Machiavelli and the Classical Basis for Democratic Advantage Theory

Aidan Poling


Machiavelli was a brilliant political theorist not only for his role in the renaissance of realist thought[1] but also because he stands as one of the strongest and earliest proponents of democratic advantage theory. Machiavelli clearly agreed with Polybius’ assertion that “the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others.”[2] Throughout the Discourses on Livy Machiavelli seeks to use examples from Livy, among other sources, to prove his central point: that democracies possess an advantage in achieving power and maintaining greatness. Machiavelli highlights a number of key advantages democracies enjoy including better leadership over the long term[3], a better decision-making process[4], a more prudent record of granting power to magistrates and deputies[5], and a stronger network of alliances.[6] Machiavelli also argues that contrary to the popular opinion “the Multitude is wiser and more constant than a Prince”[7] and that with well-formed institutions in place, such as that of the Roman office of dictator, democracies are able to act decisively while mitigating the risk of a tyranny arising.[8] Unfortunately, Machiavelli’s reliance on Livy’s first-ten books on the early Roman Republic is slightly misguided since most historians view Livy’s early books as inaccurate, if not wishful thinking on the part of the ardent republican, regarding Rome’s early history. This does not dismiss wholly the validity of Machiavelli’s points but simply forces the reader to attempt to critically examine Machiavelli’s evidence and in some cases look for new evidence. In addition, while all the advantages Machiavelli articulates are indeed advantages enjoyed by democracies they are not the ones which the ancients identified as democracies greatest advantage. Indeed, Machiavelli only hints at democracy’s greatest advantage, the willingness of democratic people to persevere together despite the odds rather than surrender to the enemy. It is this stubborn perseverance that makes or breaks a state seeking greatness and so often tips the scales in a state’s favor as they wage the brutal wars of attrition that so often decide which state will dominate the international system.

A House Divided Cannot Stand: Machiavelli’s Theory’s on Democratic Advantage

While all the previously mentioned arguments regarding the strength of democracies are generally sound, perhaps the greatest strengths of democracies are ones which Machiavelli seems to only allude to, namely that democracies are better able to wage war and maintain both their state and their republic. In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that principalities governed by a king and semi-independent lords like those of medieval France are easier to conquer than states that possess an absolute monarch whose ministers are solely reliant on the monarch for their power such as the Persian Empire or Ottoman Empire. The reason for this is that feudal societies have divided power bases that can be exploited by foreign adversaries to divide and conquer, the Romans’ favored tactic. However, Machiavelli also argues that states which possess feudal monarchies are more resilient to long term conquest because the nobles expect and demand their independence and will continue to fight for it so long as the memory of their past liberty is remembered.[9]

While Machiavelli does not argue this explicitly, it stands to reason that well-functioning democracies are more resilient to foreign threats than both feudal and absolute principalities because they possess both the love of freedom that makes feudal systems so hard to permanently administer and the unity of purpose that prevent foreigners from exploiting a state’s factionalism. This point is borne out by the examples of democratic Athens and Republican Rome. The importance of freedom in increasing the resilience of a nation is mentioned by Machiavelli when discussing the Italian nations which Rome defeated. Machiavelli states that “Nothing caused so much hard work for the Romans… as the love many people in those times had for liberty; which they so obstinately defended but they would never have been subjugated except for the excessive virtu [of the Romans]”[10] The assertion that free peoples are more stringent in their own defense is repeated by Machiavelli when he uses the potentially ahistorical performance of the Romans under the Decemvirs to demonstrate that “those who combat for their own glory are good and faithful Soldiers.”[11] Finally, Machiavelli points out that strong republics are able to maintain their “dignity” in any fortune and specifically cites how the “defeat [Rome] experienced at Cannae” failed to “dismay [the Romans] or render them humble.”[12]

The Case of Greece During the Persian Wars

The first crucial case to consider when it comes to democratic advantage is that of classical Greece. While Athens' performance in the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars will be the main focus of this case study, other lesser democracies and “free” city-states also provide useful examples. The two principal sources of information for classical Greece are Herodotus and Thucydides. Both should be seen as fairly impartial recorders of history with Herodotus frequently noting the merits of the Persian imperial system and Thucydides harboring strong oligarchic tendencies, especially after his exile from Athens. Despite this, both make clear the strength derived by the Greeks in general as a free people and the Athenians in particular as a democracy.

