Concerning Auxiliaries, Mixed Soldiery, And One's Own

Auxiliaries, which are the other useless arm, are employed when a prince is called in with his forces to aid and defend, as was done by Pope Julius in the most recent times; for he, having, in the enterprise against Ferrara, had poor proof of his mercenaries, turned to auxiliaries, and stipulated with Ferdinand, King of Spain, for his assistance with men and arms. These arms may be useful and good in themselves, but for him who calls them in they are always disadvantageous; for losing, one is undone, and winning, one is their captive.

And although ancient histories may be full of examples, I do not wish to leave this recent one of Pope Julius II, the peril of which cannot fall to be perceived; for he, wishing to get Ferrara, threw himself entirely into the hands of the foreigner. But his good fortune brought about a third event, so that he did not reap the fruit of his rash choice; because, having auxiliaries routed at Ravenna, and the Switzers having risen and driven out the conquerors (against all expectation, both his and others), it so came to pass that he did not become prisoner to his enemies, they having fled, nor to his auxiliaries, he having conquered by other arms than theirs.

The Florentines, being entirely without arms, sent ten thousand Frenchmen to take Pisa, whereby they ran more danger than at any other time of their troubles.

The Emperor of Constantinople, to oppose his neighbours, sent ten thousand Turks into Greece, who, on the war being finished, were not willing to quit; this was the beginning of the servitude of Greece to the infidels.

Therefore, let him who has no desire to conquer make use of these arms, for they are much more hazardous than mercenaries, because with them the ruin is ready made; they are all united, all yield obedience to others; but with mercenaries, when they have conquered, more time and better opportunities are needed to injure you; they are not all of one community, they are found and paid by you, and a third party, which you have made their head, is not able all at once to assume enough authority to injure you. In conclusion, in mercenaries dastardy is most dangerous; in auxiliaries, valour. The wise prince, therefore, has always avoided these arms and turned to his own; and has been willing rather to lose with them than to conquer with others, not deeming that a real victory which is gained with the arms of others.

I shall never hesitate to cite Cesare Borgia and his actions. This duke entered the Romagna with auxiliaries, taking there only French soldiers, and with them he captured Imola and Forli; but afterwards, such forces not appearing to him reliable, he turned to mercenaries, discerning less danger in them, and enlisted the Orsini and Vitelli; whom presently, on handling and finding them doubtful, unfaithful, and dangerous, he destroyed and turned to his own men. And the difference between one and the other of these forces can easily be seen when one considers the difference there was in the reputation of the duke, when he had the French, when he had the Orsini and Vitelli, and when he relied on his own soldiers, on whose fidelity he could always count and found it ever increasing; he was never esteemed more highly than when every one saw that he was complete master of his own forces.

I was not intending to go beyond Italian and recent examples, but I am unwilling to leave out Hiero, the Syracusan, he being one of those I have named above. This man, as I have said, made head of the army by the Syracusans, soon found out that a mercenary soldiery, constituted like our Italian condottieri, was of no use; and it appearing to him that he could neither keep them nor let them go, he had them all cut to pieces, and afterwards made war with his own forces and not with aliens.

I wish also to recall to memory an instance from the Old Testament applicable to this subject. David offered himself to Saul to fight with Goliath, the Philistine champion, and, to give him courage, Saul armed him with his own weapons; which David rejected as soon as he had them on his back, saying he could make no use of them, and that he wished to meet the enemy with his sling and his knife. In conclusion, the arms of others either fall from your back, or they weigh you down, or they bind you fast.

Charles VII, the father of King Louis XI, having by good fortune and valour liberated France from the English, recognized the necessity of being armed with forces of his own, and he established in his kingdom ordinances concerning men-at-arms and infantry. Afterwards his son, King Louis, abolished the infantry and began to enlist the Switzers, which mistake, followed by others, is, as is now seen, a source of peril to that kingdom; because, having raised the reputation of the Switzers, he has entirely diminished the value of his own arms, for he has destroyed the infantry altogether; and his men-at-arms he has subordinated to others, for, being as they are so accustomed to fight along with Switzers, it does not appear that they can now conquer without them. Hence it arises that the French cannot stand against the Switzers, and without the Switzers they do not come off well against others. The armies of the French have thus become mixed, partly mercenary and partly national, both of which arms together are much better than mercenaries alone or auxiliaries alone, yet much inferior to one's own forces. And this example proves it, the kingdom of France would be unconquerable if the ordinance of Charles had been enlarged or maintained.

