Discourses on Livy Book III
Category: Ideas
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Niccolo Machiavelli was a Renassiasance philosopher, diplomat and historian. He often wrote texts on political theory, such as The Prince, in which he explored the role and actual power of a prince. In Discourse on Livy Book III, he discusses "worldly things" and how they all must end. The philosopher goes on to discuss republics, society, and government. Read this passionate text written by an influential political philosopher.

Discourses on Livy

Niccolò Machiavelli

Third Book

Discourses on Livy Book III

Chapter I:
To Want That a Sect or a Republic Exist for Long, It Is Necessary to Return Them Often to Their Principles

It is a most true thing that all the things of the world have to have an ending to their existence. But these only run the entire course that is generally ordained by Heaven, which does not disorganize their body, but keeps it so organized that it is not changed, or if it is changed, it is for its welfare and not its injury. And as I speak here of mixed bodies, as are Republics and (Religious) Sects, I say that those changes are for the better which bring them back to their (original) principles. And, therefore, those are better organized and have a longer existence, which through their own means are able frequently to renew themselves, or which through some accident outside the said organization come to that renewal. And it is something clearer than light, that these bodies which do not renew themselves, do not endure. The means of renewing them ((as has been said)), is to bring them back to their (original) principles. For all the principles of Sects and Republics and of Kingdoms must have within themselves some goodness, by means of which they obtain their first reputation and first expansion. And as in the process of time that goodness becomes corrupted, of necessity it will kill the body, unless something intervenes to bring it back to the sign (normality). And Doctors of medicine say ((speaking of the bodies of men)): Every day something is gathered, and when it is ill, it must be cured.

This turning back to principles ((speaking of Republics)) is caused either by an extrinsic accident or by an intrinsic prudence. As to the first, it is seen how necessary it was that Rome should be taken by the Gauls to want to be reborn, and being reborn should resume a new life and a new virtu, and should resume the observance of Religion and Justice, which were beginning to blemish themselves in her. This is very well known from the history of Livius, where he shows that in calling out the army against the Gauls, and in creating the Tribunes with Consular power, they did not observe any religious ceremony. Thus in the same way they not only did not deprive the Fabii (of their rank), who, contrary to the law of nations, had fought against the Gauls, but created them Tribunes. And it ought easily to be presupposed that they had begun to hold in less account those good institutions established by Romulus and those other prudent Princes, than what was reasonable and necessary to keep their liberty. This blow from the outside had to come, therefore, so that all the institutions of that City should be resumed, and that it should be shown to those people that it was not only necessary to maintain Religion and Justice, but also to esteem their good Citizens, and to take more account of their virtu than of that convenience which, because of their work, seemed to be lacking to them. Which is seen succeeded entirely, for as soon as Rome was retaken they renewed all the institutions of their ancient Religion, punished the Fabii who had fought against the law of nations, and then esteemed highly the virtu and goodness of Camillus that the Senate and the others put aside all envy, placing again on him all the burden of this Republic.

It is necessary, therefore, ((as has been said)) that men who live together in some kind of organization, often know each other either by these external incidents, or by internal ones. And as to these latter, it happens that they arise either from a law which often reviews the conduct of the men who are in that body, or truly by some good man who arises amongst them, who by his example and his deeds of virtu causes the same effect as that institution. This good then springs up in Republics either from the virtu of one man or from the virtu of one institution. As to the latter, the institutions that returned the Roman Republic back to its (original) principles was the Tribunes of the Plebs, and all the other laws that curbed the ambitions and insolence of men. Which institutions have need to be kept alive by the virtu of one Citizen who will courageously take part in their execution against the power of those who transgress them.

The most notable examples of such execution of the laws, before the taking of Rome by the Gauls, were the death of the sons of Brutus, the death of the ten Citizens (Decemvirs), and that of Melius, the grain dealer; and after the taking of Rome were the death of Manlius Capitolinus, the death of the son of Manlius Torquatus, the punishment inflicted by Papirius Cursor on Fabius, his Master of Cavalry, and the accusation of Scipio. As these were the extreme and most notable examples, each time one arose, it caused the people to turn back to their principles; and when they began to be more rare, they begun also to give men more latitude in becoming corrupt, and the carrying out of the laws was done with more danger and more tumults. So that from one such execution to another, no more than ten years should elapse, for beyond this time men begin to change their customs and transgress the laws; and unless something arises which recalls the punishment to their memory, and revives the fear in their minds, so many delinquents will soon come together that they cannot any longer be punished without danger.

In connection with this subject, those who governed the State of Florence, from the year one thousand four hundred thirty-four (1434) until the year one thousand four hundred ninety-four (1494) said that it was necessary to resume the government every five years, otherwise it would be difficult to maintain it: and they called “the resuming of the government” to put the same fear and terror in men as they had done in the assuming of it, having in that time punished those who ((according to that mode of living)) had conducted themselves badly. But as the memory of that punishment fades, men become bold to try new things and speak ill of it (the government), and therefore it is necessary to provide against this, by bringing (the government) back to its original principles. This return of Republics back to their principles also results from the simple virtu of one man, without depending on any law that excites him to any execution: none the less, they are of such influence and example that good men desire to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life contrary to those examples.