During the Persian Wars, the Greeks faced a threat of monumental proportions. The armies of the Persian Empire were vast[13] and had successfully conquered an enormous swath of territory across the Middle East. The magnitude of this threat made it only natural that many city-states would submit to the Persian Empire. Perhaps the most notable state to do so was Thebes[1] , a wealthy city in central Greece. Along with Athens and Sparta, Thebes dominated the politics of the Greek mainland prior to the Persian invasions. Despite this, during the invasion, the oligarchic faction of Thebes, led by Attaginus and Timegenidas, chose to submit their city to Persian rule rather than stand with the rest of the Greek city-states.[14] Some may argue that the extremity of the Theban position forced them to surrender. While this may certainly have been a contributing cause, it cannot entirely excuse the ease with which Persia gained Thebes. In contrast, the Athenians willingly abandoned Athens during the Second Persian War rather than submit themselves to Persian rule.

The idea of free or democratic peoples fighting better than those who are “enslaved” is present throughout Machiavelli and is substantiated by Herodotus.[15][16] While some view Herodotus as overly supportive of the Greek cause, in reality, he was criticized by many in antiquity for being overly sympathetic to the Persians. In addition, Herodotus’ hometown of Halicarnassus was one of those Greek cities which medized and he provides a glowing description of its queen Artemisia. Herodotus makes explicit the importance of love of freedom as a motivating factor. In one instance a Spartan ambassador is asked by a Persian governor why the Spartans refuse to become “friends of the [Persian] king” when they could simply capitulate and live in safety. The Spartans respond by saying that since the governor “know[s] well how to be a slave” but has “never tasted freedom” he “do[es] not know whether it is sweet or not. Were [he] to taste of it, not with spears would [he] counsel [the Spartans] to fight for [freedom]… but with axes.”[17] This theme is repeated in Herodotus’s description of the Battle of Thermopylae. During the Battle of the Thermopylae, the Spartans and their allies stood firm against the vastly superior Persian army. While the Persians soldiers need to be forced with whips to attack and die by the score, the Spartans, in contrast, defend the pass willingly till the last man. The great importance of freedom in encouraging men to fight bravely in its defense and the consequent rewards and recognition they are able to receive as a result is well attested in Machiavelli who notes the extreme “dangers [free people] placed themselves in order to maintain or recover (their liberty).”[18]

Herodotus especially supports Machiavelli’s assertion that democracies are endowed with greater strength in regard to Athens. Herodotus states that “while they were under tyrannical rulers, the Athenians were no better in war than any of their neighbors, yet once they got rid of their tyrants, they were by far the best of all. This, then, shows that while they were oppressed, they were, as men working for a master, cowardly, but when they were freed, each one was eager to achieve for himself.”[19] The Spartans themselves recognized the strength that the Athenians possessed as a free people and conspired to install a tyrant in Athens since they “realized that if the Athenians remained free, they would be equal in power with themselves, but that if they were held down under tyranny, they would be weak and ready to serve a master.”[20]

The Case of Athens During the Peloponnesian Wars

The Spartans’ fears regarding a free Athens were well founded. Machiavelli himself notes that it was a “marvelous thing to consider to what greatness Athens had arrived in the space of a hundred years after she had freed herself from the tyranny of Pisistratus.”[21] A reading of the Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War provides evidence for several democratic advantages that aided Athens. Over the course of twenty-seven years, Athens fought a grinding war of attrition against Sparta. While Athens was of course eventually defeated, the fact that it was able to stand against such a formidable foe as Sparta and was only defeated after Sparta began receiving vast amounts of financial assistance from the Persian Empire demonstrates the force multiplying effect that democracy had on Athens. Among the notable advantages that Athenian democracy provided were an increased resolve on the part of Athenians to aid in the war effort, an unwillingness to surrender, the ability to more easily mobilize Athen’s financial resources for the war effort, and a striking degree of unity that helped mitigate for a time the sorts of internal divisions that proved so catastrophic to other Greek city-states during the same period.

