And in beginning to discuss the dangers of the first period, which are the most important, I say that there is need to be very prudent and have great good fortune, that in conducting a conspiracy, it not be discovered at this stage. And they are discovered either by someone telling or by conjecture.
The telling results from finding little faith or little prudence in the men to whom you have communicated it: the little faith treachery is so commonly found, that you cannot communicate it the conspiracy except to your trusted ones who, for love of you, risk their own deaths, or to those men who are discontent with the Prince.
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Of such trusted ones, one or two may be found, but as you extend this, it is impossible that many will be found. Moreover, there is good need that the good will they bear you is so great that the plot does not appear to them greater than the danger and fear greater than the punishment: also most of the times men are deceived by the love they judge others have for them, nor can they ever be sure of this except from experience; and to have such experience in this is most dangerous: and even if you should have had experience in some other dangerous occasion, where they had been faithful to you, you can not by that faith measure this one, as this one surpasses by far all other kinds of danger.
If you measure this faith from the discontent which a man has toward the Prince, you can be easily deceived in this: because as soon as you have opened your mind to that malcontent, you give him material to content himself, and to keep him faithful, his hate for the Prince must be very great or your authority over him must be greater. From this, it has followed that many conspiracies have been revealed and crushed in their very beginning, and that if one has been kept secret among many men for along time, it is held to be a miraculous thing; as was that of Piso against Nero, and in our times, that of the Pazzi against Lorenzo and Giuliano De'Medici, of which more than fifty thousand were cognizant, and which waited until its execution to be discovered.
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As to being discovered because of little prudence, this occurs when a conspiracy is talked about with little caution, so that a servant or other third person learns of it, as happened to the sons of Brutus, who in arranging the plot with the legates of Tarquin were overheard by a slave who accused them; or when from thoughtlessness it comes to be communicated to a woman or a child whom you love, or to some similar indiscreet person, as did Dinnus, one of the conspirators with Philotas against Alexander the Great, who communicated the conspiracy to Nicomachus, a young boy loved by him, who quickly told it to his brother Ciballinus, and Ciballinus to the King.
As to being discovered by conjecture, there is for an example the conspiracy of Piso against Nero, in which Scevinus, one of the conspirators, the day before he was to kill Nero, made his testament, ordered that Melichus his freedman should sharpen an old rusty dagger of his, freed all his slaves and gave them money, and caused bandages to be ordered for tying up wounds: by means of which conjectures, Melichus ascertained the plot, and accused him to Nero.
Scevinus was taken, and with him Natales, another conspirator, with whom he had been seen talking the day before in secret and for a long time; and the reasons given by each not being in accord, they were forced to confess the truth, so that the Conspiracy was discovered to the ruin of all the conspirators. It is impossible to guard oneself from this cause of discovery of Conspiracies, as it will be discovered by the accomplices through malice, through imprudence, or through thoughtlessness, whenever they exceed three or four in number.
And as soon as more than one is taken, it is impossible for it not to be discovered, for two cannot agree together in all their statements. If only one of them is taken who is a strong man, he can with his courage and firmness remain silent on the names of the conspirators; but then it behooves the other conspirators not to have less firmness and courage, and not to discover it by their flight, for if courage be wanting on any side, either by he who is arrested or he who is free, the conspiracy is discovered.
And a rare example is cited by Titus Livius in the conspiracy formed against Hieronymus, King of Syracuse, where Theodorus, one of the conspirators taken, concealed with great virtu all the conspirators, and accused the friends of the King; and on the other hand, all the conspirators placed so much confidence in the virtu of Theodorus, that no one left Syracuse or gave any sign of fear. The conduct of a Conspiracy, therefore, passes through all these dangers before it comes to its execution; and in wanting to avoid these, there exist these remedies. The first and most certain, rather to say it better, the only one, is not to give the conspirators time to accuse you, and therefore to communicate the plot to them just at the time you are to do it, and not sooner: those who do thusly are likely to avoid the dangers that exist in the beginning, and most of the time, the others also; actually they have all had happy endings: and any prudent man will have the opportunity of governing himself in this manner.
