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The Prince
(Il Principe)
By Niccolò Machiavelli
The original, squashed down to read in about 55 minutes

(Florence, 1532)

Here is possibly the most powerful book of all time. Oliver Cromwell owned a first edition, a copy was found in Napoleon's coach at Waterloo, Benito Mussolini wrote an essay about it and both Hitler and Stalin are said to have kept it by their bedsides. This handbook of subterfuge and deceit is still a standard work for politicians the world over. You can be pretty sure that your 'Prince', even if they call themselves President or Prime Minister, has read it.

Abridged: GH

The Prince

To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De' Medici
Those who strive to obtain the good graces of a prince generally bring precious things. I have nothing of value worthy of your magnificence, but bring this little work, trusting much to your benignity that it will not be considered presumptuous that a man of low and humble condition dare to discuss the concerns of princes; just as those who draw landscapes place themselves on high mountains to better contemplate the plains.
Take then, your Magnificence, this little gift in the spirit in which I send it; wherein, if it be diligently read and considered by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise. And if your Magnificence from the summit of your greatness will sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how unmeritedly I suffer a great and continued malignity of fortune.


All states, all powers, that have held and hold rule over men have been and are either republics or principalities. Principalities are either hereditary, or are new. The new are either entirely new, as was Milan to Francesco Sforza {6} or they are annexed to an existing hereditary state, as the kingdom of Naples was annexed by the King of Spain. Such dominions are accustomed either to live under a prince or to live in freedom; and are acquired by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.


I have written of republics elsewhere, so I will address myself here to how principalities are to be ruled and preserved.

There are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states than new ones; simply keeping the customs of his ancestors and acting prudently will allow a prince of average powers to maintain his state, only extraordinary force will deprive him of it, and whenever anything sinister happens to the usurper, he will regain it.

The Duke of Ferrara could not have withstood the attacks of the Venetians or of Pope Julius, unless he had been long established in his dominions. For the hereditary prince has less cause and less need to offend; hence he will be more loved, unless extraordinary vices cause him to be hated.


A difficulty arises in new principalities; men change their rulers hoping to better themselves: only to discover they have worsened. You make enemies of those you have injured in seizing a principality, yet you cannot satisfy, but dare not injure, those friends who put you there. Strength in arms still needs the goodwill of the natives.

For these reasons Louis XII of France quickly occupied Milan, and quickly lost it, because those who had opened the gates to him gained no benefit and would not endure his maltreatment. However, rebellious provinces are not easily lost a second time, because the prince is willing to punish delinquents. Thus for Louis to lose Milan again, it was necessary to bring the whole world against him.

Dominions of the same manners and language are easily held, for peoples alike in customs will live quietly together, as seen in Brittany and Normandy. He, who wishes to hold them, has only to extinguish their ruling family, and to maintain their laws and taxes.

But states differing in customs are less easily held. A great help is that the conqueror should reside there, as the Turk did in Greece, so that small disorders are quickly seen and remedied, and your officials kept in hand.

A better course is to establish colonies. This is inexpensive, and offends only the few citizens whose lands are taken; and those become poor and powerless, while those uninjured will be compliant, for fear it should happen to them. Men ought either to be well treated or crushed; they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, therefore injury ought to be of such a kind that one does not fear revenge. However, a garrison in a colony is expensive, and the hard-pressed soldiery may become hostile.

The prince who holds a country differing in customs ought to defend his weaker neighbours, allowing in no powerful foreigner to provide a rally for discontent, as the Romans were brought into Greece by the Aetolians. Like those Romans, it is necessary to prepare for future troubles. As the physicians say of hectic fever, in the beginning, it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but if ignored, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure. Let us inquire whether France did any of these things.

King Louis {2} was brought into Italy by the Venetians, ambitious to obtain half of Lombardy. As Louis had no friends there he was forced to accept what friendships he could get. Having acquired Lombardy, Genoa and Florence, many minor rulers made advances to him. Then the Venetians realised that to gain two towns in Lombardy, they had made the king master of two-thirds of Italy.