Athenian democracy promoted a willingness in Athenians to “spend their lives ungrudgingly in their country’s service,” which made them “slow to recoil from a reverse.”[22] It also promoted a willingness in Athenians to prioritize the state’s welfare over their own. These traits enabled Athens to continue waging a war of attrition when no one else thought it possible.[23] The devotion of Athenians to the war effort is demonstrated by their adoption of Pericles’s war strategy.[24] Pericles was able to overcome the Athenians’ anger over “the suffering that [his strategy] entail[ed]” and become re-elected by urging the Athenians to cease grieving for “[their] private afflictions and address [themselves] instead to the safety of the commonwealth.”[25] The strength of Athenians’ resolve was on full display by 413 BC. Despite enduring a plague and fighting a lengthy two-front war in Attica and Sicily, the Athenians maintained their resolve.[26] The effect democracy had on a state’s morale was not an exclusively Athenian trait. Syracuse is noted as being a particularly difficult opponent for Athens because its democratic structure made it unwilling to surrender and resistant to Athenian efforts at regime change.[27]

The patriotism of Athenian Democrats also ensured their continued loyalty to the city and enabled them to cooperate with even their most hated enemy, the Four Hundred.[28] During the civil war between the Four Hundred and the democratic forces, the Democrats prioritized the well-being and survival of the Athenian state and empire over quickly reinstating democracy by force. While “the first thought of the army was to fall upon the chief authors of oligarchy” and immediately restore democracy to Athens, they were eventually persuaded by the more moderate men to desist from this idea as it would “ruin their cause with the enemy so close at hand.”[29] A similar instance occurred slightly after this event when the hoplites stationed at Piraeus rebelled against the Four Hundred. Rather than give up the city to the enemy in order to topple the Four Hundred, the soldiers closed ranks with the Four Hundred in order to face the Spartans at Euboea.[30] While Athenian Democrats placed love of city over personal power, this was not the case for the Four Hundred who were sooner willing to betray Athens and “call in the enemy” to maintain their position “than be the first victims of the restored democracy.”[31] Thus, democracy can be seen as a crucial unifying force, even when confronted with virulent factionalism. This unity of purpose, and emphasis on what Machiavelli terms the “common good” is, according to Machiavelli, only observed in republics because everywhere else the state looks after only the interests of either the oligarchs or the tyrant which inevitably leads to the diminishment of the state.[32]

Athens is also notable for the innovative ways in which it managed to mobilize the financial resources necessary to wage war and fund its vast fleet. During the course of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians, of course, made great use out of the tribute of their empire to pay for their fleet. However, they also were incredibly adept at raising the funds domestically. Athens accomplished this in two ways. The first was the use of the liturgy system and trierarchs.[33] Liturgies were a broad category of taxes Athens levied on its richest citizens and foreign nationals to provide various services for the state including providing funding for plays, banquets, gymnasiums, and must crucially triremes. Those individuals who funded and commanded triremes were known as trierarchs. According to Gabrielsen “the Athenian liturgy system in the classical period was firmly attached to democracy” in contrast to oligarchy which “sat uneasily with the liturgical demands imposed on men of influence.”[34] The liturgical system was widely used and followed in democratic Athens. The openness of democratic Athens ensured that all citizens were aware of the contributions that prominent citizens made towards the city’s defense and encouraged the wealthy nobility to fulfill their obligations in order to gain social standing. Surprisingly, Machiavelli deemphasizes the role money plays in warfare arguing that virtue is the chief means by which wars are won.[35] Even if we accept this as true, it is possible to extrapolate that a virtuous state will have citizens more likely to sacrifice both financially and bodily in its service.

Athens also used a broader obligatory eisphora wealth tax to raise funds during times of great extremity. Thucydides mentions that when the Athenians needed money for a siege of Mytilene they “for the first time raised a contribution of two hundred talents from their own citizens.”[36] These taxes seem to have represented a 1-2% tax on each citizen’s wealth.[37] The tax was clearly effective. It was capable of raising 200 talents with this small one-time tax raising as much as one third of the annual revenue raised by the empire.[38]

It should also be noted that democratic Athens proved itself capable of financial prudence. Prior to the Second Persian invasion, the Athenians received an unexpected financial windfall from their silver mines but decided to use the money to build “200 ships of war” rather than providing each citizen a grant.[39] During the Peloponnesian War, Athens put aside 1000 talents to be used only in service of defending Athens itself and resisted using these funds until the very end of the war.[40]

In summation, the free Greeks, and later the free and democratic Athenians were more willing to endure hardship in order to maintain their freedom and as a result were better equipped to successfully wage the sort of painful and prolonged wars of attrition that so often decide which set of great powers will successfully dominate an international environment.