It should suffice for me to cite two examples. Nelematus, not being able to endure the tyranny of Aristotimus, Tyrant of Epirus, assembled in his house many relatives and friends, and exhorted them to liberate their country; several of them requested time to discuss and arrange it, whereupon Nelematus made his slaves lock the house, and to those whom he had called he said, either you swear to go now and carry out the execution of this plot , or I will give you all as prisoners to Aristotimus: moved by these words they swore, and going out without any further intermission of time, successfully carried out the plot of Nelematus.
A Magian having by deceit occupied the kingdom of the Persians, and when Ortanus, one of the great men of the kingdom, had learned and discovered the fraud, he conferred with six other Princes of that State seeking how they were to avenge the kingdom from the Tyranny of that Magian.
And when one of them asked as to the time, Darius, one of the six called by Ortanus, arose and said: Either we go now to carry out the execution of this, or I will go and accuse you all; and so by accord, without giving time to anyone to repent of it, they arose and easily executed their designs. Similar to these two examples also is the manner that the Aetolians employed in killing Nabis, the Spartan Tyrant; they sent Alexemenes, and enjoined the others that they should obey him in every and any thing, under pain of exile.
This man went to Sparta, and did not communicate his commission until he wanted to discharge it, whence he succeeded in killing him. In this manner, therefore, these men avoided those dangers that are associated with the carrying out of conspiracies, and whoever imitates them will always escape them.
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And that anyone can do as they did, I want to cite the example of Piso referred to above. Piso was a very great and reputed man, and a familiar of Nero who confided in him much. Nero used to go often to his garden to dine with him. Piso could then have made friends for himself some men of mind, heart, and of disposition to undertake the execution of such a plot , which is very easy for a great man to do; and when Nero should be in his garden, to communicate the matter to them, and with appropriate words animated them to do that which they would not have had time to refuse, and which would have been impossible not to succeed.
And thus, if all the other instances are examined, few will be found in which they the conspirators could not have been able to proceed in the same manner.
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But men, ordinarily little learned in the ways of the world, often make very great errors, and so much greater in those that are extraordinary, as is this conspiracies. The matter ought, therefore, never to be communicated except under necessity and at its execution; and even then, if you have to communicate it, to communicate it to one man only with whom you have had a very long experience of trust , or who is motivated by the same reason as you.
To find one such is much more easy than to find many, and because of this, there is less danger: and then, even if he should deceive you, there is some remedy of defending yourself, than where there are many conspirators: for I have heard many prudent men say that it is possible to talk of everything with one man, for if you do not let yourself be led to write in your hand the yes of one man is worth as much as the no of another: and everyone ought to guard himself against writing as from a shoal, because there is nothing that will convict you more easily than your handwriting.
Plautanias, wanting to have the Emperor Severus and his son Antoninus killed, committed the matter of the Tribune Saturninus; who wanting to accuse him and not obey him, and apprehensive that coming to the accusation, he Plautanius would be more believed than he Saturninus , requested a copy in his handwriting so that he should have faith in this commission, which Plautanias, blinded by ambition, gave him: whence it ensued that he was accused by the Tribune and convicted; and without that copy and certain other countersigns, Plautanias would have won out, so boldly did he deny it. From the accusation of a single one, some remedy will be found, unless you are convicted by some writing or other countersigns, from which one ought to guard himself.
In the Pisonian conspiracy there was a woman called Epicaris, who in the past had been a friend of Nero, who judged it to be advisable to place among the conspirators a Captain of some triremes whom Nero had as his guard; she committed the conspiracy to him, but not the names of the conspirators. Whence that the Captain breaking his faith and accusing her to Nero, but so great was the audacity of Epicaris in denying it, that Nero, remaining confused, did not condemn her.
There are two dangers, therefore, in communicating a plot to only one individual: the first, that he does not accuse you as a test: the other, that he does not accuse you, he being convicted and constrained by the punishment to do so: he being arrested because of some suspicion or some other indication on his part. But there is some remedy for both of these dangers; the first, being able to deny it, alleging the hate that the man had for you; and the other to deny it, alleging the force that had constrained him to tell lies.
It is prudent, therefore, not to communicate the plot to anyone, but act according to those above mentioned examples; and even if you must communicate it, not to more than one, for while there is some danger in that, it is much less than in communicating it to many. Next to this, there may be a necessity which constrains you to do to that Prince what you see the Prince would want to do to you, and which is so great that it does not give you time to think of your own safety. This necessity almost always brings the matter to the desired ending, and to prove it, I have two examples which should suffice.