Those particularly, who in Rome produced these good results, were Horatius Codes, Scaevola, Fabricus, the two Decii, Regulus Attilius, and some others, who by their rare examples of virtu produced almost the same effect in Rome that laws and institutions would have done. And if the above executions, together with these particular examples had been followed at least every ten years in that City, it would have followed of necessity that it would never have been corrupt: but as they caused both these things to become rare, corruption began to multiply, for, after Marcus Regulus, no similar example is seen: and although the two Cato’s had sprung up in Rome, so great was the interval between him (Regulus) and them, and between the one and the other (Cato), and they were so isolated instances, that they could not effect any good work by their good examples. And especially the later Cato, who, finding the City in good part corrupt, was not able by his example to make the Citizens become better. And this is enough as regards Republics.

But as to the Sects, such renewal is also seen to be necessary by the examples of our religion, which, if it had not been brought back to its principles by Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, would have been entirely extinguished: for by their poverty and by their example of the life of Christ, brought it back to the minds of men where it had already been extinguished; and their new orders were so powerful, that they were the reason why the dishonesty of Prelates and the Heads of the Religion did not ruin her; they yet continue to live in poverty and have so much credit with the people through confessions and preachings, that they were able to make them understand that it was evil to speak evil of the bad, and that it was good to live rendering them obedience, and if they had made errors to leave their punishment to God. And thus these bad (rulers) do as much evil as they can, because they do not fear that punishment they do not see or believe.

This renewal (of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic) therefore has maintained and still maintains this Religion. Kingdoms also have need to renew themselves and bring their laws back to first principles. And it is seen how much good resulted from such a renewal in the Kingdom of France, which Kingdom exists under laws and ordinances more than any other Kingdom. The Parliaments are the maintainers of these laws and ordinances, and especially that of Paris; (and) these are renewed by them at any time by an execution against a Prince of that Kingdom, and at times even by condemning the King in some of his decisions. And up to now it has maintained itself because it has been an obstinate executor against that nobility: but if at any time they should allow some (disorder) to go on with impunity, and which would then come to be multiplied, and without doubt there would result either that the (evildoers) would be corrected with (accompanying) great disorders, or that the Kingdom itself would be dissolved.

I conclude, therefore, that there is nothing more necessary in a community of men, either as a Sect, or Kingdom, or Republic, than to restore it to that reputation that it had at its beginning, and to endeavor to obtain either good ordinances or good men to bring about such a result, and not to have an extrinsic force do it. For although some time this may be the best remedy, as it was at Rome, it is so dangerous that it is in no way desirable. But to show to anyone how much the actions of some men in particular had made Rome great and caused many good results in that City, I shall come to the narration and discussion of them, among the objects of which this third book and last part of the first Ten (Books) will be concluded. And although the actions of the Kings were great and notable, none the less, as history treats of them fully, we will leave them aside, nor otherwise speak of them, except where some of the things worked openly for their private advantage, and we shall begin with Brutus, the father of Roman liberty.

Chapter II:
How at Times It Is a Very Wise Thing to Simulate Madness

No one was ever so prudent, or was esteemed so wise for any singular deed of his, as Junius Brutus merited to be esteemed for his simulation of foolishness. And although Titus Livius did not mention but one reason that had induced him to such simulation, which was that he might be able to live in greater security and maintain his patrimony, none the less, considering his method of proceeding, it can be believed that he had simulated this also in order to be less observed and to have greater opportunity to attack the Kings, and liberate his country whenever he should be given the occasion. And that he should think of this, is seen, first, in his interpretation of the oracle of Apollo, when he simulated falling down to kiss the earth, judging by that to propitiate the Gods to his thoughts; and afterwards, when on the occasion of the death of Lucretia, in the midst of the father and husband and other relatives of hers, he was the first to draw the knife from the wound, and make all those around there swear that they should henceforth suffer no one to reign (as King) in Rome.