The Case of the Roman Republic

The Roman Republic also demonstrated a number of qualities necessary to successfully wage prolonged war: the unity of its populace in the face of external threat, continued resilience despite suffering repeated defeats, high degrees of both financial and manpower mobilization and a robust alliance system that never fully broke down even after significant reversals. These traits are demonstrated by Rome’s experiences during the Pyrrhic Wars and the first two Punic Wars.

In 280 BC, Italy was invaded by Pyrrhus of Epirus[41] at the behest of the Tarentines. Pyrrhus proceeded to defeat the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea. While the Romans were defeated in this battle, they failed to break outright and instead retreated back to Rome in an orderly manner. Having won a sound, if not decisive victory, Pyrrhus sent his diplomat Cineas to “conferences with the men in authority, and sent their wives and children gifts in the name of the king. No one, however, would accept the gifts.”[42] Pyrrhus then proposed to the Senate that in exchange for peace he would restore to Rome its captured soldiers and assist them in their conquest of Italy. This also the Romans refused.[43] Upon returning to Pyrrhus, Cineas reported that he had found the Senate to be a “council of kings” and as to the people feared they would be a “Lernaean hydra for them to fight against, since the consul already had twice as many soldiers collected as those who faced their enemies before, and there were many times as many Romans still who were capable of bearing arms.” Rome would fight three major battles with Pyrrhus and despite losing the first two “they did not lose courage in defeat, [instead], their wrath gave them all the more vigor and determination for the war.”[44] Rome would use this determination, along with its incredible ability to “easily and speedily”[45] mobilize new armies to eventually defeat Pyrrhus.

The Pyrrhic War highlights a number of crucial advantages that Rome enjoyed. For one, its troops were highly motivated and disciplined. Despite repeated defeats, the Romans continued to fight against Pyrrhus zealously rather than accepting the initial offer of peace that would have benefited Rome but left it dependent on Pyrrhus. The stubbornness of Rome was on display both among its people, without whom Rome would not have had the men to keep fighting, as well as its nobles, who refused to entertain the offers of Pyrrhus. The nobles had been generally in favor of peace, but they still refused all of Pyrrhus’ entreaties and stood solidly with Rome against the foreign threat. This is particularly noteworthy because it occurred only seven years after the final Conflict of Orders, wherein the plebeian assembly’s resolutions finally gained the force of law over the entire population which the patricians had stringently opposed for centuries.[46]

The Punic Wars also demonstrate the incredible ability of the Romans to endure massive losses and still continue to maintain an effective fighting force in large part due to the support the Roman state as a republic enjoyed from its people. When first discussing the prospect of supporting the Mamertines against Carthage, the Senate was against the action because it was widely believed that Rome needed to recover its strength after fighting for such a long period. In contrast, “the commons, however, worn out as they were by the recent wars and in need of any and every kind of restorative, listened readily to the military commanders” who urged war both to forestall a Carthaginian foothold so close to mainland Italy, but also because of “the great benefit in the way of plunder which each and everyone would evidently derive from [war].”[47] It should be remembered that in premodern societies war was a highly profitable activity for the victors and was especially beneficial to ordinary citizens in a democratic state wherein the spoils of war were more likely to be distributed equitably.[48] This incident demonstrates how the intelligence and enthusiasm of the People in a democracy can lead to successful policy-making wherein the citizens themselves have a high degree of buy-in and affirms Machiavelli’s assertion that the Multitude is just as capable as any prince when it comes to decision making.[49]

Rome was able to mobilize its populace and rebuild its armies to an incredible degree. At the Battle of Trebia Rome lost over 16,000 men.[50][51] At the Battle of Lake Trasimene 15,000 Romans were killed and 15,000 were captured.[52] At the Battle of Cannae Rome lost 70,000 men.[53] Despite losses that any ordinary contemporary state would view as disastrous, Rome pressed on and raised new armies to fight Hannibal. This in itself is remarkable. Following a single major defeat, Pyrrhus abandoned his campaign against Rome. During the Persian Wars, all it took was one major defeat for Darius at Marathon, and one land and one naval defeat at Plataea and Salamis respectively, for Xerxes to abandon the fight. In contrast, Rome repeatedly sustained catastrophic losses but kept on fighting.[54]

