FABRIZIO. Now that we are provided with men, it is time to arm them, I think. Let us therefore see what arms were chiefly used by the ancients; then we shall choose the best. The Romans divided their infantry into heavy- and light-armed companies. The light-armed were called velites.168 Under this name were included all those using slings, bows, and darts; for their defense, the greater part of them wore helmets on their heads, and a sort of buckler on their left arm. They fought outside of the ranks and at a distance from the heavy-armed infantry,169 who had helmets extending down to their shoulders, cuirasses, and brigandines covering their bodies and thighs, greaves and gauntlets upon their legs and arms, a shield about four feet long and two wide, plated with an iron rim at the top to defend it against the edge of sharp weapons and another at the bottom to keep it from being damaged by frequent rubbing against the ground. Their offensive weapons consisted of a sword, about a yard long, on their left side, a dagger on the right, and a dart in their hand, called a pilum, which they threw at the enemy at the first charge. Such were the arms with which the Romans conquered the world.
Some ancient writers say that besides these they had a spear, like a spontoon, or half-pike; but I cannot see how so troublesome a weapon could be used by those carrying shields, since shields would prevent them from using both hands at once, and it would be too unwieldy for one hand. Besides, such weapons could be of no service, except in the front lines of an army where there is room to handle them—something which would be impossible in the other ranks; for those, as I shall show you, must be drawn up close together since that is the best way of forming an army, although it may be attended with some inconveniences. Therefore, those weapons more than four feet long are of little or no use in close fighting; for if you have one of those spears and are obliged to use both hands on it, assuming your shield did not encumber you, you could not attack an enemy assaulting you from the rear with it; but if you use only one hand, in order to avail yourself of your shield with the other, you must grab hold of it by the middle of the staff—then there will be so much of it behind you that those in the next rank will prevent you from using it. To convince you, then, that the Romans never had any such spears, or, that if they had, they were of little or no use, read the account which Livy gives of their most remarkable battles. You will find that he very seldom mentions any spears, but tells us that as soon as they had thrown their darts, they fell upon the enemy with their swords. I would have nothing at all to do with these spears, then, but trust to the sword and buckler and other such weapons as the Romans used.
The armor of the Greeks was not as heavy as that of the Romans,170 but for offensive weapons, they depended more upon the spear than the sword; especially the Macedonian phalanx, which was armed with spears more than 20 feet long, called sarissae, with which they broke in upon the enemy, and yet kept good order in their ranks. Although some authors say they had shields too, yet I cannot see, for the above mentioned reasons, how they could manage them and the spears at the same time. Besides, in the battle between Aemilius Paullus and Perseus, king of Macedonia,171 I do not remember any memtion made of shields, but only of the sarissae, which were very troublesome to the Romans; so that I imagine the Macedonian phalanx was like the Swiss regiments of today, whose strength lies wholly in their pikes.
The Roman infantry, besides their armor, also had crests and plumes on their helmets, which afforded an agreeable spectacle to their friends and served to strike a terror into their enemies. As to the armor of their cavalry, it consisted at first of a round shield and helmet; the rest of their bodies were uncovered. Their arms were a sword and a long thin javelin with an iron head, so that being encumbered with a shield and a lance at the same time, they could use neither of them properly; moreover, since their bodies were to a large extent uncovered, they were greatly exposed to the enemy. But later on, they were armed like the infantry, except that they still carried a small, square shield and a thicker lance armed at both ends, so that if one should be broken off, they might avail themselves of the other. With these weapons, and this sort of armor for their cavalry and infantry, the Romans subdued the whole world; it is reasonable to suppose from their success that they were the best armed of all the armies that ever existed. Livy himself, when he is comparing their strength with that of various enemies, often tells us that in their virtù, arms, and discipline, they were much superior.172 For this reason, I have chosen to speak more particularly of the arms and armor of the conquerors than of the conquered.
It now remains for me to say something of those that are in present use. The infantry cover their body with a demicuirass, or iron breastplate, which reaches down to their waist; they have a spear 18 feet long, called a pike, and a broadsword by their side. This is their common way of arming themselves, for very few of them have backplates, greaves, or gauntlets, and none at all have helmets; those few carry, instead of pikes, halberds, about six feet long, with sharp points and heads something like a battle-ax; they also have harquebusiers173 among them, instead of the slingers and bowmen employed by the ancients.
These arms and this sort of armor were invented and are still used by the Germans, particularly by the Swiss; since they are poor, yet anxious to defend their liberties against the ambition of the German princes—who are rich and can afford to keep cavalry, which the poverty of the Swiss will not allow them to do—the Swiss are obliged to engage an enemy on foot, and therefore find it necessary to continue their ancient manner of fighting in order to make headway against the fury of the enemy’s cavalry. This necessity forces them still to use the pike, a weapon enabling them not only to hold the cavalry off, but also very often to break and defeat them; without the principles adopted from the ancients, men of the greatest experience in military affairs say that the infantry is good for little or nothing. The Germans accordingly put so much confidence in this sort of infantry that they will attack any number of cavalry with 15,000 or 20,000 of them. We have had many recent examples of this. And such is the general opinion of the excellence of these principles, from the many remarkable services they have done, that ever since the expedition of Charles VIII into Italy,174 all the other nations in Europe have adopted the same weapons and manner of fighting—the Spaniards in particular have obtained a very great reputation from them.
Cosimo. Which method of arming would you recommend, the German or the ancient Roman one?
Fabrizio. The Roman, without a doubt; and I shall show you the advantages and disadvantages of both. The German infantry is not only able to sustain a cavalry shock, but to break it; they are more expeditious on a march and in forming themselves, because they are not overloaded with arms. On the other hand, because they are so slightly armed, they are exposed to every kind of wound, when they fight at a distance and when they are closely engaged; they are of no great use where they meet with a vigorous resistance—in storming a town, or even in a field battle. But the Roman, as well as the German, infantry knew how to deal with cavalry: their armor was such that they were not so liable to be wounded in either close or distant fighting; they both attacked and sustained an attack much better because of their shields; they did more damage with their swords when they fought an enemy hand to hand than the Germans can do with their pikes; and although the latter also have swords, they are not able to do much with them because they have no shields—but the Romans were so well armed and so secure under the shelter of their shields that they were very useful in storming a breach. Therefore they labored under no other inconvenience but the weight of their armor, and they got the better of that by accustoming themselves to carry heavy burdens and to endure all other sorts of hardship and fatigue, which made that matter easy and familiar to them.
You must also consider that infantrymen are often obliged to engage other infantry and cavalry together, and that if they cannot sustain the shock of cavalary—or even if they can, and yet are afraid of facing another body of infantry that is better armed and disciplined than themselves—they are of little account. If, then, you will compare the German infantrymen with the Roman, you will find that the former are very fit to oppose cavalry, as I said before, but that they would certainly be at a disadvantage were they to engage other infantry that were no better than themselves, if these were armed and organized like the Romans; thus, one is to be preferred to the other because the Germans are fit to cope only with cavalry, but the Romans knew how to deal with both cavalry and infantry.
Cosimo. I should take it as a favor if, by way of illustration, you would give us some particular instance of this.
Fabrizio. You will find many in our history, where the Roman infantry has beaten infinite numbers of cavalry; none, where it was defeated by other infantry, either through any deficiency in its own arms or advantage in an enemy’s. For had there been any deficiency in their own and had they met with other people who armed their soldiers better than they did, the Romans could not have made such enormous conquests, without setting aside their own method and arming themselves in the same or some better manner; but since they never did this, we may fairly conclude that they never found any other people who excelled them in this respect.