Men always aim to acquire, which is natural, common, and praiseworthy. However, when they cannot do so, yet make the attempt, there is folly and blame. Louis made five errors: he destroyed the minor powers, increased the strength of a greater power, brought in a foreign power, he did not settle in the country, he did not send colonies. Which errors he might have endured, had he not made a sixth by taking away the Venetian dominions. Thus, King Louis lost Lombardy. There is a general rule here: he who makes another powerful is ruined.


Alexander the Great mastered Asia in a few years, yet we must ask why, on his death, the empire did not rebel.

Principalities are governed either by a prince with a body of ministers, or by a prince and barons. The lord of the Turks sends servants to administer different sanjaks, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is among an ancient body of lords, with their own prerogatives. There would be difficulties in seizing the kingdom of the Turk as the usurper cannot be called in or assisted by princes of the kingdom. The Turk's ministers are bondsmen who can expect little advantage from being corrupted. He who attacks the Turk will find him united; but, once conquered, there is nothing to fear but the princely family, who may be exterminated.

But in kingdoms like France, one can always find malcontented barons to open the way into the state and render victory easy. However, to hold it will need their assistance, it is not enough to have exterminated the prince's family.

Now, the government of Darius, was similar to that of the Turk, and therefore, once Darius was killed, the state was secured to Alexander. If Alexander's successors had remained united they would have enjoyed it securely. When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held his Empire.


On acquiring states accustomed to living in freedom under their own laws, there are three courses open; to ruin them, to reside there in person, or to permit them freedom under a friendly oligarchy, drawing a tribute. He who would keep a formerly free city will hold it more easily by means of its own citizens.

For example, the Spartans established oligarchy in Athens and Thebes, nevertheless they lost them. The Romans dismantled Capua, Carthage, and Numantia and held them. They attempted to hold Greece as the Spartans held it, free with its own laws, and failed. For in truth he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for it will always rally to the watchwords of liberty and its ancient privileges.

But when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being accustomed to obey, cannot decide how to govern themselves. Such are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can secure them easily.


A wise man ought to follow the paths beaten by great men. Even if his ability does not equal theirs, let him act like the clever archers who aim above the mark.

Now, becoming a prince from a private station presupposes sufficient ability or fortune to mitigate many difficulties. Nevertheless, he who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest.

Although Moses merely executed the will of God, it was necessary that he should find the Israelites oppressed by the Egyptians, so that they should be disposed to follow him out of bondage. It was necessary that Romulus be abandoned at birth, in order to become King of Rome. It was necessary that Cyrus should find the Persians discontented with the Medean government. Theseus only succeeded because the Athenians were dispersed. Recognising these opportunities made those men fortunate, and allowed them to ennoble their countries.

The likes of these acquire a principality with difficulty, but keep it with ease. An innovator makes enemies of those who prospered under the old conditions, yet his defenders may still fear the old laws and mistrust the new, of which they have no experience. Thus those who are hostile may attack like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly.

Can innovators rely on themselves or must they depend on others: that is to say, should they use prayers or force? In the first instance they always succeed badly; but when they use force they are rarely endangered- only armed prophets have ever conquered. Furthermore, people are easy to persuade, but it is difficult to fix that persuasion. Thus, it is necessary to make them believe by force.

If Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus had been unarmed they could not have enforced their constitutions for long- as happened in our time to Fra Girolamo Savonarola {4}, who was ruined when the multitude lost faith in him.

To these, I add the example of Hiero {5}, who rose from a private station to be Prince of Syracuse, after the oppressed Syracusans, chose him for their captain. He was of so great ability that it has been said he wanted nothing but a kingdom to be a king. He organised a new army, made new allies and on such foundations, he was able to build any edifice. Thus, he endured much trouble in acquiring; he had but little in keeping.


Those who rise from private citizen to prince by good fortune, rise easily, but struggle to stay there. Some gain states for money or by the favour of rulers, or by the corruption of soldiers. Such rely on the goodwill and fortune of others- two most inconstant and unstable things.

