Discourses On The First Ten Books Of Titus Livius
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Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
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By Sun Tzu and Niccolo Machiavelli. See more by Niccolo Machiavelli. The Death of Mrs.
Westaway By Ruth Ware. Lying in Wait By Liz Nugent. The Outsider By Stephen King. Blacklands By Belinda Bauer. Alexander the Great By Philip Freeman. To return now to our first argument, I believe it therefore necessary rather to take the constitution of Rome as a model than that of any other republic, for I do not believe that a middle course between the two can be found, and to tolerate the differences that will arise between the Senate and the people as an unavoidable inconvenience in achieving greatness like that of Rome.
Besides the other reasons alleged, which demonstrate the creation and authority of the Tribunes to have been necessary for the protection of liberty, it is easy to see the advantage which a republic must derive from the faculty of accusing, which amongst others was bestowed upon the Tribunes, as will be seen in the following chapter. No more useful and necessary authority can be given to those who are appointed as guardians of the liberty of a state, than the faculty of accusing the citizens to the people, or to any magistrate or council, for any attempt against public liberty.
Such a system has two very marked advantages for a republic.
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The first is, that the apprehension of being accused prevents the citizens from attempting anything against the state, and should they nevertheless attempt it, they are immediately punished, without regard to persons. The other is, that it affords a way for those evil dispositions that arise in one way or another against some one citizen to vent themselves; and when these ferments cannot in some way exhaust themselves, their promoters are apt to resort to some extraordinary means, that may lead to the ruin of the republic.
Nothing, on the other hand, renders a republic more firm and stable, than to organize it in such a way that the excitement of the ill-humors that agitate a state may have a way prescribed by law for venting itself. This can be demonstrated by many examples, and particularly by that of Coriolanus, which Titus Livius mentions, where he says that the Roman nobility was much irritated against the people, because they believed that the people had obtained too much authority by the creation of the Tribunes who defended them; and as Rome at the time was suffering greatly from want of provisions, and the Senate had sent to Sicily for supplies of grain, Coriolanus, who was a declared enemy of the popular faction, suggested to the Senate that it afforded a favorable opportunity for them to chastise the people, and to deprive them of the authority they had acquired and assumed to the prejudice of the nobility, by not distributing the grain, and thus keeping the people in a famished condition.
When this proposition came to the ears of the people, it excited so great an indignation against Coriolanus, that, on coming out of the Senate, he would have been killed in a tumultuary manner, if the Tribunes had not summoned him to appear before them and defend his cause. This occurrence shows, as we have said above, how useful and necessary it is for a republic to have laws that afford to the masses the opportunity of giving vent to the hatred they may have conceived against any citizen; for if there exist no legal means for this, they will resort to illegal ones, which beyond doubt produce much worse effects.
For ordinarily when a citizen is oppressed, and even if an injustice is committed against him, it rarely causes any disturbance in the republic; for this oppression has been effected by neither private nor foreign forces, which are most destructive to public liberty, but is effected solely by the public force of the state in accordance with the established laws, which have their prescribed limits that cannot be transcended to the injury of the republic.
And to corroborate this opinion by examples, let the case of Coriolanus suffice, and let any one reflect how much evil would have resulted to the Roman republic if he had been killed in that popular outbreak; for that would have been an offence of private individuals against a private individual, which kind of offences generate fear, and fear seeks for means of defence, and for that purpose seeks partisans, and from partisans arise factions in cities, and factions cause their ruin. But as the matter was disposed of by those who had the legal authority, it prevented all those evils that would have resulted from the exercise of private force.
We have seen in our time what troubles occurred in Florence because the populace could not vent their anger against one of her citizens, in the case of Francesco Valori, who was almost like a prince in that city, and being looked upon by many as an ambitious man, who by haughtiness and audacity attempted to transcend the civil authority, and there being no way in Florence for resisting this except by a faction opposed to his, it resulted that Valori, having no fear of anything but some extraordinary proceeding, began to enlist partisans who might defend him.
On the other hand, those who opposed him, being without legal means for repressing him, employed illegal ones, which naturally led to an armed conflict. But if he could have been reached by lawful means, the influence of Valori would have been crushed, and he would have been the only sufferer; but being obliged to resort to illegal measures, not only he, but many other noble citizens, suffered in consequence. We may also adduce in support of the above-expressed conclusion the incident which occurred in Florence in connection with Pietro Soderini, and which resulted wholly from the fact that there were no means in that republic for bringing charges against the ambition of powerful citizens.
For to accuse a noble before only eight judges did not suffice; the number of the judges should be many, for the few are apt to favor the few in their decisions. Thus, if there had been in Florence a tribunal before which the citizens could have preferred charges against Soderini, their fury against him might have been assuaged without calling in the Spanish troops; or if he had not been liable to the charges, no one would have dared to bring them against him, for fear of being himself accused in turn; and thus on both sides the animosity would have ceased, which occasioned so much trouble.