From this example, all who are discontent with a Prince have to learn that they first ought to weigh and measure their strength, and if they are so powerful that they can declare themselves his enemies and openly make war against him, they ought to employ this method that is less dangerous and more honorable. But if they are of a kind that their strength is not sufficient to make open war on him, they ought with all industry to seek to make him a friend, and to this purpose employ all the means they deem necessary, adopting his pleasures and taking delight in all those things that come to delight him. This intimacy will first enable you to live securely and without bringing on any danger, it makes you enjoy the good fortune of that Prince with him, and will afford you every convenience to satisfy your spirit (of resentment). It is true that some say that one should not keep so close to Princes that their ruin should encompass you, or so distant that if they are ruined, you should not be long in rising on their ruin; which middle course would be the truest if it could be preserved: but as I believe that is impossible, it must come to the two methods mentioned above, that is, to get away from or come closer to them: who does otherwise, and is a man notable for his quality, lives in continuous danger. Nor is it enough for him to say, I do not care for anything, I do not desire honors or profit, I want to live quietly and without trouble, for these excuses are heard and not accepted: nor can men of such quality elect their own way of living, (and) if they could elect it truly and without ambition, they would not be believed: so that if they wanted to live in that manner, they would not be allowed to do so by others.

It is advantageous, therefore, to play the fool as Brutus did, and one is made to be very foolish by praising, talking, seeing and doing things contrary to your thinking, to please the Prince. And as I have not spoken of the prudence of this man in recovering the liberty of Rome, we will now speak of his severity in maintaining it.

Chapter III:
How It Was Necessary, in Wanting to Maintain the Newly Acquired Liberty, to Kill the Sons of Brutus

The severity of Brutus was no less necessary than useful in maintaining that liberty in Rome which she had acquired; which is an example rare in all the record of history to see a father to sit in judgment, and not only condemn his sons to death, but to be present at their deaths. And this will always be known by those who read ancient history, that after a change of State, either from a Republic to a Tyranny, or from a Tyranny to a Republic, a memorable execution against the enemies of the existing conditions is necessary. And whoever restores liberty to a State and does not kill Brutus, and whoever restores liberty to a State and does not kill the sons of Brutus, maintains himself only a short time.

And as this has been discussed at length in another place above, I refer to what has already been said there: I will cite only one memorable example which has occurred in our times and in our country. And this is that of Piero Soderini, who believed with his patience and goodness that he would be able to overcome that same determination that was in the sons of Brutus to return to another form of government, and he was deceived: And although because of his prudence he recognized this necessity, and that chance and their ambition which drove them, gave them the opportunity to destroy themselves, none the less his courage never allowed him to do it. For he thought, in addition to his belief of being able to dispel the bad disposition with patience and goodness, and to consume some of the enmity of someone by rewards ((and many times he had done so with faithful friends)) that to want boldly to drive out his opposition and beat down his adversaries, it would oblige him to assume extraordinary authority and legally destroy civil equality. Which thing ((even though it should not afterward be used tyrannically by him)) would have so terrified the general public, that after his death they would never again agree to reelect a Gonfalonier for life: which institution he judged was good for strengthening and maintaining the government. Which respect (for the laws) was wise and good: none the less one ought never to allow an evil to run on out of regard for a good, when that good could easily be suppressed by that evil: And he ought to bear in mind that his deeds and his intentions should have to be judged by the results ((if fortune and life would stay with him)), that he could certify to everyone that that which he had done was for the welfare of the country, and not from him ambition; and he could have regulated things in a way that a successor of his could not be able to do by evil means that which he had done for good. But the first opinion deceived him, not knowing that malignity is not subdued by time, nor placated by any gift. So that by not knowing how to imitate Brutus, he lost at the same time his country, his State, and his reputation.

And as it is a difficult thing to save a republic, so it is difficult to save a Monarchy, as will be shown in the following chapter.

Chapter IV:
A Prince Does Not Live Securely in a Principality While Those Who Have Been Despoiled of It Live

The death of Tarquinius Priscus caused by the sons of Ancus, and the death of Servius Tullus caused by Tarquinius Superbus, shows how difficult and perilous it is to despoil one of a Kingdom, and leave him alive, even though he should seek to win him over to himself by benefits. And it will be seen how Tarquinius Priscus was deceived by the seemingly legal possession of that Kingdom, it having been given to him by the people and confirmed by the Senate. Nor could he believe that the sons of Ancus could have so much resentment that they would not be content with him (as ruler), of whom all Rome was content. And Servius Tullus deceived himself believing he could win over to himself the sons of Tarquin by new benefits. So that, as to the first, every Prince can be advised that he will never live securely in his Principality so long as those live who have been despoiled (of their possessions).

As to the second, it should remind every potentate that old injuries were never cancelled by new benefits, and so much less if the new benefit is less that the injury inflicted. And without doubt Servius Tullus was little prudent to believe that the sons of Tarquinius would be content to be the sons-in-law of him, when they judged they ought to be the Kings. And this desire to reign is so great, that it not only enters the hearts of those who expect to inherit the Kingdom, but even to those who do not have such expectation: as existed in the wife of Tarquin the younger, daughter of Servius, who, moved by this rabidness, against every filial piety, set her husband against his father to take away his life and kingdom, so much more did the esteem to be a Queen than a daughter to a King. If, therefore, Tarquinius Priscus and Servius Tullus lost the kingdom by not knowing how to secure themselves from those whose (thrones) they had usurped, Tarquinius Superbus lost it by not observing the institution of the ancient Kings, as will be shown in the following chapter.

