The Romans move into Greece and their subsequent treatment of the Greek city states was a prime example of how Machiavelli thought power should be acquired and maintained.
They were brought into Greece by the Aetolians. As Machiavelli stated, when a powerful foreign party enters a country, people that have an existing hatred or grievance with the ruling power are naturally drawn towards this new external challenger.
Despite conquering large amounts of territory, the Romans attempted to appease the majority of the local people and keep down any potential challengers to their power. Several measures were taken by the Romans to ensure that they successfully added the land of several countries to their own region.
Firstly, the Roman senate set up colonies and maintained friendly relations with weaker powers, such as the minor Greek states of the Achaeans and Aetolians, while at the same time ensuring they did not allow any increase in strength of these smaller states.
Secondly, they ignored requests of friendship from the stronger Kingdom of Macedonia and when the Aetolians asked the Romans to help them fight against Philip V of Macedon, they accepted and defeated him, significantly weakening his powerful Kingdom.
Finally, they did not allow any other strong foreign parties to gain authority. A few years after defeating Philip V of Macedon, the Aetolians were allied with Antiochus III of Syria. The Romans did not agree to letting the foreign challenger Antiochus hold any state in Greece and turned on the Aetolians, defeating them and Antiochus, significantly reducing their overall strength too.
The Romans ensured that they did not increase the power of anyone but themselves. They conquered neighbouring provinces and kept hold of them by following these policies Machiavelli highlighted:
- indulge the lesser powers without increasing their power
- put down the powerful
- do not allow foreign powers to establish a reputation.
This combination of acts would leave the Romans with more power than they had before, and every other group with less power, or no more power, than they previously had.
He who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.
So Machiavelli encourages Princes to establish alliances but warns not to make those allies too strong as they can and will turn on you at some point.
When trying to establish himself in Italy, King Louis XII made the mistake of increasing the strength of one of the greatest powers there, by coming to the aid of Pope Alexander and the powerful Church. Louis surrendered much of his power through treaties and the Church eventually turned against him. The King had already destroyed many smaller states who could have been valuable allies against the Pope and therefore failed to keep his territories.
Machiavelli depicts power as a scarce resource. By acting in a way that solidifies your own power, you simultaneously weaken others. Conversely, by making others powerful is to weaken yourself. This is important not only in diplomacy, but also in war.
Conflict is inevitable according to Machiavelli. Political life is constant warfare and the acquisition of power is a zero-sum game. Attempting to avoid conflict by appeasing another person and elevating their position is a mistake. Your “ally” will see it as a sign of weakness and turn on you using the power that you surrendered to them. If you have to fight, do it and get it over with.
Other articles about Machiavelli: