but when the greatness of her empire had given an opportunity to ambition and faction had aggravated it, when her enemies had been vanquished, and Marius had won a following and a reputation (with the means to maintain it) by the wars and spoils of Numidia and the Cimbrians, Sulla by those of Greece and Mithridates, Pompey by those of Spain and Asia, and Caesar by those of Gaul, then revolts were no longer fought out with stools and chairs, but with fire and the sword, and the wars and rivalries ended only with the destruction of the opposing parties and of the empire itself. Thus some middle-sized powers have lasted far longer than the greatest, as we see in the case of Sparta, Carthage and above all Venice, for there has never been an empire in which mediocrity of power went with such stability and strength. Yet although this mediocrity is more conducive to the preservation of an empire than excessive power, middle-sized States do not last long if their leaders are not content but wish to expand and become great, and, exceeding the bounds of mediocrity, leave behind also those of security. The Venetians undertook in the support of Pisa and in the league against Ludovico Sforza more than a mediocre power could hope to accomplish, incurring heavy expense and no gain in the one enter­prise and imminent danger of disaster in the other. So long as the ruler recognises the limits of mediocrity and is content to remain within them his rule will be lasting.


7.      Whether compact or dispersed states are more lasting

A dispersed State is either split up in such a way that the various parts are unable to give aid to each other because strong powers which are openly or potentially hostile stand between them, or else mutual aid is possible, in one of three ways: either with money (but this is the most difficult), or by agreement with the States through which help must pass, or when all the parts of an empire He on the sea and have naval forces to defend them. Again, the parts of a scattered empire are either so weak that they cannot stand alone or defend themselves against their neighbours or so great and powerful that they dominate their neighbours or are at least their equals. Now we should say that without doubt a great empire is more safe from enemy attacks and invasions because it is powerful and united, and unity confers strength and firmness; yet on the other hand it is more vulnerable to the internal causes of ruin, for greatness leads to self-confidence, confidence to negligence and negligence to contempt and loss of prestige and authority. Power breeds wealth, which is the parent of pleasure as pleasure is of all the vices; and this is why empires fall away from the height of their prosperity, for valour diminishes with increase of power and virtue with accretion of wealth. The Roman Empire was at its height under Caesar Augustus; pleasures and dissipation began to win ascendancy over virtue in the reign of Tiberius and gained more ground under Caligula and his successors. The valour of Vespasian improved the moral state of the empire, but the vices of Domitian made it worse again; the goodness of Trajan and a few of his successors restored it, but after that it toppled and collapsed, till the empire came to ruin, and when there was an occasional temporary recovery this was the work of foreign-born emperors and generals, not of the Romans themselves. These emperors were Trajan the Spaniard, Antoninus Pius the Frenchman, Septimius Severus the African, Alexander Mamea,[7] Claudius the Dardanian, Aurehan of Moesia, Probus of Sirmio, Diocletian of Dalmatia, Galerian of Dacia, Constans (father of the great Constantine) of Dardania, Theodosius, another Spaniard, who may be called the restorer of the empire: andof the generals who showed valour, Stilicho, Uldin, and Aetius were Vandals, Castinus a Scythian, Boniface a Thracian, Ricimer, who defeated Beorgor King of the Alans, a Goth. From this we may see that Roman virtue was so enervated and corrupted by pleasure that without foreign aid Rome could not stand. And because the barbarians served for in­terested motives and for their own particular ends, which were often wicked and treacherous, in the end her ruin was complete; for an empire that has no valour within it cannot resist for long the intrigues and attacks of its rivals and enemies. Spain, corrupt in every part, fell to the power of the Moors in thirty months, and the Byzantine Empire succumbed to the Turks after a few years. Moreover the effect of baronial rivalry or popular revolt or licence among both these elements within a compact State spreads rapidly to the unaffected parts, like the plague, or some other evil contagion, through their very proximity; and if the ruler is worthless and given to foolishness a compact empire will become diseased and demoral­ised more easily than a scattered one and will consequently be weaker in the face of its foes.

On the other hand a scattered empire is weaker than a compact one because the distance between the parts is always a source of weakness and if the different parts are so weak that none of them is able to stand alone against the attacks of a neighbouring power, or if they are so placed that one cannot come to the aid of another, then the empire will not last long. But if they are able to help each other and if each is large and vigorous so that it need not fear invasion, the empire may be accounted as strong as a compact one, first because the parts being in a position to offer each other mutual aid it is not really scattered, and though by its nature it is weaker than a compact empire, it has many advantages. In the first place it cannot all be assailed at the same time, and the greater the distance between the parts the more certain this is, for the task is too great for one power alone and it is not easy for many to league together; so that when one part is attacked, those which are not can come to its aid, just as Portugal has often assisted her possessions in the Indies. Also baronial rivalry and popular revolt will not spread throughout the whole empire when it is a scattered one because each part will have its own factions, families, friendships, loyalties and retinues, and the ruler may use the areas which have remained faithful to punish those which are disaffected. In the same way other troubles will spread less rapidly and violently because distance places an obstacle in the way of these disorders and brings in the factor of time, which is always on the side of justice and legitimacy. It is rarely that external causes bring about the downfall of an empire that has not already been corrupted within: as Vegetius writes nulla enim quamvis minima natio potest ah adversariis perdeleri nisi propriis simultatibus se ipsa consumpserit.[8] 