Chapter V:
That Which Makes a King Lose the Kingdom That Was Inherited by Him

Tarquinius Superbus having killed Servius Tullus, and the latter not leaving any heirs, he (Tarquinius) came to possess the kingdom with security, not having to fear those things which had harmed his predecessors. And although the manner of his occupying the kingdom was irregular and odious, none the less had he observed the ancient institutions of the other Kings, he would have been tolerated, and the Senate and Plebs would never have arisen against him and taken the State away from him. This man, therefore, was not driven out because of his son Sextus having violated Lucretia, but for having broken the laws and governed it (his Kingdom) tyrannically; having taken away all authority from the Senate and assumed it himself, and those funds which were marked for public improvements with which the Roman Senate was satisfied, he diverted to the building of his own palace, with disgust and envy for him resulting. So that in a very short time, he despoiled Rome of all that liberty which she had maintained under the other previous Kings. And it was not enough for him to make the Fathers (Senators) his enemies, but he aroused the Plebs against himself, working them hard in mechanical labor and all unlike those which his predecessors had employed. So that by having filled Rome with such cruel and haughty examples of his, he had already disposed the minds of all the Romans to rebellion whenever they should have the opportunity. And if the incident of Lucretia had not happened, even so another would have arisen which would have produced the same result: For if Tarquin had lived like the other Kings and his son Sextus had not made that error, Brutus and Collatinus would have had recourse to Tarquin for vengeance against Sextus, and to the Roman People.

Princes should understand, therefore, that they begin to lose the State from that hour when they begin to break the laws and ancient institutions under which men have lived for a long time. And if as private citizens, having lost the State, they should ever become so prudent to see with what facility Principalities are kept by those who are counselled wisely, they would regret their loss much more, and would condemn themselves to greater punishment than that to which others have condemned them: For it is much more easy to be loved by the good than the bad, and to obey the laws then to enforce them. And in wanting to learn the course that they should have to hold to do this, they do not have to endure any other hardship than to mirror for themselves the lives of good Princes, such as Timoleon the Corinthian, Aratus the Sicyonian, and similar ones, in the lives of whom they would find as much security and satisfaction to him who ruled as to he who is ruled; so that they ought to want to imitate him, being able to do so for the reasons mentioned: For men when they are well governed, do not seek or desire any other liberty; as happened to the people governed by the above named (Princes), whom they constrained to be Princes as long as they lived, even though they often had been tempted to return to private life.

And as in this and the two preceding chapters, there has been discussed the dispositions aroused against Princes, and of the Conspiracy made by the sons of Brutus against their country, and of those made against Tarquinius Priscus and Servius Tullus, it does not appear to me to be something outside this subject to speak at length of them in the following chapter, being a matter worthy of being noted by Princes and Private Citizens.

Chapter VI:
Of Conspiracies

And it does not appear proper to me to omit the discussion of Conspiracies, being a matter of so much danger to Princes and Private Citizens. For it is seen that many more Princes have lost their lives and States through them, than by open war. For it is conceded only to a few to be able to make open war against a Prince, but the ability to conspire against them is conceded to everyone. On the other hand, private citizens do not enter in an enterprise more perilous nor more foolhardy than this, as it is difficult and most dangerous in all of its parts. Whence it happens that many are attempted, and very few have the desired ending. So that, therefore, Princes may learn to guard themselves from these dangers, and that Private Citizens may less rashly engage in them, and rather may learn to live contentedly under the Rule that has been assigned to them by chance and by their state, I shall speak widely, not omitting any notable case, in documenting the one and the other. And truly that sentence of Cornelius Tacitus is golden, which says that men have to honor things past but obey the present, and ought to desire good Princes, but tolerate the ones they have. And truly, whoever does otherwise, most of the time will ruin himself and his country.

We ought, therefore, ((in entering on this matter)) to consider first against whom conspiracies are made, and we will find them to be made either against a country or against a Prince. It is of these two that I want us to discuss at present; for those which are made to give a town over to the enemy who besiege it, or that have some reason similar to this, have been talked about above sufficiently. And in this first part we shall treat of that against a Prince, and first we will examine the reasons for it, which are many, but there is one which is more important than all the others: and this is his being hated by the general public; for in the case of that Prince who has aroused this universal hatred, it is reasonable (to suppose) that there are some particular individuals who have been injured by him more (then others) and who desire to avenge themselves. This desire of theirs is increased by that universal ill disposition that they see is aroused against him. A Prince ought therefore to avoid these public charges, but I do not want to talk here ((having treated of this elsewhere)) of what he should do to avoid them. For by guarding himself against this (hatred), the simple offenses against particular individuals will make less war against him: One, because rarely is a man met who thinks so much of an injury that he will put himself in so much danger to avenge it: The other, even if they should be of a mind and power to do so, they are held back by that universal benevolence that they see the Prince to have. Injuries that happen to an individual are of Possessions (taking them from him), of Blood (physical injury), or of Honor.

