Discourses on Livy Book II , Niccolò Machiavelli
Discourses on Livy Book II
Niccolò Machiavelli
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The Discourses on Livy is a work of political history and philosophy written in the early 16th century (c. 1517) by the Italian writer and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, best known as the author of The Prince. The Discourses were published posthumously with papal privilege in 1531. This book is a translated version by Christian E. Detmold, published in 1882. Chapter 1 of Book 2 debates whether Virtue or Fortune had more of a cause of the empire that the Romans acquired. There were many opinions equally distributed to both sides, and there is not final consensus on which had more of a cause, virtue or fortune. Chapter 2 discusses what people the Romans had to combat, and that they obstinately defended their freedom. In this chapter he also goes into why he thinks that republics are better than principalities. er of the region.

Discourses on Livy

by
Niccolò Machiavelli

Second Book


Chapter I:
Whether Virtu or Fortune Was the Greater Cause for the Empire Which the Romans Acquired

Many (authors), among whom is that most serious writer Plutarch, have had the opinion that the Roman people in acquiring the Empire were favored more by Fortune than by Virtu. And among other reasons which he cities, he says that, by the admission of that people, it can be shown that they ascribed all their victories to Fortune, as they had built more temples to Fortune than to any other God. And it seems that Livius joined in this opinion, for he rarely makes any Roman speak where he recounts (of) Virtu, without adding Fortune. Which thing I do not in any way agree with, nor do I believe also that it can be sustained. For if no other Republic will ever be found which has made the progress that Rome had, then I note that no Republic will ever be found which has been organized to be able to make such conquests as Rome. For it was the virtu of the armies that enabled her to acquire that Empire; and the order of proceeding and her own institutions founded by her first Legislator that enabled her to maintain the acquisitions, as will be narrated below in further discussion.

These (authors) also say that the fact of not ever engaging in two most important wars at the same time was due to the fortune and not the virtu of the Roman people; for they did riot engage in war with the Latins until they had so beaten the Samnites that the Romans had to engage in a war in defense of them: They did not combat with the Tuscans until they first subjugated the Latins, and had by frequent defeats almost completely enervated the Samnites: So that if these two powers had joined together ((while they were fresh)), without doubt it can easily be conjectured that the ruin of the Roman Republic would have ensued.

But however this thing may have been, it never did happen that they engaged in two most powerful wars at the same time; rather it appeared always that at the beginning of one the other would be extinguished, or in extinguishing one another would arise. Which is easily seen from the succession of wars engaged in by them; for, leaving aside the one they were engaged in before Rome was taken by the French (Gauls), it is seen that while they fought against the Equii and the Volscians, no other people ((while these people were powerful)) rose up against them. When these were subdued there arose the war against the Samnites, and although before that war was ended the Latin people rebelled against the Romans with their armies in subduing the insolence of the Latins. When these were subdued, the war against the Samnites sprung up again. When the Samnites were beaten through the many defeats inflicted on their forces, there arose the war against the Tuscans; which being composed, the Samnites again rose up when Pyrrhus crossed over into Italy, and as soon as he was beaten and driven back to Greece, the first war with the Carthaginians was kindled: and that war was hardly finished when all the Gauls from all sides of the Alps conspired against the Romans, but they were defeated with the greatest massacre between Popolonia and Pisa where the tower of San Vincenti stands today. After this war was finished, they did not have any war of much importance for a space of twenty years, for they did not fight with any others except the Ligurians and the remnants of the Gauls who were in Lombardy. And thus they remained until there arose the second Carthaginian war, which kept Italy occupied for sixteen years. When this war ended with the greatest glory, there arose the Macedonian war; (and) after this was finished there came that of Antiochus and Asia. After this victory, there did not remain in all the world either a Prince or a Republic that could, by itself or all together, oppose the Roman forces.