They do not know how to command, and have no friendly forces. States that rise suddenly, like all things which are born and grow rapidly, cannot have firm foundations to withstand the first storm. Unless, that is, they are prepared to lay the foundations afterwards.

To give two recent examples: Francesco Sforza {6}, by great ability, rose from a private person to be Duke of Milan. On the other hand, Cesare Borgia {7}, called Duke Valentino, acquired his state through his father, on whose decline he lost it, notwithstanding that he had done all possible to fix his roots.

Pope Alexander the Sixth, wishing to bestow a state his son, sought to embroil the powers by favouring France, helped by his dissolving the marriage of King Louis. No sooner was Louis in Milan, than the Pope had him take Romagna for the Duke. However, suspicious of the king and his army, the Duke determined to depend no more upon others.

First, he gained over the Orsini and Colonnesi parties in Rome, by offering their gentlemen good positions and exterminating their leaders.

The duke found Romagna under weak, plundering rulers. To bring back peace and authority, he promoted Ramiro d'Orco, a swift and cruel man. Whan the state was pacified, he replaced Ramiro with an equitable court of judgement, and had Ramiro executed and his body left on the piazza at Cesena beside a bloody knife. This barbarity showing the Duke to be the scourge, not the author, of evil-doing.

On the death of Alexander, he had killed as many of the dispossessed lords as he could, had won over the gentlemen of Rome, and he controlled the College of Cardinals. He no longer feared France, for Spain had already driven the French out of Naples.

But Julius the Second was elected pope, which the Duke ought never to have allowed, for Julius was a cardinal whom he had injured. For men injure either from fear or hatred. He had injured many, the Spaniards excepted, and so the duke ought to have created a Spaniard Pope. He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived. Therefore, the duke erred in his choice, and it was the cause of his ultimate ruin.


A prince may rise from a private station either by wickedness, or by the favour of his fellow-citizens.

To illustrate the first method, consider how Agathocles {8}, son of a potter, became King of Syracuse. Having rose through the military ranks to become Praetor, one morning he assembled the senators and leading citizens of Syracuse, as if to discuss state matters, and at a given signal had soldiers kill them all. Thus he seized the city and was even able to withstand the Carthaginian siege.

Yet it cannot be called talent to slay citizens, deceive friends, to be faithless, cruel and irreligious. Such methods may gain empires, but not glory. Still, the courage of Agathocles makes him admirable.

In our times, during the rule of Alexander VI, Oliverotto da Fermo, having been left an orphan, was brought up by his maternal uncle, Giovanni Fogliani, and sent into the military. But he disliked serving under others, so resolved to seize Fermo. He arranged to visit Giovanni Fogliani in his city, accompanied by one hundred retainers.

Oliverotto arranged a banquet for all the chiefs of Fermo. When the viands and entertainments were finished, Oliverotto began to talk of Pope Alexander and of Cesare, saying that such matters ought to be discussed in private, betook them to a private chamber, where his soldiers slaughtered them all. Thus, Oliverotto forced the people and magistrates to make him prince. He killed all malcontents, and so strengthened himself that he held the city for a year, only being overthrown by Cesare Borgia.

Some may wonder how it can happen that Agathocles, and his like, after infinite treacheries and cruelties, should not be conspired against by their own citizens. I believe that this follows from cruelty being well or badly used. Cruelty is well used, if one can say 'well' of such evil, when it is applied at one blow when necessary to one's security, and not persisted in afterwards. Cruelty is badly employed when it commences in a small way, to then multiply with time.

Injuries ought to be done all at once, so that, being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.


For a citizen to become prince by the favour of his fellows requires a happy shrewdness. A prince is created either by the people or by the nobles, the one finding they cannot withstand the other, they set up a new power. Such a prince will find that one cannot, by fair dealing, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people as they desire only not to be oppressed. Furthermore, a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because they are too many, be he can secure himself against the few nobles.

The worst a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but hostile nobles can rise against him. Further, the prince must live with the same people, but he can make and unmake nobles daily.

One who, in opposition to the people, becomes a prince by the favour of the nobles, ought, above everything, to seek to win the people over, and this he may easily do if he takes them under his protection. Because men who receive good when they expected evil are bound more closely to their benefactor.