Whence we may conclude that, whenever the aid of foreign powers is called in by any party in a state, it is to be ascribed to defects in its constitution, and more especially to the want of means for enabling the people to exhaust the malign humors that spring up among men, without having recourse to extraordinary measures; all of which can easily be provided against by instituting accusations before numerous judges, and giving these sufficient influence and importance. These things were so well organized in Rome that, with the many dissensions between the Senate and the people, neither the one nor the other, nor any private citizen, ever attempted to avail of foreign force; for having the remedy at home, there was no occasion to look for it elsewhere.
And although the above examples are abundantly sufficient to prove this, yet I will adduce another, mentioned by Titus Livius in his history. At Chiusi Clusium , in those days one of the most famous cities of Tuscany, a certain Lucumones had violated the sister of Arnutes, and, unable to revenge himself because of the power of the offender, Arnutes went to call in the aid of the Gauls, who at that time ruled over the country now called Lombardy, and urged them to come with an armed force to Clusium, pointing out to them the advantage they would obtain for themselves by thus avenging him.
Certainly, if Arnutes had been able to secure redress by the laws of his city, he would never have had recourse to the Barbarians. But just as useful as accusations are in a republic, just so useless and pernicious are calumnies, as we shall show in the next chapter. Despite of the courage displayed by Furius Camillus in liberating Rome from the yoke of the Gauls, which caused all the citizens of Rome to yield him the first place without deeming themselves degraded thereby, Manlius Capitolinus could not brook that so much honor and glory should be bestowed upon him; for, having himself saved the Capitol, he considered that he had contributed as much to the salvation of Rome as Furius Camillus, and that he was in no way inferior to him in military talents.
So that, tormented by envy, he could not rest on account of the glory of his rival; and, finding that he could not sow discord amongst the Senators, he turned to the people and spread various sinister reports amongst them. Amongst other things, he circulated a statement that the amount of money which had been collected for payment to the Gauls had never been paid over to them, but had been appropriated by some private citizens; and that, if it were recovered from them, it might be most advantageously applied for the public good, by alleviating the taxes of the people, or by the extinction of some other debt.
These statements produced a great impression among the people; so that, many of them came together at the house of Manlius, and, at his instigation, commenced to create disturbances in the city. This greatly displeased the Senate, who, deeming the occasion momentous and perilous, created a Dictator, who should take cognizance of the facts and repress the audacity of Manlius; whereupon the Dictator had him promptly summoned.
They met in the public place, the Dictator surrounded by the nobles, and Manlius in the midst of the people. Manlius was called upon to specify the persons who had appropriated the money in question, according to his reports, as the Senate was as anxious as the people to know them. To this Manlius made no particular reply, but in an evasive manner said that it was unnecessary to mention the names, as they knew them very well already; whereupon the Dictator had him incarcerated.
This shows how much detested calumnies are in republics, as well as under any other government, and that no means should be left unemployed to repress them in time. Now, there is no more effectual way for putting an end to calumnies than to introduce the system of legal accusations, which will be as beneficial to republics as calumnies are injurious. On the other hand, there is this difference, namely, that calumnies require neither witnesses, nor confrontings, nor any particulars to prove them, so that every citizen may be calumniated by another, whilst accusations cannot be lodged against any one without being accompanied by positive proofs and circumstances that demonstrate the truth of the accusation.
Accusations must be brought before the magistrates, or the people, or the councils, whilst calumnies are spread in public places as well as in private dwellings; and calumnies are more practised where the system of accusations does not exist, and in cities the constitution of which does not admit of them.
The lawgiver of a republic, therefore, should give every citizen the right to accuse another citizen without fear or suspicion; and this being done, and properly carried out, he should severely punish calumniators, who would have no right to complain of such punishment, it being open to them to bring charges against those whom they had in private calumniated. And where this system is not well established there will always be great disorders, for calumnies irritate, but do not chastise men; and those who have been thus irritated will think of strengthening themselves, hating more than fearing the slanders spread against them.
This matter, as has been said, was perfectly organized at Rome, but has always been badly managed in our city of Florence. And as in Rome this institution was productive of much good, so at Florence the lack of it did much harm. And whoever reads the history of that city will see to how many calumnies those citizens were exposed who occupied themselves with the most important public affairs.
Of one it was reported that he had robbed the public treasury; of another, that he had failed in such or such an enterprise because he had been bribed; and of a third, that he had caused this or that public inconvenience for the purpose of serving his own ambition. This gave rise in every direction to hatreds amongst the citizens, whence divisions arose, and from these sprung factions that proved the ruin of the state.