The use of democratic patriotism to inspire a populace to contribute financially was well attested in both the First and Second Punic Wars. Polybius states that Rome lost 700 quinqueremes over the course of the First Punic War and Carthage lost 500.[55] Polybius also notes that the great fleets of the Hellenistic monarchs were never anywhere near that scale. The creation and maintenance of a navy was perhaps the most costly portion of ancient warfare. Financing such an effort would have required both the economic strength of a nation with strong mercantile traditions and the ability to exploit that wealth by inspiring private individuals to contribute. The Hellenistic monarchs who were largely reliant on their own wealth to fund their war efforts were never able to match the financial mobilization that Athens, Carthage, and Rome were able to achieve. Livy describes how during the Second Punic War the Roman people were starting to balk under the prospect of a new tax being levied. The consul Laevinus sidestepped this issue by encouraging the Senate to lead by example. Livy records Laevinus as saying that since “we [the Senate] want the Roman people to have fleets and to equip them, [and] we want each citizen to furnish rowers and not to shirk his duty; then let us impose the burden on ourselves first of all during times of crisis.”[56] The senators “were so eager to be among the first to have their names inscribed in the public register that the commissioners were not able to take over the amounts or the clerks to enter them fast enough.”[57] This enthusiasm proved as infectious as Laevnius had hoped with the equestrian and plebeian orders scrambling to follow the example of the senatorial class.

Finally, it is important to note that Rome’s populace was highly unified and while often seriously threatened always avoided the destabilizing factionalism that so Rome so frequently exploited in its opponents. During the entire course of the Republic, there appear to be no major successful efforts by Rome's enemies to install an individual, or a faction, over the rest of the Romans.[58] The efforts of Pyrrhus to try and negotiate or win over either the Senate or individual Senators fell completely flat. During the course of the Punic Wars, no attempts were even made by the Carthaginians to try and install a compliant regime even after the defeats Rome suffered at Trebia, Lake Trasimine, and Cannae. The closest example of a foreign intervention being utilized in a Roman internal dispute occurred in 63 BC when the populist rebel Catiline failed spectacularly to bring in Gallic mercenaries to help with his ill-fated rebellion. The strong taboo against involving foreigners in internal Roman political disputes was prevalent as late as 31 BC wherein Octavian's’ strongest rhetorical attack against Mark Antony was Antony’s relationship with the eastern queen Cleopatra.

Finally, it should be noted that Rome's success when dealing with the multitude of autocratic monarchies and tribal rulers in Gaul, Spain, Greece, and the Hellenistic east was in large part derived from Rome’s successful ability to both exploit local factionalism and convince local rulers to accept their new status as Rome’s clients rather than actually fight to strengthen their own kingdoms and maintain their independence. During the Second Macedonian War, Philip V surrendered to Rome after only one major defeat and proceeded to give up all claims to Greece, Thrace, and Thessaly, pay a massive war indemnity, and accept the Senate’s control over his foreign policy. Following a single inconclusive defeat and a failed Roman siege, Hiero of Syracuse submitted himself to Rome after they offered to allow him to stay in power and expand the territory of Syracuse.[59] While these seem to be favorable terms it should be remembered that servitude is still servitude and that it is impossible for any state to achieve greatness or power if their rulers simply accept defeat at the hands of the enemy in exchange for security and a luxurious lifestyle.[60]

Rome was able to persist in waging war when any other state would have failed. During the Pyrrhic War and Punic Wars, Rome recovered from disastrous defeats by mobilizing its people to supply the men and money needed to continue to wage war. Rome also resisted any attempts by foreign powers to divide it and successfully exploited the self-preservation instincts of enemy monarchs and turned them into client kings.

The Weakness of Modern Democracies?

While in general democracies have prevailed in the modern era against authoritarian opponents, recent American experiences in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq have undermined the belief that democracies have the willpower to successfully commit to fight and win longterm wars of attrition. To this, I have two responses. First, no nation is ever truly equipped to fight a dedicated insurgency. Second, no populace likes to commit to unnecessary or unwinnable wars as all three of those wars were. As long as a nation has a strong enough desire to be free, and terrain and technology favor their efforts, they will be able to make the life of the occupier a nightmare. Even Rome, Machiavelli’s favorite empire, found it difficult or nigh on impossible to fight an insurgency, as their 187 long year effort to subjugate Spain and their eventual failure to conquer Germania demonstrate. In addition, in order to truly inspire a populace to willingly support a war effort materially, financially, and indeed bodily, one must demonstrate that the war is both winnable and necessary.[61] Wars that are both useless and seemingly impossible to win are never popular, and for good reason, since generally they are the wars that a state should avoid fighting.[62] Evidence for this can be found in the work of Gelpi, Feaver, and Reifler who determined that the Americans’ support for “the human costs of war” in Iraq rests on them “believing the war was the right thing to do combines with expectations of success.”[63] As long as a war seems both necessary and winnable a democratic populace is willing to suffer the costs of war.