And do not let any one accept the trite proverb "He who builds on the people, builds on the mud," for a prince who has courage, and who keeps the whole people encouraged, will have a secure foundation. A wise prince ought to ensure that his citizens will always have need of the state and of him, then he will find them faithful.


A prince needs always to know if he has power to support himself with his own resources, or whether he has need of the assistance of others. I say that those who are can support themselves are they who, by abundance of men or money, can raise an army sufficient to do battle against any one who comes to attack them. Those who have need of others are they who must defend themselves by sheltering behind walls.

In the second case one can only encourage such princes to fortify their towns, and not try to defend the country.

The cities of Germany are absolutely free, and own but little country around them. They yield obedience to the emperor when it suits, nor do they fear any nearby power, because they are fortified with proper ditches and walls, and have sufficient artillery. Moreover, they always keep one year's food, drink and fuel in public depots, in which they always have the means of giving work to the community. They also have laws to encourage military exercises.

A strong city can withstand an army for a year or more, but few attackers could sustain a force for so long. And to whoever says that the citizens will rebel when they see their property outside the city burned, I say that such will only give them greater reason to fear the enemy. It will not be difficult for a wise prince to keep his citizens steadfast when he supports and defends them.


It remains to speak of ecclesiastical principalities. Such states need no defence and alone are secure and happy. Being exalted and maintained by God, it would be presumptuous to discuss them. Nevertheless, one should ask how the Church has attained such great temporal power.

Before Charles of France {10}, entered Italy, this country was dominated by the Pope, the Venetians, the King of Naples, the Duke of Milan, and the Florentines. These potentates feared only that no invader should enter Italy and that none of themselves should seize more territory. To restrain the strong Venetians required the union of all the others, while the barons of Rome kept down the Pope. Even a courageous pope, such as Sixtus, could not be rid of these annoyances. The short life of a pope is also a cause of weakness; for in the ten years, which is the average life of a pope, he can accomplish little.

Pope Alexander the Sixth tried not to aggrandise the Church, but his son. Nevertheless, after their deaths, the Church became the heir to their labours.

Therefore, Pope Julius found the Church possessing Romagna, and the Roman barons powerless. He kept princes within bounds by terrifying them with the greatness of the Church, and by not allowing them to have their own cardinals. For these reasons, his Holiness Pope Leo {9} found the pontificate most powerful, and it is to be hoped that, if others made it great in arms, he will make it still greater by his goodness.


The chief foundations of all states are good laws and good arms. As there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that the well-armed state will have good laws.

A prince defends his state with his own arms, or mercenaries, auxiliaries, or a mixture. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous. In peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they keep the field only for wages, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

If Mercenary captains are capable men, then you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness. But if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

Italy has fallen into the power of mercenaries, first promoted by Alberigo da Conio, the Romagnian. After him came all the captains whose only success has been that Italy has been overrun by Charles, robbed by Louis, ravaged by Ferdinand, and insulted by the Switzers. They have sought to discredit the infantry, and to employ cavalry solely to make themselves seem grander. They have also used every art to lessen the risk of war. They refrain from attack at night, they fail to fortify the camp, nor will they campaign in the winter. All these things they avoid, to escape both fatigue and dangers; thus they have brought Italy to slavery and contempt.


Auxiliaries are employed when a prince calls in the aid of another's forces. These arms may be useful in themselves, but he who calls them in is always disadvantaged; for losing, one is undone, and winning, one is their captive.

The Florentines, lacking arms, sent ten thousand Frenchmen to take Pisa, gaining them only more danger. The Emperor of Constantinople {11}, 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, They are much more hazardous than mercenaries, because with them the ruin is ready made; they are all united. The wise prince has never deemed that a real victory which is gained with the arms of others.

I shall cite Cesare Borgia, who captured Imola and Forli with French auxiliaries; but afterwards, such forces appearing unreliable, he turned to mercenaries from the Orsini and Vitelli; whom, finding them doubtful and dangerous, he destroyed.

