Military history

BOOK SEVEN

FABRIZIO. Towns and fortresses, you must know, may be strong, either by nature or by art. Those surrounded by rivers or morasses,341 like Mantua or Ferrara, or situated upon a rock or steep hill, like Monaco and Santo Leo,342 are strong by nature; those situated upon hills that are not difficult of ascent, are deemed weak since the invention of mines and artillery. Hence, those building fortresses in these times often choose a flat site and make it strong by art.

For this purpose, their first care is to fortify their walls with angles, bastions, casemates, half-moons, and ravelins, so that no enemy can approach them without being taken in both front and flank.343 If the walls are built very high, they will be too much exposed to artillery; if they are built very low, they may be easily scaled; if you dig a ditch on the outside of the walls to make an escalade more difficult and the enemy should fill it up (which may easily be done by a numerous army), he will immediately become masters of them. Therefore, in my opinion—with submission to better judges—the best way to prevent either eventuality would be to build high walls and to dig a ditch on the inside rather than on the outside. This is the strongest method of fortifying a town; not only does it cover the besieged from artillery fire, but it makes the besiegers’ scaling the walls or filling up the ditch a very difficult matter. Your walls, then, should be of a due height; two yards thick at least, to stand the fire of the enemy’s batteries; also, there should be towers all along them, at a distance of 400 feet from each other. The ditch on the inside ought to be no less than 60 feet wide and 24 feet deep; all the earth dug out of it should be thrown up on that side next to the town, supported by a wall built in the ditch, and carried the height of a man above the surface. This will make the ditch so much the deeper. In the bottom of the ditch I would have casemates about 400 feet from one another in order to rake those that might get down into it.

The heavy artillery used for the town’s defense should be planted on the inside of the wall supporting the ditch; since the other wall is to be a high one, you cannot use very large pieces there without much difficulty and inconvenience. If the enemy attempts an escalade, the height of the first wall protects you. If he batters you with artillery, he must first beat down that wall; but once it is beaten down—since a wall always falls toward the side from which it is battered and since its ruins have no ditch in which to be buried—the outside must naturally add to the depth of the ditch behind the enemy; so, he cannot easily advance any further because he is stopped there not only by those ruins but by both the ditch on the inside of them and the artillery planted on the other side of that ditch. The only expedient the enemy has left upon such occasions is to fill up the ditch; this is a very difficult matter for him because of the great width and depth of the ditch, the danger of approaching it from the bastions and other fortifications with which it is flanked, and the labor of climbing over the ruins with the burden of fascines upon the backs of his men; so, I think a town fortified in this manner may be considered impregnable.

Battista. Don’t you think the town would be stronger if there were another ditch outside the wall?

Fabrizio. Most certainly. But I meant that if there were to be only one ditch, it would be best to have it on the inside.

Battista. Would you choose to have water in the ditches, or would you rather have them dry?

Fabrizio. People differ in their opinions on that matter, because ditches with water in them secure you against mines, and those having none are harder to fill up. But, on the whole, I should prefer dry ditches, because they are a better security than the other type: for ditches with water in them have sometimes been frozen over so that in winter time, the towns they were designed to secure have been taken without much difficulty—as happened at Mirandola when Pope Julius laid siege to it.344 But to guard against mines, I would make my ditches so deep that if any one should attempt to work under them, they would be prevented by water.

I would also build a castle, or any kind of fortress, with the same sort of walls and ditches; this would make them very difficult, if not impossible, to be taken. Next, I would advise those in charge of defending a town that is about to be besieged by no means to permit any bastions or other works to be erected on the outside of the walls or at a little distance from the town. I would also advise those building fortresses not to make any place of retreat in them where the besieged may retire when the walls are either beaten down or possessed by the enemy. The reason for my first caution is that the governor of a besieged town ought not to do anything at the very beginning of the siege which will certainly lessen his reputation, for the diminution of that will make all his orders little regarded and discourage the garrison. But such will always be the case if you build little forts outside the town you are to defend because they are sure to fall into the enemy’s hand; it is impossible in these times to maintain such inconsiderable places against a train of artillery, so that their loss will be the loss of your reputation and, therefore, most probably of the town itself. When the Genoese rebelled against Louis XII, king of France, they built some trifling redoubts upon the hills lying around Genoa; these were immediately taken by the French and occasioned the loss of that city.345

As to the second piece of advice relating to fortresses, I say nothing can expose a fortress to greater danger than having places of retreat into which the garrison may retire when they are hard pressed; if it were not for the hopes of finding safety in one post, after they have abandoned another, they would exert themselves with more obstinacy and resolution in defending the first; when that is deserted, all the rest will soon fall into the enemy’s hands. Of this we have a recent and memorable instance in the loss of the citadel at Forli, when the Countess Caterina was besieged there by Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, at the head of a French army.346 That fortress was so full of such places of retreat that a garrison might retire out of one into another, and out of that into many more successively: first, there was the citadel, and next, a castle, separated from the citadel by a ditch with a drawbridge over it upon which you might pass out of one into the other; in this castle were three divisions separated from one another by ditches full of water with drawbridges over them. The duke, therefore, made a breach in the wall of one of these divisions with his artillery; Giovanni da Casale, who was the governor, instead of defending the breach, retreated into another division; thereupon the duke’s forces immediately entered that division without opposition and, having gotten possession of the drawbridges, soon made themselves masters of all the rest. The loss of that fortress, then, which was thought impregnable, resulted from two errors; first, making so many conveniences for retreating from one place to another; second, not having any of those places able to command its bridges. So, the ill-contrivance of the fortress and the want of wisdom among the garrison defeated the magnanimous resolution of the countess who had the courage to wait for an army there, which neither the King of Naples nor the Duke of Milan dared. However, although her efforts did not succeed, she gained much glory by so generous a stand, as appears from the many copies of verses written in her praise upon that occasion.

