Summary and Analysis Chapters 4-5



All principalities are governed either by a single ruler assisted by his appointed ministers or by a ruler and the hereditary nobles who hold power in their own right and have the loyalty of their subjects.

The Turkish sultan divides his kingdom into districts that are managed by his administrators, but the king of France has to contend with many lords who have longstanding privileges. Because the sultan's administrators are dependent on him for their power, they are not likely to help a foreign invader. But if an invader had a strong enough army to win, it would be easy to keep their territory, because the people are not personally loyal to the administrators. In a kingdom like France, the nobles are always ambitious and ready to turn against the king. But if they assist you in conquering the country, they will also be ready to turn on you. Even if you kill all the royal family, the nobles remain, and you can neither satisfy them nor get rid of them. Whether one can control a territory depends less on personal ability than on the character of the territory.

If the conquered territory was formerly a republic, in which the citizens were used to living under their own laws, you must destroy it, go live in it, or let the citizens live under their own laws with a government that is friendly to you. If you do not destroy the city, it will destroy you, so fiercely will the citizens remember and long for their freedom.


Machiavelli contrasts two types of government: a strongly centralized model, which he identifies with the East, and the looser confederated model that dominated in Western Europe. Machiavelli had ample opportunities to see the kinds of internal problems that afflicted decentralized collections of states. The example he cites, France, was actually remarkably stable and unified in comparison with his own region of Italy, where competing states invited foreign powers to invade, then turned on them, only to turn on each other as soon as the threat passed. Italy had indeed proved almost impossible to conquer, for exactly the reasons Machiavelli cites, but it had also proved impossible to unify.

Machiavelli's comments about governing a conquered republic sound especially merciless: destroy it, he cautions, or it will certainly destroy you. However, if you read Machiavelli's advice as directed toward the new Medici rulers of Florence, it takes on a different tone. If you want to avoid being destroyed by it, you must come and live in it and rule it directly, he says. This is exactly what the Medici had failed to do in the period since their return to power, spending almost all their time away from Florence. Machiavelli's vivid portrayal of the republic's love of liberty can be read as a kind of warning to the Medici about how ready their new possession will be to return to its republican ways if they do not do more to govern it.

In Chapter 4, Machiavelli begins elaborating on the theme of ability versus circumstances in determining a leader's success or failure. He implies that the leader's talents are less important than the situation he finds himself in. Machiavelli discusses this theme in detail throughout the book, culminating in his statements about fortune and free will in Chapter 25. The contrast between luck, specifically the favor of others, and ability is further explained in Chapters 6 and 7.


Alexander Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), King of Macedon and one of the great conquerors of the ancient world.

Darius (circa 380-330 B.C.) King of Persia, one of the territories that Alexander conquered.

Pyrrhus King of Epirus who fought against the Romans. He won several victories, but at a very high price.

Pisa In 1406, Florence bought the city of Pisa from the dukes of Milan; in 1494, when Charles VII invaded, the Pisans asserted their liberty from Florence. Florence won Pisa back in 1509.