But whoever examines the succession of these wars, prior to that last victory, and the manner in which they were conducted, will see mixed with Fortune a very great Virtu and Prudence. So that if one should examine the cause of that (good) fortune, he will easily find it, for it is a most certain thing that as a Prince or a People arrives at so great a reputation, that any neighboring Princes or Peoples by themselves are afraid to assault him, and he has no fear of them, it will always happen that none of them will ever assault him except from necessity; so that it will almost be at the election of that powerful one to make war upon any of those neighbors as appears (advantageous) to him, and to quiet the others by his industry. These are quieted easily in part because they have respect for his power, and in part because they are deceived by those means which he used to put them to sleep: and other powerful ones who are distant and have no commerce with him, will look upon this as a remote thing which does not pertain to them. In which error they remain until the conflagration arrives next to them, for which, when it comes, they have no remedy to extinguish it except with their own forces, which then will not be enough as he has become most powerful.

I will leave to one side how the Samnites remained to see the Volscians and the Equii conquered by the Romans, and so as not to be too prolix I will make use of the Carthaginians who were of great power and of great reputation when the Romans were fighting with the Samnites and Tuscans; for they already held all Africa, Sardinia and Sicily, and had dominion in part of Spain. Which power of theirs, together with their being distant from the confines of the Roman people, caused them never to think of assaulting them, nor of succoring the Samnites and Tuscans; rather it made them do as is done in any power that grows, allying themselves with them (the Romans) in their favor and seeking their friendship. Nor did they see before this error was made, that the Romans having subdued all the peoples (placed) between them and the Carthaginians, begun to combat them for the Empire of Sicily and Spain. The same thing happened to the Gauls as to the Carthaginians, and also to Philip King of Macedonia and to Antiochus; and everyone of them believed ((while the Roman people were occupied with others)) that the others would overcome them, and then it would be time either by peace or war to defend themselves from (the Romans). So that I believe that the (good) Fortune which the Romans had in these parts would be had by all those Princes who would proceed as the Romans and who would have that same Virtu as they had.

It would be well here in connection with this subject to show the course held by Roman people in entering the Provinces of others, of which we have talked about at length in our treatment of Principalities (Treatise on the Prince), for there we have debated this matter widely. I will only say this briefly, that they have always endeavored to have some friend in these new provinces who should be as a ladder or door to let them climb in, both to let them enter and as a means of keeping it; as was seen, that by means of the Capuans they entered Samnium, by means of the Camertines into Tuscany, by the Mamertines into Sicily, by the Saguntines into Spain, by Massinissa into Africa, by the Aetolians into Greece, by Eumences and other Princes into Asia, and by the Massilians and the Aeduans into Gaul. And thus they never lacked similar supports, both in order to be able to facilitate their enterprises of their acquiring provinces and in holding them. Which those people who observed them saw that they had less need of Fortune, than those people who do not make good observers. And so as to enable everyone to know better how much more Virtu enabled them to acquire that Empire than did Fortune, in the following chapter we will discuss the kind of people they had to combat and how obstinate they were in defending their liberty.


Chapter II:
With What People the Romans Had to Combat, and How Obstinately They Defended Their Liberty