Of those of Blood, threats are most dangerous, and there is no peril in the execution, because he who is dead cannot think of vengeance, and those who remain alive most of the time leave such thoughts to the dead: but he who is threatened, and sees himself constrained by necessity either to act or to suffer, becomes a most dangerous man for the Prince, as we shall relate in detail in its place. Outside of this necessity, those (injuries) of Possession and Honor, are matters that harm men more than any other offense, and against which the Prince ought to guard himself, for he can never despoil one so much that he does not leave a mind obstinate to vengeance. And of (injuries) of honor, that are inflicted on men, that against their women is most important, and after that, insult to their person. This (kind of injury) armed Pausanias against Phillip of Macedonia: this has armed many others against many other Princes: and in our times, Julio Belanti would not have set in motion a conspiracy against Pandolfo, Tyrant of Siena, except that the latter had given him a daughter for his wife, and then took her away, as we will relate in its place. The major cause that made the Pazzi conspire against the Medici, was the inheritance of Giovanni Borromei, which was taken from the former by the latter.

There is another reason, and a very great one, which makes men conspire against a Prince, (and) that is the desire to liberate the country which has been occupied by him. This reason moved Brutus and Cassius against Caesar: this moved many others against the Falari, the Dionysii, and other occupiers of their countries. Nor can any Tyrant guard himself from this disposition, except by giving up the Tyrancy. And because none are found who will do this, few are found who do not come to an evil end; whence there arose this verse of Juvenal’s:

Few kings descend to the family place of Ceres
Without wounds and slaughter, and in this way tyrants die.

The dangers incurred in Conspiracies ((as I said above)) are great, being incurred at all times: for in such cases there is danger run in plotting it, in its execution, and after it has been executed. Those who conspire may be alone, or may be more than one. The one cannot be said to be a Conspiracy, but is a firm disposition rising in a man to kill the Prince. This alone, of the three dangers that Conspiracies run, lacks the first, because it does not carry any danger before the execution; since no others have his secret, there is no danger that his design will be carried to the ears of the Prince. Such a decision (plot) can be made by any man, of whatever sort, small or great, noble or ignoble, familiar or not, familiar with the Prince: for it is permitted to everyone at some time to talk to him, and to him who is permitted to talk it is allowed to give vent to his feelings. Pausanias, of whom was spoken at another place, killed Phillip of Macedonia who was going to the Temple surrounded by a thousand armed men, and between his son and son-in-law: but that man was a Noble and known to the Prince. A poor and abject Spaniard stabbed King Ferrando of Spain in the neck: the wound was not mortal, but from this it is seen that that man had the courage and opportunity to do it. A Turkish Dervish priest drew a scimitar on Bajazet, the father of the present Grand Turk: he did not wound him, but he too had the courage and the opportunity to have done it, if he wanted to. Of these spirits thusly constituted, I believe many could be found who would do such a thing ((as there is no danger or punishment in wanting to do so)) but few who do it. But of those who do, there are none or very few who are not killed in the deed.

But let us go from these plots by single individuals, and let us come to the Conspiracies formed by the many. I say that in history it is to be found that all the conspiracies were made by great men, or those most familiar with the Prince: for others, unless they are completely mad, are not able to conspire, that men of weak condition and not familiar with the Prince lack all that hope and opportunities that are needed for the execution of a conspiracy: First, weak men cannot be sure of the faith of accomplices, as no one will enter into their plot without having those hopes which cause men to expose themselves to great dangers, so that as (the conspirators) are increased to two or three persons, they find an accuser and ruin them: but even if they were so lucky that such an accuser would not be found, they are surrounded by such difficulties in the execution ((from not having an easy access to the Prince)) that it is impossible that they are not ruined in its execution. For if great men and those who have easy access are oppressed by those difficulties that will be described below, it will happen that to the others those difficulties will increase without end. Men, therefore, ((because where life and property are at stake, they are not all insane)) when they see themselves weak guard themselves from them; and when they have cause for harming a Prince, attend to vilifying him, and wait for those who are more powerful than they who will avenge them. And if it should ever be found that any such as these should have attempted such an undertaking, they should be lauded for their intentions and not their prudence.

It will be seen, therefore, that those who have conspired are all great men, or familiars of the Prince. Of the many who have conspired, as many were moved thusly by too many benefits as by too many injuries; as was that of Perennius against Commodus, Plautianus against Severus, and of Sejanus against Tiberius. All of these men were loaded by their Emperors with so many riches, honors, and dignities, that it seemed nothing was wanting to them for the perfection of their power other than the Empire, and not wanting to be lacking this, they set themselves to conspire against the Prince, but their conspiracies all had that ending which their ingratitude merited. Although one of these was seen in recent times to have had a good ending, that of Giacopo D’Appiano against Messer Piero Gambacorti, Prince of Pisa, this Giacopo had been raised and nourished and given reputation by him, afterwards took away his State.