If the system of accusations and the punishment of calumniators had been established in Florence, those endless scandals and disturbances that occurred would never have taken place; for those citizens who had been either condemned or absolved could not have injured the city, and there would have been a much less number accused than there had been calumniated, as it would not have been as easy to accuse as to calumniate any one. And amongst the other means which ambitious citizens frequently employed to achieve power was this practice of calumniating, which, when employed against one noble citizen who opposed the ambitious projects of another, did much for the latter; for by taking the part of the people and confirming them in the ill opinion which they had of the nobles, he made them his friends.
I might adduce many examples of this, but will content myself with only one. The Florentine army which besieged Lucca was under the command of Messer Giovanni Guicciardini, Florentine commissioner. Whether it was due to his bad management or to his ill fortune, the siege proved unsuccessful. Whatever the case may have been, Messer Giovanni was charged with having been bribed by the authorities of Lucca. This calumny, favored by his enemies, drove Messer Giovanni almost to desperation; and although he was anxious to place himself in the hands of the Captain to justify himself, yet he never was allowed the opportunity, there being no means in the republic that made such a course possible.
This gave rise to the greatest indignation amongst the friends of Messer Giovanni, who constituted the majority of the nobles, and also amongst those who desired a change in the government of Florence. This difficulty, together with other similar causes, increased to that degree that it resulted in the ruin of the republic. Thus Manlius Capitolinus was a calumniator, and not an accuser; and the Romans showed in his case how calumniators ought to be punished.
For they ought to be made to be accusers; and, if the accusation proves true, they should be rewarded, or at least not punished; but if it proves not to be true, then they should be punished as Manlius was. It may perhaps appear to some that I have gone too far into the details of Roman history before having made any mention of the founders of that republic, or of her institutions, her religion, and her military establishment.
Not wishing, therefore, to keep any longer in suspense the desires of those who wish to understand these matters, I say that many will perhaps consider it an evil example that the founder of a civil society, as Romulus was, should first have killed his brother, and then have consented to the death of Titus Tatius, who had been elected to share the royal authority with him; from which it might be concluded that the citizens, according to the example of their prince, might, from ambition and the desire to rule, destroy those who attempt to oppose their authority.
This opinion would be correct, if we do not take into consideration the object which Romulus had in view in committing that homicide. But we must assume, as a general rule, that it never or rarely happens that a republic or monarchy is well constituted, or its old institutions entirely reformed, unless it is done by only one individual; it is even necessary that he whose mind has conceived such a constitution should be alone in carrying it into effect.
A sagacious legislator of a republic, therefore, whose object is to promote the public good, and not his private interests, and who prefers his country to his own successors, should concentrate all authority in himself; and a wise mind will never censure any one for having employed any extraordinary means for the purpose of establishing a kingdom or constituting a republic.
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It is well that, when the act accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when the result is good, as in the case of Romulus, it will always absolve him from blame. For he is to be reprehended who commits violence for the purpose of destroying, and not he who employs it for beneficent purposes. The lawgiver should, however, be sufficiently wise and virtuous not to leave this authority which he has assumed either to his heirs or to any one else; for mankind, being more prone to evil than to good, his successor might employ for evil purposes the power which he had used only for good ends.
Besides, although one man alone should organize a government, yet it will not endure long if the administration of it remains on the shoulders of a single individual; it is well, then, to confide this to the charge of many, for thus it will be sustained by the many. Therefore, as the organization of anything cannot be made by many, because the divergence of their opinions hinders them from agreeing as to what is best, yet, when once they do understand it, they will not readily agree to abandon it.
That Romulus deserves to be excused for the death of his brother and that of his associate, and that what he had done was for the general good, and not for the gratification of his own ambition, is proved by the fact that he immediately instituted a Senate with which to consult, and according to the opinions of which he might form his resolutions.
And on carefully considering the authority which Romulus reserved for himself, we see that all he kept was the command of the army in case of war, and the power of convoking the Senate. This was seen when Rome became free, after the expulsion of the Tarquins, when there was no other innovation made upon the existing order of things than the substitution of two Consuls, appointed annually, in place of an hereditary king; which proves clearly that all the original institutions of that city were more in conformity with the requirements of a free and civil society than with an absolute and tyrannical government.
The above views might be corroborated by any number of examples, such as those of Moses, Lycurgus, Solon, and other founders of monarchies and republics, who were enabled to establish laws suitable for the general good only by keeping for themselves an exclusive authority; but all these are so well known that I will not further refer to them. I will adduce only one instance, not so celebrated, but which merits the consideration of those who aim to become good legislators: Agis, king of Sparta, desired to bring back the Spartans to the strict observance of the laws of Lycurgus, being convinced that, by deviating from them, their city had lost much of her ancient virtue, and consequently her power and dominion; but the Spartan Ephores had him promptly killed, as one who attempted to make himself a tyrant.