If I were to build a fortress, then, I would make its walls very strong and fortify it with such ditches as I have just now described. But I would have no retreating places nor anything else on the inside but houses; those, too, would be so low that the governor, in the middle, seeing every part of the walls at one glance, might know where to send relief immediately when necessary, and the garrison might be convinced that when the walls and ditch were lost, they had no other refuge left. If by any means I should happen to be prevailed upon to make places of retreat, I should build them so that each one of them would be able to command its own drawbridge which I should build upon piles in the middle of the ditches that separated them from one another.

Battista. You say that small forts are not defensible in these times; but, if I am not mistaken, I have heard others assert that the smaller a fort was, the better it might be defended.

Fabrizio. Their assertion is ill-grounded then, because no place where the besieged have no room to secure themselves by throwing up other ditches and ramparts when the enemy has got possession of the first can be called strong today. For such is the force of artillery that whoever depends upon only one wall and one ditch will have reason to lament his error. Since forts and bastions (provided they do not exceed the usual dimensions, for then they may be deemed castles and fortresses) have no room for raising new works in them, they must immediately be taken when they are assaulted. Therefore, it is best not to build any such forts at a distance from a town, but to fortify its entrance and cover the gates with ravelins so that nobody can come in or go out of them in a straight line. In addition, there should be a ditch between the ravelin and the gate with a drawbridge on it. It is also a good thing to have a portcullis at every gate for readmitting your men after they have made a sally and for hindering the enemy from entering with them if they should be pursued. This is why portcullises,347 which the ancients called cataractae, were invented; on such occasions, you could not receive any benefit from either the drawbridge or the gate itself, since both of them were crowded with men.

Battista. I have seen portcullises in Germany made of wooden bars in the form of an iron grate, but those now used in Italy are all made of whole planks. What is the reason for this difference? Which is the most serviceable?

Fabrizio. Again I must tell you that the ancient military customs and institutions are almost abolished in every part of the world, but in Italy they seem to be totally extinct; if we have any good thing to boast of, it is entirely borrowed from those beyond the Alps. You must have heard, and perhaps some of the company may remember, how feebly and slightly we used to fortify our towns and castles before Charles VIII, king of France, came into Italy in 1494. The merlons, or the spaces in the walls between the embrasures, were not more than a foot thick; the embrasures themselves were made very narrowly on the outside and wide within, with many other defects which it would be too tedious to enumerate; for when the merlons are made so slight, they are soon beaten down, and embrasures of similar construction are immediately laid open. But now we have learned from the French how to make our merlons strong and substantial; and although our embrasures are still wide within and grow narrower and narrower toward the middle of the wall—after which they begin to open again and grow wider and wider toward the outside—the artillery cannot be so easily dismounted nor the men driven from the parapets. The French have many other improvements and inventions which our soldiers have never seen, and therefore cannot imitate; among these I might mention the portcullises, of which you just now spoke, made in the form of an iron grate—they are much better than ours. If you use one made of whole planks to defend a gate, when it is let down you shut yourself up tight and cannot annoy the enemy through it; so, he may either hew it down with axes or set fire to it without any danger; but if it is made like a grate, you may easily defend it against him either with spikes or by firing shot through the interstices of the bars.

Battista. I have observed another invention from beyond the Alps which has been recently imitated in Italy: making the spokes of the wheels of our artillery carriages incline obliquely from the exterior rim to the hub. Now, I should very much like to know the reason for this because I always thought straight spokes were stronger than any others.

Fabrizio. You must not look upon this deviation from the usual custom as the effect of whim or caprice, or for the sake of ornament; where strength is absolutely necessary, little account ought to be taken of beauty. The true reason, then, for what you have observed is that such wheels are safer and stronger than our own; when the carriage is loaded, it either is even or inclines to one side; when it is even, each wheel sustains an equal share of the weight and is not too overburdened by it; but when it inclines to either side, the total weight lies wholly on one of the wheels. Therefore, if the spokes are straight, they are soon broken because if the wheel inclines, the spokes must also incline and cannot support the weight that presses upon them. So, by setting the spokes of their wheels obliquely to the hub, the French judge rightly; when the carriage inclines to one side and the weight bears directly, instead of obliquely, upon the spokes, they will then become straight in a line with it; consequently, they will be better able to support the whole than they were to bear one-half of the load when the carriage was even. But to return to our towns and fortresses.

The French have still another method for securing the gates of their towns and for letting their men in and out of them more easily and conveniently when they are besieged—one I have not yet seen practiced in Italy. They erect two perpendicular piles or pillars at the end of the drawbridge on the outside of the ditch; upon each of these they balance a beam so that one-half of it hangs over the bridge and the other half hangs outside it. Those parts hanging outside are joined together with crossbars like a grate; at the end of each beam hanging over the bridge, they fix a chain and fasten it to the bridge so that when they intend to close off that end of the bridge, they loosen the chains and let the grate fall; when they want to open it, they draw the chains and hoist the grate up again; thus, they can raise it to such a height that only infantry or cavalry if necessary, may pass under, or they may shut the passage up so tightly that nobody at all can get through, since the grate is raised and lowered like the opening of an embrasure. This I take to be a better contrivance than the portcullis because the grate does not fall perpendicularly like a portcullis; therefore it is not so likely to be obstructed by an enemy.