Nothing caused so much hard work for the Romans as the overcoming of the surrounding people and part of the distant Provinces, as the love many people in those times had for liberty; which they so obstinately defended but they would never have been subjugated except for the excessive virtu (of the Romans). For, from many examples, it is known into what dangers they placed themselves in order to maintain or recover (their liberty), and what vengeance they practiced against those who had deprived them of it. It is also to be learned from the lessons of history what injury the people and the City received from such servitude. And, while in these times there is only one Province of which it can be said has in it free Cities, in ancient times in all the Provinces there existed many free people. It will be seen that in those times of which we speak at present, there were in Italy, from the Alps ((which now divide Tuscany from Lombardy)) up to the furthest (part) in Italy, many free peoples, such as were the Tuscans, the Romans, the Samnites, and many other people, who inhabited the remaining part of Italy. Nor is there ever any discussion whether there was any King outside those who reigned in Rome, and Porsenna, King of Tuscany, whose line was extinguished in a manner of which history does not speak. But it is indeed seen that in those times when the Romans went to besiege Veii, Tuscany was free, and so much did it enjoy its liberty and so hated the title of Prince, that when the Veientians created a King for the defense of Veii, and requested aid of the Tuscans against the Romans, they decided, after much consultation, not to give aid to the Veientians as long as they lived under the King, judging it not to be good to defend the country of those who already had subjected themselves to others. And it is easy to understand whence this affection arises in a people to live free, for it is seen from experience that Cities never increased either in dominion or wealth except while they had been free. And truly it is a marvelous thing to consider to what greatness Athens had arrived in the space of a hundred years after she had freed herself from the tyranny of Pisistratus. But above all, it is a more marvelous thing to consider to what greatness Rome arrived after it liberated itself from its Kings. The cause is easy to understand, for not the individual good, but the common good is what makes Cities great. And, without doubt, this common good is not observed except in Republics, because everything is done which makes for their benefit, and if it should turn to harm this or that individual, those for whom the said good is done are so many, that they can carry on against the interests of those few who should be harmed. The contrary happens when there is a Prince, where much of the time what he does for himself harms the City, and what is done for the City harms him. So that soon there arises a Tyranny over a free society, the least evil which results to that City is for it not to progress further, nor to grow further in power or wealth, but most of the times it rather happens that it turns backward. And if chance should cause that a Tyrant of virtu should spring up, who by his courage and virtu at arms expands his dominion, no usefulness would result to the Republic but only to be himself; for he cannot honor any of those citizens who are valiant and good over whom he tyrannizes, as he does not want to have to suspect them. Nor also can he subject those Cities which he acquires or make them tributary to the City of which he is the Tyrant, because he does not help himself in making them powerful, but it will help him greatly in keeping the State disunited, so that each town and each province should recognize him. So that he alone, and not his country, profits from his acquisitions. And whoever should want to confirm this opinion with infinite other arguments, let him read Xenophon’s treatise which he wrote on Tyranny.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the ancient people should have persecuted the Tyrants with so much hatred and should have loved living in freedom, and the name of Liberty so much esteemed by them; as happened when Hieronymus, nephew of Hiero the Syracusan, was killed in Syracuse; that when the news of his death came to his army, which was not very far from Syracuse, they at first begun to raise a tumult and take up arms against his killers; but when they heard that there was shouting of liberty in Syracuse, attracted by the name everyone became quiet, their ire against the Tyrannicides was quelled, and they thought of how a free government could be established in that City. It is also no wonder that the people took extraordinary vengeance against those who deprived them of liberty. Of which there have been many examples, but I intend to refer only to one which happened in Corcyra, a City of Greece, in the times of the Peloponnesian war, where, the Province being divided into two factions, of which the Athenians followed one, the Spartans the other, there arose then among the many other Cities a division among themselves, some following (the friendship of) Sparta, the the others (of) Athens: and it happened in the said City (Corcyra) that the nobles had prevailed and had taken away the liberty from the people; the populari (popular party) with the aid of the Athenians recovered its power, and, having laid hands on the nobility, put them into a prison capable of holding all of them; from which they took out eight or ten at one time under a pretext of sending them into exile in different places, but put them to death with (examples of) extreme cruelties. When the remainder became aware of this, they resolved if possible to escape that ignominious death, and arming themselves as (best) as they could, they fought with those who attempted to enter and defended the entrance to the prison; but when the people came together at this noise, they pulled down the upper part of that place, and suffocated them in the ruins. Many other similar notable and horrible cases occurred in the said Province, so that it is seen to be true that liberty is avenged with great energy when it is taken away than when it is only threatened (to be taken).

In thinking, therefore, of whence it should happen that in those ancient times the people were greater lovers of Liberty than in these times, I believe it results from the same reason which makes men presently less strong, which I believe is the difference between our education and that of the ancients, founded on the difference between our Religion and the ancients. For, as our Religion shows the truth and the true way (of life), it causes us to esteem less the honors of the world: while the Gentiles (Pagans) esteeming them greatly, and having placed the highest good in them, were more ferocious in their actions. Which can be observed from many of their institutions, beginning with the magnificence of their sacrifices (as compared) to the humility of ours, in which there is some pomp more delicate than magnificent, but no ferocious or energetic actions. Theirs did not lack pomp and magnificence of ceremony, but there was added the action of sacrifice full of blood and ferocity, the killing of many animals, which sight being terrible it rendered the men like unto it. In addition to this, the ancient Religion did not beatify men except those full of worldly glory, such as were the Captains of armies and Princes of Republics. Our Religion has glorified more humble and contemplative men rather than men of action. It also places the highest good in humility, lowliness, and contempt of human things: the other places it in the greatness of soul, the strength of body, and all the other things which make men very brave. And, if our Religion requires that there be strength (of soul) in you, it desires that you be more adept at suffering than in achieving great deeds.