I am unwilling to leave out Hiero, the Syracusan, who, finding his mercenaries useless and unwilling to leave, had them all cut to pieces, and afterwards made war only with his own forces. I also recall the instance from the Old Testament, where David refused Saul's offer of weapons, knowing that the arms of others either fall from your back, or weigh you down, or bind you fast.

But the scanty wisdom of man, entering into affairs which look well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden there, as I have said of hectic fevers. Therefore, if he who rules a principality cannot recognise evils until they are upon him, he is not truly wise. And if the first decline of the Roman Empire should be examined, it will be found to have commenced only with the enlisting of the Goths.

It has always been judgement of the wise that nothing is so uncertain as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And the way to prepare one's own forces will be easily found in the following.


A prince ought to have no other study than war; for this is the art of all rulers; it upholds born princes and enables others to become princes. Without its knowledge, many have lost their states.

Francesco Sforza became Duke of Milan through military skill. But to rise through war is not all, lack of military skill brings, among other evils, the abhorrence of all around you. Because, the armed and unarmed have disdain and suspicion against each other, they can never work well together. Therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them.

He ought above all things to keep his men well organised and drilled, to pursue hunting, by which he learns to endure hardships, and gets to know the nature and lie of the mountains, the plains, the rivers and marshes- knowledge essential to success.

Philopoemen of the Achaeans, is commended because in time of peace he forever asked of those he met: "If the enemy were on that hill, how should we best advance against them?" "How might we retreat?" So there was never any surprise he could not deal with.

To exercise the intellect the prince should read history, and study there the actions of leaders, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, just as Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, and Caesar, Alexander. And whoever reads Xenophon's Life of Cyrus, will recognise his glory. A wise prince ought never to stand idle, but increase his resources with industry so that they may be available to him in adversity.


It remains now to see how a prince should treat his subjects and friends. Here I wish to give the real truth of the matter, not the fantasy of it, for a man who acts for good is likely to be ruined. It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it when necessary.

Men may say that a prince is liberal or miserly, generous or rapacious, cruel or compassionate, faithless or faithful, cowardly or brave, affable or haughty, lascivious or chaste, sincere or cunning, grave or frivolous, religious or unbelieving, and the like. It would be praiseworthy if a prince exhibited all the good characters, but humanity being frail, it is sufficient that he be not reproached for the bad ones.


It is well that a prince be reputed liberal. Nevertheless, liberality exercised in secret brings no reputation. Therefore, any prince wishing to be thought liberal must do so with magnificence. But such requires money, the taxes for which will soon offend his subjects.

Therefore, a prince ought not to fear being thought mean, for in time it will enhance his reputation as he can defend all attacks without burdening his people. It is one of those vices which will enable him to govern.

And if any should say: Caesar, and others, obtained empire by liberality, I answer; liberality is useful in becoming a prince, but worthless once in power. And if any one should reply: liberal princes have done great things with armies; I reply; an army must believe their prince liberal, otherwise that would not follow him.

A prince should guard, above all, against being despised and hated; and liberality leads to both. Therefore it is wiser to be reputed mean which brings reproach without hatred.


Every prince may desire to be thought clement. But it was Cesare Borgia's cruelty which brought peace and unity to the Romagna. A prince who keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; for too much mercy will allow disorder to injure the whole people, whilst a few executions offend only individuals.

Is it better to be loved or feared? One might wish to be both, but they are not met in the same person. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely. They will offer you their blood, property, life, and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. The prince who relies on their promises is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon. Men will readily offend a beloved, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which men will break at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred. Which will always be as long as he abstains from the property and women of his subjects. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do so with proper justification, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men will quickly forget their father's death, but not the loss of their inheritance. But when a prince is with his army then it is necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united.

How was it that Hannibal held together an enormous army composed of many various races of men? It was only his inhuman cruelty. Shortsighted are the writers who admire his deeds, and then condemn the principal cause of them.

I must conclude that, men love by their own will, but fear is from the will of their prince. A wise prince should always establish himself on that which is in his own control, only endeavouring to avoid hatred.