But such cannot be said of the German infantry, for it has always been defeated when it has been engaged by other infantrymen as obstinate and well led as itself—this must be a result of the advantage the enemy had over them in their arms. Filippo Visconti, duke of Milan, invaded by an army of 18,000 Swiss, sent against them Count Carmagnola, who was at that time commander in chief of his forces. But Carmagnola had no more than 6,000 cavalrymen and a small body of infantry in his army; when he came to an engagement with them, he was immediately defeated with great loss. However, since he was an able soldier, he saw what advantage such an enemy had over cavalry; so he raised another army and went to look for the Swiss a second time; but when he came near them, he ordered all his men-at-arms to dismount and fight on foot. They did so with such success that they killed 15,000 of the enemy; the rest, seeing no possibility of escape, threw down their arms and surrendered.175
Cosimo. How is this to be accounted for?
Fabrizio. I told you a little while ago; but since you seem either to have forgotten or not to have understood what I said, I shall repeat it. When the German infantrymen, who, as I said before, are but indifferently provided with defensive armor and use the sword and the pike for their offensive weapons, come to engage an enemy that is well armed at all points—as were the men-at-arms whom Carmagnola caused to dismount—they are easily dealt with; for the enemy has nothing to do but to receive their pikes upon his shields and to rush in upon them sword in hand. After this the danger is chiefly over, for the German pikes are so long that they cannot avail themselves of them in close fighting, nor will their swords stand them in any great stead, since they themselves have little or no armor and are engaged with enemies who are completely covered with armor from head to foot. Hence, whoever considers the advantages and disadvantages on each side will see that those who are so poorly armed have no remedy against an enemy in full armor when he charges home and has sustained the first onslaught of the pikes. For when two armies are resolved to engage and advance upon one other, they must of necessity soon come close together; although some of the men in the first ranks on one side may be either killed or overthrown by the pikes from the other side, there will be enough left to carry the day. Hence it turned out that Carmagnola, with little or no loss on his own side, slaughtered so many among the Swiss.
Cosimo. It must be considered that Carmagnola’s troops, though they were on foot, were men-at-arms and covered with armor; thus, they were enabled to do what they did. I should think it would be a good thing, therefore, to arm infantry in the same manner.
Fabrizio. If you would recollect what I said concerning the armor the Roman infantry used, you would be of another opinion; men who have their heads protected by helmets, their bodies defended by shields and breastplates, and their legs and arms covered with greaves and gauntlets, are better able to defend themselves against pikes and to break in upon them than men-at-arms on foot. I shall give you a modern example or two. A body of Spanish infantry was transported from Sicily into the kingdom of Naples to relieve Gonzalo de Córdoba,176 who was beseiged in Barletta by the French; Monsieur d’Aubigny,177 was sent to oppose their march with some men-at-arms and about 4,000 Swiss infantry. When they engaged the fight, the Swiss pressed so hard upon the enemy with their pikes that they soon opened their ranks; but the Spaniards, under the cover of their bucklers, nimbly rushed in with their swords, and fought them so furiously that they slaughtered the Swiss and gained a complete victory. Everyone knows what numbers of Swiss infantry were similarly cut to pieces at the battle of Ravenna;178 for once the Spanish infantry closed with the Swiss, they made such good use of their swords that not one of the enemy would have been left alive if a body of French cavalry had not come up to rescue them; thereupon, however, the Spaniards drew up close together and made a handsome retreat with little or no loss. I conclude, therefore, that a good infantry must be able not only to withstand cavalry but also to confront any other sort of infantry fearlessly; and this, as I have often said before, must be entirely a result of their discipline and arms.
Cosimo. How, then, would you have them armed?
Fabrizio. I would take some of the Roman arms and armor, and some of the German; half of my men would be armed with one and half with the other; for if out of every 6,000 infantrymen, 3,000 were provided with swords and shields like the Romans, and 2,000 with pikes and 1,000 with harquebuses like the Germans, it would be sufficient for my purpose—as I shall show you presently.179 For I would place my pikemen either in the front ranks, or where I thought the enemy’s cavalry was most likely to make an impression; I would post the others so as to support the pikemen and push forward when a way was opened for them. I think this would be a better method of arming and drawing up an infantry troop than any other that is currently used.
Cosimo. So much for infantry. I should now be glad to know whether you would recommend the ancient or modern way of arming cavalry.
Fabrizio. Considering the war saddles and stirrups now in use and not known to the ancients, I think men today must sit more firmly on horseback than they formerly did. Similarly I think our way of arming is more secure and our men-at-arms are capable of making a greater impression than any sort of cavalry the ancients ever had. I am not of the opinion, however, that we ought to depend any more upon cavalry than they did in former times; for, as I said before, lately we have seen them often shamefully beaten by infantry. Indeed, they must always come off badly when they engage an infantry armed and appointed in the above-mentioned manner. Tigranes, king of Armenia,180 brought an army of 150,000 cavalrymen into the field, many of whom were armed like our men-at-arms and called cataphracti,181 against the Roman general Lucullus, whose army consisted of only 6,000 cavalrymen and 25,000 infantrymen.182 When Tigranes saw the enemy army, he said, “These are enough for an ambassador’s train.”183Nevertheless, when they engaged, the king was routed; and the historian imputes the defeat entirely to the little service done by the cataphracti, whose faces were covered in such a manner that they could hardly see—much less annoy—the enemy and whose limbs were so overloaded with heavy armor, that when any of them fell from their horses, they could hardly get up again or use their arms.
I therefore assert that such states depending more upon cavalry than infantry will always be weak and exposed to ruin, as Italy has been in our time; we have seen her overrun from one end to the other and plundered by foreigners merely because her princes have taken infantry into little or no account at all and have trusted solely to cavalry. It is right, however, to have some cavalry to support and assist infantry; it is not right to look upon them as the main strength of an army. They are highly necessary for reconnoitering a region, scouring roads, making incursions, laying waste to an enemy’s country, tracking down their quarters, keeping them in a continual state of alarm, and cutting off their convoys; but in field battles—which generally decide the fate of nations, and for which armies are chiefly designed—since they are more useful for pursuing an enemy that is routed than anything else, they are consequently much inferior to infantry.184
Cosimo. Two difficulties occur to me at this point. In the first place, everybody knows the Parthians never used any other force but cavalry in their wars, and yet they shared the world with the Romans. Next, I should like you to tell me how cavalry may be sustained by infantry, and how the latter comes to have its virtù and the former its weakness.
Fabrizio. I either told you before, or meant to, that what I intended to say concerning the art of war should be limited to Europe. Therefore I think myself excused from accounting for the conduct of Asiatic nations. I cannot help observing, however, that the discipline of the Parthians was quite different from that of the Romans. The Parthians all fought on horseback in a loose and irregular manner, which, as a mode of combat, was unsteady and full of uncertainty; the Romans, one might say, fought chiefly as infantrymen in close and regular order—their success varied according to the nature of the countries in which they happened to fight. In enclosed places the Romans generally got the better, whereas the Parthians had the advantage in large open plains, and indeed the nature of the country they had to defend was very favorable to their manner of fighting; it was flat and open, a thousand miles from any seacoast, with so few rivers in it, that they might sometimes march two or three days without seeing any, and with very few towns and inhabitants; thus the Roman armies, slowed down by the heaviness of their arms and armor and the good order they observed, were much annoyed by an active and light-armed, mounted enemy who was at one place one day and 50 miles off by the next. In this manner the Parthians availed themselves of their cavalry with so much success that they ruined the army led by Crassus and reduced the one under the command of Mark Antony to the utmost distress.185 But, as I said before, I shall confine myself to Europe in what I have to say about these matters and quote only the examples of the Greeks and Romans in former times and of the Germans at present.
