Illiberality is commendable in a prince, and the reputation of a tradesman or handicrafts man, is a dishonor without evil will. (The Prince, chapter 8, 16)
If the prince will be liberal, he soon impoverishes himself, and being poor shall be despised by every man. And if he will repair and help his poverty by pilling his subjects, he shall make himself hated by them and will be reputed a tyrant. But contrary, being greedy he shall be judged puissant, and having wherewith to furnish any affair when it happens, he shall be honored and esteemed. And if the reputation of a tradesman or illiberal person be dispersed of him, this cannot be hurtful, seeing he seeks nothing at his subjects’ hands by force. Yet a prince may well be prodigal of another’s goods, as of booty acquired by war, as Cyrus, Alexander and Caesar; but of his own he ought to be a holder, and illiberal. For there is nothing that more consumes itself than largesse and freeness of giving, which by the practicing thereof, leases the means to be practiced. In our time we have seen so many great matters effected, but by such men as had the reputation to be greedy, all others have come to nothing. Pope Julius was liberal till he obtained the popedom, but as soon as he had gotten it he forsook that trade, to the end to make war upon Louis XII of France, as he did. The King of Spain likewise understood that King Ferdinand (grandfather of the emperor Charles V) had not so happily achieved so many great enterprises, if he had affected to be esteemed liberal.
In my opinion, this maxim should not please courtiers, either Machiavellians or others; who like best that a prince be not only liberal, but rather profuse and prodigal, so far are they from the opinion that he should be covetous. But certainly as illiberality and greed is damnable, and no way beseeming a prince, so also is profusion and prodigality; but most praiseworthy it is that he hold a course between both, and that he be liberal, acknowledging the services done to him, and to be bountiful toward good and virtuous people, and for the advancement of the commonwealth. For that is true liberality, when men employ to good uses the goods and gifts dispensed, and not when they employ them to evil uses. But to show how liberality ought to be exercised in a prince, we will first speak of illiberality and prodigality, its two extremes.
As for greed, which Machiavelli holds to be fitting for a prince, it is certain that there is nothing in the world which makes him more contemptible and spited than it does. For of itself it is odious in all men, because it is filthy and mechanical; but especially in princes, who being constituted in a more ample and opulent fortune than other men, ought also to show themselves more liberal, and further removed from illiberality and greed. The emperor Galba, otherwise a good and sage prince, but suffering himself to be governed by some about him who were ravenous and covetous, always being too hard to his soldiers, thus destroyed and defiled all his virtues. But what is more, the greed and rapines of his officers brought him into contempt and caused him to be slain by his soldiers. The emperor Pertinax was one of the most wise and moderate princes that ever was, and who a man might say was irreproachable and a very father of the people. He always studied every way to comfort his subjects; but he was so spotted and defiled with that vice of greed, that he thereby became so hated and contemned by his soldiers, that they slew him. The emperor Mauricius was a very niggard; so great was his greed that he delighted in nothing but heaping up treasure, and would spend nothing. Whereby every man took occasion to blame and despise him; his great store of treasure made his lieutenant Phocas, otherwise a man of no account and a coward, but as greedy as his master, slay him to obtain the empire. But yet Phocas coming to the empire continued in greed more than ever was found in Maruicius, and respected nothing but heaping up treasure by rapines and extortions, without any care of the government of the empire. This miserable greed and carefulness was the cause of his own ruin, and the entire dissipation of the Roman Empire; for during his government were cut off Germany, Gaul, Spain, most of Italy, Slavonia, Mesia, most of Africa, Armenia, Arabia, Macedonia, Thrace, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and many other countries. Some cut themselves from the empire, others were occupied by the King of Persia and other potentates; which was an exceedingly evil hap, and very memorable, that thus the Roman Empire should fall in pieces by means of this emperor’s greed.
