A prince in a country newly conquered must subvert and destroy all those who suffer great loss in that conquest, and altogether root out the blood and the race of those who before governed there. (The Prince, chapter 3)
Men willingly change their lords, thinking to amend themselves; this opinion commonly makes them revolt, but most often they are deceived, finding themselves in worse case than before. Therefore, to shun such kinds of revolts, a prince ought to take out of the way all those he thinks are displeased with any great loss they have suffered. For I am persuaded that all men of good judgment hold this without doubt, that the estate of a prince or commonwealth cannot long endure in a country, unless all those be taken away who for some great harm they have suffered by the change are contrary to him. And herein Louis XII dealt unwisely, losing the duchy of Milan as quickly as he had conquered it. For the Milanese found themselves deceived, frustrated of the advantages and commodities which they looked for at his hands, and could not suffer the proud handling of that new prince. Here then was his fault, that he did not take away all malcontents who suffered loss in the change, and especially because he did not utterly root out the race of Sforces. But Cesare Borgia did not thus; having occupied Romania, of all the lords he dispossessed he left not one alive that he could catch, and very few escaped. Therefore it is better to follow the example of Borgia than of Louis, for sometimes it succeeds not well to imitate the best men; for it was damaging to Pertinax and Alexander Severus to imitate the mildness and bounty of Marcus Antonius; and to Caracalla, Commodus, and Maximine, that they desired to resemble Severus.
Machiavelli, meaning to show that his purpose tends and aims only to instruct a prince in all sorts of tyranny, gives him here a precept which Thrasibulus the Milesian gave to Periander, a tyrant of Corinth, and Tarquin the Proud gave to his son Sextus. Periander, having tyrannously obtained the crown of Corinth where he had no right, fearing some conspiracy against him, sent a messenger to ask advice of his great friend Thrasibulus, so to be assured master and lord of Corinth. Thrasibulus made him no answer by mouth; but commanding the messenger to follow him, he went into a field full of ripe corn, and taking the highest and most eminent ears there, he bruised them between his hands and wished the messenger to return to Periander, saying no more unto him. As soon as Periander heard of bruising the most ancient ears of corn, he presently conceived the meaning thereof; to wit, to overthrow and remove all the great men of Corinth who suffered any loss and were grieved at the change of the state; as indeed he did.
As much did Sextus Tarquinius, the son of Tarquin the Proud. Making a countenance of some great argument with his father for his great cruelty, he told the Gabinians (then his father’s enemies), that for his safeguard he would fly unto them if it pleased them to receive him, and would bring with him a good troupe of his servants and friends. These poor Gabinians, not suspecting the intelligence between the father and the son, sent him word that he would be very welcome. He went there by stealth with his troupe, and because he gave them to understand that he would make war upon his father to revenge the injury done to them and him, they elected him their captain. As soon as he saw his foot in, he secretly sent a messenger to his father, to tell him what command he had in the town, and to ask what he should do. Tarquin led the messenger into a garden with great store of poppy, whose highest heads he struck with a little staff, making no other answer to the messenger. Returning to Gabium, the messenger told Sextus his father’s actions, and it was well understood what he should do. Then he told the people that Antistius Petra, the chief lord and magistrate of the Gabinians, had conspired with certain accomplices to deliver him to Tarquin either dead or alive. He showed letters found in the house of Antistius (where Sextus had secretly put them), written by Tarquin and sealed with his seal, which he read before all the Gabinians. As soon as they heard them they were so angered and moved against good Antistius, who knew not what to say of this thing he never thought of, that they stoned him and suffered Sextus himself to punish the partners of Antistius. Then Sextus, having the bridle loose, massacred in their houses all the greatest and noblest of the town of Gabium; and by that means he and his father proved masters of that poor desolate town. But this tyranny and others they committed, caused on the other side the loss of the kingdom and domination of Rome; so that fishing for a frog, they let go out of their net a lamprey. So it happens ordinarily to those who will practice this detestable doctrine of Machiavelli.