His successor, Cleomenes, had conceived the same desire, from studying the records and writings of Agis, which he had found, and which explained his aims and intentions. Cleomenes was convinced that he would be unable to render this service to his country unless he possessed sole authority; for he judged that, owing to the ambitious nature of men, he could not promote the interests of the many against the will of the few; and therefore he availed of a convenient opportunity to have all the Ephores slain, as well as all such others as might oppose his project, after which he restored the laws of Lycurgus entirely.
This course was calculated to resuscitate the greatness of Sparta, and to give Cleomenes a reputation equal to that of Lycurgus, had it not been for the power of the Macedonians and the weakness of the other Greek republics. For being soon after attacked by the Macedonians, and Sparta by herself being inferior in strength, and there being no one whom he could call to his aid, he was defeated; and thus his project, so just and laudable, was never put into execution.
Considering, then, all these things, I conclude that, to found a republic, one must be alone; and that Romulus deserves to be absolved from, and not blamed for, the death of Remus and of Tatius. Of all men who have been eulogized, those deserve it most who have been the authors and founders of religions; next come such as have established republics or kingdoms. After these the most celebrated are those who have commanded armies, and have extended the possessions of their kingdom or country. To these may be added literary men, but, as these are of different kinds, they are celebrated according to their respective degrees of excellence.
All others — and their number is infinite — receive such share of praise as pertains to the exercise of their arts and professions. On the contrary, those are doomed to infamy and universal execration who have destroyed religions, who have overturned republics and kingdoms, who are enemies of virtue, of letters, and of every art that is useful and honorable to mankind. Such are the impious and violent, the ignorant, the idle, the vile and degraded. And there are none so foolish or so wise, so wicked or so good, that, in choosing between these two qualities, they do not praise what is praiseworthy and blame that which deserves blame.
And yet nearly all men, deceived by a false good and a false glory, allow themselves voluntarily or ignorantly to be drawn towards those who deserve more blame than praise. Such as by the establishment of a republic or kingdom could earn eternal glory for themselves incline to tyranny, without perceiving how much glory, how much honor, security, satisfaction, and tranquillity of mind, they forfeit; and what infamy, disgrace, blame, danger, and disquietude they incur. They would furthermore see that Timoleon and the others had no less authority in their country than Dionysius and Phalaris, but that they enjoyed far more security, and for a much greater length of time.
And if any one wishes to know what would have been said of him if writers had been free to speak their minds, let them read what Catiline said of him. He will furthermore see that neither the Eastern nor the Western armies sufficed to save Caligula, Nero, Vitellius, and so many other wicked Emperors, from the enemies which their bad conduct and evil lives had raised up against them. And if the history of these men were carefully studied, it would prove an ample guide to any prince, and serve to show him the way to glory or to infamy, to security or to perpetual apprehension.
And if amongst those who died a natural death there were some wicked ones, like Severus, it was due to their extraordinary good fortune and courage, which two qualities rarely fall to the lot of such men. He will furthermore learn from the lessons of that history how an empire should be organized properly; for all the Emperors that succeeded to the throne by inheritance, except Titus, were bad, and those who became Emperors by adoption were all good, such as the five from Nero to Marcus Aurelius; and when the Empire became hereditary, it came to ruin.
Let any prince now place himself in the times from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius, and let him compare them with those that preceded and followed that period, and let him choose in which of the two he would like to have been born, and in which he would like to have reigned. In the period under the good Emperors he will see the prince secure amidst his people, who are also living in security; he will see peace and justice prevail in the world, the authority of the Senate respected, the magistrates honored, the wealthy citizens enjoying their riches, nobility and virtue exalted, and everywhere will he see tranquillity and well-being.
And on the other hand he will behold all animosity, license, corruption, and all noble ambition extinct. During the period of the good Emperors he will see that golden age when every one could hold and defend whatever opinion he pleased; in fine, he will see the triumph of the world, the prince surrounded with reverence and glory, and beloved by his people, who are happy in their security. If now he will but glance at the times under the other Emperors, he will behold the atrocities of war, discords and sedition, cruelty in peace as in war, many princes massacred, many civil and foreign wars, Italy afflicted and overwhelmed by fresh misfortunes, and her cities ravaged and ruined; he will see Rome in ashes, the Capitol pulled down by her own citizens, the ancient temples desolate, all religious rites and ceremonies corrupted, and the city full of adultery; he will behold the sea covered with ships full of flying exiles, and the shores stained with blood.
He will see innumerable cruelties in Rome, and nobility, riches, and honor, and above all virtue, accounted capital crimes. He will see informers rewarded, servants corrupted against their masters, the freedmen arrayed against their patrons, and those who were without enemies betrayed and oppressed by their friends. And surely, if he be a man, he will be shocked at the thought of re-enacting those evil times, and be fired with an intense desire to follow the example of the good.