Given the two above conditions we hold that a scattered empire is as secure and lasting as a compact one. The Spanish Empire is an instance of this, because the states of which it is composed, such as Milan and Flanders (so often threatened in vain by the French), Naples and Sicily, are so powerful that they are not alarmed at the sound of warlike preparation close at hand. And although they are a considerable distance apart, they are not entirely separated because, apart from the power of that empire’s extreme wealth, they are all joined by the sea. No State is so distant that it cannot be aided by naval forces, and the Catalans, Basques and Portuguese are such skilful sailors that they may be truly called masters of the art of navigation. The empire, which otherwise might appear scattered and unwieldy, must be accounted united and compact with its naval forces in the hands of such men, particularly now that Portugal and Castile are united.[9] The Portuguese possessions, spreading eastwards, meet those of Castile in the Philippine Islands, and in this great voyage they have islands, kingdoms and harbours everywhere at their command, some their own, others belonging to friendly rulers, subject powers or their allies.


8.      The means whereby a State may be preserved

The preservation of a State depends upon the peace and tran­quility of its subjects. This peace may be divided into two kinds and so may its converse, war: war may be waged by a foreign power or by the subjects themselves; and within this latter kind of war another division may be made between civil war, in which the subjects fight each other, and rebellion or revolt, in which they fight their ruler. All these disagreeable possibilities may be avoided by the exercise of the arts which win for a ruler the love and admiration of his people; for just as the works of nature are preserved by the forces which have given them birth, the means which brought a State into being are those which should preserve it. There is no doubt that in the earliest times men were moved to create kings and to place them­selves under the rule and leadership of others by the affection they felt for them and high regard (which we call admiration) for their valour, and we may deduce that these are the feelings which keep subjects obedient and peaceful. But which had more influence in the choice of a king, affection or admiration? Without doubt, admiration; for people are led to bestow government upon others not to give them pleasure and favour but for the common good, and they choose not the most charming and amiable but those who are known for their valour and outstanding qualities. Thus in times of danger the Romans entrusted power not to popular and delightful young men but to mature and experienced citizens: the Manlii, the Papirii, the Fabii, the Decii, the Camilli, the Pauli, the Scipios, the Marii. Camillus, once hated and on that account banished, was recalled in time of need and made dictator. M. Livius, who had been despised and condemned by the people and in consequence of this shame and dishonour had long been out of the public eye, was recalled in the hour of necessity as consul and general against Hannibal’s brother, in preference to many others who had been striving with all the arts of ambition to win the love and favour of the people. Public regard summoned L. Paulus to lead the Macedonian campaign, Marius the Cimbric and Pompey the expedition against Mithridates: it made Ves­pasian, Trajan and Theodosius emperors of Rome, Pepin and Hugh Capet Kings of the Franks and Godfrey and others Kings of Jerusalem.

Wherein lies the difference between affection and admiration? Both are inspired by excellent qualities, but admiration demands supreme excellence whereas affection may be satisfied with a lesser degree of excellence. When a man’s goodness and perfection so exceed the average that he is outstanding for them, however much he may be loved for his goodness this is almost insignificant beside his excellence, and such a man is rather admired than loved. If this esteem is founded upon piety and religious feeling it is called reverence, if upon political and military ability it is called admiration; and those qualities in a prince’s governance which are likely to make him loved are also of a kind to win him admiration when he shows himself to possess them to an almost divine degree. What inspires love more than justice does? The justice of Camillus in sending away the schoolmaster who had brought his scholars before him won so much admiration that the doors of the Falisci, which force of arms had failed to open, were unlocked by this act. In the same way when Fabricius sent back the treacherous physician to Pyrrhus, the king was so filled with wonder and surprise that he abandoned all thought of making war and resolved instead to negotiate a treaty. What quality is more worthy of affection than rectitude? Scipio’s action in returning the beautiful young bride unharmed to her husband won him even more admiration than love, and so increased the universal esteem in which he was held that the Spaniards considered him almost as a god descended upon earth.


9.      The need for excellence in a ruler

The foundation upon which every State is built is the obedience of the subjects to their prince, and this in turn is founded upon his outstanding excellence; for, as the elements and the bodies formed from them obey unresistingly the movements of the heavenly spheres because of their exalted nature and in the heavens themselves the lesser bodies are ruled by the motion of the greater, so a people submits willingly to a ruler adorned by splendid talents, for no one would deny obedience and submission to his superior, as he would to his inferior or equal. But it is most necessary that the superiority of the ruler should not he in trifling matters and things of little or no importance, but in those which ennoble the soul and mind, which confer an almost celestial and divine greatness and truly exalt a man above his fellows. Livy says vinculum fidei est melioribus parere[10] and Dionysius aeterna naturae lege receptum est, ut inferiores praestantioribus pareant;[11] Avitus replied gravely to the Ansibari patiendum meliorum imperia,[12] and Aristotle holds that those who are pre-eminent in wisdom and judgment are natural rulers, saying that nobles are to be honoured because nobility is a matter of blood and descent, and good parents are likely to have good offspring and better ones better offspring.[13] For this reason tyrants fear good men more than bad ones and stout-hearted men more than spiritless ones, for those who are incapable and unworthy of the rank due to excellence have reason to fear those who are capable and worthy of it.


