Niccolo Machiavelli HOME

Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince

(first chapters)

To the great Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici

Those who try to obtain the favourable attention of a prince are accustomed to come before him with the things that they value most, or which they think the prince will most enjoy. As a result, one often sees expensive gifts such as horses, weapons, cloths of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments presented to princes.

Desiring therefore to present myself with some proof of my devotion towards you, I have found that the possession I value above all is the knowledge of the actions of great men. This knowledge has been acquired by long experience in contemporary affairs, and a continual study of history. I have reflected on this long and carefully, and I now send you these reflections presented in a small volume.

And although I consider this work unworthy of your attention, nevertheless I trust that you will be kind enough to accept it. The best gift I can offer you is the opportunity of understanding in the shortest time all that I have learnt in so many years, and with so many troubles and dangers. I have written the work in a simple and direct way, so that it will be accepted not for its style but for the importance of the theme.

I do not agree with those who regard it as a presumption if a man of low and humble condition dares to discuss and criticise the concerns of princes. Those who draw pictures place themselves below in the plain to understand the nature of the mountains and other high places, and in order to understand the plains place themselves upon high mountains. Similarly, to understand the nature of the people one needs to be a prince, and to understand princes one needs to be of the people.

Take then, this little gift in the spirit in which I send it. If it is carefully read and considered by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise. And if, my lord, from the mountain top of your greatness, you will sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how undeservedly I suffer great and continued bad fortune.


There are only two kinds of states, republics or principalities.

Principalities are either hereditary, where the family in control has been long established; or they are new.

The new principalities are either entirely new, as was Milan to Francesco Sforza, or they are, as it were, members added to the hereditary state of the prince who has acquired them, as was the kingdom of Naples to that of the King of Spain.

Such states thus acquired are either accustomed to live under a prince, or to live in freedom. They are acquired either by the military power of the prince himself or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.


I will leave out all discussion of republics, and will address myself only to principalities. In doing so I will keep to the order indicated above, and discuss how such principalities are to be ruled and preserved.

There are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states, particularly those long accustomed to the family of their prince, than new ones. The reason is that in such states it is sufficient only for the prince to maintain the customs of those who ruled before him, and to deal carefully with circumstances as they arise. In this way a prince of average powers can maintain himself in his state unless he loses it by some extraordinary and excessive force. If he loses it in this way, whenever anything unfortunate happens to the one who took it from him, he will get it back.

We have in Italy, for example, the Duke of Ferrara, who lasted against the attacks of the Venetians in 1484, and those of Pope Julius in 1510, only because he had been long established in his principality. The hereditary prince has less cause and less necessity to offend, hence it happens that he will be more loved. Unless extraordinary wickedness causes him to be hated, it is reasonable to expect that his subjects will be naturally well disposed towards him, and the longer the duration of his rule, the more likely that the memories and motives that encourage change are lost. One change always increases the possibility of another.


But the difficulties occur in a new principality, particularly in mixed principalities where there is a new addition to an old state. These difficulties arise chiefly from an inherent problem which is there in all new principalities. People change their rulers willingly, hoping to better themselves, and this hope induces 3 them to take up arms against their prince. However they are deceiving themselves, because they afterwards find by experience they have gone from bad to worse. This is partly a result of another natural and common necessity, which is that those who have submitted to the new prince have to support his army and suffer infinite other hardships which he must put upon his new acquisition. In this way, you not only have enemies in all those whom you have injured in seizing that principality, but you also are not able to keep those friends who put you there because you cannot satisfy them in the way they expected.

You cannot take strong measures against them, feeling bound to them. For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a state one always needs the cooperation of the local people. For these reasons Louis the Twelfth, King of France, quickly occupied Milan, and as quickly lost it. To turn him out the first time it only required Lodovico's own forces, because those who had opened the gates to Louis, finding themselves deceived in their hopes of future benefit, would not put up with the cruel treatment of the new prince. It is very true that, after acquiring rebellious states a second time they are not so lightly lost afterwards. This is because the prince, with little reluctance, will take the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the rebels, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places.