For certainly the heavens cannot afford a man a greater opportunity of glory, nor could men desire a better one. And if for the proper organization of a city it should be necessary to abolish the principality, he who had failed to give her good laws for the sake of preserving his rank may be entitled to some excuse; but there would be none for him who had been able to organize the city properly and yet preserve the sovereignty. And, in fine, let him to whom Heaven has vouchsafed such an opportunity reflect that there are two ways open to him; one that will enable him to live securely and insure him glory after death, and the other that will make his life one of constant anxiety, and after death consign him to eternal infamy.
Although the founder of Rome was Romulus, to whom, like a daughter, she owed her birth and her education, yet the gods did not judge the laws of this prince sufficient for so great an empire, and therefore inspired the Roman Senate to elect Numa Pompilius as his successor, so that he might regulate all those things that had been omitted by Romulus. Numa, finding a very savage people, and wishing to reduce them to civil obedience by the arts of peace, had recourse to religion as the most necessary and assured support of any civil society; and he established it upon such foundations that for many centuries there was nowhere more fear of the gods than in that republic, which greatly facilitated all the enterprises which the Senate or its great men attempted.
Whoever will examine the actions of the people of Rome as a body, or of many individual Romans, will see that these citizens feared much more to break an oath than the laws; like men who esteem the power of the gods more than that of men. When Scipio heard of this, he went to meet them, and with his drawn sword in hand he forced them to swear not to abandon their country. Lucius Manlius, father of Titus Manlius, who was afterwards called Torquatus, had been accused by Marcus Pomponius, one of the Tribunes of the people. Before the day of judgment Titus went to Marcus and threatened to kill him if he did not promise to withdraw the charges against his father; he compelled him to take an oath, and Marcus, although having sworn under the pressure of fear, withdrew the accusation against Lucius.
And thus these citizens, whom neither the love of country nor the laws could have kept in Italy, were retained there by an oath that had been forced upon them by compulsion; and the Tribune Pomponius disregarded the hatred which he bore to the father, as well as the insult offered him by the son, for the sake of complying with his oath and preserving his honor; which can be ascribed to nothing else than the religious principles which Numa had instilled into the Romans.
And whoever reads Roman history attentively will see in how great a degree religion served in the command of the armies, in uniting the people and keeping them well conducted, and in covering the wicked with shame. So that if the question were discussed whether Rome was more indebted to Romulus or to Numa, I believe that the highest merit would be conceded to Numa; for where religion exists it is easy to introduce armies and discipline, but where there are armies and no religion it is difficult to introduce the latter.
And although we have seen that Romulus could organize the Senate and establish other civil and military institutions without the aid of divine authority, yet it was very necessary for Numa, who feigned that he held converse with a nymph, who dictated to him all that he wished to persuade the people to; and the reason for all this was that Numa mistrusted his own authority, lest it should prove insufficient to enable him to introduce new and unaccustomed ordinances in Rome. In truth, there never was any remarkable lawgiver amongst any people who did not resort to divine authority, as otherwise his laws would not have been accepted by the people; for there are many good laws, the importance of which is known to the sagacious lawgiver, but the reasons for which are not sufficiently evident to enable him to persuade others to submit to them; and therefore do wise men, for the purpose of removing this difficulty, resort to divine authority.
Thus did Lycurgus and Solon, and many others who aimed at the same thing. The Roman people, then, admiring the wisdom and goodness of Numa, yielded in all things to his advice. It is true that those were very religious times, and the people with whom Numa had to deal were very untutored and superstitious, which made it easy for him to carry out his designs, being able to impress upon them any new form. And doubtless, if any one wanted to establish a republic at the present time, he would find it much easier with the simple mountaineers, who are almost without any civilization, than with such as are accustomed to live in cities, where civilization is already corrupt; as a sculptor finds it easier to make a fine statue out of a crude block of marble than out of a statue badly begun by another.
Considering, then, all these things, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa into Rome was one of the chief causes of the prosperity of that city; for this religion gave rise to good laws, and good laws bring good fortune, and from good fortune results happy success in all enterprises. And as the observance of divine institutions is the cause of the greatness of republics, so the disregard of them produces their ruin; for where the fear of God is wanting, there the country will come to ruin, unless it be sustained by the fear of the prince, which may temporarily supply the want of religion.