This happened not alone to Phocas, for the like fell to king Perseus of Macedonia. This king, having enterprised war upon the Romans, gathered together great store of treasures; but when it came to be distributed to have soldiers, he showed himself as holding and greedy as was possible. Having asked the Gauls for soldiers, for a certain sum of money, he refused to deliver them silver when they came; excusing himself among his people that it was dangerous to receive so many strangers in his country, for fewer would serve him. The Gauls, seeing themselves thus mocked by this king, returned, spoiling all his country as they passed; and after, the Romans vanquished Perseus and got all his treasures, which he lost along with his crown and his life; and all this fell unto him by his greed.
Marcus Crassus, a Roman citizen worth 350,000 crowns per annum, was yet so greedy that on seeing Lucullus enriching himself in the Levant war, never ceased till he had obtained commission to make war upon the Parthians. And what incited him most to purchase that charge, was that he heard say that Pompey (who had made war there not long before) had good means to heap up great treasures, if he had wanted; that he might have pillaged the temple of Jerusalem, where the treasures of the sacred vessels, and of the widows and orphans, amounted to the sum of two thousand talents, or five million crowns. So Crassus resolved to rob that temple, to redouble his riches, and therein not to be so scrupulous as Pompey had been. And so indeed, Crassus passing by Jerusalem against the Parthians, pillaged the temple, and to himself appropriated all that treasure, which was partly the goods and substance of poor widows and orphans. Crassus going on came to Armenia, and from thence came to the Parthians, where he gave battle to King Herod, or rather to his lieutenant Surena. But Crassus losing the battle, where his only son was slain, escaped on foot, thinking to save himself; which he could not do, but in the end was overtaken and slain. His head was carried to Herod, who with it served himself in a tragedy played before him, where they talked of a hunter who had slain a great savage beast. Here may you see the tragic end of this insatiable greedy wretch Crassus, who was justly and soon punished for this great and horrible sacrilege which he had committed in the holy temple of Jerusalem.
By these examples then it is evidently seen that greed is customarily the cause of the ruin of such princes and great lords as are infected therewith; so far is it off that it is profitable, as Machiavelli says. Yet true it is that there have been some, but very few, who being covetous yet have not been ruined by that vice; as the emperor Vespasian; but the reason why his covetousness was not the cause of his destruction, is because he exercised it not else but upon his ravenous magistrates, and because he employed on good uses, and for the utility of the public good, such money as his avarice heaped up; yea, he even practiced great liberalities towards good people, and ruined cities to rebuild them. Surely if those reasons are well considered, they will serve Vespasian for an allowable excuse, if it so be that a vice can be anything excused; for first there was no great harm that he should draw water from such sponges, who had sucked up the substance of the people, and to cause them to disgorge and cast up the booties whereof they were full. And in my opinion there would be no harm if they did the like today, for what harm is there to take from a thief? The other excuse is yet more considerable; that Vespasian did not employ the silver which his greed had collected upon his own pleasures and delights, but bestowed it on good uses for the good of the commonwealth. And certainly there is nothing that more troubles subjects who pay tributes, than when they see that the prince spends badly the silver levied upon them; who would more liberally furnish him with a crown than they would with a penny, if they saw their money well bestowed. Our king Louis was herein something like Vespasian; for he levied much money upon his subjects, even triple what his predecessors had, but he spent it not upon his pleasures and delights, nor other dissoluteness, nor in practice of liberality upon unworthy people, but upon good things about the affairs of the kingdom; as to buy peace with his neighbors, and to corrupt foreigners who might serve therein of in others’ affairs. Moreover, he did not as the emperor Mauricius, or as king Perseus, who heaped up great treasures, and then dared not touch it; for as Comines says, he took all, and spent all.