Machiavelli's chief argument in favor of democracies is that “excellent men come from republics more than kingdoms because in republics they are honored and in kingdoms they are feared.”[64] This virtuous citizenry imparts to its state a whole host of benefits including better leadership, braver soldiers, and the prioritization of the state’s interests over that of the individual. Unfortunately, Machiavelli’s focus on the importance of virtue led him to neglect discussing in detail other facets of warfare and governance. Democracies, of course, enjoy a plethora of other advantages that are only hinted at by Machiavelli that this paper has not focused on but are also crucial to recognize.[65] These are best illustrated by Pericles’ funeral oration. Pericles describes how Athens is the “school of Hellas,”[66] that the citizens of Athens are capable of independent thought and versatility, that through trade Athens has become wealthy, and that despite not utilizing the same rigid training of Spartans the Athenians are still able to match them in the field. While Machiavelli disdains the role of money in warfare he does recognize that it must play some role.[67] Free societies are also able to out-innovate their opponent by allowing the marketplace of technology and ideas to develop. Machiavelli clearly recognized this when discussing the adaptability of democracies in the face of variable fortuna as a result of their large pool of leaders and strategies.[68] In addition, Machiavelli recognized the emerging importance of new technology, in particular, that of cannon and new siege works.[69] The importance of science and technology in warfare has obviously exponentially increased in the ensuing decades and centuries.

While Machiavelli may have been overly fixated with virtue as the key factor in determining a states’ ability to wage war he was not wrong to consider it important. The histories of the Greek city-states, democratic Athens, and the Roman Republic all demonstrate the crucial importance of having a state that encourages virtue. Democratic states are excellent at promoting virtue in their citizens and inspiring the sorts of self-sacrifice that are required to wage and win a total war and thus have an enduring advantage over their autocratic rivals. They are able to marshal the full resources of their free populations to fight together. They are also more impervious to attempts at regime change and less likely to accept a disadvantageous peace. While we should be worried by the renewed challenge of autocracies in the 21st century, there is no need to think that democracies won’t once again rise to the occasion.


[1] While some may credit Machiavelli as the father of realist thought, the real birth of it in the Western world comes from Thucydides.

[2] Polybius, The Histories, Book 1 Chapter 1.

[3] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter XX.

[4] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter LVIII.

[5] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 3 Chapter XXXIV.

[6] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter LIX.

[7] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter LVIII.

[8] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter XXXIV.

[9] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter II.

[10] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter II.

[11] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter XLIII.

[12] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 3 Chapter XXXI.

[13] While Herodotus’s claim of a 2,317,610 strong Persian army is obviously highly exaggerated these numbers, the fact that Xerxes outnumbered his opponents is not in dispute.

[14] Herodotus, Book 7 Chapter 10.2, Pausanias Achaia 10.

[15] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter XLIII.

[16] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter II.

[17] Herodotus, Book 7 Chapter 135.

[18] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter II.

[19] Herodotus, Book 5 Chapter 78.

[20] Herodotus, Book 5 Chapter 91.

[21] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter 2.

[22] Thucydides, Book 1, Chapter70.

[23] Thucydides, Book 7 Chapter 28.

[24] Pericles had the Athenians adopt a defensive posture in Attica in order to avoid risking defeat at the hands of Sparta’s superior infantry force and instead had them focus on using their navy to maintain control of their empire and in doing so outlast Sparta. However, this strategy did entail the loss of essentially all Athenian territory outside the walls of Athens in Attica.

[25] Thucydides, Book 2 Chapter 62.

[26] Thucydides, Book 7 Chapter 28.

[27] Thucydides, Book 7 Chapter 55.

[28] It should be note that a reoccurring flaw of Athenian democracy was the misaligned priorities it promoted in its commanders. Athenian leaders were so afraid of being prosecuted by the Athenian People for corruption or incompetence that they would make poor strategic decisions or even desert Athens for a rival power. Notable examples of this include Themistocles, Thucydides, Alcibiades and Nicias. Such behavior was not unique to Athens. During this period leading figures would often play both sides of a conflict.

[29] Thucydides, Book 8 Chapter 75.1.

[30] Thucydides, Book 8 Chapter 94.

