Machiavelli and War


Published in 1521, “The Art of War” by Machiavelli echoes the Treaty of the chinese philosopher Sun Tzu.

In Machiavelli‘s Philosophy, the question of war is often the horizon of politic questions. Politics and war are always mixed, often inseparable, that the State should establish relations between them, but even within states, provinces and cities.  We will only treat one aspect of this question:  how the controversy of Machiavelli against weapons and mercenaries and auxiliaries for the “own weapon” is one of the main structure of the whole of the work, one of the elements that give meaning to the texts. The error of not having understood the importance of “own weapons” and the role of the infantry is one of the “sins of princes” of the time of the wars of Italy in the writing of texts Machiavelli we feel a constant effort to understand how one could buy, “redeem” (redimere), these sins. It is this effort that this article attempts to highlight.

In this seven-volume book written in the form of mock dialogue, the Florentine condemned by the voice of Captain Fabrizio Colonna, the weakness of the armies of Renaissance Italy and plans to improve their military effectiveness in the example of the ancients. Veterans, Machiavelli refers to the Greeks but also to the Romans, whose military strategies shelling occupies almost the bulk of the work.Fabrizio looks first to the composition and recruitment of troops.

He refutes the idea that an army can be formed by professionals who are always risks becoming after a moment too powerful like the Roman Praetorian Guard. The use of foreign mercenaries selling to the highest bidder is also prohibited.

Fabrizio advocates the lifting of soldiers among the common people who will have been educated and trained regularly to be ready when the time came to serve under arms to protect their homeland. Its main idea is to restore the power of the infantry, the cavalry being relegated to an auxiliary role. Examples for this are the compactness of the Greek phalanx, but more the remarkable performance of the Roman legions that were almost invincible in their time.

Fabrizio relies heavily on the organization of the legions, their light infantry (archers and casters) called velites and the triple row of heavy infantry (hastaires, princes and triarii) making up the heart from the strike force of the legions. The German armies but also Swiss then deemed as the most powerful at the time of Machiavelli, do not stand up well in comparison with the Roman legions.

Fabrizio then describes at length the maneuvers needed to train troops by insisting on their overall consistency. Driven by his interlocutors to speak on the artillery, it minimizes the impact of heavy artillery as highly dependent on geography that can greatly affect its accuracy, and put in the hard light artillery, did not choice but to rely on the speed of his troops to arrive as soon as possible in melee.

In the fourth book, Fabrizio discusses the aspect of choosing the best site to engage the battle and the command to motivate his troops.

Then, Fabrizio continues on art to accustom the soldiers to an austere diet, control of their pay, the prohibition of pillage individual to severe punishment for disobedience and the rewards of valor, in order to inculcate a source of iron discipline their greater efficiency.

The sixth book is devoted to the construction of camps focusing more on the work of soldier conscripted as laborers on the choice of the field and how to defend the camps effectively.

In the last book, Fabrizio discusses the art of building fortifications capable of sustaining a siege.

There is considerable discussion of ramparts, moats, towers, outposts of the art supplies, counter spy or attack the enemy on another front to force him to leave his position .

In conclusion, “The Art of War” is a reference to his time, a technical manual that deals with a detailed and systematic vision of Machiavelli to restore prestige to the troops in his country.

The almost systematic adoption of the Roman model in a time when the artillery had revolutionized the art of war can show a character for me too narrow and rigid theories presented. Indeed the further progress of the mechanical (precision and power of guns, machine guns pace) will soon make its considerations increasingly difficult to hold. Of course the look command will always be relevant but I found the same registry book of Sun Tzu, more complete, more flexible and subtle in its general approach.


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Cite this article as: Tim, "Machiavelli and War, April 25, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 25, 2012,

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