Princes then who levy money upon their people are somewhat excusable when they employ it upon good uses; and especially when they have that discretion to pill the pillagers, and to ransack thieves and eaters of the poor, and spare other good subjects who are not of that sort. But such as make great levies and bestow them badly, they cannot be anything excused in their greed and prodigality. The emperor Caligula on succeeding Tiberius found an inestimable treasure, even 67,500,000 crowns. To calculate this unmeasurable sum after the proportion of 1,240,000 crowns, which made the 32 mule loads which were sent for the ransom of Francis I, it should be found that the 67 million of Caligula should make about 1800 mule loads, which is a huge and most admirable treasure. Yet this monster spent all this in less than a year. But was this possible, you will say, that such great heaps should be laid out in so little space? Yea, I say, for this brainless fool caused houses to be built upon the sea, and only where men said it was deepest. To make good foundations there, he was forced to cast in great heaps of stones, as great as high mountains; for so much as anything was impossible, so much the more he loved to do it. Moreover, he delighted to bring down mountains and rocks, to equal them with flats and plains, and in plains to erect mountains; this must be done even the very day he commanded it, upon pain of life. He also had baths to be made in waters of very precious scents; he would make prodigal banquets served with excellent pearls and other precious stones, which he had liquified and dissolved so that they might be drunk. He had ships made of Lebanon cedars, whose sterns were all covered with pearls, and within them were built baths, galleries, halls, and orchards; and there sitting among dancers and players of instruments he had himself carried about the coasts of Campania. By these unmeasurable and monstrous expenses, he saw the end of that great treasure in less than a year. Hereof came it that lacking silver he converted himself to rapines, and to lay great and new taxes upon victuals, processes, laborers’ salaries, harlots’ gains, players’ gains, and upon many such like things. And so having again gathered huge heaps of crowns, upon a covetous pride to touch and handle money, he delighted to walk barefoot and tumble upon it. By this means, and with cruelty and other vices, he was hated by all the world, and soon slain. And in truth he was inexcusable for inventing new and great taxes upon his people, seeing he so badly employed the money.
Nero likewise laid great taxes and levies of money upon his subjects, and quashed and voided the wills of those who would not make him their heir. As an ingrate person to his prince, he by force took treasures out of temples and committed infinite other extortions. But how did he spend all this money? In making sumptuous banquets, as Caligula did; in giving unmeasurable gifts to flatterers and bad people, and upon other strange dissoluteness. He always appareled himself with exceeding rich and precious habits, yet he never wore a garment twice; he played away great sums of money at once; he fished with golden nets with purple and scarlet cords; he never went abroad with less than a thousand coaches or litters drawn with mules, whose shoes were of silver, and muleteers gallantly and costly appareled. His wife Sabina Poppea had her coaches drawn with gold cords and filled with furniture of gold; whenever she went abroad she bathed in the milk of 500 she-asses. Briefly, Nero made so great and riotous expenses that no silver could suffice; spoiling his provinces of their goods and riches by rapines and taxes, and practicing great cruelties (for rapine and cruelty are always companions), he brought upon himself the hatred of all the world, and came to a miserable end, as we have above said.
The like happened to emperor Vitellius, who in a year spent in banquets nine million crowns. Dion says that in a vessel served at his table he had so many tongues, brains, and livers of certain strange and exquisite fishes and birds, as cost ten thousand crowns. Suetonius says that his brother bestowed a supper upon him, whereat was served two thousand exquisite fishes, and seven thousand precious birds, besides all other services. These so exorbitant and unreasonable expenses drew him into greed, rapine, and cruelty, which was the cause that he was slain, having reigned but a year and ten days.
Here might I add to these the examples of Domitian, Commodus, Bassianus, and many other Roman emperors, who held the two extremities of liberality, covetousness and prodigality, using rapine to heap up silver and profusion to spend it. All which had the same end as Nero, Caligula, and Vitellius had. But hereby is sufficiently showed in those examples the contrary of the maxim Machiavelli says is true; and that a prince who is covetous and hard cannot prosper, but especially when he naughtily bestows the treasures and money which he heaps up. Now there remains to show that liberality is profitable and necessary for a prince, when he applies it to good uses.
When Alexander the Great departed from Macedonia to go to the conquest of Asia, he had all the captains of his army appear before him, and distributed to them almost all the revenue of his kingdom, leaving himself almost nothing. One of the captains, named Perdicas, said to him: “What then will you keep for yourself?” “Even hope,” answered Alexander. “We then shall have our part thereof, since we go with you.” Thus Perdicas and others refused the gifts which their king offered them, and were as thankful as if they had accepted them. They accompanied him in his voyage into Asia full of good will to serve him, as they did. For he was so well served by these valiant Macedonians, his subjects, that with them he conquered almost all Asia. So the liberality of Alexander was very profitable unto him.