Those, then, that would fortify a town properly should observe these directions; in addition to these, they should not let any lands be tilled nor any buildings be erected within at least a mile of it. The whole country around it should be quite clear and open, free from all thickets, or banks, or plantations, or houses which may hinder the prospect of the besieged and afford shelter to an enemy in his approaches. Remember, too, that a town whose ditches have banks higher than the ordinary surface of the earth and whose ditches are outside, may be considered very weak; instead of doing you any good, they serve only to cover the enemy and to mask his batteries. There they may easily open upon you from that point. But now let us proceed to show what is to be done within a fortified town for its greater security against an enemy.

I shall not trespass so much upon your time and patience as to tell you that besides the directions already given, it is absolutely necessary to be well supplied with ammunition and provisions for the garrison because everybody must know this, and it is clear that without such stores, all other precautions and preparations are to no purpose. In general, I shall merely say that there are two rules which should never be forgotten upon such occasions: the first is, provide yourself with everything you think you may want; the second, prevent the enemy from availing himself of anything that may be of service to him in the country around you. Consequently, if there is forage, cattle, or anything else you cannot carry off into the town, you ought by all means to destroy it.

You also ought to take care that nothing is done in a tumultuous or disorderly manner, and that every man knows his station and what part he is to act, on any given occasion. Therefore, it is necessary to give strict orders that all the old men, women, children, and sick people should remain in their houses in order to leave every passage clear and open for those who are young and fit for action; to be ready for any sudden emergency, some of these should always be under arms at the walls, others at the gates, and still others in the town’s main districts. There ought to be special parties, too, which should not be confined to any specific location, but appointed to aid any district where there should be occasion for it so that when such a disposition is made, it is hardly possible that any tumult should occur which may throw you into confusion. There is another thing to be remembered in both besieging and defending a town: nothing encourages an enemy so much as his knowing that the town is not accustomed to sieges, for it often happens that a town is lost through fear alone, without waiting for an assault. The besiegers, therefore, should endeavor by all means to appear as powerful and formidable as they can and take every opportunity of making the most ostentatious display of their strength; the besieged, on the other hand, ought to post the stoutest of their men in places where they are attacked with the greatest fury, men who are neither to be imposed upon by appearances, nor to be driven from their posts by anything but outright force of arms. For if the enemy fails in the first attempt, the besieged will take courage; the enemy, perceiving they are not to be dismayed by show alone, will be obliged to resort to other methods.

The instruments the ancients used in the defense of a town were many; 348 the main ones were those that hurled darts and huge stones to a great distance and with astonishing force; they also used several instruments in besieging towns, like the battering ram, the tortoise, and many others. Today, instead of these, great guns are used both by besiegers and by those besieged. But let us return to our topic.

A governor of a town, then, must take care neither to be surprised by famine nor to be overpowered by attacks. As to famine, I told you before that he ought to lay in a plentiful stock of provisions and ammunition before the siege begins; but should the siege prove a very long one, and should this stock eventually fail, he must then devise some extraordinary method of procuring supplies from his friends and allies, especially if a river runs through the town, as did the inhabitants of Casilinum from the Romans. When that town was so closely besieged by Hannibal that they could be sent no other kind of food, people threw great quantities of nuts into a river running through the middle of their town; these nuts were carried down by the stream, escaped the enemy’s notice, and supplied the besieged with food for a considerable time.349 The inhabitants of some besieged towns, in order to make the enemy despair of reducing them by famine, have either thrown a great quantity of bread over their walls,350 or gorged an ox with corn and then turned it out to fall into the enemy’s hand so that when he killed it and found its stomach so full of corn, he might imagine they had abundance in the town.351

On the other hand, some great generals have used many artifices and expedients to distress a town. Fabius Maximus let the Campanians sow their fields before he besieged their city so that they would diminish their stores.352 When Dionysius lay before Rhegium, he offered the people terms of accommodation; during the treaty he prevailed upon them to furnish him with a large quantity of provisions, but when he had thus reduced their stock and increased his own, he immediately blocked up the town so tightly on all sides that he soon forced them to give it up.353 Alexander the Great, anxious to conquer Leucadia, first made himself master of the neighboring towns and turned all the inhabitants into Leucadia; at last the town was so full of people, that he immediately reduced it by famine.354

As to assaults, I told you before that it is of the utmost importance to repel the first attack; the Romans took many towns by suddenly assaulting them on every side, which they called aggredi urbem corona,355 as Scipio did when he made himself master of New Carthage in Spain.356 If such an assault, therefore, can be sustained, the enemy will find it a difficult matter to succeed afterward.357 Should the enemy get into a town after he has forced the wall, the inhabitants may find some remedy, if they are not abandoned; even in that case, it has often happened that the assailants have all been driven out again or killed, especially when the inhabitants have gotten into garret windows or upon the tops of houses and turrets and fought them from there. To prevent this, the assailants usually either set open the gates to make way for the others to escape safely, or gave orders—loud enough to be heard by everyone —not to hurt anybody except those armed, and to spare all those who would lay down their arms. This has frequently been of great service upon such occasions.