Of this kind, in our times, was that of Coppola against King Ferrando of Aragon; this Coppola had come to such greatness that it seemed he lacked nothing except the Kingdom, (and) in wanting this, however, he lost his life. And truly if any conspiracy made by great men against a Prince ought to have succeeded, it should have been this, as it was made by another King, so to speak, and one who had so great an opportunity to fulfil his desire: but that cupidity for domination which blinds them, also blinds them in the managing of their enterprise, for if they should know how to accomplish this evil with prudence, it would be impossible for them not to succeed. A Prince, therefore, who wants to guard himself from Conspiracies ought to fear more those men to whom he has given too many benefits, than those to whom he had caused too many injuries. For these latter lack the opportunity, the former abound in them; and the desire is the same, because the desire of dominating is as great or greater than is that of vengeance. They ought never, therefore, give so much authority to their friends, but that a distance should exist between them and the Principate, and that there should be something left (in the middle) for them to desire; otherwise it will be a rare occasion if it will not happen to them as to the above-mentioned Princes.

But let us return to our subject. I say that they who conspire having to be great men and have easy access to the Prince, it remains to be discussed what successes there have been of their enterprises, and to see what were the causes which made them happy or unhappy. And ((as I have said above)) in all these conspiracies, there are to be found three dangerous periods of time; before, during, and after the fact. Few are found, however, which have had good endings, that it is almost impossible that all should have passed through (the first period) happily. And in beginning to discuss the dangers of the first period, which are the most important, I say that there is need to be very prudent and have great good fortune, that in conducting a conspiracy, it not be discovered (at this stage). And they are discovered either by (someone) telling or by conjecture. The telling results from finding little faith or little prudence in the men to whom you have communicated it: the little faith (treachery) is so commonly found, that you cannot communicate it (the conspiracy) except to your trusted ones who, for love of you, risk their own deaths, or to those men who are discontent with the Prince.

Of such trusted ones, one or two may be found, but as you extend this, it is impossible that many will be found. Moreover, there is good need that the good will they bear you is so great that the plot does not appear to them greater than the danger and fear greater than the punishment: also most of the times men are deceived by the love they judge others have for them, nor can they ever be sure of this except from experience; and to have such experience in this is most dangerous: and even if you should have had experience in some other dangerous occasion, where they had been faithful to you, you can not by that faith measure this one, as this one surpasses by far all other kinds of danger. If you measure this faith from the discontent which a man has toward the Prince, you can be easily deceived in this: because as soon as you have opened your mind to that malcontent, you give him material to content himself, and to keep him faithful, his hate (for the Prince) must be very great or your authority (over him) must be greater. From this, it has followed that many (conspiracies) have been revealed and crushed in their very beginning, and that if one has been kept secret among many men for along time, it is held to be a miraculous thing; as was that of Piso against Nero, and in our times, that of the Pazzi against Lorenzo and Giuliano De’Medici, of which more than fifty thousand were cognizant, and which waited until its execution to be discovered.

As to being discovered because of little prudence, this occurs when a conspiracy is talked about with little caution, so that a servant or other third person learns of it, as happened to the sons of Brutus, who in arranging the plot with the legates of Tarquin were overheard by a slave who accused them; or when from thoughtlessness it comes to be communicated to a woman or a child whom you love, or to some similar indiscreet person, as did Dinnus, one of the conspirators with Philotas against Alexander the Great, who communicated the conspiracy to Nicomachus, a young boy loved by him, who quickly told it to his brother Ciballinus, and Ciballinus to the King. As to being discovered by conjecture, there is for an example the conspiracy of Piso against Nero, in which Scevinus, one of the conspirators, the day before he was to kill Nero, made his testament, ordered that Melichus his freedman should sharpen an old rusty dagger of his, freed all his slaves and gave them money, and caused bandages to be ordered for tying up wounds: by means of which conjectures, Melichus ascertained the plot, and accused him to Nero.

Scevinus was taken, and with him Natales, another conspirator, with whom he had been seen talking the day before in secret and for a long time; and the reasons given (by each) not being in accord, they were forced to confess the truth, so that the Conspiracy was discovered to the ruin of all the conspirators. It is impossible to guard oneself from this cause of discovery of Conspiracies, as it will be discovered by the accomplices through malice, through imprudence, or through thoughtlessness, whenever they exceed three or four in number. And as soon as more than one is taken, it is impossible for it not to be discovered, for two cannot agree together in all their statements. If only one of them is taken who is a strong man, he can with his courage and firmness remain silent on (the names of) the conspirators; but then it behooves the other conspirators not to have less firmness and courage, and not to discover it by their flight, for if courage be wanting on any side, either by he who is arrested or he who is free, the conspiracy is discovered.