The ancient Romans customarily increased the dominations of their allies, as they did to Massinissa, King of Numidia, to whom they gave a great part of the neighboring kingdom of Syphax, and some part of the country of the Carthaginians, after they had vanquished them and Syphax. As also they did to Eumenes, King of Pergamus in Asia, unto whom they gave all they conquered from King Antiochus beyond mount Taurus, which came to more than four times as much as all Eumenes’ kingdom. They also practiced great liberalities towards Ptolomeus, King of Cyprus; towards Attalus, another king of Pergamus; towards Hiero, King of Sicily, and many others. And what profit they got by all this – even this, that in the end all the countries and kingdoms fell into the Romans’ hands, either by succession and testamentary ordinance of those kings, or by the will of the people, or otherwise. And this reputation of liberality which the Romans acquired, was the cause that the kings and potentates of the world affected and so greatly desired their amity and alliance. Silla’s lieutenant Marius, making war upon king Jugurtha, persuaded Bocchus, King of Mauritania, to take part with the Romans against Jugurtha, because (said he) the Romans are never weary with vanquishing by beneficence, but always enrich their friends and allies.
Augustus Caesar, seeing the many enemies he had gotten by civil war, knew not whether he should put them all to death, or what to do. For on one side he considered that if he caused them all to die, the world would think that either he was entering into the butchery of a civil war, or else to usurp a tyranny. And on the other side he feared that some mischief would happen unto him if he suffered them to live. His wife Livia, a good and sage lady, showed him that he ought to gain his enemies by liberality and beneficence. He followed this counsel and began with Cornelius, the nephew of Pompey, whom he advanced into the office of consul; and in like sort to others whom he took to be his enemies, he was so bountiful that he gained all their hearts. But because the remonstrance which Livia made to Augustus is very memorable, I will here summarily recite it.
“I am very sorrowful, my most dear lord and spouse, to see you thus grieved and tormented in your spirit, so that your sleep is taken from you. I am not ignorant that you have great occasions, because of many enemies still lamenting the deaths of friends and parents slain during those civil wars; and that a prince cannot so well govern but there will always be malcontents and complainers. Moreover, the change of estate you have brought to the commonwealth by reducing it to a monarchy, means that a man cannot well assure himself of those he esteems his friends. Yet I beseech you, my good lord, to excuse me if I am a simple woman to take the hardiness to tell you my advice upon this matter; which is, that I think there is nothing impossible to repress by soft and gentle means. For the natures of those who are inclined to do evil are sooner subdued and corrected by using clemency and beneficence towards them, rather than severity. For princes who are courteous and merciful make themselves not only agreeable and honorable to them upon whom they bestow mercy, but also towards all others. And on the contrary, those who are inflexible and will not abate their rigor are hated and blamed not only by them towards whom he shows himself such, but by all others also. See you not, my good lord, that seldom or never do physicians cut sick members off the body, but seek to heal them by soft and gentle medicaments. In like sort are maladies of the spirit to be healed; and the gentle medicaments of the spirit may well be called, affability and soft words of princes towards everyone, his clemency and placability, his mercy and debonairity, not towards wicked and bad persons who make an occupation to do evil, but towards those who have offended by youth, imprudence, ignorance, by chance, by constraint, or who have some excuse. It is also very requisite in a prince, not only to do no wrong to any person, but also to be reputed such a man as will never do wrong to any man; because that is the means to have the amity and benevolence of men, which a prince can never obtain unless he persuades them that he will do well to the good, and that he will do wrong to no one. For fear may well be acquired with force, but amity cannot be obtained but by persuasion. So that if it please you, my lord, to use benefits and liberality towards those you esteem your enemies and those who fear you, you will easily gain them and others henceforth for your friends.”