It is also an easy matter to make yourself master of a town if you come suddenly and unexpectedly upon it; that is, if you are at such a distance from it with your army, do not think that the inhabitants will suspect you of any such intention, or that you can attack them without their having sufficient notice of your approach. Hence, if you can make a long and hasty march or two and fall upon it unawares, you are almost sure to succeed. I would willingly pass over in silence some transactions that have occurred in our own time, since it would be disagreeable to talk of myself and my own exploits; and I do not really know what to say of others. Nevertheless, I cannot help proposing, in this respect, the example of Cesare Borgia, usually called Duke Valentine, as one worthy of imitation; when he lay with his army at Nocera and feigned an attack upon Camerino, he suddenly invaded the Duchy of Urbino and conquered a state in one day without any difficulty; another man could not have reduced it without wasting much time and money upon it.358

Similarly, it behooves those besieged to beware of the enemy’s tricks and stratagems; therefore, they ought not to trust any appearance—however usual and familiar to them—but suspect there is some mischief lurking behind it.359 Domitius Calvinus lay siege to a town and used to march around it every day with a good part of his army. Hence the besieged, imagining he did it only as a drill, began to grow remiss in their guards; when Domitius perceived this, he made an assault upon the town and conquered it.360 Some generals who have had intelligence of troops marching to relieve a place they had besieged, have dressed a body of their own soldiers in the enemy’s uniform and supplied them with the same colors; when they were admitted into the town, they immediately conquered it.361 Cimon, the Athenian, one night set fire to a temple that stood outside the gates of a town he intended to surprise; thereupon, all the people ran out of it to extinguish the flames and left the town to the mercy of the enemy.362 Others, having met with a party of foragers who were sent out of a fortress, have killed them all and disguised some of their own men in their clothes; later, these men have given up the place to them.363

Besides these artifices, the ancients used others to draw the garrison out of a town they wanted to capture. When Scipio commanded the Roman armies in Africa, he was very anxious to make himself master of some strongholds that were well garrisoned by the Carthaginians. To do this, he feigned assaults on them, but soon desisted and marched away again to a great distance, as if he were afraid of the enemy. Hannibal, therefore, deceived by appearances, immediately drew all the garrisons out of these strongholds in order to pursue him with greater force and to have greater hopes of entirely crushing him; but when Scipio was informed of this, he sent Masinissa, his lieutenant, to seize them.364 Pyrrhus, laying siege to the capital of Illyria—now Slavonia—where there was a very strong garrison, pretended to despair of reducing it; turning his arms against other towns which were not so well defended, he forced the enemy to draw the greater part of the garrison out of the capital to relieve these towns; then, he suddenly returned thither with his army, and took the capital without any difficulty.365

Many generals have poisoned wells and springs and diverted the course of rivers to make themselves masters of a town, but they have not always succeeded in so doing.366 Others have endeavored to dismay the inhabitants by causing a report to be spread that they have lately gained some considerable advantage, and daily expect a powerful reinforcement. Some have made themselves masters of towns by holding a private correspondence with, and corrupting one party of, the inhabitants; they have used several different methods to do this. Others have sent one of their chief confidants among them; he, under the pretense of desertion, has gained great credit in the town and afterward betrayed it by giving intelligence to his friend about how the guards were posted, by preventing a gate—opened for some occasion such as a carriage breaking down in it—from being shut again, or by some other means for facilitating the enemy’s entrance into the town. Hannibal prevailed upon an officer to betray a garrison belonging to the Romans: the officer got leave to go hunting at night under a pretense that he dared not do so in the daytime lest he should be taken by the enemy; returning before morning, he contrived matters so well that he got several of Hannibal’s men admitted with him in disguise; these immediately killed the guards and delivered up one of the gates to Hannibal.367

Some towns have been taken by letting their garrison make a sally on the enemy and then pursuing them to too great a distance when they pretended to fly before them; thus, they have been drawn into an ambush and cut off. Many generals, and Hannibal among them, have let a besieged enemy get possession of their camp in order to throw themselves between them and the town, and so prevent their retreat. Others have imposed upon them by pretending to raise the siege, as Phormion the Athenian, did; after he had lain some time before the city of Chalcedon and ravaged all the country around it, the inhabitants sent ambassadors whom he received with much courtesy; he made them so many fair promises that, having lulled them into security, he decamped and marched away to a distance from the city; but while they were weak enough to imagine they had entirely gotten rid of him and had laid aside all care of their defense upon the strength of his promises, he suddenly returned and, falling upon them when they did not expect such a visit, immediately took the city.368

The inhabitants of a besieged town ought likewise to secure themselves by all means against any of their own townsmen whose fidelity they have reason to suspect, but they may sometimes work upon them more effectively by kindnesses than by severity and harsh treatment. Marcellus knew that Lucius Bancius of Nola was inclined to favor Hannibal, yet he treated him with so much generosity that instead of an enemy he became his firm friend.369 They should also be at least as much upon their guard when the enemy is at some distance as when he is near at hand, and be particularly careful in guarding those places they think are least exposed to danger; many towns have been lost by being assaulted in a part which has been thought the most secure. The reason for this is either because that part has been really strong of itself, and therefore neglected, or because the enemy has artfully made a show of storming one part with great noise and alarm, while he was assaulting another in good order and silence. The besieged, therefore, above all things, should take the utmost care to have their walls always well guarded, but especially at night. Not only should they post men there, but they should also post fierce and keen-nosed dogs to smell out an enemy at a distance and to give an alarm by their barking; for dogs, and geese too, have sometimes saved a fortress, as they rescued the Capitol at Rome when it was besieged by the Gauls.370 When the Spartans laid siege to Athens, Alcibiades ordered that whenever he should hoist a light in the night, every guard should do the same upon pain of severe punishment in case of neglect.371 The Athenian Iphicrates, finding a sentinel asleep at his post, immediately killed him and said he had only left him as he found him.372