Let us now come to the other point, if you please: namely, what it is that makes infantry superior to cavalry. In the first place, I say that cavalry cannot march through all roads as infantry can, and they are slower in their motions when it is necessary to change their order; if there should be an occasion for a retreat when they are advancing or for an advance when they are retreating, for wheeling off to the right or left, for moving when they are halting or halting when they are in motion—it is certain they cannot do it as quickly as infantry can; and if they are thrown into confusion by some sudden shock, they cannot rally so easily even when the shock is over. Besides, it often happens that a brave and spirited fellow is put upon a pitiful horse and a coward upon one that is unruly and ungovernable, and in either of these cases some disorder must ensue.
Why then should it seem wonderful that a firm and compact body of infantry should be able to sustain a cavalry attack, especially since horses are prudent animals and when they are apprehensive of danger cannot easily be brought to rush into it? You should also compare the force that impels them to advance with that which makes them retreat; you will then find that the latter is much more powerful than the former. In the one case, they feel nothing but the prick of a spur, but in the other they see a rank of pikes and other sharp weapons presented to them. So, you can see from both ancient and modern examples that good infantry will always be able not only to make headway against cavalry but generally to get the better of them. But if you argue that the fury with which the horses are driven to charge an enemy makes them consider a pike no more than a spur, I answer that even though a horse has begun to charge, he will slow down when he draws near the pikes and, when he begins to feel their points, will either stand stock still or wheel off to the right or left. To convince yourself of this, see if you can ride a horse against a wall; I fancy you will find very few, if any—however spirited they may be—that can be made to do that. Julius Caesar, before an engagement with the Helvetii in Gaul not only dismounted himself but made all his cavalrymen dismount too; he sent the horses to a place at some distance from the field of battle—a place fitter for flight than for fighting.186
Notwithstanding these natural impediments to which cavalry are subject, a general who commands an army consisting chiefly of infantry should always lead them, when they march, along roads where he cannot be attacked by cavalry without great trouble and inconvenience—such roads may easily be found in most countries. If he marches over hills, these will protect him from the fury of the cavalry charge, which you seem to think irresistible. If he marches through flat country, hedges, ditches, and woods will generally give him security; every little bank or thicket, no matter how inconsiderable, and every vineyard or plantation is sufficient to impede cavalry and prevent its acting with any material effect; if they engage, it is probable they may encounter the same impediments in a battlefield as on a march, for the least obstruction spoils their charge and dampens their ardor. The Roman armies, I must tell you, put such confidence in their armor and manner of fighting that if it was in their power to choose between a quite rough and confined place—in order to shelter them from the fury of the enemy’s cavalry and to prevent the enemy from extending its lines—or a place where cavalry might act with the greatest advantage, they always chose the latter.
But now that we have armed our infantry according to ancient and modern usage, it is time to move on to maneuvers. Let us therefore examine the exercises the Romans used to drill their infantry before they were allowed to engage an enemy. Although soldiers may be well chosen and well armed, they will never be good for anything if they are not diligently drilled. Now these maneuvers ought to be of three types: in the first place, the soldiers must be taught to endure all sorts of hardship and fatigue and to be dexterous and agile; in the second place, the soldiers must be taught to handle their arms well; and lastly, they must be taught to obey orders and to keep their ranks and stations whether in marching, in battle, or in encamping. These are the three principal operations in an army; if they are well executed, a general will maintain his honor even when he loses a battle.
The ancients, therefore, had very strict laws and ordinances to enforce the constant practice of their exercises in every particular. Their youth were accustomed to run races, to leap, to pitch the bar, and to wrestle,187 all of which result in very necessary qualifications for soldiers: if they are agile, they can anticipate the enemy in seizing an advantageous post, in coming upon him suddenly, and in overtaking him when he is retreating; if they are nimble, they will know how to avoid a blow, and they will find no difficulty in jumping over a fosse or scaling a breastwork; and if they are strong, they will be able to carry their arms more easily, to attack the enemy, or to sustain an attack better. But above all, they should be inured to heavy burdens. This is very necessary,188for on some great and pressing occasions they may be obliged to carry with them, in addition to their weapons, provisions for several days, which they could not do if they were not accustomed to such things; by these means great dangers are often avoided, and sometimes glorious victories obtained.
To accustom their young men to their armor and to teach them how to handle their arms with dexterity, the ancients used to clothe them in armor twice as heavy as that which they were to wear in battle; instead of a sword, they put into their hands a thick cudgel that was loaded with lead and much heavier than a sword; after this, they fixed posts in the earth about six feet high, which were so firm that no blows could move them. On these the young men used to drill with their cudgel and buckler as if they had been real enemies; sometimes they stroked at the top—as if it had been the head or face of a man—sometimes at the right or left side, and sometimes at the lower part; sometimes they used to advance briskly upon it, and at other times, retreat a step or two. By these means they became expert not only at defending themselves but at annoying an enemy, and the weight of their false armor made their real ones seem light and easy to wield. The Romans taught their soldiers to thrust rather than cut with their swords,189 because thrusts are more dangerous and are harder to ward off; he who thrusts does not expose his own body as much, and is readier to redouble than he is to repeat a full stroke.
Do not think it strange, however, that the ancients were so exact and particular in things which to you may perhaps seem trifling and ridiculous, but consider that when men fight hand to hand, the slightest advantage is of great importance; and I must beg leave to tell you that several good authors have entered into much more minute and circumstantial detail of these matters than I have done.190 The ancients thought that nothing was more conducive to the welfare and security of their country than having a great number of well-disciplined and drilled men ready for war; they well knew that neither riches nor magnificence, but only the reputation of their arms could keep their enemies in awe and subjection; they well knew that defects in other things may sometimes be remedied, but that in war, where their fatal consequences are immediately felt, they admit of no remedy. Besides, expertness in these drills makes men bold and courageous in battle, for instead of being afraid, everyone is eager to distinguish himself in what he knows he excels in. The ancients, therefore, took great care to make their youth perfect in all military exercises; they also accustomed them to throw darts—ones that were much heavier than those they carried in war—at the posts I mentioned before; this taught them to be very expert in the use of that weapon and made their arms strong and muscular. They were also taught how to use the crossbow, the longbow, and the sling; in all these things there were masters appointed for the purpose of instructing them. Thus, when they were called out to serve in the wars, they were so well prepared that they lacked nothing to make them excellent soldiers except being taught how to keep their ranks on a march or in a battle and how to obey orders; they quickly learned these things by being incorporated with others who had served a long time and were thoroughly experienced in that aspect of discipline.
Cosimo. What exercises would you recommend for those who are to compose our infantry at present?