Thus to cause France to lose Milan the first time, it was enough for the Duke Lodovicoto raise rebellions on the borders. But to cause him to lose it a second time, it was necessary to bring the whole world against him. Nevertheless Milan was taken from France both the first and the second time. The general reasons for the first time have been discussed.

It remains to name those for the second, and to see what resources the King of France had, and what any one in his situation would have had for maintaining himself more securely in his acquisition . New additions to an ancient state are either of the same country and language, or they are not. When they are, it is easier to hold them, especially when they have not been accustomed to self-government. To hold them securely it is enough to have destroyed the family of the prince who was ruling them, because the two peoples preserving in other things the old conditions, and not being unlike in customs, will live quietly together. This can be seen in Brittany Burgundy, Gascony, and Normandy, which have been bound to France a very long time. Although there may be some difference in language, nevertheless the customs are alike, and the people are easily able to get on amongst themselves. The prince who wishes to hold such additions, has only to bear in mind two considerations: first that the family of their former prince is destroyed, and second, that neither their laws nor their taxes are altered, so that in a very short time they will become entirely integrated in the old principality. But when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them. One of the most positive moves would be for the prince to go and reside there. This would make his position more secure. Because, if one is there, problems are seen as they spring up, and one can quickly remedy them.

But if one is not at hand, the problems are heard of only when they are great, and then one can no longer remedy them. Besides this, the country is not exploited by officials and the subjects are satisfied by easy access to the prince. Thus, wishing to be good, they have more cause to love him, and wishing to be otherwise, to fear him. He who would attack that state from the outside must have the greatest caution. As long as the prince resides there it can only be taken from him with the greatest difficulty. The other and better course is to establish settlements (colonies) in one or two places which will tie the 4 state to you. If you do not do this, you will have to keep part of your army there. A prince does not have to spend much on such settlements, for with little or no expense he can send the settlers there and keep them there. He offends only a minority of the citizens from whom he takes land and houses to give to the new settlers.

Those whom he offends, remaining poor and scattered, are never able to injure him; while the rest being uninjured are easily kept quiet, and at the same time are anxious not to cause trouble in case they lose their land and houses. In conclusion, I say that these settlements are not costly, they are more faithful, they injure less, and the injured, as has been said, being poor and scattered, cannot hurt. However, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed because they can revenge themselves of lighter injuries, but of more serious ones they cannot. Therefore the injury that is to be done to someone ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge. However if instead of settlements the prince maintains armed men there, one spends much more, having to spend on the military presence all the income from the state. Then the acquisition turns into a loss, and many more are upset, because the whole state is injured. Through having to shift the soldiers from one place to another, all experience hardship, and all become hostile. They become enemies who, while beaten on their own ground, are yet able to do hurt. For every reason, therefore, such guards are as useless as a settlement is useful. The prince who holds a country differing in language, customs and law ought to make himself the head and defender of his less powerful neighbours. He should weaken the more powerful amongst them, taking care that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall, by any accident, get established there. It will always happen that some powerful foreigner will be invited in by those who are unhappy with the prince, either through excess of ambition or through fear.

The Romans were brought into Greece by the Aetolians, and in every other country where they established themselves, they were brought in by the local people. The usual course of affairs is that, as soon as a powerful foreigner enters a country, all the subject states are drawn to him, moved by the hatred which they feel against the existing prince. So the foreigner does not to have any trouble winning them over to himself, for all of them quickly support the state which he has acquired there. He has only to take care that they do not get hold of too much power and too much authority. Then with his own forces, and with their cooperation, he can easily keep down the more powerful of them, so as to remain entirely master in the country. If this business is not properly managed, he will soon lose what he has acquired, and while he does hold it he will have endless difficulties and troubles. The Romans, in the countries which they took over, closely followed these principles. They sent settlements and maintained friendly relations with the minor powers, without increasing the strength of the minor powers. They kept down the greater states, and did not allow any strong foreign powers to gain authority. ...