This remonstrance of Livia was the cause that Augusts let loose and set at liberty all them who were accused to have enterprised anything against him, satisfying himself with the admonishments he gave them, and besides gave great goods and benefits unto some of them, so that as well those as others of his enemies became his friends and good subjects. Behold here what good came to Augustus by his beneficence and liberality.
Marcus Aurelius feared nothing more than the reputation of a hard and greedy man, and always wished and desired that such a spot of infamy might never be imposed upon him. And indeed, all his carriage and actions were such that none could impute to him any spot of greed, but all liberality worthy of a good prince; for first he established public professors of all sciences in Athens, unto whom he gave great wages, which proved a most profitable act to the common weal, worthy of such a prince. And this was partly the cause that in his time there was so great a store of learned people in all manner of sciences; insomuch that the time of his kingdom was and has since been called the golden world. In our time, Francis I imitated the example of this great and wise emperor, establishing public lectures at great wages in the University of Paris, a thing whereof his memory has been and shall be more celebrated through the world, than for so many great wars he valiantly sustained during his reign. Secondly, Aurelius forgave the people all the fiscal debts and arrears which they owed him, going back fifty years, which was a huge and unspeakable liberality. But he did this to take away all means and matter from officers and fiscal procurators, of molesting and troubling his subjects afterward with researches and calling of old debts. Thirdly, he never laid a tax or extraordinary exaction upon his people, but handled them in all kindness and generosity; he never made profuse and superfluous expenses, but held an estate both at home and in the court, sober and full of frugality. And finally, to show how he delighted in liberality, he had a temple built to Beneficence.
Behold here a true pattern, after which princes should conform themselves to know how to practice that goodly virtue liberality. And very notable is that point that Aurelius held the estate of his house ruled by frugality and sobriety, and far from the strange profusions of those monsters, Caligula, Nero, and Vitellius. For he considered that it was much better to employ revenues for the public wealth of his empire, rather than in riotousness and vanities; and that such unmeasurable profusion constrained a prince to rapines, and to deal evil with his subjects, because (as the common proverb says) unmeasurable largesse has no bottom. Therefore did that great emperor Trajan also hold his estate soberly governed, and he maintained no unprofitable persons in his service. No more did the emperor Severus, who would not suffer in any offices any persons to be placed who were not necessary. They also had good salaries and rewards from him; he would often rebuke them for not demanding gifts from him. “And why,” said he, “would you have it that I should be your debtor, seeing you ask me nothing.” Hadrian also had this prosperity, that he gave great gifts to his good friends and servants, and made them rich before they demanded anything. And above all, he was liberal towards professors of letters and learned men, who he enriched; but he much hated those who by evil means became rich, and generally all good emperors were adorned with the virtues of liberality and munificence, which they practiced with such moderation and prudence that they were never spotted, neither with Machiavelli’s greed, nor his prodigality. And therefore they flourished and prospered during their reigns, and left after them a perpetual memory to posterity of their virtues and praises.
Our kings of France, as Clovis, Charlemagne, Louis the Piteous his son, Robert, Henry I, Louis le Gros, Louis VIII, Saint Louis, and many others, were very liberal, but they exercised their liberality and principality upon the Church and churchmen, who they too much enriched. Yet we read that Charlemagne was also very liberal towards learned men, and that he spent much in founding and maintaining the University of Paris. And a man may generally mark in our kings of France a Christian liberality, which they have always had, that is, that they have been great almoniers, exercising their liberality upon poor people, which is an exercise of that virtue worthy of a Christian prince, which he should never forget.
By this I hope the maxim of Machiavelli is sufficiently refuted, and that it evidently appears by our examples and reasons that greed is damaging and dishonorable to a prince, as also is its contrary, profusion, and that liberality is profitable and honorable unto him. And as for the reasons which Machiavelli alleges, they are as foolish and false as his maxim. For to say that a rich prince shall be esteemed puissant because he has great treasures, is a bad conclusion. King Perseus of Macedonia had great treasures, yet was esteemed pusillanimous and of small valor, and such was his reputation in his own country and among his own subjects. Crassus also was known to be richer than Pompey, but he was not esteemed so valiant nor so good a man, neither in his life had he the tenth part of Pompey’s honors. Maruicius and Phocas by their greed heaped up great treasures; but were they therefore esteemed puissant and valiant? Nay contrary they were esteemed cowards, and in the catalog of such emperors as held the most abject and infamous places.