But as the lives of princes are short, the kingdom will of necessity perish as the prince fails in virtue. Whence it comes that kingdoms which depend entirely upon the virtue of one man endure but for a brief time, for his virtue passes away with his life, and it rarely happens that it is renewed in his successor, as Dante so wisely says: The welfare, then, of a republic or a kingdom does not consist in having a prince who governs it wisely during his lifetime, but in having one who will give it such laws that it will maintain itself even after his death. And although untutored and ignorant men are more easily persuaded to adopt new laws or new opinions, yet that does not make it impossible to persuade civilized men who claim to be enlightened.
The people of Florence are far from considering themselves ignorant and benighted, and yet Brother Girolamo Savonarola succeeded in persuading them that he held converse with God. I will not pretend to judge whether it was true or not, for we must speak with all respect of so great a man; but I may well say that an immense number believed it, without having seen any extraordinary manifestations that should have made them believe it; but it was the purity of his life, the doctrines he preached, and the subjects he selected for his discourses, that sufficed to make the people have faith in him.
Let no one, then, fear not to be able to accomplish what others have done, for all men as we have said in our Preface are born and live and die in the same way, and therefore resemble each other. Princes and republics who wish to maintain themselves free from corruption must above all things preserve the purity of all religious observances, and treat them with proper reverence; for there is no greater indication of the ruin of a country than to see religion contemned.
And this is easily understood, when we know upon what the religion of a country is founded; for the essence of every religion is based upon some one main principle. The religion of the Gentiles had for its foundation the responses of the oracles, and the tenets of the augurs and aruspices; upon these alone depended all their ceremonies, rites, and sacrifices.
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For they readily believed that the Deity which could predict their future good or ill was also able to bestow it upon them. Thence arose their temples, their sacrifices, their supplications, and all the other ceremonies; for the oracle of Delphos, the temple of Jupiter Ammon, and other celebrated oracles, kept the world in admiration and devoutness.
But when these afterwards began to speak only in accordance with the wishes of the princes, and their falsity was discovered by the people, then men became incredulous, and disposed to disturb all good institutions. It is therefore the duty of princes and heads of republics to uphold the foundations of the religion of their countries, for then it is easy to keep their people religious, and consequently well conducted and united. And therefore everything that tends to favor religion even though it were believed to be false should be received and availed of to strengthen it; and this should be done the more, the wiser the rulers are, and the better they understand the natural course of things.
Such was, in fact, the practice observed by sagacious men; which has given rise to the belief in the miracles that are celebrated in religions, however false they may be. For the sagacious rulers have given these miracles increased importance, no matter whence or how they originated; and their authority afterwards gave them credence with the people. But this opinion and belief was favored and magnified by Camillus and the other Roman chiefs.
And certainly, if the Christian religion had from the beginning been maintained according to the principles of its founder, the Christian states and republics would have been much more united and happy than what they are. Nor can there be a greater proof of its decadence than to witness the fact that the nearer people are to the Church of Rome, which is the head of our religion, the less religious are they.
And whoever examines the principles upon which that religion is founded, and sees how widely different from those principles its present practice and application are, will judge that her ruin or chastisement is near at hand. But as there are some of the opinion that the well-being of Italian affairs depends upon the Church of Rome, I will present such arguments against that opinion as occur to me; two of which are most important, and cannot according to my judgment be controverted.
The first is, that the evil example of the court of Rome has destroyed all piety and religion in Italy, which brings in its train infinite improprieties and disorders; for as we may presuppose all good where religion prevails, so where it is wanting we have the right to suppose the very opposite. We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and to her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely, that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided.
And certainly a country can never be united and happy, except when it obeys wholly one government, whether a republic or a monarchy, as is the case in France and in Spain; and the sole cause why Italy is not in the same condition, and is not governed by either one republic or one sovereign, is the Church; for having acquired and holding a temporal dominion, yet she has never had sufficient power or courage to enable her to seize the rest of the country and make herself sole sovereign of all Italy.
And on the other hand she has not been so feeble that the fear of losing her temporal power prevented her from calling in the aid of a foreign power to defend her against such others as had become too powerful in Italy; as was seen in former days by many sad experiences, when through the intervention of Charlemagne she drove out the Lombards, who were masters of nearly all Italy; and when in our times she crushed the power of the Venetians by the aid of France, and afterwards with the assistance of the Swiss drove out in turn the French.
The Church, then, not having been powerful enough to be able to master all Italy, nor having permitted any other power to do so, has been the cause why Italy has never been able to unite under one head, but has always remained under a number of princes and lords, which occasioned her so many dissensions and so much weakness that she became a prey not only to the powerful barbarians, but of whoever chose to assail her.
This we other Italians owe to the Church of Rome, and to none other. And any one, to be promptly convinced by experiment of the truth of all this, should have the power to transport the court of Rome to reside, with all the power it has in Italy, in the midst of the Swiss, who of all peoples nowadays live most according to their ancient customs so far as religion and their military system are concerned; and he would see in a very little while that the evil habits of that court would create more confusion in that country than anything else that could ever happen there.