The Emperor Commodus had among his best friends and familiars Letus and Electus, Heads of the Praetorian soldiers, and had Marcia among his favorite concubines and friends: and as he was sometimes reproached by these three for the way he stained his personal dignity and that of the Empire, decided to have them killed, and wrote the names of Marcia, Letus and Electus, and several others on a list of those whom he wanted killed the following night, and he placed this list under the pillow of his bed: and having gone to bathe, a favorite child of his playing in the room and on the bed found this list, and going out with it in his hand met Marcia who took it from him; and when she read it and saw its contents, she quickly sent for Letus and Electus, and when all three recognized the danger they were in, they decided to forestall it, and without losing time, the following night they killed Commodus.
The Emperor Antoninus Caracalla was with his armies in Mesopotamia, and had for his prefect Macrinus, a man more fit for civil than military matters: and as it happens that bad Princes always fear that others will inflict on them that punishment which it appears to them they merit, Antoninus wrote to Maternianus his friend in Rome that he learn from the Astrologers if there was anyone who was aspiring to the Empire and to advise him of it.
Whence Maternianus wrote back to him that Macrinus was he who aspired to it, and the letter came first into the hands of Macrinus than of the Emperor; and because of this the necessity was recognized either to kill him before a new letter should arrive from Rome, or to die, he committed to his trusted friend, the Centurion Martialis, whose brother had been killed by Antoninus a few days before, that he should kill him, which was executed by him successfully. It is seen therefore, that this necessity which does not give time produces almost the same effect as the means employed by Nelematus of Epirus described by me above.
That of which I spoke of almost at the beginning of this discourse is also seen, that threats injure a Prince more, and are the cause of more efficacious Conspiracies than the injury itself; from which a Prince ought to guard himself; for men have to be either caressed or made sure of, and never reduced to conditions in which they believe they need either to kill others or be killed themselves. As to the dangers that are run in its execution, these result either from changing the orders, or from the lack of courage of those who should execute it, or from an error that the executor makes from little prudence, or from not perfecting the plot leaving some of them alive who had been planned to be killed.
I say, therefore, that there is nothing that causes disturbance or impediment to all the actions of men as much as when in an instant and without having time, to have to change an order, and to change it from the one that had been ordered first: and if this change causes disorder in anything, it does so especially in matters of war and matter similar to those of which we are speaking; for in such actions there is nothing so necessary to do as much as firming the minds of men to execute the part assigned to them: and if men have their minds turned for many days to a certain matter and certain order, and that be quickly changed, it is impossible that all be not disturbed, and everything not ruined; so that it is much better to execute a plot according to the order given even though some inconvenience is to be seen than to want to cancel it to enter into a thousand inconveniences.
This happens when one has no time to reorganize oneself, for when there is time, men can govern themselves in their own way. The arrangement made was that they were to dine at the Cardinal of San Giorgio's, and at that dinner to kill them the Medici : in which place there were distributed those who were to seize the palace, and those who were to overrun the City and call the people to liberty. It happened that while the Pazzi, the Medici, and the Cardinal were at the solemn office in the Cathedral Church in Florence, it was learned that Giuliano was not dining that morning, which caused the conspirators to gather together, and that which they had to do in the house of Medici, they decided to do in the Church: which caused the disturbance of all the arrangements, as Giovanbattista da Montesecco did not want to consent to the homicide, saying he did not want to do it in the Church: so that they had to change to new members for every action who, not having time to firm up their minds, made such errors, that they were crushed in the execution.
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The spirit is sometimes lacking to those who should execute a plot either from reverence of from the innate goodwill of the executor. So great is the majesty and reverence which surrounds the presence of a Prince, that it is an easy matter for it either to mitigate the will of or terrify an executor. To Marius having been taken by the Minturnians was sent a slave who was to kill him, but who was so terrified by the presence of that man and by the memory of his fame, that he became cowardly, and lost all courage to kill him.
And if this power exists in a man bound and a prisoner, and overwhelmed by bad fortune, how much more is it to be feared from a Prince free, with the majesty of ornaments, of pomp, and of his court: so that this pomp can terrify you, and that grateful welcome can humiliate you. Some subjects conspired against Sitalces, King of Thracia; they fixed the day of its execution, they came to the appointed place where the Prince was, but none of them would move to attack him, so that they departed without having attempted anything, and without knowing what had impeded them, and they blamed one another.