And a rare example is cited by Titus Livius in the conspiracy formed against Hieronymus, King of Syracuse, where Theodorus, one of the conspirators taken, concealed with great virtu all the conspirators, and accused the friends of the King; and on the other hand, all the conspirators placed so much confidence in the virtu of Theodorus, that no one left Syracuse or gave any sign of fear. The conduct of a Conspiracy, therefore, passes through all these dangers before it comes to its execution; and in wanting to avoid these, there exist these remedies. The first and most certain, rather to say it better, the only one, is not to give the conspirators time to accuse you, and therefore to communicate the plot to them just at the time you are to do it, and not sooner: those who do thusly are likely to avoid the dangers that exist in the beginning, and most of the time, the others also; actually they have all had happy endings: and any prudent man will have the opportunity of governing himself in this manner.

It should suffice for me to cite two examples. Nelematus, not being able to endure the tyranny of Aristotimus, Tyrant of Epirus, assembled in his house many relatives and friends, and exhorted them to liberate their country; several of them requested time to discuss and arrange it, whereupon Nelematus made his slaves lock the house, and to those whom he had called he said, either you swear to go now and carry out the execution of this (plot), or I will give you all as prisoners to Aristotimus: moved by these words they swore, and going out without any (further) intermission of time, successfully carried out the plot of Nelematus. A Magian having by deceit occupied the kingdom of the Persians, and when Ortanus, one of the great men of the kingdom, had learned and discovered the fraud, he conferred with six other Princes of that State seeking how they were to avenge the kingdom from the Tyranny of that Magian. And when one of them asked as to the time, Darius, one of the six called by Ortanus, arose and said: Either we go now to carry out the execution of this, or I will go and accuse you all; and so by accord, without giving time to anyone to repent of it, they arose and easily executed their designs.

Similar to these two examples also is the manner that the Aetolians employed in killing Nabis, the Spartan Tyrant; they sent Alexemenes, and enjoined the others that they should obey him in every and any thing, under pain of exile. This man went to Sparta, and did not communicate his commission until he wanted to discharge it, whence he succeeded in killing him. In this manner, therefore, these men avoided those dangers that are associated with the carrying out of conspiracies, and whoever imitates them will always escape them. And that anyone can do as they did, I want to cite the example of Piso referred to above. Piso was a very great and reputed man, and a familiar of Nero who confided in him much. Nero used to go often to his garden to dine with him. Piso could then have made friends for himself some men of mind, heart, and of disposition to undertake the execution of (such a plot), which is very easy for a great man to do; and when Nero should be in his garden, to communicate the matter to them, and with appropriate words animated them to do that which they would not have had time to refuse, and which would have been impossible not to succeed.

And thus, if all the other instances are examined, few will be found in which they (the conspirators) could not have been able to proceed in the same manner. But men, ordinarily little learned in the ways of the world, often make very great errors, and so much greater in those that are extraordinary, as is this (conspiracies). The matter ought, therefore, never to be communicated except under necessity and at its execution; and even then, if you have to communicate it, to communicate it to one man only with whom you have had a very long experience (of trust), or who is motivated by the same reason as you. To find one such is much more easy than to find many, and because of this, there is less danger: and then, even if he should deceive you, there is some remedy of defending yourself, than where there are many conspirators: for I have heard many prudent men say that it is possible to talk of everything with one man, for ((if you do not let yourself be led to write in your hand)) the yes of one man is worth as much as the no of another: and everyone ought to guard himself against writing as from a shoal, because there is nothing that will convict you more easily than your handwriting.

Plautanias, wanting to have the Emperor Severus and his son Antoninus killed, committed the matter of the Tribune Saturninus; who wanting to accuse him and not obey him, and apprehensive that coming to the accusation, he (Plautanius) would be more believed than he (Saturninus), requested a copy in his handwriting so that he should have faith in this commission, which Plautanias, blinded by ambition, gave him: whence it ensued that he was accused by the Tribune and convicted; and without that copy and certain other countersigns, Plautanias would have won out, so boldly did he deny it. From the accusation of a single one, some remedy will be found, unless you are convicted by some writing or other countersigns, from which one ought to guard himself. In the Pisonian conspiracy there was a woman called Epicaris, who in the past had been a friend of Nero, who judged it to be advisable to place among the conspirators a Captain of some triremes whom Nero had as his guard; she committed the conspiracy to him, but not (the names of) the conspirators. Whence that the Captain breaking his faith and accusing her to Nero, but so great was the audacity of Epicaris in denying it, that Nero, remaining confused, did not condemn her.