This mode of living appears to me, therefore, to have rendered the world weak and a prey to wicked men, who can manage it securely, seeing that the great body of men, in order to go to Paradise, think more of enduring their beatings than in avenging them. And although it appears that the World has become effeminate and Heaven disarmed, yet this arises without doubt more from the baseness of men who have interpreted our Religion in accordance with Indolence and not in accordance with Virtu. For if they were to consider that it (our Religion) permits the exaltation and defense of the country, they would see that it desires that we love and honor her (our country), and that we prepare ourselves so that we can be able to defend her. This education and false interpretations, therefore, are the cause that in the world as many Republics are not seen in them that the people have as much love for liberty now as at that time. I believe, however, the reason for this rather to be, that the Roman Empire with its arms and greatness destroyed all the Republics and all civil institutions. And although that Empire was later dissolved, yet these Cities could not reunite themselves, nor reorganize their civil institutions, except in a very few places in that Empire.

But however it was, the Romans found a conspiracy in every smallest part of the world of Republics very well armed and most obstinate in the defense of their liberty. Which shows that the Roman people could never have overcome them without that rare and extreme virtu. And to give an example of one instance, the example of the Samnites suffices for me, which seems to be a marvelous one. And T. Livius admits that these (people) were so powerful and their arms so valiant, that, up to the time of the Consul Papirus Cursor, son of the first Papirus, for a period of forty-six years, they were able to resist the Romans, despite the many defeats, destruction of Towns, and massacres suffered by their country. Especially as it is now seen that that country where there were so many Cities and so many men, is now almost uninhabited: and yet it was so well established and so powerful, that it was unconquerable except by Roman virtu. And it is an easy thing whence that order and disorder proceeded, for it all comes from their then living in freedom and now living in servitude. For all the towns and provinces which are free in every way ((as was said above)) make the greatest advances. For here greater populations are seen because marriages are more free and more desired by men, because everyone willingly procreates those children that he believes he is able to raise without being apprehensive that their patrimony will be taken away, and to know that they are not only born free and not slaves, but are also able through their own virtu to become Princes. They will see wealth multiplied more rapidly, both that which comes from the culture (of the soil) and that which comes from the arts, for everyone willingly multiplies those things and seek to acquire those goods whose acquisition he believes he can enjoy. Whence it results that men competing for both private and public betterment, both come to increase in a wondrous manner. The contrary of all these things happens in those countries which live in servitude, and the more the good customs are lacking, the more rigorous is the servitude. And the hardest of all servitudes is that of being subject to a Republic: the one, because it is more enduring and the possibility of escaping from it is missing: the other, because the final aim of a Republic is to enervate and weaken ((in order to increase its own power)) all the other states. Which a Prince who subjugates you does not do unless that Prince is some barbarous Prince, a destroyer of countries and dissipater of all human civilization, such as are oriental Princes: But if he has ordinary human feelings in him, most of the times he will love equally the Cities subject to him, and will leave them (enjoy) all their arts, and almost all their ancient institutions. So that if they cannot grow as if they were free, they will not be ruined even in servitude; servitude being understood as that in which Cities serve a foreigner, for of that to one of their own Citizens, we have spoken above.

Whoever considers, therefore, all that which has been said, will not marvel at the power which the Samnites had while they were free, and at the weakness to which they came afterwards under servitude: and T. Livius gives testimony of this in many places, and mainly in the war with Hannibal, where he shows that when the Samnites were pressed by a legion of (Romans) who were at Nola, they sent Orators (Ambassadors) to Hannibal to beg him to succor them. Who in their speech said to him that for a hundred years they had combatted the Romans with their own soldiers and their own Captains, and many times had sustained (battle against) two consular armies and two Consuls; but now they had arrived at such baseness that they were hardly able to defend themselves against the small Roman legion which was at Nola.

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