Saturday 19 October 2013

Wargamer’s Text II – The Art of War Part 2

Having spectacularly failed to say anything about Machiavelli’s text last time, I will try a bit harder to focus. Part of the problem is, as I think I mentioned, that actually Machiavelli has such an unusual reputation as a political theorist (to put it politely) that there is a fair bit of undergrowth to clear away before we can actually see the text as a text, not as something freighted with centuries of interpretation, both positive and negative.

Anyway, as mentioned, the Art of War is set in a dialogue form, with a number of humanist friends having invited the well-known mercenary commander, Fabrizio Colunna to a dinner, and then they sit and talk about military and political things, as one does under such circumstances.

The first point made is that political and military items are not independent. This is then followed up in the first book with a discussion of the difference between mercenary and citizen troops. Colunna is of the opinion (and we know that Machiavelli was also) that mercenary troops are dangerous to the state, whether the state is a republic or a monarchy. The example of Milan is cited, where the state was taken over by the Sforzas, who were in command of the mercenary forces.

The idea here seems to be that mercenary soldiers have a bad attitude to the state, as they are mercenaries and do not have a stake in it. The argument then is that citizen soldiers will behave much better and not try to take over the state because they are, in fact, citizen of it, and thus have a greater stake in it.

These citizen soldiers are to be raised by a levy, a yearly draft, and to practice every once in a while. It is also suggested that to ensure the safety of the state, the captains of these levies should be moved around frequently, so they do not build up a following in the militia and attempt to undermine the state or take it over. The level of paranoia here might seem to be excessive, but I suppose that, from the point of view of Florence in the beginning of the sixteenth century it could be accounted for.

As we might expect from Machiavelli and the humanist point of view, Rome is held up as being the shining exemplar of the republic with successful armies and a free citizenry. The Romans had a citizen army and used it to the full. Each year an army was raised and sent out, and the burden, it is claimed, was not too great as it was done by rotation. And anyway, to serve in the army was to seek glory.

A lot is made of this point, that army service was not to gain power, or to acquire loot or money, but to serve, to fight, was to obtain glory. Glory, in the Art of War, does not seem to be linked to power, although in fact I suspect that there was a much greater linkage than Machiavelli would like us to think. After all, craven cowards or unsuccessful generals seldom came to political power in Rome, or in Sparta, for that matter.

Machiavelli claims that this Roman system broke down in the Empire, where captains served long term with their troops and those troops, themselves, became identified with the state as mercenaries, rather than citizens 9altohugh, of course, they became citizens at the end of their service, if auxilia). However, even legionaries (who were supposed to be citizens, after all) came to believe in the power of the military to make emperors, and did so quite frequently.

I suspect Machiavelli, here, of protesting too loudly, at least from the humanist point of view. My understanding of Late Republican Rome was that the armies were dedicated to their leaders, and the leaders took at least some of their initiative because they needed to keep their troops happy. Thus Caesar and Pompey both carried out large scale campaigning and annexation in the Middle East and Gaul simply because they had the armies and needed to do something with them to obtain glory, money and power within the Roman elite.  From this point of view, then, the claims for the Middle Republic armies and leaders had already broken down before the Civil Wars of the mid-first century BC.

Be that as it may, Machiavelli then goes on to observe that the problem with mercenary troops is that the forces they supply are both too small and too big. They are too small in the sense that a standing army of, say, six thousand mercenaries is insufficient to fight a battle for real. If a war breaks out you still have to go out and hire lots more.

On the other hand, a mercenary band of six thousand is too big, because you cannot pay it; it is simply too expensive. Furthermore, the other problem, alluded to earlier, is that six thousand heavily armed men, with their captains, are going to start to produce a political problem, and threaten the state. The solution, Machiavelli claims, is to keep only few mercenaries in the strongpoints of the state, and make sure you have a trained citizen militia. The latter, at least, he argues, in a surprisingly modern move, will at least keep the youth occupied and out of trouble.

As a wargamer I think I can see that there is a great deal of potential here for some interesting campaign games. Despite Machiavelli’s claims, the militia will be ill-trained compared to mercenary troops, but, on the other hand, there will be a lot more of them and they might (but only might) be better motivated. A bunch of player characters representing the various states, mercenary bands factions within the states could create an interesting and complex situation to run as, say, a club campaign. With enough factions it could even be located within a single state.

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