Military history




Machiavelli’s description of the various marching formations, battle orders, and the arrangement of an encampment, may be clarified by reference to the following figures and diagrams. Most of them are based upon the diagrams drawn to accompany Burd, “Le fonti letterarie,” for which the GENERAL KEY below is designed. The others are based on Farneworth and on the French translation of The Art of War by J. V. Périès (Paris: Michaud, 1823). Each of these latter figures is accompanied by its own key. Although the symbols in the keys vary, the terms to which they refer have been standardized.

Machiavelli’s army numbers 24,000 men. One-half consists of the citizens’ militia. The other half is composed of the forces from the allies, organized ideally along the lines of the militia. The model is the Roman consular army of two legions plus allies, as Machiavelli conceived of it—if not completely accurately. The militia is formed into two regiments of 6,000 men, each to be commanded by a colonel. A regiment, Machiavelli’s equivalent to the legion, comprises 10 battalions of 450 men (400 heavily armed and 50 velites), each commanded by a lieutenant colonel. Under the lieutenant colonel is one captain for each group of 100 heavily armed soldiers, assisted by one corporal per 10 men. One captain and 5 corporals command the 50 velites attached to the battalion.


C—Battalion Captain

Co—Battalion Lieutenant Colonel

P - Pikeman

S - Shieldbearer armed with a sword

Xp—Corporal armed with a pike

Xs—Corporal armed with a sword and shield


D - Fife and Drum corps

V - Velites, men with light-arms




Diagram 1. The Marching Order of 400 Heavily Armed Men. This marching formation is Machiavelli’s fundamental tactical unit. The Arabic numerals indicate the ranks where pikemen stand; the Roman numerals, where the shieldbearers stand. There are 4 captains (C1, C2, C3, C4), each leading a consecutively marked group of men; the latter are indicated by α′, β′, γ′, and δ′. As in Diagrams 3 and 5 below, these groups should not be read as marching side by side, but as following one another in a line: δ′ follows γ′, which follows β′, which follows α′.

Diagram 2. The Battle Order of 400 Heavily Armed Men. The same men, augmented by 50 velites, moved into a battle formation. The captain of α′(C1) halts; the captain of β′(C2) and his men advance on the right of α′ and square off with both α′ and γ′, and δ′advances to the right of these three and aligns his men with them. The asterisks represent the position formerly occupied by captains C2 and C3. For Machiavelli, the advantages of this formation are: the placement of the pikemen in the front to hold off a cavalry attack, and the placement of the shieldbearers, the strongest unit, in the most strategic location.




Diagram 3. Marching Formation of Soldiers Expecting a Sudden, Flank Attack. Note the rearrangement of the pikemen as well as that of the corporals armed with pikes, and those with swords and shields.

Diagram 4. The Same as #3, Now in Battle Formation. Croup β′ moves either to the right or to the left of α′ depending upon which flank the attack is expected: here, preparing for an attack from the right, β′ moves to the left of α′. Then group γ′ will move to the left of β′; δ′, to the left of γ′ The • and 006 indicate the new position of C2 and C3 after the soldiers have formed to the left.



Diagram 5. The Marching Formation of a Battalion Prepared to Convert into Either a Winged Battalion or a Hollow Square. Note that α′ and δ′ consist of 25 ranks.

Diagram 6. To form a winged battalion, the captain of α′ halts and β′ moves along the right side until its first rank is parallel to the eleventh rank of α′. Then γ′ aligns with β′. Finally, δ′, with its 25 ranks also moves to the right—thus forming the wing. C2 moves to the *.

Diagram 7. To form a hollow square based on the preceding formation, ranks 18 through 25 move around to the front of the first rank. The placement of the standard-bearer/colors, lieutenant colonel, and drums is not specified in Burd, and is derived from Farneworth and Périès. Nor is it clear how the captains should be rearranged; presumably they should stand as indicated.




Legend: The rectangles marked B represent the battalions in formations similar to the one shown in Diagram 2, Figure I. Machiavelli did not specify the depth of the light cavalry, of the men-at-arms, or of the velites extraordinary.

G = Regimental Colonel

P = General Leading the Entire Army

Two Regiments in Battle Formation


FIGURE V Marching Formation of an Army Comprising Two Regiments Totaling 20 Battalions Together With Supporting Units in a Hollow Square



FIGURE VI Two Regiments in Martching Formation


Legend: This formation is designed to give maximum effectiveness against any sudden attack. The rectangles marked A represent the subdivisions of the first regiment; those marked B represent the subdivisions of the second regiment. Machiavelli does not give the dimensions of the space in the center occupied by the pikemen extraordinary. The shaded areas indicate where each group’s pikemen are.


C2 = General Leading the First Regiment

C2 = General Leading the Second Regiment

C2 = General Leading the Entire Army


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