Chapters 13

What is the most important thing in The Art Of War Icon

September 24, 2021

A prince should have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.

This is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only supports those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank.

When princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states, and the first cause of losing it is to neglect this art. What enables a prince to acquire a state is to be master of the art.

Francesco Sforza, through studying war, rose from being a private citizen to become Duke of Milan, and his sons through avoiding the hardships and troubles of arms, fell from being dukes to become private citizens. For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised.

This is one of those dangers which a prince ought to guard against. There is a big difference between being armed and being unarmed, and it is not reasonable that an armed person should willingly obey an unarmed person.

An unarmed man will not be secure among armed servants, because by being unarmed he will be suspicious of them and they will despise him. So, it is not possible for them to work well together. Therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war, over and above the other disadvantages already mentioned, cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them.

He should never, therefore, to have this subject of war out of his thoughts, and in peace he should devote himself more to its exercise than in times of war. He can do this in two ways, by action, and by study.

As regards action, he ought above all things to keep his men well trained and organized, and to carry out extended exercises in the field, by which he accustoms his body to hardships, and learns something of the nature of the land.

He gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and wet areas, and to do all this with careful planning and analysis. This knowledge is useful in two ways. Firstly, he learns to know his country, and is better able to undertake its defence.

Afterwards, through the knowledge and observation of that land, he can easily understand any other which it may be necessary for him to study, because the hills, valleys, and plains, and rivers that are, for instance, in Tuscany, have a certain similarity to those of other countries.

So, with a knowledge of the aspect of one country, one can easily arrive at a knowledge of others. The prince that lacks this skill lacks the essentials which it is desirable that a military leader should possess.

It teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select places to camp, to lead armies, to organise the soldiers in a battle, and to besiege towns in the best way.

Philopoemen was the prince of the Achaeans. He was praised in peacetime for always having the rules of war in his mind.

When he was in the country with friends, he often stopped and reasoned with them “If the enemy were on that hill, and we were here with our army, who would have the advantage? How should we best advance to meet the enemy, without breaking ranks? If we should wish to go back, how could we do it?

If they ran, how should we pursue them?” And he would suggest to them, as he went, all the things that could happen to an army. He would listen to their opinion and state his, confirming it with reasons, so that by these continual discussions there could never arise, in time of war, any unexpected circumstances that he could not deal with.

But to exercise his mind, the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of great men, to see how they have conducted themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeats, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former.

Above all, a prince should do as great men did, to take as a model one who had been praised and famous before them, and whose achievements and deeds they always kept in mind. Thus, it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar imitated Alexander, and Scipio 23imitated Cyrus.

Scipio imitated the glory, behaviour, friendliness, kindness, and generosity of Cyrus, written by Xenophon.

A wise prince should observe such rules and never in peacetime stand idle. He should actively increase his resources in such a way that they may be available to him in difficult times, so that if fortune changes, it will find him prepared to resist her blows.


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