It would be praiseworthy for a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and without guile. Nevertheless experience shows that princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know that there are two ways to dispute; law is proper to men, force to beasts. But law is frequently insufficient, so the prince must learn how to use the other method.

Like the old story of Achilles being educated by the Centaur Chiron, half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures. The lion is powerless against snares and the fox powerless against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. It is error to rely solely on the lion. A wise lord cannot keep faith when such may be turned against him. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you are not bound to observe it with them. A prince will always find reasons to excuse his non-observance.

But it is necessary to know how to disguise this characteristic, and men are so simple, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone willing to be deceived. Alexander the Sixth did nothing else but deceive, and his deceits were successful, because he well understood mankind.

It is not necessary for a prince to have all the good qualities, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. The prince should seem merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright. He should keep to the good when he can, but when he cannot he should know how to act as the winds of fortune require.

So, a prince should take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not filled with noble qualities, that he may appear merciful, faithful, humane, and, especially, religious. Everyone sees what you appear to be; few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose popular opinion and the majesty of the state. The vulgar are always taken in by appearances and results; and this world consists of the vulgar.

One prince {12} of the present time, forever preaches peace and good faith, yet he is most hostile to both.


When a prince is not hated, he need not fear other reproaches. It makes him hated above all, to be greedy, and to violate the property and women of his subjects. With their property and honour intact, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambitious few.

A prince should guard against seeming fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited or irresolute, and endeavour to show greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude. Let his judgements be irrevocable, so that no one can hope to deceive him or to get round him. An esteemed prince is not easily conspired against, nor need he fear external powers, for he will gain a faithful army, and if he is well armed he will have good friends.

When a prince has his people satisfied, then conspirators can only look forward to offending them. Consider Annibale Bentivogli of Bologna. He was murdered by the Canneschi, who could not take power, for the people rose against them and sent for one of the Bentivogli family, though only the son of a blacksmith, as their prince. But a prince who is hated must fear everything and everybody.

Among the best-governed kingdoms of our times is France. He who founded the kingdom, knew that it was necessary to protect the people from the nobles and the nobles from the people. Yet not wishing for the king to be drawn into such disputes, he established a parliament as arbiter. There could be no better arrangement, for princes ought to leave reproach to others, and keep grace to themselves. A prince ought to cherish the nobles, but not so as to make himself hated by the people.

Those emperors of Rome who succeeded had the difficulty of pleasing the people, the nobles and the army. Which three, being of opposing humours, they chose to satisfy the army, for if a prince cannot help being hated by some, he must avoid the hatred of the strongest. Both Pertinax and Alexander fell when the army conspired against them. Marcus lived and died honoured, because he had inherited the throne, and owed nothing either to the soldiers or the people. Severus oppressed the people, but kept the soldiers friendly, so that he reigned successfully, well imitating the fox and the lion.

I will not neglect the Turk and the Sultan of Egypt, who keep many thousands of soldiers, which must be kept friendly.

It will be seen that either hatred or contempt has been fatal to many emperors. But a prince, new to the principality, cannot imitate the actions of Marcus, nor, again, is it necessary to follow those of Severus, but he ought to take from Severus those parts which are necessary to found his state, and from Marcus those which are proper and glorious to keep a state that may already be stable and firm.


1. To hold a state, some princes have disarmed their subjects, or kept their towns disunited, or have fostered enmities, some have built fortresses and some have overthrown them. There is no general rule.

2. A new prince cannot disarm his subjects, but he can arm some of them, who will become faithful, making the others easier to handle. But to attempt to disarm them shows your distrust, and breeds hatred. Therefore a new prince in a new principality has always distributed arms. But when a prince adds a new state to his old one, then he must disarm the men of that state, except those who have helped him acquire it; who, with time an opportunity, he should render soft and effeminate.

3. Our wise forefathers, said that it was necessary to hold Pistoia by factions and Pisa by fortresses. This may have been well when Italy was stable, but today I do not believe that factions can ever be of use; rather, parties will always be at the call of an enemy. The Venetians encouraged disputes between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, so that the citizens, distracted by their differences, should not unite against them. But that only led to one party taking courage and seizing the state.