It does not seem to me from my purpose to adduce here some examples to show how the Romans employed religion for the purpose of reorganizing their city, and to further their enterprises. And although there are many instances to be found in the writings of Titus Livius, yet I will content myself with the following. The Romans having created the Tribunes with consular powers, and selected all but one from the plebeian order, and a pestilence and famine having occurred in that year accompanied by some extraordinary phenomena, the nobles availed of this occasion of the new creation of the Tribunes, saying that the gods were angry because Rome had been wanting in respect to the majesty of her empire; and that there was no other way of placating the gods but by restoring the election of the Tribunes to its original plan.
The result was, that the people, under the influence of religious fear, selected the Tribunes altogether from amongst the patricians. It was also seen at the siege of the city of Veii, that the captains of the Roman army used religion to keep their soldiers disposed to any enterprise; for when the Lake Albano rose in that year in a very extraordinary manner, and the soldiers, tired of the long siege, wished to return to Rome, the leaders invented the story that Apollo and certain other oracles had predicted that the city of the Veienti would be taken in the year when Lake Albano should overflow its banks.
And thus religion judiciously used promoted the capture of Veii, and the restitution of the tribunate to the patricians, either of which, without that means, would have been with difficulty accomplished. I will not omit to cite another example much to the purpose. The Tribune Terentillus occasioned great disturbances by promulgating a certain law, for reasons which we shall explain further on; and one of the first means to which the patricians resorted for the suppression of these tumults was religion, which they employed in two different ways.
The first was the exhibition of the Sibylline Books, which predicted that, in consequence of domestic dissensions, the liberties of Rome would be seriously imperilled in that year; the fraud, although discovered by the Tribunes, yet so filled the minds of the people with terror that they were no longer disposed to follow them. The second mode was when one Appius Erdonius, with a number of bandits and four thousand slaves, seized the Capitol at night, which caused general apprehension for the safety of the city itself, in case the Equeans and Volscians, eternal enemies of Rome, should attack her at that moment.
The Tribunes nevertheless persisted with great obstinacy in the promulgation of the Terentillan law, saying that the capture of the Capitol was merely fictitious; whereupon Publius Rubetius, a grave citizen of great authority, left the Senate, and with alternate entreaties and menaces harangued the people, pointing out to them the unreasonableness of their demands, and constrained them to swear that they would not refuse obedience to the Consul.
The people, thus forced to obedience, recovered the Capitol; but in the taking of it the Consul Publius Valerius lost his life, and in his stead Titus Quintius was immediately chosen Consul. He, not wishing to afford the people any repose or opportunity of thinking again of the Terentillan law, ordered them to leave Rome and to march against the Volscians; saying that they were bound to follow him, because of the oath they had taken to obey the Consul.
To this the Tribunes objected, saying that the oath referred to the Consul that had been killed, and not to Titus Quintius. The people, however, according to Titus Livius, preferred to obey the Consul rather than believe the Tribunes, and he speaks as follows in favor of their ancient religion: And thus religion enabled the Senate to overcome that difficulty which without it they could never have done. The system of auguries was not only, as we have said above, the principal basis of the ancient religion of the Gentiles, but was also the cause of the prosperity of the Roman republic.
Whence the Romans esteemed it more than any other institution, and resorted to it in their Consular Comitii, in commencing any important enterprise, in sending armies into the field, in ordering their battles, and in every other important civil or military action. Nor would they ever have ventured upon any expedition unless the augurs had first persuaded the soldiers that the gods promised them victory.
Amongst other aruspices the armies were always accompanied by a certain class of soothsayers, termed Pollari guardians of the sacred fowls , and every time before giving battle to the enemy, they required these Pollari to ascertain the auspices; and if the fowls ate freely, then it was deemed a favorable augury, and the soldiers fought confidently, but if the fowls refused to eat, then they abstained from battle. Nevertheless, when they saw a good reason why certain things should be done, they did them anyhow, whether the auspices were favorable or not; but then they turned and interpreted the auguries so artfully, and in such manner, that seemingly no disrespect was shown to their religious belief.
This was done by the Consul Papirius on the occasion of a most important battle with the Samnites, which forever enfeebled and broke the power of this warlike people. For Papirius in conducting the war against them found himself face to face with them; and as victory seemed to him certain, and wishing therefore to proceed to battle, he ordered the Pollari to ascertain the auspices.
The fowls, however, did not eat; but the chief of the Pollari, seeing the great desire of the army to fight, and the confidence in victory which the general as well as the soldiers manifested, and being unwilling to deprive the army of this opportunity of achieving a success, reported to the Consul that the auspices were proceeding favorably; whereupon Papirius set his squadrons in order for battle. But one of the Pollari told certain soldiers that the fowls had not eaten, and they repeated it to Spurius Papirius, the nephew of the Consul; and when he reported this to his uncle, the latter promptly replied, that he expected him to do his duty well, and that, as regarded himself and the army, the auspices were favorable, and if the Pollarius had told a lie, it would come back upon him to his prejudice.