Fabrizio. Most of the ones I have already mentioned, such as running, wrestling, leaping, carrying heavy arms, and using the crossbow, longbow, and harquebus—the last, you know, is a new, but a very useful weapon. To these exercises I would accustom all the youth in the country, but particularly those destined to be soldiers; for this purpose, I would set aside all holidays and idle periods. I would also have them taught to swim. This is very necessary191 since not all rivers have bridges over them, nor can boats always be expected to be found ready to transport the men; so, if your soldiers cannot swim, you will lose many advantages and opportunities of doing great things. The reason why the Romans exercised their youth in the Campus Martius was that the Tiber ran close by it, so that when they were fatigued, they might refresh themselves in the river and learn to swim. Like the ancients, I should also choose to have those who are to serve in the cavalry properly exercised. It is very necessary because it teaches them not only to ride well but to avail themselves of their strength in a better manner. For this purpose the Romans had wooden horses upon which they exercised 192 by mounting them sometimes with armor on and sometimes without it, by mounting them without any assistance, and by mounting them on either side; also, upon a signal or word of command from their instructors, they were all either mounted or dismounted in a moment.
Now since these cavalry and infantry drills were practiced then without any difficulty or inconvenience, they might easily be introduced again among the youth of any present state, if its governors so pleased; in fact, they have been introduced into some of the nations in the West where they divide the inhabitants into classes. These classes take their respective names from the different types of arms they use in battle; since they consist of pikes, halberds, harquebuses, and bows, the men carrying those weapons are called pikemen, halberdeers, harquebusiers, bowmen, or archers. Every inhabitant is also obliged to declare in which of these classes he chooses to be enrolled. Since some of them are not fit to bear arms, because of their age or some other impediment, they make adelectus, or choice, out of each class and call those who are thus chosen jurati because they make them take an oath of fidelity and obedience.193 These jurati, then, are called together on holidays and drilled in the use of such arms as they take their name from; each class has the particular place where it is to meet and drill assigned to it by the governors of the state. Every man belonging to a class, as well as to the jurati, is to appear and bring his share of money with him to defray the expenses occasioned by those meetings. What, therefore, is actually done by others I should think might be done by our countrymen, but they are grown so lazy and degenerate that they will not imitate anything that is good. It was entirely as a result of these exercises that the ancients had such excellent infantry and that the aforementioned states in the West have a much better infantry at present than we have; for the Romans drilled them either at home under the Republic, or abroad, during the reign of their emperors, as I have said before. But the Italian states are unwilling to drill them at home and unable to do so abroad because they are not their own subjects and will therefore do nothing but just what pleases them. Hence it comes about that these military exercises are now completely neglected, and all discipline is at an end; this is the real reason why many states, especially in this country, have become so weak and contemptible.
But, let us resume our subject. To make a good army it is not enough that the soldiers are inured to hardships and fatigue, strong, swift, and expert in the use of their weapons; they must also learn to keep their ranks, to obey words of command and signals by drum or trumpet, and to observe good order, whether they halt, advance, retreat, march, or engage the enemy; for without strict attention to these points, an army will never be good for anything. It is certain that a parcel of disorderly and ill-disciplined men, although extremely brave, is not to be depended upon as much as others who are not so courageous by nature, but orderly and well disciplined—good order makes men bold; confusion makes them cowardly. But for you to understand better what I am going to say, it is necessary to know that every nation has had particular bodies of soldiers in its armies and militias which differed in their names but varied little in the number of men they were composed of, since they generally consisted of 6,000 or at most, 8,000 men. Thus the Romans had their legions, the Greeks their phalanxes, the Gauls their catervae,194 and currently the Swiss (who are the only people with any trace of the ancient military institutions left among them) had what we should call regiments in our country; but they all divided them into battalions or smaller bodies, as best suited their purposes. Let us then call them by the most familiar name to us, and form them according to the best dispositions that have been made by either the ancients or the moderns.
Since the Romans divided their legion, which consisted of between 5,000 and 6,000 men, into 10 cohorts, we too divide our regiment, which is to consist of 6,000 infantrymen, into 10 battalions of 450 men each—of these, 400 should be heavy-armed, and the other 50 light-armed. Of the heavy-armed, let 300 have swords and shields, and be called shieldbearers; another 100 should have pikes, and be called ordinary pikemen; the other 50 light-armed men must carry harquebuses, crossbows, halberds, and shields, and be called by the old name of ordinary velites; so, in the 10 battalions there will be 3,000 shieldbearers, 1,000 ordinary pikemen, and 500 ordinary velites; that is to say, 4,500. But since our regiment is to consist of 6,000 men, we must add 1,500 more; of whom 1,000 must have pikes, and be called pikemen extraordinary; the other 500 should be light-armed, and called velites extraordinary; thus one half of our infantry would be composed of shieldbearers, and the other of pikemen and other men armed in a different manner. Every battalion should have a lieutenant colonel, or particular commander of its own; 4 captains and 40 corporals, besides a captain and 5 corporals of the ordinary velites. Over the 1,000 pikemen extraordinary, there should be 3 commanders or lieutenant colonels, 10 captains, and 100 corporals; in the velites extraordinary, 2 lieutenant colonels, 5 captains and 50 corporals. For the entire regiment I would then appoint a colonel or commander, with his drums and colors; every one of the aforementioned commanders should also have them. So, the whole would consist of 10 battalions, composed of 3,000 shieldbearers, 1,000 ordinary pikemen, 1,000 pikemen extraordinary, 500 ordinary velites, and 500 more velites extraordinary—in all, 6,000 men. Among these, there would be 600 corporals, 15 lieutenant colonels, 15 drums and colors, 65 captains, and the colonel with his colors and drums.
You see, I have been guilty of some repetition, but it is so that you will understand me better, and so that you may not be puzzled or perplexed when I speak of drawing up an army in battle order. I say, then, that all princes and governors of republics should arm their militia in this manner, should form them into such regiments, and should raise as many regiments as their dominions will admit. When they have been divided into battalions according to the directions I have just now given, in order to make their discipline perfect, it will be sufficient to drill them battalion by battalion; although one battalion has not enough men in it to form a competent army by itself, yet every man may thus learn to do his own duty. For two things must be observed in all armies: first, that the men be taught what they are to do in their respective battalions; next, that every battalion be taught how it is to act when it is joined with other battalions to form an army. Those ready and expert in the first will soon learn the second; but those who are not perfect in one can never be taught the other. Every battalion, then, must first be taught separately to keep good order in its own ranks upon all occasions and in all places; afterward, it must be taught how to act in conjunction with the rest, how to attend to the drums and other instruments by which all orders are regulated and directed in time of battle, and how to understand from the different sounds whether it is to hold its ground, advance, retreat, wheel to the side, or do an about face. So, when the men know how to keep their ranks so that no sort of ground or no sort of maneuver can throw them into disorder, when they understand what they have to do by the beat of the drum or sound of the trumpet, and when they know where to take their station, they will soon learn how to act in concert with the other battalions of their regiment when they are assembled to form an army.