There are two dangers, therefore, in communicating a plot to only one individual: the first, that he does not accuse you as a test: the other, that he does not accuse you, he being convicted and constrained by the punishment to do so: he being arrested because of some suspicion or some other indication on his part. But there is some remedy for both of these dangers; the first, being able to deny it, alleging the hate that the man had for you; and the other to deny it, alleging the force that had constrained him to tell lies. It is prudent, therefore, not to communicate the plot to anyone, but act according to those above-mentioned examples; and even if you must communicate it, not to more than one, for while there is some danger in that, it is much less than in communicating it to many.

Next to this, there may be a necessity which constrains you to do to that Prince what you see the Prince would want to do to you, (and) which is so great that it does not give you time to think of your own safety. This necessity almost always brings the matter to the desired ending, and to prove it, I have two examples which should suffice. The Emperor Commodus had among his best friends and familiars Letus and Electus, Heads of the Praetorian soldiers, and had Marcia among his favorite concubines and friends: and as he was sometimes reproached by these (three) for the way he stained his personal (dignity) and that of the Empire, decided to have them killed, and wrote the names of Marcia, Letus and Electus, and several others on a list of those whom he wanted killed the following night, and he placed this list under the pillow of his bed: and having gone to bathe, a favorite child of his playing in the room and on the bed found this list, and going out with it in his hand met Marcia who took it from him; and when she read it and saw its contents, she quickly sent for Letus and Electus, and when all three recognized the danger they were in, they decided to forestall it, and without losing time, the following night they killed Commodus.

The Emperor Antoninus Caracalla was with his armies in Mesopotamia, and had for his prefect Macrinus, a man more fit for civil than military matters: and as it happens that bad Princes always fear that others will inflict on them that (punishment) which it appears to them they merit, Antoninus wrote to Maternianus his friend in Rome that he learn from the Astrologers if there was anyone who was aspiring to the Empire and to advise him of it. Whence Maternianus wrote back to him that Macrinus was he who aspired to it, and the letter came first into the hands of Macrinus than of the Emperor; and because of this the necessity was recognized either to kill him before a new letter should arrive from Rome, or to die, he committed to his trusted friend, the Centurion Martialis, whose brother had been killed by Antoninus a few days before, that he should kill him, which was executed by him successfully. It is seen therefore, that this necessity which does not give time produces almost the same effect as the means employed by Nelematus of Epirus described by me above. That of which I spoke of almost at the beginning of this discourse is also seen, that threats injure a Prince more, and are the cause of more efficacious Conspiracies than the injury itself; from which a Prince ought to guard himself; for men have to be either caressed or made sure of, and never reduced to conditions in which they believe they need either to kill others or be killed themselves.

As to the dangers that are run in its execution, these result either from changing the orders, or from the lack of courage of those who should execute it, or from an error that the executor makes from little prudence, or from not perfecting the plot leaving some of them alive who had been planned to be killed. I say, therefore, that there is nothing that causes disturbance or impediment to all the actions of men as much as when in an instant and without having time, to have to change an order, and to change it from the one that had been ordered first: and if this change causes disorder in anything, it does so especially in matters of war and matter similar to those of which we are speaking; for in such actions there is nothing so necessary to do as much as firming the minds of men to execute the part assigned to them: and if men have their minds turned for many days to a certain matter and certain order, and that be quickly changed, it is impossible that all be not disturbed, and everything not ruined; so that it is much better to execute a plot according to the order given ((even though some inconvenience is to be seen)) than to want to cancel it to enter into a thousand inconveniences. This happens when one has no time to reorganize oneself, for when there is time, men can govern themselves in their own way.

The Conspiracy of the Pazzi against Lorenzo and Giuliano De’Medici is well known. The arrangement made was that they were to dine at the Cardinal of San Giorgio’s, and at that dinner to kill them (the Medici): in which place there were distributed those who were to seize the palace, and those who were to overrun the City and call the people to liberty. It happened that while the Pazzi, the Medici, and the Cardinal were at the solemn office in the Cathedral Church in Florence, it was learned that Giuliano was not dining that morning, which caused the conspirators to gather together, and that which they had to do in the house of Medici, they decided to do in the Church: which caused the disturbance of all the arrangements, as Giovanbattista da Montesecco did not want to consent to the homicide, saying he did not want to do it in the Church: so that they had to change to new members for every action who, not having time to firm up their minds, made such errors, that they were crushed in the execution.

The spirit is sometimes lacking to those who should execute (a plot) either from reverence of from the innate goodwill of the executor. So great is the majesty and reverence which surrounds the presence of a Prince, that it is an easy matter for it either to mitigate (the will of) or terrify an executor. To Marius ((having been taken by the Minturnians)) was sent a slave who was to kill him, (but) who was so terrified by the presence of that man and by the memory of his fame, that he became cowardly, and lost all courage to kill him. And if this power exists in a man bound and a prisoner, and overwhelmed by bad fortune, how much more is it to be feared from a Prince free, with the majesty of ornaments, of pomp, and of his court: so that this pomp can terrify you, and that grateful welcome can humiliate you.

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