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  • Niccolò Machiavelli

    May 3, 1469 - June 22, 1527
    Part 3 of 11: Outlines for a New Military Organization

    On his return to Florence early in January 1503, Machiavelli began to occupy himself with a project which his recent attendance upon Cesare Borgia had strengthened in his mind. The duties of his office obliged him to study the conditions of military service as they then existed in Italy. He was familiar with the disadvantages under which republics laboured when they engaged professional captains of adventure and levied mercenary troops. The bad faith of the condottiere Paolo Vitelli (beheaded at Florence in 1499) had deeply impressed him. In the war with Pisa he had observed the insubordination and untrustworthiness of soldiers gathered from the dregs of different districts, serving under egotistical and irresponsible commanders. His reading in Livy taught him to admire the Roman system of employing armies raised from the body of the citizens; and Cesare Borgia's method of gradually substituting the troops of his own duchy for aliens and mercenaries showed him that this plan might be adopted with success by the Italians. He was now determined, if possible, to furnish Florence with a national militia. The gonfalonier Soderini entered into his views. But obstacles of no small magnitude arose. The question of money was immediately pressing. Early in 1503 Machiavelli drew up for Soderini a speech, Discorso sulla provisione del danaro, in which the duty and necessity of liberal expenditure for the protection of the state were expounded upon principles of sound political philosophy. Between this date and the last month of 1506 Machiavelli laboured at his favourite scheme, working out memorials on the subject for his office, and suggesting the outlines of a new military organization. On the 6th of December 1506 his plan was approved by the signoria, and a special ministry, called the nove di ordinanza e milizia, was appointed. Machiavelli immediately became their secretary. The country districts of the Florentine dominion were now divided into departments, and levies of foot soldiers were made in order to secure a standing militia. A commander-in-chief had to be chosen for the new troops. Italian jealousy shrank from conferring this important office on a Florentine, lest one member of the state should acquire a power dangerous to the whole. The choice of Soderini and Machiavelli fell, at this juncture, upon an extremely ineligible person, none other than Don Micheletto, Cesare Borgia's cutthroat and assassin. It is necessary to insist upon this point, since it serves to illustrate a radical infirmity in Machiavelli's genius. While forming and promoting his scheme, he was actuated by principles of political wisdom and by the purest patriotism. But he failed to perceive that such a ruffian as Micheletto could not inspire the troops of Florence with that devotion to their country and that healthy moral tone which should distinguish a patriot army. Here, as elsewhere, he revealed his insensibility to the ethical element in human nature.

    Meanwhile Italy had been the scene of memorable events, in most of which Machiavelli took some part. Alexander VI. had died suddenly of fever. Julius II. had ascended the papal chair. The duke of Valentinois had been checked in mid-career of conquest. The collapse of the Borgias threw Central Italy into confusion; and Machiavelli had, in 1505, to visit the Baglioni at Perugia and the Petrucci at Siena. In the following year he accompanied Julius upon his march through Perugia into the province of Emilia, where the fiery pope subdued in person the rebellious cities of the Church. Upon these embassies Machiavelli represented the Florentine dieci in quality of envoy. It was his duty to keep the ministry informed by means of frequent despatches and reports. All this while the war for the recovery of Pisa was slowly dragging on, with no success or honour to the Florentines. Machiavelli had to attend the camp and provide for levies amid his many other occupations. And yet he found time for private literary work. In the autumn of 1504 he began his Decennali, or Annals of Italy, a poem composed in rough terza rima. About the same time he composed a comedy on the model of Aristophanes, which is unfortunately lost. It seems to have been called Le Maschere. Giuliano de' Ricci tells us it was marked by stringent satire upon great ecclesiastics and statesmen, no less than by a tendency to "ascribe all human things to natural causes or to fortune." That phrase accurately describes the prevalent bias of its author's mind.

    Part 4: New Militia

    In this biography:
    Part 1: Early Years
    Part 2: Marietta Corsini & Cesare Borgia
    Part 3: Outlines for a New Military Organization
    Part 4: New Militia
    Part 5: Principe, Discorsi & Arte della guerra
    Part 6: Machiavelli's Study of Man
    Part 7: Medicean Princes
    Part 8: History of Florence
    Part 9: Mandragola & Clizia
    Part 10: Final Years
    Part 11: Related Articles, Sites, etc.

    This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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