But since it is sometimes necessary to drill all of them together, the whole regiment should be assembled once or twice a year in peacetime to be formed like an army—with front and rear flanks in their proper places—and to be drilled for some days as if they were preparing to engage an enemy. Now, since a commander draws up his forces for battle either upon sight of an enemy or in apprehension of one that is not far off, his army should hold maneuvers according to the occasion; it should be shown in what order it is to march and to engage, if the need should arise, and it should be given particular instructions about how to act if it should be attacked on one side or the other. But when he would prepare his men to attack an enemy that is in sight, a commander should show them how and where to begin the attack, to what point they are to retreat if they should be repulsed, who are to take their places, and what signals, sounds, and words of command they are to observe. A commander inures his men to sham fights in such a manner that they may be desirous, rather than afraid, to enter into a real one. For it is not the natural courage of men that make an army bold, but order and good discipline; because, when the first ranks know both where to retreat and who are to advance in their place if they should be defeated, they will always fight with spirit since relief is so near at hand; nor will the next ranks be daunted at the first’s misfortune since they are prepared for such an event—and perhaps they are not sorry for it because they may think it will give them the glory of a victory which others could not obtain.
These exercises are particularly necessary in a newly raised army, and they ought not to be neglected in one that is composed of veterans; although the Romans were trained to the use of arms from their youth, nevertheless their generals always drilled them in this manner with great assiduity for some time before they expected an engagement. And Josephus195 tells us in his History that even the sutlers that used to follow their armies often did good service in battle because they had frequently seen the soldiers drilled, and had learned to handle their arms and hold their ranks firm. But armies composed of new men who have been raised either for present service or for formation into a militia to be used when the occasion arises will be good for nothing at all if the battalions are not first drilled separately, and later as a whole. Since good order and discipline are absolutely necessary, great care ought to be taken to maintain them among those who know their duty, and still greater care, surely, ought to be taken to instruct those who are entirely ignorant of them. To effect these qualities, a wise and able commander will spare no pain or endeavor.
Cosimo. You seem to have deviated a little from your point since before you have told us how a single battalion ought to be drilled, you have described the drilling and preparing of an entire army for battle.
Fabrizio. You are right. Indeed I confess that my zeal for those exercises and institutions and my concern for their being so much neglected now have led me a little out of the way and occasioned me to break in upon the order I had proposed. But I shall return to it.
You may remember I told you that in disciplining a battalion it is of the utmost importance to make the men hold their ranks firm. To achieve this, it is necessary to drill them in what the ancients called the “snail fashion.”196 Since I have said there should be 400 heavy-armed infantry in a battalion, I shall keep to that number. These 400 men must be formed into 80 ranks of 5 per rank; they should learn how both to extend themselves and to reduce themselves into closer order, whether they are moving slowly or briskly forward. But how this is to be done is easier to understand by seeing it actually performed than from any description. However, that is not absolutely necessary here because everyone who has the slightest experience in military affairs knows its method, and knows that its chief use is in habituating men to holding their ranks.
But now let us proceed to draw up a battalion. There are three principal ways then of doing so: the first and best is to draw it up closely and compactly in the form of an oblong square; the second is to form it in a square with two wings in the front; and the third is to throw it into a square with an area or vacancy in the middle—commonly called a hollow square. The first way can be effected by two means: one, by doubling the ranks, that is, by receiving the second rank into the first, the fourth into the third, the sixth into the fifth, and so on; so that where there were 80 ranks before, with 5 men in every rank, they may be reduced to 40 with 10 in a rank, and by doubling them a second time, they may be reduced to 20 with 20 in a rank. This will make an oblong square; although there will be as many men in the files as in the ranks, and since the men in the ranks must stand close together so as to touch each other while those in the files must be at least four feet apart from one another, the square will be no longer from front to rear than from the end of the right flank to the end of the left—that is, the files will be longer than the ranks. The battalion’s 50 ordinary velites must not be mixed with the other ranks, but posted on each flank and in the rear when it is formed.
The other way of drawing up a battalion closely and compactly in the form of an oblong square is better than the preceding way, and I shall therefore be more particular in describing it. I take it for granted you remember the number of men and what officers it contains, and how these men are to be armed. Without further repetition, then, I say that the battalion must be formed into 20 ranks, with 20 men in each rank; that is to say, 5 ranks of pikemen in the front, and 15 ranks of shieldbearers in the rear. There must be 2 captains in the front and 2 in the rear. The battalion lieutenant colonel or commander, with his colors and drum, must take a post in the interval between the 5 ranks of pikemen and the 15 of shieldbearers. The corporals are to be placed on the 2 flanks, one at the extremity of each rank, so that everyone may have his men by his side—those on the right will have them on their left; those on the left will have them on their right. The 50 ordinary velites should be posted on the flanks and in the rear of the battalion. Now, in order to throw it into this form, you must draw it up into 80 ranks with 5 men in every rank and place the velites by themselves either in the front or the rear; every captain must put himself at the head of his company—100 men, or 20 ranks of 5 men each—whose 5 front ranks, or those immediately behind him, must be pikemen and the rest shieldbearers. The battalion lieutenant colonel or commander with his drum and colors are to be placed in the interval between the second company’s pikemen and shieldbearers, and are to take up the position of 3 shieldbearers. There must be 20 corporals placed on the left flanks of the ranks commanded by the first captain, and 20 more placed on the right flanks of the ranks commanded by the last captain; it is necessary that the corporals of the pikemen carry pikes themselves, and those of the shieldbearers have shields and swords. When your ranks are thus disposed, if you desire to form them in battle order to face an enemy, you must make the captain of the first 20 ranks halt with his men; the captain of the second 20 continues to advance but obliques a little to the right, close to the flank of the first 20, until he comes abreast of their captain and halts there; the third captain then similarly advances with his men along the right flank of the two other companies until he is aligned with the first two captains, and halts there as they do; then the fourth captain and his company also move forward along the right flank of those already joined, and halts when he has advanced as far as the other three. When all of these movements have been executed, two of those captains must immediately quit the front rank and take a post in the rear; then the battalion will be formed in an oblong square, as it was by the other method. The velites must also be posted on each flank as they were before.
One of these ways is called doubling the ranks in a right line, the other, doubling them by the flanks; the former is the easier of the two, the latter the more convenient—it may be better adapted to answer different occasions. In the former, you must conform to the number because five, ten, and twenty doubled make ten, twenty, and forty; so that if you double your ranks in a right line, you cannot make a front of fifteen, or twenty-five, or thirty, or thirty-five, but must be governed in doubling by the number in your first rank. And since it is often necessary to form a front of 600 or 800 infantrymen, doubling your ranks in a right line would throw the men into confusion. Therefore I like the latter method best; although there may perhaps be more difficulty in it, yet that will soon be surmounted by frequent practice and drilling.197
I say, then, that having soldiers who know how to take their proper stations in a moment is a matter of the utmost importance. It is therefore necessary to form them into such battalions, to drill them as a whole, to teach them to march quickly or slowly in all directions, and to keep such order in them that no matter how rough or difficult the pass or defile, they will not break their ranks. For if soldiers can do this, they are good soldiers and may be called veterans. If these men have been in a thousand battles and do not know how to maintain good order, they are no better than raw recruits. What has been said relates only to drawing up a battalion in closer order when it is marching in small ranks.