4. When mistress fortune desires to make a prince great, she brings him enemies, so that he may show his greatness by crushing them. For this reason, many consider that a wise prince might foster some animosity against himself, so that, having crushed it, his renown may rise.

5. Princes, especially new ones, often have more help from men who were, at first, distrusted than among those who were trusted. Pandolfo Petrucci, Prince of Siena, ruled largely by those who had been distrusted. But there is no general rule here; a prince must always consider why those who helped him did so. If they followed him only from disgust with the former power, then he will never satisfy them.

6. I praise the way in which princes have often built fortresses, as a bridle and bit to those who might oppose them, and as a place of refuge from attack. But both Nicolo Vitelli and Guido Ubaldo of Urbino have razed their fortresses, considering that the state is better kept without them.

Only the prince who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build fortresses, but he who has more to fear from foreigners ought to leave them alone. That castle in Milan, built by Francesco Sforza, will make more trouble for the house of Sforza than anything else. The best possible fortress is not to be hated by the people, because, if you are hated, there will always be foreigners ready to assist the people against you.


A prince ought, above all things, always endeavour in every action to gain the reputation of being a great and remarkable man, as the King of Spain has done.

A prince is respected when he is clearly either a true friend or a downright enemy. If your powerful neighbours come to blows, it will always be more advantageous to declare yourself and make war strenuously. Irresolute princes who follow the neutral path are generally ruined. But when a prince declares himself gallantly in favour of one side, if his chosen ally conquers, then he becomes indebted to you. If your ally loses, he may shelter you until fortune rises again.

A prince ought never to make an alliance with one more powerful than himself for the purposes of attacking others; because if he conquers, you are at his discretion, which a prince ought never to be. The Venetians were ruined by joining France against the Duke of Milan. But when it cannot be avoided, as happened to the Florentines when the Pope and Spain sent armies to attack Lombardy, then, the prince ought to favour one of the parties. Never let any Government imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses; rather prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and to choose the lesser evil.

A prince ought to show himself a patron of the arts. He should also encourage peaceful crafts, commerce and agriculture, so that no one should be deterred from trade for fear of theft or excessive taxes. The prince should reward those who honour his state, and entertain the people with festivals and spectacles. And he ought to hold guilds or societies in esteem, and associate with them sometimes, to show his courtesy and liberality; while always maintaining the majesty of his rank.


The first opinion which one forms of a prince is by observing the men he has around him; and foolish servants show the foolishness of their prince in choosing them.

Anyone who met Antonio da Venafro, servant of Pandolfo of Siena, would know the prince to be very clever in having such a servant. Intellects do comprehend in three ways; some by themselves, some by the wit of others and some not at all. If Pandolfo was not in the first rank, he was in the second, for judgement to recognise the good and bad in his servant allows him to praise one and correct the other; thus the servant cannot hope to deceive, and is kept honest.

No man who seeks his own profit will make a good servant. To keep his servant honest the prince ought to study him, honouring him, enriching him, doing him kindnesses; and at the same time let him see that he cannot stand alone. When servants and princes do not trust each other, disaster will come to either one or the other.


Flatterers, of whom courts are full, are a terrible pest and a terrible danger. One can guard against them only by letting men know that the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect is lost.

Therefore, a wise prince ought to seek the honest council of only a few wise men, and afterwards form his own conclusions. Outside of these, he should listen to no one, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed in opinions that he falls into contempt, as has Maximilian {13}.

A prince, therefore, ought to be a constant inquirer, and a patient listener, and should let his anger fall on those who have not told him the truth. Counsellors each have their own interests, and, like all men, will always prove untrue unless they are restrained.


The previous suggestions will enable a new prince to render himself as secure as one long established. Those who have recently lost their lands, such as the King of Naples or the Duke of Milan, have failed to make proper provision of arms, and have made enemies of either the people or the nobles.