Some who have been besieged have found different methods of conveying intelligence to their friends, such as writing them letters in ciphers, when they dared not trust the messenger with a verbal errand, and concealing the letters in different ways. The nature of the ciphers has been devised and agreed upon by the parties beforehand, and the methods of concealing them various. Some have written what they had to say in the scabbard of a sword, others have put their letters into unbaked bread, which they have baked and given to the bearer as food for the road, others have concealed them in their private parts, and still others under the collar of the messenger’s dog. Some have written letters about ordinary affairs and interlined them with their main purpose written with a certain substance which will not appear until they have been dipped in water and held to a fire. This method has been very artfully practiced in our own time by someone who, having occasion to communicate a secret to some of his friends living in a besieged town and not daring to trust any messenger with it, sent letters of excommunication written in the usual style, but interlined in the manner I have been mentioning; when these were hung from the doors of the churches there, they were soon taken down and the contents of them perfectly understood by those who knew from whom they came by some particular marks; this is a very good way, for he who carries such letters cannot know their secret contents, nor can there be any danger of his being discovered by an enemy.

In short, there are a thousand other methods of giving and receiving secret intelligence which any man may invent himself or learn from others. But it is a much easier matter to convey intelligence to those besieged than for them to send any to their friends, because nothing can be carried out of a town, except by those pretending to be deserters; this is a very uncertain and hazardous method, especially if the en-emy is vigilant and circumspect. Whereas, those who want to carry intelligence to the besieged having nothing more to do than to get into the enemy’s camp, which they may do under almost any pretense, and take their opportunity of slipping from there into the town.

But now let us proceed to the present method of repairing and defending a breach in the walls of a town. If you should happen to be blocked up in a place where there is no ditch on the inside of the walls, in order to prevent the enemy from entering at a breach that may be made by their artillery, you must make a ditch at least 60 feet wide behind the part they are battering, and throw up all the earth that is dug out of it toward the town to form a good rampart and to add to the depth of the ditch; you must carry this out with such diligence that when the wall is beaten down, the ditch is at least 10 or 12 feet deep. It is also necessary—while you have time—to flank the ditch with a casemate at each end. If the wall is substantial enough to hold out until these works are finished, you will be stronger on that side than in any other part of the town, for then you will have a complete ditch there of that sort which I recommended a little while ago. But if the wall is so weak that you cannot have time to do all this, you must then depend upon your men and exert your utmost vigor to defend the breach. This method was used by the Pisans when the Florentines laid siege to their city; indeed they were very well enabled to do it, for their walls were so strong that they had enough time, and the soil upon which their city is built is very proper for making ditches and ramparts; but if either of those conveniences had failed them, they would inevitably have been undone. However, it is best, as I said before, to have such ditches made within a town and all around its walls in good times, for then you need not be afraid of any enemy.

The ancients sometimes made themselves masters of a town by using subterranean passages; they did this either by secretly working an underground passage into the middle of the place and entering their men that way—as the Romans did at Veii, or by undermining the walls so as to make them tumble down.373 The latter method is now most in use; this is the reason why towns situated on high places are considered weaker than others—they are more subject to being undermined; when they are, if the passages are filled with gunpowder and a lighted match put to a train leading to them, they not only blow up the walls, but split the rocks upon which they are built and tear an entire fortress to bits. The way to prevent this is to build on a plain and to make the ditch that surrounds your fortress so deep that an enemy cannot work under it without coming to water—the best defense against passages. But if you are in a town standing upon a rock or hill, the only remedy is to dig several deep wells along the foot of the wall on the inside; these may serve to give vent to the powder when a mine is sprung. Indeed, there is another expedient, and a very good one too: to countermine the enemy, provided you can discover their mines; but that is a very difficult matter, if they take proper care to conceal them.

The governor of a besieged town also ought to take great care that he be not surprised while the garrison is either refreshing or reposing after an assault, or when the guards are relieved—generally at break of day in the morning and then by twilight in the evening—but especially while they are eating; at those times, many towns have been surprised and many sallies, which have proved fatal to the besiegers, have been made; hence, it is highly necessary always to keep both a strict guard in every quarter and the greater part of the garrison under arms. Another thing I must not forget to tell you is that the chief difficulty in defending a town or a camp is occasioned by your being obliged to divide your men; since the enemy may assault you at any time or any place he thinks proper with all his forces at once, you must keep a constant guard at every place so that when he attacks you with his whole strength, you can defend yourself with only a part of your own. The besieged are likewise often in danger of being totally ruined at one stroke, whereas the besiegers have nothing to fear but a repulse; consequently, some who have been blocked up either in a town or in a camp have made a sudden sally with all their forces, although they were inferior to the enemy, and utterly dispersed them. This is what Marcellus did at Nola,374 and Julius Caesar in Gaul; 375 the latter, attacked in his camp by a very powerful army, and finding that he was neither able to defend himself there nor to fall upon the enemy with his whole strength because he was forced to divide it to protect every part of his camp, threw open the entrenchments on one side and, facing about in that direction with all his men, exerted himself with such virtù that he totally defeated the enemy.

