According to LOCALTIMEZONE.ORG, the “ruin” of Italy it is undoubtedly one of the main themes of M.’s thought, a source of pain and anger, but which at the same time required to be explained and understood in order to find a remedy. We have already seen how in the Discourses (I xii 15-21) M. identified in the “corruption” of the Church one of the reasons for the weakness and division of Italy and as in the Prince denounced the growing dependence, starting from the 14th century, of the Italian states on mercenary weapons as another cause, perhaps even more serious, of the political-military catastrophe of his time. With the mercenaries – first mainly foreigners and later coming mostly from the ranks of the “gentlemen” and “lords of castella” of the Italy – “all the Italian princes spend more time in their wars”. In the Flor. (I xxxix), summarizing the political structure of Italy of the early fifteenth century, M. outlines the disastrous consequences of the use of mercenaries. Here is his review of the main states: Kingdom of Naples; States of the Church; Lombardy divided between the Visconti of Milan, Venice, and the Gonzagas of Mantua; the “major part” of Tuscany dominated by Florence, the rest under Lucca and Siena; Genoa, now one of the “minor potentates”, often under the Visconti or French rule. M. observes that “all these main potentates were unarmed of their own weapons”, the principalities as well as the republics, and among the latter the state of the Venetians – who, once their policy of expansion on the mainland had begun, abandoned “those weapons which at sea they had made him glorious, and, following the custom of other Italians “,
“Disarmed” the “main potentates”, it resulted that “the arms of Italy [were] in the hands of either minor princes or men without a state”, that is, the noble captains, at the head of private armies, who practiced the trade of arms as a profession, they changed employer when it seemed to them to take advantage of it the most, did not obey any state or prince, had little interest in fighting seriously, demanded large sums in exchange for their services, and not infrequently betrayed those who had hired them. M. lists, among many others, famous leaders such as Carmagnola, Niccolò Piccinino, Niccolò da Tolentino, “the barons of Rome, Orsini and Colonnesi, with other gentlemen and gentlemen of the Kingdom and of Lombardy”, and that Francesco Sforza, who he succeeded, as M. will explain later in the Flor., to become Duke of Milan more with cunning than with his military skills. On all of them M. launches a very heavy judgment, accusing them of having acted “as a league and intelligence together”, whose aims were to avoid battles and to conduct military actions in such a way as to limit or even completely eliminate losses.. In one of the moments of greatest bitterness and anger of the Histories, M. concludes that in the end they […] reduced [the war] to such cowardice that any mediocre captain, in whom there was no shadow of the ancient reborn virtue, would have him with the admiration of all Italy, which for its lack of prudence honored them, reviled (I xxxix 9).
The irony of the art of war lies in the fact that in the dialogue it is precisely one of these mercenary captains, Fabrizio Colonna, who was also a real “lord of castella”, who explains why these “soldiers of Italy” were so dangerous for the fate of the Italy itself. Fabrizio condemns the “gentle men” who practice war as their “art” or private profession (thus revealing the irony of the title of the work): no one should practice war “for art but a republic or a kingdom”. In fact, a “well-ordered” state, he continues, “never allowed any of its citizens or subjects to use it for art, nor did any good man exercise it for his particular art”, first of all because those who make war as their profession, and he must “benefit from it”, he cannot help but “be rapacious, fraudulent, [and] violent.” Since war does not “nourish in peace” those who exercise it as a profession, they “need either to think that it is not peace, or to prevail in times of war that they can feed themselves in peace” by committing “the robberies, violence, the assassinations that such soldiers do to friends as well as to ‘enemies’. Fabrizio reminds his interlocutors of the sad story of the fourteenth-century venture companies:
You do not have in the memory of your things how, finding many soldiers in Italy without a penny for the wars being over, more brigades gathered together, which were called Compagnie, and went plundering the lands and plundering the country, without being able to do any remedy? (Art of War I 54).