Therefore, do not let our princes blame fortune for the loss of their principalities, but rather their own sloth. In quiet times they never thought there could be a change (it is a common defect in man not to make any provision in the calm against the tempest), and when afterwards the bad times came they thought of flight and hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them. There is no deliverance which does not depend upon yourself and your valour.


Many men believe the affairs of the world are governed by fortune and God, so that men cannot direct them.

Fortune may direct one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half. She may be like the raging flood, which sweeps away trees and buildings. But that does not mean that, when the waters settle, men cannot make barriers against such misfortune. In Italy, we have, unlike Germany, neglected these barriers, so that the recent invasions have found us without defence.

A man may pursue glory and riches by caution, another with haste, one by force, another by skill, and yet still attain their goal. It is not so much the method, but how well they conform to the spirit of the times. It is the man who cannot change from his nature or his accustomed ways, who is lost. The cautious man who does not know when it is time to turn adventurous is ruined.

Pope Julius the Second, in his enterprise against Bologna, had both the Venetians and Spain against him. Yet his impetuous action accomplished what no one with simple wisdom could have done; for if he had waited for all to be safe he would never have succeeded.

Fortune is changeful, yet mankind steadfast in their ways, success comes when the two are in agreement. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to control her it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.


The present times seem fit for the arrival of a new prince, for like the Israelites, the Persians and the Medes, the present oppression of the Italians is such that their virtuous spirit may be shown. It is seen how she entreats God to send someone who shall deliver her from these wrongs.

Nor is there to be seen one in whom she can place more hope than in your illustrious house,{14} with its valour and fortune, favoured by God and by the Church of which it is now the chief.

With us there is great justice, because a war is just which is necessary. God is with us, yet God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which is ours.

If, therefore, your illustrious house wishes to redeemed your country, it is necessary before all to have your own forces, commanded by their prince, honoured by him, and maintained at his expense. We cannot rely on Swiss and Spanish infantry, no matter how good they are.

This opportunity ought not to be missed for letting Italy see her liberator appear. What door would be closed to him? Who would refuse obedience to him? To all of us this barbarous dominion stinks. Let this just enterprise be undertaken, so that our native country may be ennobled, and verify that saying of Petrarch:

For old Roman valour is not dead,
Nor in Italian hearts extinguish'ed.

Switzers: Swiss mercenaries.
{1} Lodovico Moro, son of Francesco Sforza. Duke of Milan from 1494-1500.
{2} Louis XII {1462-1515} King of France, "The Father of the People," whose reign was devoted to attempts to conquer Italy
{3} Hiero II (c307-216 BC) Proclaimed King of Syracuse after crushing the Sicilian pirates who had plagued the city.
{5} Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) Dominican friar who gained support by condemning the corruption of Pope Alexander VI. Supporting the French invasion and exile of the Medicis, he became effective ruler of Florence. Excommunicated in 1497 and hanged for heresy
{6} Francesco Sforza (1401-1466) Duke of Milan through his marriage to Bianca Maria, daughter of Filippo Visconti, the former Duke.
{7} Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino (c1475-1507) Illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. Made a cardinal at 17, then captain-general of the papacy, lost power after his father's death. Patron of artists, including Leonardo da Vinci.
{8} Agathocles the Sicilian, (361-289 BC)
{9} Leo X, Giovanni de' Medici (1475-1521) Pope from 1513. Son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, created a cardinal at 13. Gave Henry VIII of England the title 'Defender of the Faith'. Funded the rebuilding of St Peter's in Rome by selling indulgences (remissions of punishment for sin), leading Martin Luther to rebel against papal authority.
{10} Charles VIII (1470-1498) King of France from 1483. In 1494 he unsuccessfully tried to claim the Neapolitan crown, and when he entered Naples 1495 was forced to withdraw by a coalition of Milan, Venice, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. He defeated them at Fornovo, but lost Naples.
{11} The Emperor of Constantinople Joannes Cantacuzenus (1300-1383)
{12} Probably Ferdinand of Aragon.
{13} Maximilian I (1459-1519), Holy Roman Emperor
{14} Probably a reference to Giuliano de Medici (later pope Clement VII), who had just been created a cardinal by Leo X.

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