Similarly, the constancy and resolution of the besieged often dismay and weary the besiegers. In the wars between Pompey and Caesar, when their two armies were lying near one another, and Caesar’s was in great want of provisions, a piece of the bread which Caesar’s men were forced to eat was brought to Pompey; finding that it was made of herbs, Pompey gave strict orders that none of his own soldiers should see it, lest they should be daunted when they perceived with what sort of an enemy they had to deal.376 In their wars with Hannibal, the Romans honored nothing so much as their unshaken firmness and constancy, for they never sued for peace nor showed the least signs of fear, even in the lowest ebb of their fortune. On the contrary, when Hannibal was almost at their gates, they sold the ground upon which he was encamped at a much greater price than they would have asked for it at any other time; they were so inflexible in the prosecution of the enterprises they had in hand, that they would not raise the siege of Capua to defend Rome itself, at a time when it was daily threatened with a siege.377

I am aware, after all, that I have told you many things you must have known before and, perhaps, may have considered as well as myself; but this I did, as I told you I should, so that you might perfectly comprehend the nature of true military discipline and the art of war, and for the instruction of others who may not have had the same opportunity of learning them that you have. And now, gentlemen, I think I have but little more to add to what I have said upon this subject, except to lay down some general rules of military discipline which nevertheless you may probably think very obvious and common.378 You must know, then, that:

1. Whatever is of service to the enemy must be prejudicial to you; whatever is prejudicial to him must be of service to you.

2. He who is most careful to observe the motions and designs of the enemy and takes the most care in drilling and disciplining his army, will be least exposed to danger and will have the most reason to expect success in his undertakings.

3. Never come to an engagement until you have inspired your men with courage and see them in good order and eager to fight, nor hazard a battle until they seem confident of victory.

4. It is better to subdue an enemy by famine than by sword, for in battle, fortuna has often a much greater share than virtù.

5. No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.

6. Nothing is of greater importance in time of war than knowing how to make the best use of a fair opportunity when it is offered.

7. Few men are brave by nature, but good discipline and experience make many so.

8. Good order and discipline in an army are more to be depended upon than ferocity.

9. If any of the enemy’s troops desert him and come over to you, it is a great acquisition—provided they prove faithful; for their loss will be more felt than that of those killed in battle, although deserters will always be suspected by their new friends and odious to their old ones.

10. In drawing up an army in order of battle, it is better to keep a sufficient reserve to support your front line than to extend it so as to make only one rank, as it were, of your army.

11. If a general knows his own strength and that of the enemy perfectly, he can hardly miscarry.

12. The virtù of your soldiers is of more consequence than their number; sometimes the location of the place is of greater advantage and security than the virtù of your soldiers.

13. Sudden and unexpected accidents often throw an army into confusion, but things that are familiar and have come on gradually are little regarded; therefore, when you have a new enemy to deal with, it is best to accustom your men to their sight as often as you can by slight skirmishes before you come to a general engagement with them.

14. He whose troops are in disorder while pursuing a routed enemy will most probably lose the advantage he had previously gained and be routed in his turn.

15. Whoever has not taken proper care to furnish himself with a sufficient stock of provisions and ammunition bids fair to be vanquished without striking a stroke.

16. He who is stronger in infantry than cavalry, or in cavalry than infantry, must choose his ground accordingly.

17. If you would know whether you have any spies in your camp during the day, you have nothing more to do than to order every man to his tent.

18. When you are aware that the enemy is acquainted with your designs, you must change them.

19. After you have consulted with many about what you ought to do, confer with very few concerning what you are actually resolved to do.

20. While your men are in quarters, you must keep them in good order by fear and punishment; but when they are in the field, by hopes and rewards.

21. Good commanders never come to an engagement unless they are compelled to by absolute necessity, or occasion calls for it.

22. Take great care that the enemy may not be apprised of the order in which you design to draw up your army for battle; make such a disposition that your first line may fall back with ease and convenience into the second, and both of them into the third.

23. In time of action, be sure not to call off any of your battalions to a service different from what they were destined to do at first, lest you should occasion disorder and confusion in your army.

24. Unexpected accidents cannot be easily prevented, but those foreseen may easily be obviated or remedied.

25. Men, arms, money, and provisions are the sinews of war, but of these four, the first two are the most necessary; for men and arms will always find money and provisions, but money and provisions cannot always raise men and arms.

26. A rich man without arms must be a prey to a poor soldier well armed.

27. Accustom your soldiers to abhor fastidious living and luxurious dress.

Let these general rules suffice at present as altogether necessary to be remembered. I am indeed aware that I might have introduced several other topics in the course of this conversation which would have fallen in properly enough with our subject; for instance, I might have shown how, and in how many different dispositions, the ancients drew up their armies, how they clothed their soldiers, and how they employed them at different times. I could have added several other particulars, which I thought might be omitted, not only because you may have various other means of informing yourselves about these things, but also because I did not propose, at first, to enter into the minute details of ancient military discipline, but only to point out the methods by which much better order and greater virtù might be established in our armies than there is anywhere to be found at present. Consequently, I thought I had no occasion to make any further mention of ancient rules and institutions, except what was absolutely necessary for the introduction of such an establishment.

I know full well that I might have taken an opportunity of enlarging more copiously upon the method of drilling and disciplining cavalry, and of discoursing upon the nature of sea service; for those who write upon the art of war tell us there are armies for sea and land, infantry, and cavalry.379 However, I shall say nothing about naval affairs because I do not pretend to have any knowledge about them; I leave that to the Genoese and Venetians who have done such wonderful things through their experience in those matters. Nor shall I say any more about cavalry, because as I told you before, that part of our soldiery is the least corrupted; if your infantry, in which the strength of an army chiefly consists, is well disciplined, your cavalry must of necessity be so too. I would advise anyone, however, who is anxious to raise and keep up a good body of cavalry, first, to fill his country with stallions of the best breed that can be procured, and to encourage the farmers to raise foals and colts—as your countrymen do calves and young mules; second, in order to promote their sale, to make everyone keeping a mule also keep a horse, and to oblige him who would keep only one beast to use a horse; moreover, he should oblige all those wearing garments made of fine cloth to keep at least one horse. This method was used by a certain prince in our own memory, and in a very little time he saw his country abound with excellent horses. As to anything else relating to cavalry, I must refer you to what I have said today on that subject and the currently established practice.