If we look into the manner of government practiced by all great conquerors and generous monarchs, who became the greatest and noblest in the world, as Caesar, Alexander, Cyrus, Charlemagne, etc., we shall find that they used most contrary means to Machiavelli’s doctrine. For they exercised no cruelties towards great or little as they made their conquests, but only so far as the necessity of war carried them. They treated conquered people with all kindness and clemency; they embraced and entertained very well those who were great personages, and altered nothing in the public state, religion, policy, customs, and liberties, but maintained them all, contenting themselves only with sovereignty. And this was the reason why many people desired not to resist them, but to be their subjects; and those who resisted them yielded again easily, without abiding any great battery or assaults. Therefore most generously and nobly dealt King Louis, imitating the kindness and gentleness of those great monarchs when he conquered Milan. For although he later lost it, the fault was not that he would not be so cruel as to exterminate the whole race of the Sforces; but rather proceeded from the inconstancy of the Milanese and the machinations of pope Julius II with the Venetians, who thought it not good to have so great a master so near them, as the French and Italian histories evidently demonstrate.
And whereas Machiavelli maintains that it succeeds not well for a prince to imitate the virtuous actions of generous princes, and therefore ought to follow the vicious actions of those who are of no account, he shows that he is both wicked and ignorant. For what more wicked doctrine can be given to a prince, than to say he ought to imitate wicked actions because they sometimes succeed well? This is as much to say that we must be thieves and cut merchants’ throats, because thieves gain thereby. But if Machiavelli and all his favorites would judge of the success of all things by their end, as they ought to, they would find that those glorious and good successes that happen to the wicked, are but means wherewith God serves himself to bring them into ruin and be utterly overthrown, which they merited, as I have amply showed by many examples. And as for the examples he cites, he shows himself by the application he makes a very beast. It succeeded not well, he says, for Commodus, Caracalla, and Maximinus, in that they would imitate and resemble Severus. O bravely applied and to good purpose spoken! For Pertinax succeeded Commondus and Severus; Commodus never saw or knew Severus, who in his time was yet unknown, being a simple wage soldier of a base unknown race; how should then Commodus propose him for an example to imitate? And as for his son Caracalla, and Maximin, they were never imitators of Severus but in his vices, namely in cruelty; and therefore we need not marvel if it did not succeed well with them. The emperor Severus had very good virtues, for he was very learned and advanced learned people to estates; he maintained a very good policy in the Roman empire; he made good and holy laws, which are yet in use; he caused good justice to be administered to the people, and kept barbarous nations in a new obedience. His son Caracalla had none of these virtues, although Machiavelli being very ignorant of histories says he was endowed with excellent virtues. For histories attribute no virtue unto him, but that from his youth he was accustomed to live as a soldier; that he was not delicate, but patient of labor; but otherwise the most wicked man in the world in all things. And as for Maximin, he resembled Caracalla in all things, except that he issued from a base race and a barbarous nation, and Caracalla was an emperor’s son. And as for what Machiavelli says, that it succeeded not well to Pertinax and Alexander Severus because of their imitation of Antonius the philosopher, he shows still more his beastliness, and that he has not read the histories of their lives. For histories show that Pertinax was slain by his soldiers because he appeared to them more greedy than he should have been; so likewise was Alexander slain for the covetousness of his mother Mammea towards the soldiers. But we never read that Marcus Antonius was ever spotted with that vice of greed, rather contrary that he was a very liberal prince; and that herein, as in all other virtues, he was a true philosopher, that is to say, loving good and hating evil. And therefore Machiavelli knows not what he says when he claims it succeeded not well with Pertinax and Alexander Severus to have a mind to imitate Marcus Antonius. He would better have spoken only of the jests and matters written in the registers of Florence, where he was secretary, than so with a foolish interpretation to corrupt histories he knows not.