The main difficulty arises if the battalion should happen to be thrown into disorder, after closer order has been made, either by the nature of the country through which it is obliged to march, by an enemy, or by any other accident, and you want to reduce it immediately to its former order. To overcome this requires much drilling, practice, and experience. Therefore, the ancients spared no pains in making their soldiers ready and expert in rallying whenever they were thrown into confusion. For this purpose two things are necessary, namely that there should be several peculiar marks of distinction in every battalion, and that the same men should always be placed in the same ranks. For instance, if at first a man was stationed in the second rank, let him always stay there—not only in the same rank, but in the very same place; and so that he may not be at a loss about how to do it, there must be, as I said just now, several special marks to guide and direct him. In the first place, when several battalions are joined together, the colors should be easily distinguished from those of all the other battalions; next, the lieutenant colonels, captains, and other officers should wear different plumes; and lastly, which is more important, every corporal should be distinguished by some particular mark;198The ancients were so remarkably careful and exact that they had their numbers marked upon their helmets in large figures, as the first, second, third, fourth, and so on. But even that was insufficient: each soldier had the number of his rank and his place in that rank engraved on his shield. When men are thus distinguished from one another, and thus accustomed to know and keep their respective stations, it is an easy matter to rally them if they are thrown into confusion; for once the standard is fixed, the captains and corporals will immediately know their stations and resume them, whether on the right, the left, or at a due distance from it. The soldiers too, guided by their usual marks and the difference in colors, will soon fall into their proper ranks and places; just as when you are to reassemble the staves of a barrel which you have marked before it was taken to pieces, you may easily do so, whereas if the staves have not been marked, you will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible. These things may soon be learned by frequent practice and drill, and they are not easily forgotten; thus a whole province can in time be made into good and experienced soldiers by such drills and by the new recruits being instructed by veterans.
It is also necessary to teach your men to move all at once, where there is occasion, so that either a flank or the rear becomes the front, or the front becomes the rear or one of the flanks; this may be easily done by having every man face toward any particular part in one movement—this part will then become the front. It is true that when they face to either flank there will be some alteration and disproportion in the ranks because the distance which will then be between the front and the rear will not be as great as that between one end of the flanks and the other. This is quite contrary to the form in which a battalion ought to be drawn up; however, it may soon be rectified by well-drilled and experienced soldiers, and it cannot therefore occasion any great disorder. But there is another maneuver of great importance, for which still more readiness and expertness are requisite—when a whole battalion is to move all at once like one solid body. For instance, this occurs when a whole battalion is to wheel to the left about so as to front on that side where the left flank was before; then, those on the left, at the extremity of the front rank, must stand fast and those nearest them on the right must move so slowly that the rest, who are farther from them on the right, and those at the other extremity of that rank, may not be obliged to run—otherwise they will be in great confusion.
Now when a battalion is attacked on its march from one place to another, it always happens that the companies not posted in the front are forced to fight either on one of the flanks or in the rear, and that the battalion is under the sudden necessity of forming a front where the flank, or perhaps the rear, was before; in order to form those companies in due proportion and order, all the pikemen must be placed in that flank which is to become the front, and the corporals, captains, and lieutenant colonel must take their respective posts—as in the previously described method of forming a battalion. To do this, then, to form the battalion into 80 ranks of 5 men each, you must pull all the pikemen into the first 20 ranks, with 5 of their corporals in the front rank and 5 in the last of that company; and then the other 60 ranks, or 3 companies, will consist wholly of shieldbearers, whose first and last rank must contain 5 of their corporals. The lieutenant colonel, with his standard and drum, must take a post in the center of the first company of shieldbearers, and the 4 captains at the head of their respective companies. When it is thus formed, if you want all the pikemen on the left flank, you must double the companies, one by one, by their right flanks; but if you want them on the right flank, you must double them by the left. Thus, the battalion will have all its pikemen on one flank, its corporals in the front and rear, its captains in the front, and its lieutenant colonel in the center. This is the order it is to observe while marching. But if the enemy approaches, and if you want the battalion’s front where one of the flanks was before, you have nothing to do but to order your men to face the flank where the pikemen are; then the whole battalion, with all its ranks and officers, is immediately changed and is in the order I described before—every man will be in his proper station, except the captains, and they will soon take their posts.199
But when a battalion is marching forward and apprehensive of a rear attack, the ranks must be disposed so that the pikemen may be posted there; for this purpose, 5 ranks of them should be placed in the rear of every company, instead of the front where they are usually stationed; in all other respects, let the ordinary disposition be observed.
Cosimo. If I remember correctly, you told us that this type of exercise is calculated to reduce all the battalions of a regiment into the form of an army, and that it was sufficient for such a purpose. But were it to happen that this battalion of 450 men should be obliged to fight by itself, how would you draw it up in that case?
Fabrizio. In the first place, the lieutenant colonel should consider where it will be most necessary to place his pikemen, and post them there accordingly. This may easily be done without disturbing the above-mentioned disposition; for though that is the order which should be observed by a battalion when it acts in conjunction with others against an enemy, it may still serve on all other occasions. However, in showing you the other two methods of drawing up a battalion that I promised you a little while ago, I shall answer your question in more particulars; they are used only when a battalion is to act alone and independent of all the others.
In order, then, to form a battalion with two wings in the front, you dispose your 80 ranks of 5 men in a rank in this manner. In the first place, you must post a captain at the head of 25 ranks, consisting of 2 pikemen on the left and 3 shieldbearers on the right. Next to the first 5 ranks, let there be 20 more with 20 corporals posted in them between the pikemen and the shieldbearers, except the 5 carrying pikes who must be placed among the pikemen. After these 25 ranks are thus drawn up, let there be posted another captain at the head of 15 ranks of shieldbearers. In the interval between this company and the third, the lieutenant colonel with his colors and drum is to post himself at the head of the third company, consisting of 15 more ranks of shieldbearers. The third captain is to take a post at the head of the fourth company of 25 ranks, every one of whom is to have 3 shieldbearers on the left and 2 pikemen on the right; after the first five ranks, there must be 20 more with corporals in them posted between the shieldbearers and the pikemen; in the rear of this company, the fourth captain takes his station. If you then want to form these ranks thus drawn up into a battalion with two wings, you must order the first captain to halt with his 25 ranks; you must then order the second captain to make a motion to the right and advance with his 15 ranks of shieldbearers, in order to double the right flank of the 25 ranks that have halted, until he comes abreast of the rank that is the fifteenth from their rear—there he must halt. After this, the lieutenant colonel, with his 15 ranks of shieldbearers, is to do the same thing on the right flank of the first two companies. Lastly, the third captain, with his 25 ranks, and the fourth captain, at their rear, must move to the right and then advance along the right flank of the other 3 companies, but he must not halt until his rearmost rank is on a line with their rearmost rank; when this has all been done, the captain of the first 15 ranks of shieldbearers must quit his station and go to the left of the rearmost rank, and the fourth captain must go to the right of it. In this manner, you will have a battalion of 25 ranks, some consisting of 5 men and others of 20, with two wings—one at each angle of the front—each of which will consist of 10 ranks of 5 men each; and between the wings there is a space large enough to receive 10 men abreast. The lieutenant colonel takes his post in this space—one captain at the front of each wing, and another at each angle in the rear of the battalion; two files of pikemen and 20 corporals are placed on each flank. The wings may serve to protect the carriages and baggage, as well as the artillery, if there be any; the velites may be arranged along the flanks on the outside of the pikemen.200
Now in order to reduce this winged battalion into a hollow square, you need to take only 8 of the rearmost of those 15 ranks with 20 men in each, and place them immediately in front of the two wings; these will then become the flanks of the hollow square. The lieutenant colonel is to take his place with his colors and drum in the area left in the middle; the carriages and baggage may go there too, but not the artillery, which is to be stationed either in the front or on the flanks.201 These are the methods that may be taken to form a single battalion when it is to pass alone through dangerous and suspected places; but the solid battalion, without wings or an area in the middle of it, is certainly the best; nevertheless, either one or the other of those forms may sometimes be necessary to protect the carriages, baggage, etc.