But before we part, perhaps you may want to know what qualifications a general ought to possess. I shall satisfy you in a few words, for I cannot choose a more proper man than one who is master of the qualifications I have already particularized and recommended; and yet, even those are not sufficient unless he has abilities to strike out something new of his own occasionally. For no man ever excelled in his profession who could not do that, and if a ready and quick invention is necessary and honorable in any profession, it must certainly be so in the art of war above all others. Thus we see how any invention or new expedient, trifling though it may be, is celebrated by historians. Alexander was admired for having a cap held up at the point of a lance as a signal for decamping, instead of the usual sounding of a trumpet, in order to decamp in silence and unobserved.380 The same prince is similarly commended for ordering his men to kneel down on the left knee to receive the enemy so that they might be able to sustain the attack with greater firmness; thus, he not only won a victory, but such honor that statues were erected to him in that attitude.

But, since it is now high time to end this conversation, I shall conclude it by returning to the point from which we began, lest I should expose myself to the ridicule usually and justly bestowed upon those who make long digressions and wander from their subject until they are lost. If you remember, Cosimo, you seemed to wonder that I, who professed to hold the ancients in such admiration and so liberally bestowed my censure upon others for not imitating them in matters of the greatest consequence, have not myself copied their example in the art of war, which is my profession, and in which I have spent so much of my time and studies. In answer to this, I told you that men who have any great design in view ought first to make due preparations and qualify themselves properly to carry it into execution when they have a fair opportunity of so doing. Now, I must let you judge from the long conversation we have had today whether or not I am master of sufficient abilities to reduce our present military discipline to the standard of the ancients; from this conversation you can tell how often I must have revolved this matter in my mind, and you can form a pretty good idea about how much I have it at heart and whether I would not actually have attempted to execute my design, if ever I had been favored with a proper opportunity. However, for your further satisfaction and my own justification, and to discharge my promise in some measure, I shall show you how difficult a matter it is in some respects, and how easy a one in others, to copy the ancients in this point at present.

I say, then, that nothing in the world can be more easily effected than the reduction of military discipline to the standard of the ancients, if a prince or state is able to raise an army of 15,000 or 20,000 strong, young men in his own dominions. On the other hand, if this power is lacking, nothing can be more difficult. Now to explain myself more fully, you must know that some generals have done great things and gained much glory with armies already formed and well disciplined, as we might instance in several of the Roman citizens, and in others who have commanded armies they found already disciplined; therefore, they had nothing more to do but to keep them so and to lead them like able commanders. Others, who have been no less renowned for their exploits, have not only been obliged to discipline their armies, but even to raise them out of the earth, as it were, before they could face an enemy; these certainly deserve a much greater degree of approbation than those who have commanded veteran and well-disciplined armies with virtù.Among such, we may count Pelopidas; Epaminondas; Tullus Hostilius; Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great; Cyrus king of Persia; and Gracchus the Roman.381 All of these generals had their armies to raise and discipline before they could lead them into the field; yet they were enabled to effect these things by their own wisdom and by having subjects of such a disposition that they could discipline and train them as they pleased. But it would have been utterly impossible for any one of them, however great his merit and qualifications, ever to have performed anything memorable in a foreign country whose inhabitants were corrupt and averse to all good order and necessary obedience.

In Italy, therefore, it is not enough to know how to command an army already raised and disciplined. A general must first raise and discipline it himself before he puts himself at its head. Nobody can do that unless he is a prince possessing large territories and a great number of subjects, which I am not. Nor did I ever yet, nor can I, command any but foreign armies composed of soldiers who owed me no natural obedience; whether it is possible to establish such discipline as I have been recommending among troops of that kind, I submit to your consideration. Do you think I could ever make these men carry heavier arms than they were used to, and not only arms but provisions for two or three days, and a spade or mattock in the bargain? Could I ever make them dig or keep them whole days together at their maneuvers in order to prepare them for the field? Could I keep them from the gambling, drinking, whoring, swearing, and insubordination common among soldiers in these times? How long would it be before I could establish such order, discipline, and obedience among them that if there should happen to be a tree full of ripe fruit in the middle of the camp, not one of them would dare to touch it 382—as we read happened among several ancient armies? What rewards could I promise them of sufficient weight to make them love me, or what threats could I use to make them fear me when they know that once the war is over, I shall have nothing more to do with them? How could I ever make those who have no shame in them ashamed of anything? How can they respect me when they hardly know my face? By what God or what Saint must they swear: him whom they worship, or those whom they blaspheme? What God they worship I know not; nor do I know what Saint they do not blaspheme. How could I hope they would ever keep any promise when I saw they did not pay the least regard to their word? How could I imagine they would revere man when they show so much dishonor to God? What good form, then, could I impress upon such matter?383 If you object that the Swiss and Spaniards are good soldiers, I freely confess that I think them much better than the Italians; but if you have attended to what I have been saying and considered the discipline of both those nations, you will find they fall very far short of the ancients in many respects. The superiority of the Swiss is a result of their ancient institutions and the lack of cavalry, as I told you before; that of the Spaniards, to necessity, for as they generally carry on their wars in foreign countries, they cannot hope to escape if they lose a battle; therefore, they must either conquer or die—this is what makes them resolute soldiers. However, they are very deficient in several other respects: their chief, if not their only, excellence consists in standing firm to receive a charge from the push of a pike or the point of a sword; should any man attempt to instruct them in what they are still lacking, especially if he were a foreigner, he would find all his endeavors were of no purpose.

