Chapter 6

New Principalities Acquired By One's Own Arms And Ability

by Niccolo Machiavelli Icon

A wise man should always:

  • follow the paths beaten by great men
  • imitate those who have been the best

In this way, if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will have some traces of it.

He should act like skilled archers who aim much higher in order to reach a very far target.

This is not done just to reach that great height, but to use that height to help him reach his distant target.

In entirely new principalities with a new prince, the keeping of it depends on the skill of that new prince. Becoming a prince from a private station requires ability or good luck which can reduce many difficulties.

Opportunity Comes From Ability

Nevertheless, he who has relied least on good luck will be more strongly established.

It would help if the prince has no other state and so he has to reside there in person.

But the best princes are those who rose from their own ability and not through fortune. Examples are Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, et al.

Moses was said to be a mere instrument of the will of God. Yet he should be admired for his ability to be worthy to speak with God.

But Cyrus and others had kingdoms are also as admirable as Moses even if they were not guided by God directly.

They did not owe anything to fortune except opportunity. That opportunity allowed them to make the changes which seemed best to them. Without that opportunity, their powers of mind would have been wasted. Without those powers, the opportunity would have not come.

Therefore, it was necessary that Moses should find the Israelites in Egypt held as slaves so that they would follow him out of slavery.

It was necessary that Romulus should be abandoned at his birth and not be in Alba so that he should become the founder of Rome.

It was necessary that Cyrus find the Persians unhappy with the government of the Medes who became soft and weak through their long peace.

Theseus could not have shown his ability if he had not found the Athenians scattered.

These opportunities made those men fortunate. Their great ability enabled them to recognize the opportunity whereby their country was made strong and famous.

Those who by brave deeds become princes, like these men, acquire principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease. The difficulties they have in acquiring it rise in part from the new rules and methods which they are forced to introduce to establish their government and its security.

Leading the introduction of a new order of things is:

  • the most difficult to take in hand
  • the most dangerous to conduct
  • the most uncertain in its success

This because the innovator has:

  • active enemies in all those who have done well under the old conditions.
  • inactive defenders in those who may do well under the new.

This coolness arises partly from:

  • fear of those against it, who have the laws on their side,
  • the doubts of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Thus, whenever those who are against it have the opportunity to attack, they do it with great energy. The others defend without commitment, in such a way that the prince is threatened along with them.

Innovators Should Use Force

Should such innovators use prayers? Or can they use force?

If they rely on prayer, they always succeed badly and never achieve anything. But when they can rely on themselves and use force, then they are rarely at risk.

Hence all armed religious leaders have conquered. The unarmed ones have been destroyed.

Human nature changes. It is easy to persuade them. But it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion.

Thus, when they no longer believe, they should be made to believe by force.

If Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus had been unarmed, then they could not have enforced their constitutions for long. This happened in our time through Fra Girolamo Savonarola.

His new order of things was ruined immediately when the people no longer believed in him. He had no means of keeping their loyalty. Therefore, armed religious leaders have great difficulties in achieving their goals, for all their dangers are in the achievement.

Yet, with ability, they will overcome them.

But when these dangers are overcome, and those who envied their success are destroyed, they will begin to be respected, and they will continue afterwards to be powerful, secure, respected, and happy.

A lesser example is Hiero the Syracusan.

He rose from nothing to be prince of Syracuse. He did not owe anything to fortune but opportunity. The Syracusans, who were under threat, chose him for their captain.

Afterwards, he was rewarded by being made their prince. He his abilities were so great that even as a private citizen, that one who writes of him says he needed only a kingdom to be king.


  • got rid of the old army
  • organized the new
  • gave up old agreements
  • made new ones

He had his own soldiers and supporters, on such foundations he was able to build anything. Thus while he had had much trouble in acquiring, he had but little in keeping.

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