The Swiss also have several forms for drawing up their battalions, one of which is in the shape of a cross: in the spaces between the arms, they place their harquebusiers to shelter them from the enemy’s first shock; but since such battalions are fit only to engage separately, and it is my intention to show how several united battalions must fight, I shall not take the trouble of describing the order they observe.
Cosimo. I think I sufficiently comprehend the method to be followed in drilling the men in this battalion; but, if I am not mistaken, you said you would add 1,000 pikemen extraordinary and 500 velites extraordinary to the 10 battalions of your regiment. Would you not also drill them?
Fabrizio. Certainly, and very well too. I would drill the pikemen at least by companies, if not as a whole, in the discipline of the battalion; for I should employ them more than the ordinary pikemen, especially on special operations—in convoys, escorts, plunders, and the like. As for the velites, it may suffice to drill them separately at home in their particular method of fighting without bringing them into the field; since they are to fight in a loose, detached way, there is no need to call them together when the rest of the battalion is assembled to participate in joint maneuvers.
Therefore you must—as I said before, and beg leave to say again—take great care to drill your battalions so that the men are taught to keep their ranks, to know their proper stations, and to rally or alter their disposition quickly when they are either in troublesome defiles, or apprehensive of being attacked, or disordered by an enemy; for when they are perfect in these things, it will be an easy matter to learn where the battalion’s station is and what it has to do when it is joined with the others to form an army. So, if any prince or republic would take the trouble to establish this discipline and these exercises, they would always have enough good soldiers in their dominions to make them superior to their neighbors and to enable them to give law to others instead of receiving it from them. But such is the degeneracy of the times we live in that these things are so far from being in any esteem at present; indeed, they are totally neglected and laughed at, which is the reason that our armies are now good for nothing; and if there are still any officers or men among us who are naturally virtuous, they are not able to exhibit it.
Cosimo. How many carriages would you assign to a battalion?
Fabrizio. In the first place, no captain or corporal should be permitted to ride during a march; and if the lieutenant colonel wanted to ride, it should be upon a mule, and not upon a horse. I would, however, allow him two baggage horses, one to every captain, and two between three corporals; because, when they are in camp, I would lodge three of them together—as I shall show in its proper place. Thus every battalion would have 36 horses to carry its tents, kettles, hatchets, mattocks, spades, as well as other such implements and utensils necessary to an encampment; anything else useful or convenient could be added, if there is room for it.
Cosimo. Although I believe all the officers in your battalion may be necessary, nevertheless I should fear so many would create confusion.
Fabrizio. That might be the case, if they were not all under the command of one person; but since they are, they serve to preserve and promote good order; and indeed, it would be impossible to keep order without them. For a wall that is weak and tottering on all sides may be better supported by many props and buttresses, though they are only feeble ones, than by a few, be they ever so substantial; for whatever their strength, it cannot be of much service at any considerable distance. For this reason, there ought to be a corporal over every ten soldiers in all armies; this corporal should be a man of more spirit and courage—at least of greater authority—than the rest in order to inspire them by both his words and his example; he should continually exhort them to hold their ranks firm and conduct themselves like men. How necessary these things are may plainly appear even from the example of our own armies, which all have their corporals, drums and colors, though none of them do their duty. As for corporals, if they would answer the end for which they were first appointed, every one of them should have his particular men under him, should lodge with them, should mount guard with them, and should always march in the same rank with them; for then the corporals might keep the men so regular and compact in their several stations that it would be almost impossible for any enemy to break or disorder them; if that should ever happen, they might presently be rallied; but in these times, corporals are employed in other purposes of a different nature, and do nothing as they should, though their pay is considerable. It is the same with regard to colors, which still serve to make a fine show rather than for any other military use. But the ancients availed themselves of them as guides and rallying standards in case of disorder; for as soon as the colors were fixed, every man knew his post and immediately returned to it. They also knew how and when to move and when to halt by the colors’ motion or lack of it; therefore, it is necessary that there should be many different corps in an army, and that every corps should have its particular ensign and marks of distinction; for then it will know what it has to do, and act with spirit.
The soldiers, then, are to observe the motions of their ensigns, and the ensigns are to observe the beat of the drum; for when that beat is rightly managed, it is a direction to the whole army which acts and moves in a certain measure and pace according to the different notes and sounds so that the army may know how to keep due time and order. For this purpose, the ancients had their pipes, fifes, and other sorts of military music perfectly adapted to different occasions; for just as a man dancing keeps time with the music and cannot make a false step, so an army properly observing the beat of its drums cannot be easily disordered. The ancients, therefore, used to vary the sounds and notes of their military music depending upon whether they wanted to excite, abate, or reflect their soldiers’ ardor. Since their tunes and marches were different, they gave them different names: the Doric was calculated to inspire men with resolution and firmness, and the Phrygian to excite martial ardor, or rather fury. It is said that one day at dinner Alexander the Great heard a Phrygian march sounded; he was so transported with it that he leaped up from the table and drew his sword as if he had been about to charge an enemy.202 It would be very useful, then, either to revive these measures or to invent new ones for such purposes; but if that cannot be done, at least those teaching soldiers to obey commands should not be neglected or laid aside; these may be varied and adapted according to the occasion so that by frequent use and drill, they may learn to distinguish them and know their meaning. But at present, our drums are chiefly employed for making noise and parade.
Cosimo. I should be very happy to learn if you have ever considered how it comes to pass that we are so degenerate, and that not only these exercises, but all manner of military discipline, have now fallen into such neglect and disuse among us.
Fabrizio. I shall give you my opinion on the matter very freely, sir.203 You know, then, that there have been many renowned warriors in Europe—but few in Africa, and fewer still in Asia; the reason for this is that the last two mentioned parts of the world have had but one or two monarchies and only a few republics in them, and that Europe, on the contrary, has had several kingdoms, but more republics in it. Now men become excellent and show their virtù according to how they are employed and encouraged by their sovereigns, whether these happen to be kings, princes, or heads of republics; so where there are many states, there will be many great men; but where there are few states, there will not be many great men. In Asia, there were Ninus, Cyrus, Artaxerxes, Mithridates, and a few others like them; in Africa (without mentioning the ancient Egyptians), we read of Masinissa, Jugurtha and some Carthaginian commanders of eminent note.204 The number of these men, however, is very small in comparison with those Europe has produced; for in this part of the world, there have indeed been numbers of excellent men whom we know about, and doubtless many more whose memories are now extinguished by the malevolence of time; because every state is obliged to cherish and encourage men of virtù, either out of necessity or for other reasons—where there are more states, there must of course be more men of virtù.
Asia, on the contrary, has not produced many men of virtù because, to a great extent, that part of the globe is subject to one monarchy alone—to so great an extent that most parts of it languish in indolence and cannot form any considerable number of men for great and glorious enterprises. The same may be said of Africa, although there have indeed been more commanders of virtù in that region than in Asia, thanks to the republic of Carthage. There will always be a greater number of excellent men in republics than in monarchies because virtù is generally honored in the former, but feared in the latter; hence, it comes to pass that men of virtù are cherished and encouraged in one, but discountenanced and suppressed in the other.