[31] Thucydides, Book 8 Chapter 91.3.

[32] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter 2.

[33] Gabrielsen, Vincent. 1950. Financing the Athenian Fleet : Public Taxation and Social Relations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed June 11, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central. 7.

[34] Gabrielsen 7.

[35] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 2 Chapter 10.

[36] Thucydides, Book 3 Chapter 19.

[37] Peter Fawcett. "“When I Squeeze You with Eisphorai”: Taxes and Tax Policy in Classical Athens." Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 85, no. 1 (2016): 153-99. doi:10.2972/hesperia.85.1.0153. 157.

[38] Thucydides, Book 2 Chapter 13.5.

[39] Herodotus, Book 7, Chapter 144.

[40] Thucydides, Book 2 Chapter 24, Book 8 Chapter 15.

[41] The threat posed by Pyrrhus was a serious one. He possessed the sort of finely honed Hellenistic army with which Alexander the Great had conquered the Persian Empire and was rated by Hannibal himself as a commander only surpassed by Alexander the Great.

[42] Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, Book 18 Chapter 2-3.

[43] Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, Book 18 Chapter 2-3..

[44] Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, Book 22 Chapter 10.

[45] Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, Book 22 Chapter 10.

[46] Evidence for Roman’s “rallying around the flag” is well attested in the early books of Livy such as Livy 3.66. but since this is part of Livy’s early works its reliability as proper evidence is tenuous.

[47] Polybius, The Histories, Book 1 Chapter 11.2.

[48] There are of course down sides to this reality as demonstrated by the Athenian Assemblies’s enthusiasm for the Syracuse campaign which was motivated in large part by a desire for pay and spoils of war.

[49] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 1 Chapter LVIII.

[50] Polybius, The Histories, Book 3 Chapter 71.

[51] The reliability of ancient troop figures is always in doubt but all accounts agree that Rome lost a staggering amount of men during the Second Punic War.

[52] Polybius, The Histories, Book 3 Chapter 84.

[53] Polybius, The Histories, Book 3 Chapter 117.

[54] Some may point to Rome’s manpower reserves as the source of its ability to continue fighting. While this is indeed a valid point, it should be remembered that Romes republican form of government and unique open alliance structure is what afforded it the ability to draw on such a large pool of men. Other states, including the Persian empire and Hellenistic kingdoms had large manpower reserves but they were unable to turn them into an effective and motivated fighting force in the same way that the Romans were.

[55] Polybius, The Histories, Book 1 Chapter 63.4-6.

[56] Livy, Ab Urbe Condita Libri, Book 26 Chapter 4.

[57] Livy, Ab Urbe Condita Libri, Book 26 Chapter 11.

[58] A possible counter example exists in the story of Coriolanus from the sixth and early fifth centurey, who was exiled from Rome and then joined with the Volscians to invade Rome before being dissuaded by his mother, wife, and child. However, this historicity of this story is widely debated by modern classicists and even if it was true the strength of the story as a cautionary tale regarding the cost of treachery demonstrates the strong cultural norms in place in Rome against betraying the Republic.

[59] Polybius, The Histories, Book 1 Chapter 16.

[60] It should also be noted that a particular strength of Republican Rome was its ability to make being a friend and ally of Rome a desirable enough position to encourage individuals to seek it.

[61] This of course gets into the discussion of whether it is indeed better to be feared or loved. I would posit that it is better to be loved if one wishes to inspire ones followers and actually accomplish great things but that Machiavelli is correct in arguing that fear is a more stable base to build on if one is afraid of ones own subjects. For a broader discussion on this topic look to Whether it is Better to be Feared or Loved:

An Examination of Leader-Troop Relations by Aidan Poling

[62] A prominent argument put forward by democratic advantage theorists is that modern democracies are more selective in the wars they fight and thus more successful. For more see Reiter and Stam 1992.

[63] Klarevas, Louis J., Christopher Gelpi, and Jason Reifler. "Casualties, Polls, and the Iraq War." International Security 31, no. 2 (2006): 186-98. 45.

[64] Machiavelli, Art of War, Book II 293.

[65] To see a good discussion of these sorts of advantages see Kroenig’s The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the United States, Russia, and China Today.

[66] Thucydides, Book 2 Chapter 41.1.

[67] Machiavelli, Art of War, Book VII 178.

[68] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book 3 Chapter 9.

[69] Machiavelli, Art of War, Book VII 3.

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