10.  The two kinds of excellence which a ruler may possess

Excellence may be either absolute or partial: it is absolute when a ruler possesses all or many qualities to a high degree, and it is partial when he is pre-eminent in some quality particularly appropriate to one who rules others. In the first category we would place, among the emperors, Constantine the Great, Constans, Gratian, Theodosius I and II, Justin, Justinian (if he had not been a Monothelite), Tiberius II, Leo the Philosopher, Henry I, Otto I (if he had not importunately arrogated to himself the authority to confer benefices), Otto III, Lothair II, Sigismund, Frederick III; among the Frankish kings Clovis, Childebert, Clothair, Charles Martel (though he did not enjoy the title of king), Pepin, Charlemagne, Charles the Wise, Robert, and Louis VII; the most glorious of Spanish kings have been Recared (who was the first Catholic King of the Goths), Pelagius, Alfonso the Catholic (so called because he stamped out Arianism in Spain), Alfonso the Chaste, Ramiro, Alfonso the Great, Alfonso VII, Sancho (who was almost a second Titus, for both lived and reigned a short time only, and one was called in Spain ‘el Deseado’,[14] the other ‘the world’s beloved’), Alfonso VII, James King of Aragon, Ferdinand III, and Ferdinand the Catholic; and outstanding among the supreme pontiffs since St. Sylvester have been Julius I, Damasus, Innocent I, Leo the Great, Pelagius, Gregory I, and after him Boniface IV, Vitalian, Adeodatus, Leo II, Cono (known as the Angelic from the sanctity of his life), Constantine, Gregory II and III, Zacharias I, Stephen II, Adrian I, Leo III, Paschal I, Eugenius II (called ‘the Father of the Poor’), Leo IV, Benedict III (created Pope against his will), Nicholas I (created Pope in absentia, also against his will), Adrian II, John IV, Leo IX (who was first chosen as Pope by the Emperor Henry, but entered Rome as a private person and was there canonically elected by the people), Nicholas II, Alexander II (elected in absentia), Gregory VIII[15] (who restored the liberty of the Church and the authority of the Apostolic See, which had been oppressed by the Emperors), Urban II (the originator of the heroic expedition against the infidel), Paschal II (elected against his will), Gelasius II, Calixtus II, Anastasius IV, Alexander III (steadfast against the Emperor Frederick and the schismatics), Clement III, Clement IV (who refused to allow one of his nephews to hold more than one prebend), Nicholas III (called ‘the moderate’ on account of his integrity and temperate habits), and Nicholas V (elected against his will).


[1] Tacitus, Histories IV, I: ‘in times of turbulence and discord the worst acquire most power, but in peaceful and calm times good qualities are needed’.

[2] Livy, XXXVII, 35: ‘that it had been easier for them to acquire their provinces one by one than to maintain their entire possessions’.

[3] Tacitus, Germania, VI: ‘to have abandoned the shield was the greatest disgrace, and the guilty were debarred from participation in religious rites and the assembly’.

[4] Aristotle, Politics, II (1274).

[5] Florus, Epitomae, II, 30, 29 (also I, 33, 7): ‘it is more difficult to keep provinces than to acquire them: they are won by force, they are retained by laws’.

[6] Livy, II, 43, 10: ‘men of great ability are more often deficient in the art of governing citizens than in that of overcoming the enemy’.

[7] This must be an allusion to Alexander Severus (208-235), a Syrian by birth, emperor from 222. He was dominated by his mother Julia Avita Mamaea, whose name may be the cause of Botero’s slip, although he must have been familiar with the life of that emperor by Lampridius, for he frequently quotes it, and he refers to Mamaea herself at the end of Book VIII, chapter 4. The reference cannot possibly be to Alexander Domitian, a Phrygian, who was proclaimed emperor by the African legions and was killed by Maxentius in 308.

[8] Vegetius, De re militari, III, 10: ‘no nation, however small, will be overcome by its enemies if it has not already been weakened by internal discord’.

[9] In 1580 Philip II of Spain, profiting by the dynastic crisis which followed the death of Henry II, had annexed the kingdom of Portugal and its wealthy colonies almost without striking a blow.

[10] We have been unable to trace this quotation: ‘the bond of loyalty lies in obedience to one’s betters’.

[11] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquit Rom., I, 5: ‘it is an eternal law of nature that the lesser should obey the pre-eminent’.

[12] Tacitus, Annals, XIII, 56: ‘the rule of one’s betters must be accepted’.

[13] Politics, V (1309); ibid. III (1283).

[14] i.e. ‘the Desired’.

[15] Clearly an error for Gregory VII (Hildebrand) (trans.).