They fell into this error several times, so that the conspiracy was discovered, and they suffered the punishment for that evil which they could have committed, but would not. Two brothers of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, conspired against him, and they employed as the executioner of their plot Giannes, Priest and Cantor of the Duke, who several times at their request had brought the Duke to them, so that they would have occasion to kill him: None the less, none of them ever dared to do it, so that it was discovered, and they bore the penalty of their wickedness and little prudence.
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This neglect of taking advantage of the opportunity resulted either from his presence dismaying them or from some humane act by the Prince humbling them. The failures that arise in such executions arise either from the error of little prudence or little courage; for when one or the other of these things invades you, and carried by that confusion of the brain, you are made to say and do that which you ought not. And that men's minds are thus invaded and confounded, Titus Livius cannot demonstrate better then when he writes of Alexemenes, the Aetolian, who when he wanted to kill Nabis, the Spartan, of which we talked about above , when the time came for the execution of his design , discovered to his men what had to be done, Titus Livius speaks these words: He collected his own spirits, which were confused seeing the greatness of the undertakings.
For it is impossible that anyone even though he be of firm spirit and accustomed to the use of the sword and the killing of men be not confused. Hence only men experienced in such affairs ought to be selected, and none other be trusted, even though he held to be most courageous. For the certainty of anyone's courage cannot be promised without having had experience.
Such confusion, therefore, can either make the arms fall from your hand, or make you say things that will have the same result. Lucilla, the sister of Commodus, ordered Quintianus to kill him. This man awaited Commodus at the entrance of the amphitheatre, and encountering him, with drawn dagger, shouted, The Senate sends you this : which words caused him to be seized before he had lowered his arm to wound him. When the conspiracy is against only one Head, success of the affair cannot be obtained, for the reasons mentioned: but success is obtained even less easily when the conspiracy is against two Heads; actually, it is so difficult that it is almost impossible that it succeed: for to undertake the same action at the same time in different places is almost impossible, as it cannot be done at different times without one spoiling the other: so that conspiring against one Prince is a doubtful, dangerous and little prudent thing; to conspire against two is entirely vain and foolhardy.
And if it were not for the respect I have of history, I would never believe that that would be possible which Herodianus says to Plautianus, when he commissioned Saturninus, the Certurian, that he alone should kill Severus and Antoninus Caracalla living in different places; for it is so far from reasonableness, that other than this authority would not have me believe it. They killed Diodes, but Hippias who remained avenged him. Chion and Leonidas, of Heraclea, and disciples of Plato, conspired against the Tyrants Clearchus and Satirus: they killed Clearchus, but Satirus who remained alive avenged him.
The Pazzi, mentioned by us many times, did not succeed in killing anyone except Giuliano; so that everyone ought to abstain from such Conspiracies against several Heads, for they do no good to yourself, nor the country, nor anyone: rather those tyrants who remain become more harsh and unendurable, as Florence, Athens, and Heraclea know, as I have stated above. It is true that the conspiracy that Pelopidas made to deliver his country, Thebes, from the Tyrants faced all the difficulties: none the less it had a most happy ending; for Pelopidas not only conspired against two Tyrants, but against ten: not only was he not a confidant and did not have easy access to the Tyrants, but he was also a rebel: none the less he was able to come to Thebes, kill the Tyrants, and free the country.
Yet, none the less, he did all with the aid of one Charon, counsellor or the Tyrants, through whom he had an easy access to the execution of his plot. Let no one, none the less, take this as an example; for, as that enterprise was almost impossible, and a marvelous thing to succeed, and so regarded by the writers, who commemorate it as something rare and unprecedented. Such execution can be interrupted by a false alarm or by an unforeseen accident that arises in its doing. The morning that Brutus and the other conspirators wanted to kill Caesar, it happened that he Caesar talked at length with Gn.
Popilius Lena, one of the conspirators, and the others seeing this long talk were apprehensive that the said Popilius might reveal the conspiracy to Caesar. They were tempted to kill Caesar here, and not wait until he should be in the Senate: and they would have done so except that the discussion ended, and as it was seen that Caesar did not do anything extraordinary, they were reassured.
These false alarms are to be regarded and considered with prudence, and so much more as they come about easily, for he who had his conscience blemished, readily believes that everyone talks of him.