Summary and Analysis
The study of war should be a prince's main goal, for war is a ruler's only art. Knowledge of war is so vital that it not only keeps princes in power but can make princes out of private citizens. If princes become too refined to study this art, they lose their states.
Being unarmed makes others contemptuous of you. No one can expect an armed man to obey an unarmed one. Therefore a prince who does not understand military matters will not be able to work well with his soldiers. Even in peacetime, a prince must concentrate on war by exercises and by study. Hunting is excellent exercise, because it strengthens the body and makes the prince more familiar with the surrounding terrain. A prince should always be asking himself how to make the best military advantage of the landscape.
A prince should also exercise his mind by reading the histories of great men and how they waged war, in order to imitate them. Great leaders have always tried to emulate the qualities of those worthy examples who preceded them. By studying their precepts in good times, the prince will be ready when fortune changes.
Chapter 14 marks the end of Machiavelli's discussion of armies and the beginning of his exploration of the prince's character. Before leaving the topic of armies, Machiavelli has some parting comments for those princes who become too soft to tend to military matters. The Sforzas were uppermost in Machiavelli's mind in this respect, having gone from commoners to dukes in only one generation because of their skills as mercenary soldiers, only to go from dukes to commoners in the next generation. This observation is sometimes interpreted as a warning to the Medici family, who were notable for their lack of military leadership. Unlike most Italian princes of their day, they relied on their wealth and their diplomatic skills, rather than weapons, to secure their power. Military prowess was a very real way to get to the top in Machiavelli's day. In the cutthroat world of Italian politics, an unarmed prince would quickly be undone by his more rapacious neighbors. More importantly, Machiavelli argues for carrying a big stick, because no one can expect an unarmed man to command one who is armed.
Machiavelli recommends both physical and mental discipline to keep the prince sharp. Hunting was one of the favorite pastimes of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and was widely recommended as good exercise. Machiavelli also sees it as an opportunity for reconnaissance. While he may be exaggerating somewhat, he makes the point he first made in Chapter 3, that the prince must always be thinking about future events and preparing for potential problems. Mental exercise involved studying history. The humanist scholars of the Renaissance deeply valued the study of history, particularly the histories of classical Greece and Rome, and the imitation of their precepts. In this humanist tradition, Machiavelli draws many of his examples from classical history, blending them with lessons from contemporary events. He closes the chapter with a discussion of personal qualities of the great leaders of history. This leads him into the theme of the next segment of the book, the behavior and character of the prince.
Philopoemen (253-184 B.C.) Greek general and leader of the Achaean League; he defeated Nabis the Spartan on several occasions.
Alexander Alexander the Great. Machiavelli proposes that Alexander imitated the example of Achilles, the legendary Greek warrior who appears in Homer's Iliad; Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.), the great Roman general and emperor, imitated Alexander; and Scipio Africanus (circa 236-183 B.C.), another great Roman general, imitated Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire.
Xenophon author of the Cyropaedia, purportedly a biography of Cyrus the Great, but actually an exploration of how an ideal ruler should be educated.