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The Prince


Summary and Analysis Chapter 3


New principalities always cause problems for the prince. People are willing to change rulers to better their own lot, but they soon discover that things have gotten worse, because a new ruler must harm those he conquers. Then you have as enemies those you harmed while seizing power, as well as those who put you in power, because you can never satisfy all of their ambitions.

If conquered territories annexed to yours are similar in location and customs, it is easy to keep them, especially if they were hereditary principalities not used to independence. As long as you do not change their way of life, you need only wipe out the old ruling family to keep them.

But if new territories are different in language and customs, they are difficult to keep. The best methods are to go and live there yourself, to establish colonies in them, to protect the neighboring minor powers, to weaken strong factions within the state, and to guard against foreign powers. It is important to deal with developing political problems early, rather than wait until it is too late, because wars can never be avoided, only postponed. King Louis did not follow these policies in Italy and therefore failed to keep his territories. He also erred by making the Church more powerful, because to make others powerful is to weaken yourself.


In this long chapter about annexed territories, Machiavelli makes several of the observations that have contributed to his reputation for ruthlessness. First, he notes that conquering rulers must inevitably injure those they conquer. Then he advises conquerors to exterminate old ruling families to avoid threats to their power. Discussing colonies, he says they are effective because the only ones they harm are a few poor people who lose their homes and lands, and these people are in no position to harm the prince. In this context, he makes the famous statement that men should either be caressed or destroyed, meaning that if you must harm people, harm them so severely that they will not be able to take revenge on you.

Other pieces of Machiavelli's advice seem more humane. He justifies colonies as an effective means to control a new territory because they harm the minimum number of people, and it is impossible for a new ruler to avoid doing some harm to his subjects. Colonies are definitely more desirable than occupation by an army, which harms everyone in the new state and makes the new ruler hated. While he sees violence as an unavoidable part of government, he strives for the most efficient and controlled use of violence. Yet readers may object that Machiavelli advises the prince to act humanely only when doing so has a tangible benefit, not because doing so is ethical. Machiavelli's advice to the prince is always grounded in the best way to acquire and increase power, rather than in considerations of right or wrong. Power is depicted as a scarce resource to be energetically collected and carefully guarded, as in Machiavelli's observation that giving power to another takes power from yourself. This intensely competitive outlook precludes ideas of cooperation or shared responsibility. Much of this chapter is concerned with detailed analysis of the examples provided by the Romans in ancient times and King Louis in more recent times. Louis's invasion was the beginning of a turbulent period for Italy, and its repercussions occupy Machiavelli's attention later in the book.


Ludovico Ludovico Sforza (1451-1508), Duke of Milan and son of Francesco Sforza. (See the List of Characters.)

Turks/Greece Forces of the Ottoman Empire (the Turks) controlled Greece and much of the Balkan peninsula in the 15th century and followed a policy of settling in their conquered territories.

Aetolians The Aetolians and Achaeans were rival confederacies of Greek states. In circa 211 B.C., the Aetolians asked the Romans to help them fight against Philip V of Macedon. The Romans defeated Philip and, a few years later, defeated the Aetolians and their new ally, Antiochus III of Syria, effectively taking over Greece.

King Louis Louis XII (1462-1515), King of France. (See the List of Characters.)