But the scanty wisdom of man, on entering into an affair which looks well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden in it, as I have said above of hectic fevers. Therefore, if he who rules a principality cannot recognize evils until they are upon him, he is not truly wise; and this insight is given to few. And if the first disaster to the Roman Empire should be examined, it will be found to have commenced only with the enlisting of the Goths; because from that time the vigour of the Roman Empire began to decline, and all that valour which had raised it passed away to others.

I conclude, therefore, that no principality is secure without having its own forces; on the contrary, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valour which in adversity would defend it. And it has always been the opinion and judgment of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And one's own forces are those which are composed either of subjects, citizens, or dependants; all others are mercenaries or auxiliaries. And the way to take ready one's own forces will be easily found if the rules suggested by me shall be reflected upon, and if one will consider how Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and many republics and princes have armed and organized themselves, to which rules I entirely commit myself.

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Machiavelli and David

Machiavelli's treatment of the story of David in chapter thirteen of The Prince is quite brief. He is, however, quite telling in his choice of examples and words. Discrepancies between his version of the encounter and that of the Bible itself certainly hint at something. He also puts this example of the much revered David, favoured by God, just after that of a less reputable character, Hiero of Syracuse. If one examines the potential parallel between the two, one will find a theme both revealing and familiar from Machiavelli’s assessment of a certain other Old Testament character.

In Machiavelli’s account of the story, David offers to go and fight the Philistine challenger Goliath. Saul gives David Saul’s own arms, “to give him spirit.” (56) David puts them on, but then refuses them immediately “saying that with them he could not give a good account of himself, and so he would rather meet the enemy with his sling and his knife.” (56) The most striking difference between Machiavelli’s account and the Biblical story is that David doesn’t refuse them immediately, but only after seeing that they encumber him and that he can’t use them properly. David is not concerned with his ‘account’. Also, the Bible explicitly states in 1Sam 17:51 that David had no weapon other than his sling and the stones. After knocking Goliath down, David uses Goliath’s own sword to kill and behead him.

Why these differences? Machiavelli was not a careless writer, and very likely was not ignorant of the Biblical account. He knows his less attentive readers will pass this over without notice, but that the readers who are paying attention will realize he is trying to say something to them. The main purpose of the discrepancies, quite likely, is to have them act as a signal that Machiavelli wishes to make a point about David. He is making the reader go back to the story and compare it to his account. Those who do will notice that David refuses the arms of others when it is inconvenient to him, but takes them up when he can wield them for himself, when the former owner is safely incapacitated. The arms of another can only hurt one, unless one can make them his own.

On further examination one also notices that the Israelite army camps in a valley, while the Philistines are on a hill above them. The Israelite army, however, faces the Philistines from a hill they have mounted. This brings to mind the mountain and valley metaphor of the dedicatory letter, and in the example of Philopoemen, later, in chapter fourteen. This could be yet another allusion to Machiavelli’s plotting to assault the high places from the low.

The fact that David shares a paragraph with Hiero leads a careful reader to consider whether Machiavelli is trying to draw a parallel. In chapter thirteen, Hiero disposes of mercenary arms because they are not useful. In Machiavelli’s account, David disposes of Saul’s arms because he could not give a good account of himself, and attacks with his sling and knife. In the Bible, however, David simply can’t use Saul’s arms. He goes against Goliath with only a sling, and after knocking Goliath down, seizes Goliath’s arms and kills him. In chapter 6, Machiavelli tells us that Hiero became king of Syracuse after being only a private citizen, “nor did he receive anything more from fortune than the opportunity. For when the Syracusans were oppressed, they chose him as their captain, and from there he proved worthy of being made their prince.”(25) David also eventually became king from being a private citizen. He was chosen as champion of the Israelites against Goliath, afterwards became a highly successful military commander under Saul, and eventually became king. Through all this, despite many troubles, he acquired, as Hiero did, “friendships and soldiers that were his own,” and “he could build anything on top of such a foundation; so he went through a great deal of trouble to acquire, and little to maintain.” (25) Machiavelli wants us to draw a parallel here between Hiero and David. What Machiavelli did earlier to Moses in chapter six, he now wishes to do to David. Namely, Machiavelli is trying to set David on the same level as a far lower figure, and to imply that all David did was by his own strength, and not through God, as the Bible says.

Machiavelli, through both his choice of words when describing David’s story and through his suggested parallel with Hiero, draws the reader in. He tries to make the reader reach conclusions not obvious from the surface text. Machiavelli makes both his point on using the arms of others, and manages to grind his anti-Christian axe as well.

This a short essay I did for a political theory class I took this past year at the University of Toronto.

All citations from: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

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