Thus the Romans did in these instances what all careful princes ought to do, who have to regard not for only present troubles, but also for future ones. When problems are noted before they occur, it is easy to remedy them. But if you wait until they approach, the medicine is too late because the illness has become incurable. Thus doctors say that the beginning of a severe fever is easy to cure but difficult to detect. In the course of time not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure. This also happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been predicted (which only wise men can do), they can be quickly dealt with. But when, through not having been predicted, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. Therefore, the Romans, predicting troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head. They knew that war cannot be avoided, but can only be delayed to the advantage of others...

France however ... did the opposite of those things which ought to be done to retain a state composed of differing elements. King Louis XII was brought into Italy by the ambition of the Venetians who desired to obtain half the state of Lombardy by his intervention. I will not blame the course taken by the king, because, wishing to get established in Italy, and having no friends there - seeing rather that every door was shut to him owing to the conduct of Charles - he was forced to accept those friendships which he could get. He would have succeeded very quickly in his design if in other matters he had not made some mistakes. The king, however, having acquired Lombardy got back at once the authority which the previous king, Charles, had lost. Genoa yielded, the Florentines became his friends. Many other powerful people and groups made advances to him to become his friend. Only then the Venetians realized the foolishness of the course taken by them. In order that they might secure two towns in Lombardy, they had made the king master of two-thirds of Italy. With little difficulty the king could have maintained his position in Italy, if he had observed the rules laid down above, and kept all his friends secure and protected.

For although they were numerous, they were both weak and frightened. Some were afraid of the Church, some of the Venetians. Thus they would always have been forced to stand with him, and because of this he could easily have made himself secure against those who remained powerful. But he was no sooner in Milan than he did the contrary by assisting Pope Alexander to occupy the Romagna. It never occurred to him that by this action he was weakening himself, losing friends and those who had rushed to be his friend. He increased the strength of the Church by adding a lot of earthly power to the spiritual, thus giving it greater authority. Having committed this prime error, Louis was forced to follow it up, so much so that, to put an end to the ambition of Pope Alexander, and to prevent his becoming the master of Tuscany, he was himself forced to come into Italy. And as if it were not enough to have given power to the Church, and to have lost his friends, he, wishing to have the kingdom of Naples, divided it with the King of Spain, and where he was the prime ruler in Italy he takes an associate, with the result that the ambitious of that country and the discontents of his own had somewhere to shelter. Whereas he could have left in the kingdom his own appointment as king, he drove him out, to put one there who was able to drive him, Louis, out in turn. The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can. For this they should be praised not blamed. But when they cannot do so, yet wish to do so by any means, then there is foolishness and error. Therefore, if France could have attacked Naples with her own forces she ought to have done so.

If she could not, then she ought not to have divided it. The division of the state which she made with the Venetians in Lombardy was justified by the excuse that by it she gained a presence in Italy. This other division deserved blame, because it did not have the excuse of that necessity. Louis made these five errors. He destroyed the minor powers. He increased the strength of one of the greater powers in Italy - the church. He brought in a foreign power. He did not settle in the country. He did not create settlements. If he had lived, these errors were not enough to injure him. However, he made a sixth error by taking the Venetians’ states away from them. He ought never to have consented to their ruin, for they, being powerful, would always have kept others from invading Lombardy... Thus King Louis lost Lombardy by not having followed any of the principles observed by those who have taken possession of countries and wished to retain them. Nor is there anything unusual in this, but much that is reasonable and quite natural. As I have told others, the French did not understand the principles of controlling a state, otherwise they would not have allowed the Church to reach such greatness. And in fact it has been seen that the greatness of the Church and of Spain in Italy has been caused by France, and her ruin may be attributed to them. From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who 6 is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined. This is because that success has been brought about either by cleverness or by force, and both are distrusted by the person who has been raised to power.