If we consider Europe next, we shall find that it was always full of principalities, kingdoms, and republics which lived in perpetual jealousy of each other and were obliged to maintain good discipline in their armies and to honor and encourage military merit. In Greece, besides the Macedonian monarchy, there were several republics, and every one produced many excellent men. In Italy there were the Romans, the Samnites, the Etruscans, and the Cisalpine Gauls.205 France, Germany, and Spain abounded with republics and principalities; and if we do not read of as many excellent men in any of them as among the Romans, that results from the partiality of historians, who generally follow the stream of fortuna, and content themselves with praising the conqueror. It is only reasonable to suppose, however, that there were a great many illustrious men among the Samnites and Etruscans since they defended themselves against the Romans for 150 years. The same may be supposed of France and Spain; but the virtù which most historians fail to celebrate in particular men, they are forward enough to praise in whole nations, when they tell us with what bravery and resolution these nations exerted themselves in defense of their liberties.
Since it is obvious, then, that where there are many states there will always be many men of virtù, it is certain that when the number of those states is diminished, the number of such men will likewise decrease by degrees-just as the effect must cease when the cause is taken away. Thus, when the Roman Empire had swallowed up all the kingdoms and republics in Europe and Africa, and most of those in Asia, virtù met with no countenance anywhere but in Rome; so that men of virtù began to grow more scarce in Europe, as well as in Asia, until at last there were hardly any to be found. Just as all virtù was extinguished, except among the Romans, so when they became corrupt, the whole world was similarly corrupted; and the Scythians206 poured by swarms into an Empire that, having extinguished the virtù of most other nations, was not able to preserve its own.
And although that Empire was afterwards dismembered by those barbarians, yet the several parts into which it was divided never recovered their original virtù. In the first place, it is a very difficult matter, and requires a long time, to revive good order and discipline when once it is abolished; in the second place, the Christian religion has wrought such a change in the way of life and values of mankind that they now no longer need to defend themselves as they once did. Then, all who were vanquished in battle were either put to death or carried in perpetual slavery into the enemy’s country where they spent the remainder of their lives in labor and misery. If a town was taken, it was demolished or its inhabitants were stripped of their goods, dispersed all over the world, and reduced to the ultimate degree of poverty and wretchedness; so, the dread of these evils obliged them to maintain good discipline in their armies and to honor all those excelling in the art of war.
But at present, those terrible apprehensions are in a great measure dissipated and extinguished; for after an army is defeated, those falling into the conqueror’s hands are seldom or never put to death, and the terms of their ransom are made so easy that they do not long continue prisoners. If a town has changed sides a hundred times, it is not demolished nor are its inhabitants dispersed or stripped of their possessions. The worst they have to fear is being forced to pay tribute. So, men now no longer care to submit to the rigor and continual hardships of military discipline to ward off evils which they are but little afraid of. Besides, the provinces of Europe are subject to few rulers at present, in comparison with what they formerly were: all France is under the dominion of one king; all Spain under that of another; and there are not many principalities or republics in Italy; so, the petty states find protection under the wings of the strong, and the more powerful ones are not afraid of utter ruin—even if they should be conquered—for the reasons I have already given.
Cosimo. But, within the last twenty-five years, we have seen many towns sacked and some kingdoms entirely ruined. These are examples which ought to serve as warnings to others to provide for their security by reviving the ancients’ military discipline and institutions.
Fabrizio. You are quite right; but consider what towns those were which suffered in that manner, and you will find they were not states themselves, but inferior members of states. If Tortona was sacked, Milan was not; Capua suffered, but Naples escaped; Brescia and Ravenna felt the lash of the conqueror,207 but Venice and Rome came off with impunity. These examples are not sufficient to make a state change its purpose, but rather to make it determined to persevere in its resolution when it sees that at any time it can redeem itself from destruction by a ransom; for a state will not expose itself and its subjects to the continual anxiety of military discipline and exercises when these anxieties not only seem largely unnecessary, but also attended with much trouble and inconvenience. As for the dependent members which ought to be most affected by these examples, it is not in their power to save themselves; those already ruined states see their error when it is too late to correct it, while others, not yet having shared the same fate, take no pains to prevent it. These states choose to live a lazy, indolent life, free from trouble and inconvenience, and to rely upon fortuna rather than their own virtù; for seeing that there is now such a proportion of virtù left among mankind that it has but little influence in the affairs of the world—and that all things seem to be governed by fortuna— they think it is better to follow her train than to contend with her for superiority.
To evince the truth of what I have said, if further proof is needed, let us consider the state of Germany at present: full of principalities and republics, it abounds with commanders of virtù; and indeed, everything worthy of imitation in the military discipline of these times is derived from those states. For, jealous of their neighbors, and abhorring the idea of slavery—a condition not, it seems, much dreaded in some other countries—they take all proper means to defend their liberties, and therefore continue free and respectable.
This, I think, may suffice to show the causes of our degeneracy, and the present neglect of military discipline among us; but I cannot tell whether you are of the same opinion. Perhaps what I have said has not given you the satisfaction you wanted, or not been thoroughly understood; consequently, you may have some doubts left in your mind.
Cosimo. None at all, sir, I assure you. On the contrary, I understand perfectly what you have said, and am very well satisfied with it; but I beg you to resume our subject, and tell us how you would dispose your cavalry in these battalions, how many of them you would have, and how they should be armed and officered.
Fabrizio. Perhaps you thought I had forgotten that, but I have not, although I have but little to say about cavalry for two reasons. In the first place, the main strength of an army lies in its infantry; in the second place, even in these times, the cavalry is much better disciplined than the infantry is; and if it is not superior, it is at least equal to the cavalry of the ancients. I have already shown how they ought to be drilled; as to their arms, I would arm both the men-at-arms and the light cavalry the way they are presently armed; but the light cavalry should consist mostly of crossbowmen, with some harquebusiers among them who, although of little service in other respects, are still very necessary to frighten the country people and drive them from passes which they may perhaps have undertaken to defend; they are more afraid of one harquebusier than of 20 men armed in any other manner.
With regard to their number, since at first I proposed to take a Roman legion for my model, I should think 300 good horsemen in a regiment would be sufficient; of these, 150 should be men-at-arms, and the rest light cavalry, with a captain, a cornet, 15 corporals, and a drum for each troop. Every 10 men-at-arms should have 5 baggage horses; every 10 light cavalrymen, 2, which, like those belonging to the infantry, should carry their tents, kettles, axes, stakes, and other implements and utensils. Do not think this is out of order, for every one of our men-at-arms has 4 horses allowed him for that purpose; but that is an abuse, for in Germany they have no other horse but the one they are mounted on, and only one carriage to every 20 for their baggage. The Roman heavy-armed cavalry had no more; but indeed, the triarii,208 were always quartered near the cavalry and obliged to assist them to groom and take care of their horses. This is an example which might easily be followed in these times, as I shall show in more particulars when I discuss camps; for surely what was formerly done by the Romans, and is still practiced by the Germans, may be effected at present. Therefore, those that omit or neglect these things are much to be blamed.
Once these squadrons are raised and enrolled in the same manner with the rest of the regiment, they should sometimes be reviewed with the other battalions when they are assembled, and drilled in skirmishes and sham fights with them so as to make them well acquainted with one another and perfect in those exercises. So much for this topic. Let us now proceed to draw up an army into such an order of battle that it is most likely to insure us a victory when we engage an enemy; for this is the end for which all armies are raised, and for which so much care and pain are to be taken in disciplining them.