And so that the result might correspond with the prognostication, he commanded his lieutenants to place the Pollari in the front ranks of the battle; and thus it happened that, in marching upon the enemy, the chief of the Pollari was accidentally killed by an arrow from the bow of a Roman soldier. When the Consul heard this, he said that all went well and with the favor of the gods, for by the death of this liar the army had been purged of all guilt, and that whatever anger the gods might have felt against him had been thereby appeased.
And thus by apparently accommodating his designs to the auspices, Papirius resolved to give battle without letting his soldiers perceive that he had in any particular neglected his religious duties. For which he was punished at Rome, whilst Papirius was rewarded; not so much because the one had been beaten and the other victorious, but because the one had contravened the auspices with prudence, and the other with temerity.
Nor had this system of consulting the auspices any other object than to inspire the soldiers on the eve of battle with that confidence which is the surest guaranty of victory. This system was practised not only by the Romans, but also by other peoples, of which it seems to me proper to adduce an example in the following chapter. The Samnites had been repeatedly defeated by the Romans, and had been completely routed in Tuscany, their armies destroyed, and their generals killed.
And knowing that to conquer they must inspire their soldiers with obstinate courage, for which there was no more efficient means than religion, they resolved, by the advice of Ovius Paccius, their high priest, to renew one of their ancient religious practices, which was arranged in the following manner.
A solemn sacrifice was first made to their gods, and then, in the midst of the bleeding victims and smoking altars, they made all the chiefs of the army swear never to give up the fight.
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After this, they called in their soldiers one by one, and there, before these altars and surrounded by centurions with drawn swords in their hands, they made them swear, first, not to reveal anything they had seen or heard; and then, with horrid imprecations and incantations, they exacted an oath from them, and a pledge to the gods, promptly to go wherever commanded by their chiefs, and not to fly from the enemy, and to kill instantly whomever they saw flying; and if they failed in any particular in the compliance with this oath, it would be visited upon their families and descendants.
Some of the men who were frightened and refused to swear were instantly put to death by the centurions; so that those who followed were terrified by the spectacle, and all took the oath. And by way of giving a more imposing effect to their assembled troops, they clothed one half of them in white, with crests and plumes on their casques; and thus they took position at Aquilonia. So that, when they came to battle, the Samnites were defeated; for the Roman valor, and the fears of the Samnites, who remembered their former defeats, overcame all the obstinacy which their religion and their oath had infused into them.
Nevertheless it showed that the Samnites knew of no more powerful means of reviving hope and reanimating their former courage; and proves in the most ample manner how much confidence religious faith, judiciously availed of, will inspire. And although this example might perhaps be deemed to belong elsewhere, as the event occurred amongst a foreign people, yet, as it refers to one of the most important institutions of the republic of Rome, I have thought it proper to mention it here in support of what I have said on that subject, and so as not to be obliged to recur to it hereafter.
Many examples in ancient history prove how difficult it is for a people that has been accustomed to live under the government of a prince to preserve its liberty, if by some accident it has recovered it, as was the case with Rome after the expulsion of the Tarquins. And this difficulty is a reasonable one; for such a people may well be compared to some wild animal, which although by nature ferocious and savage has been as it were subdued by having been always kept imprisoned and in servitude, and being let out into the open fields, not knowing how to provide food and shelter for itself, becomes an easy prey to the first one who attempts to chain it up again.
The same thing happens to a people that has not been accustomed to self-government; for, ignorant of all public affairs, of all means of defence or offence, neither knowing the princes nor being known by them, it soon relapses under a yoke, oftentimes much heavier than the one which it had but just shaken off. This difficulty occurs even when the body of the people is not wholly corrupt; but when corruption has taken possession of the whole people, then it cannot preserve its free condition even for the shortest possible time, as we shall see further on; and therefore our argument has reference to a people where corruption has not yet become general, and where the good still prevails over the bad.
To the above comes another difficulty, which is, that the state that becomes free makes enemies for itself, and not friends. All those become its enemies who were benefited by the tyrannical abuses and fattened upon the treasures of the prince, and who, being now deprived of these advantages, cannot remain content, and are therefore driven to attempt to re-establish the tyranny, so as to recover their former authority and advantages. A state then, as I have said, that becomes free, makes no friends; for free governments bestow honors and rewards only according to certain honest and fixed rules, outside of which there are neither the one nor the other.
And such as obtain these honors and rewards do not consider themselves under obligations to any one, because they believe that they were entitled to them by their merits.