As for the Italians, their princes have been weak and pusillanimous for so long a time that they were not able to introduce any good military institution; not being reduced to it by necessity, like the Spaniards, they could not do it by themselves; so that without a single example of virtù, they are now the scorn and derision of the world. Indeed, the people are not to be blamed for this, but rather their princes, who have been justly punished for it and lost their dominions without being able to strike a stroke in their defense.384To confirm what I have said, let me ask you to recall how many wars there have been in Italy since it was invaded by Charles VIII of France; although wars generally make men good soldiers, yet the longer these wars lasted, the worse were our officers and men. This resulted from the nature of their military discipline and institutions, which have long been very bad—and still are; what is even worse, there is nobody able to reform them. It is in vain, therefore, to think of ever restoring the reputation of Italian arms by any method other than what I have prescribed and by the cooperation of some powerful princes in Italy; then the ancient discipline might be reintroduced among raw, honest men who are their own subjects, although it never can among a parcel of corrupted, debauched rascals and foreigners. Just as no good sculptor can hope to make a beautiful statue out of a block of marble that has been previously mangled and spoiled by some bungler, so he will be sure to succeed if he has a fresh block to work upon.385

Before our Italian princes had been scourged by men from beyond the Alps, they thought it sufficient for princes to write handsome letters, or to return civil answers to them, to excel in drollery and repartee, to undermine and deceive one another, to decorate themselves with jewels and lace, to eat and sleep in greater magnificence and luxury than their neighbors, to spend their time in wanton dalliance and lascivious pleasures, to keep up a haughty kind of state and grind the faces of their subjects, to indulge themselves in indolence and inactivity, to dispose of their military honors and preferments to pimps and parasites, to neglect and despise merit of every kind, to browbeat those who endeavored to point out anything that was salutary or praiseworthy, and to have their words and sayings looked upon as oracles. They did not for-see (weak and infatuated as they were) that by such conduct they were making a rod for their own backs and exposing themselves to the mercy of the first invader. All this resulted in the dreadful alarms, the disgraceful defeats, and the astonishing losses they sustained in 1494; hence it happened that three of the most powerful states in Italy were so often ravaged and laid waste in those times.386

But it is still more deplorable to see that those remaining princes are so far from taking warning from the downfall of others, that they pursue the same course and live in the same sort of misrule and fatal security; they do not consider that princes in former times who were anxious to acquire new dominion or, at least, to preserve their own, strictly observed all those rules I have laid down and recommended in the course of this conversation, and that their chief endeavors were to inure their bodies to all manner of hardship and fatigue and to fortify their minds against danger and the fear of death. Thus, Julius Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, and all such men and excellent princes always fought at the head of their own armies, always marched with them on foot, and always carried their own arms; if any of them ever lost his power, he simultaneously lost his life with it and died with the same virtù which he had displayed while he lived. So that however much we condemn the inordinate thirst for dominion in some of them, we cannot reproach any of them with softness and effeminacy, or accuse them of having lived in so delicate or indolent a manner as to enervate and make them unfit to reign over mankind. If, then, our princes would read and duly consider the lives and fortunes of these great men, one would think it impossible they should not alter their conduct, or that their dominions should long continue in the feeble and languishing condition they are in at present.

But since you complained of your militia 387 in the beginning of this conversation, I must tell you that if you had formed it upon the model, and drilled it in the manner, I have recommended, and it had not answered your expectation, you would indeed then have just reason for your complaint; but as you have neither formed nor disciplined it in that manner, you yourself are more properly to be blamed if it has proven an abortion instead of a perfect birth. The Venetians, and also the Duke of Ferrara,388 made a good beginning, but they did not persevere; so, if they too miscarried, it is to be imputed to their own mismanagement and not the defects of their men. I shall venture to affirm that the first state in Italy that will take up this method and pursue it will soon become master of the whole province; things will turn out in his state as they did with Philip of Macedon who, having learned the right method of forming and disciplining an army from Epaminondas the Theban, grew so powerful—while the other Greek states were buried in indolence and luxury, and wholly taken up with plays and banquets—that he conquered them all in a few years and left his son such a foundation to build upon that the son was able to conquer the whole world.389 Therefore, whoever despises this advice, whether he be a prince or the governor of a commonwealth, has but little regard for himself or for his country.

For my own part, I cannot help complaining of fate, which either should not have let me know these things, or given me power to put them in execution; this is something I cannot hope for now that I am so far advanced in years. Hence, I have freely communicated my thoughts on this matter to you as young men well qualified not only to instill such advice into the ears of your princes, if you approve of it, but to assist them in carrying it into execution whenever a proper opportunity arises. Let me urge you not to despair of success since this province seems destined to revive the arts and sciences which have seemed long since dead, as we see it has already raised poetry, painting and sculpture—as it were—from the grave. As to myself, I cannot expect to see so happy a change at my time of life. Indeed if Fortuna had indulged me some years ago with a territory fit for such an undertaking, I think I should soon have convinced the world of the excellence of the ancient military discipline, for I would either have increased my own dominions with glory or, at least, not have lost them with infamy and disgrace.

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