But I pray you let us come to the reason. When a prince has the fame to be a great treasurer, does he not give his neighbor occasion to seek means to enterprise upon him to obtain those treasures? Why is it that the Venetians, who if they wanted might be the greatest treasurers in the world, have made a law among them to have no treasure in their commonwealth other than of arms? It is because they know well (as they are wise) that if they heap up treasures of money, they shall but prepare a bait to draw their neighbors on to make war upon them. But wars come too soon, and under the pretext of more occasions than we would, therefore we need no baits to draw them upon us. It is not then best for a prince to be reputed a man full of treasures and silver, as Machiavelli thinks; for money of itself cannot but serve us for a bait to attract and draw upon us those who are hungry and desirous of it. And although commonly money is thought to be the sinews of war, yet it is not so necessary that without it war cannot be made. I will not here cite the poor Huguenot soldiers, who most commonly warred without wages; I will only cite the military estate which was in the Roman Empire in Valentinian’s time, and ever since. For in that time the military art was so policied that every soldier took for a month so much bread, so much wine, so much lard, and so much of other necessary things. His habits also were new from term to term, and all other things necessary, so that he touched little or no money, yet had all he wanted. And indeed money serves but for commutation; for men cannot eat it, nor apparel themselves with it, nor if he is sick can it heal him. Wherefore then serves it? For a prompt, quick, and easy commutation. For if you have money, you straight have whatever you need. If then by other means and policy order be taken that a soldier have all he needs, it will be found that money makes not a prince puissant. Moreover, I confess that it is certain that in the military policy which we have at this day – which is that a soldier shall receive in money all he needs – that money is very necessary, and that without it a man can do no great thing, and it is as sinews, or as the maintenance of the sinews of war, but yet by good husbandry a prince may have enough of it, and without covetousness.
As for what Machiavelli makes no account of, that a prince be reputed to be a tradesman, I leave it to them who have (I will not say) the heart of a prince, but only of a simple gentleman, that has honor but in little recommendation, if they would not be grieved to be reputed a tradesperson. I know well that the nobility of Italy, who more commonly trade and deal with merchandise than with arms, care not for that name of tradesman, if so they may get money. But the gentlemen of France, of Germany, of England, and of other countries of Christendom, are not of the humor of that merchandising nobility, neither would they for anything in the world be so reputed, as Machiavelli would persuade them.
And as for the examples which Machiavelli cites of pope Julius and Ferdinand of Spain, who he says were covetous yet effected great matters; I answer him in one word, that it proves nothing of what he says. For Julius made no great prowess nor conquests, as every man knows; and Ferdinand in his exploits and enterprises of wars was not covetous, from anything we read in histories. And if that were true which Machiavelli says of those two, I will oppose against those two obscure examples the ones above cited, which are far more illustrious and notable, and by which I have showed that greed has always been pernicious to princes, and liberality without profusion profitable and honorable.
For a resolution then of this matter, I say that the vice of ingratitude ordinarily accompanies greed, and that none can be covetous and illiberal unless he prove ingrate to his friends and good servants, which is one of the greatest vices wherewith a prince can be noted. For it is impossible that his affairs can be well governed without good and loyal ministers and servants, such as he never can have being ingrate. Therefore a prince ought well to engrave perpetually in his memory the sentence of King Bochus, who said it was less dishonorable for a prince to be vanquished by arms than by munificence. And therefore that good emperor Titus, whenever he passed a day without exercising some liberality and beneficence, said to his friends: “O my friends, I have lost this day”; meaning that it was the chief mark at which a prince should shoot, to wit, beneficence, and that otherwise he employs his time badly.