Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Machiavelli bust in the Palazzo Vecchio

The Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio ( essays on the first ten books of Titus Livius , mostly just Discorsi in German , also with subtitles such as Thoughts on Politics and Governance ) is Niccolò Machiavelli's main literary work , in which he describes his thoughts on politics , on war and on political leadership.


He wrote the work in the years 1513–1519 on his estate Casa Machiavelli after he had been banished from his hometown Florence by the Medici . It was published as a book only after his death in 1531, almost at the same time as his much better known work The Prince ( Il Principe ). Both works were of the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent on the index set and were considered "devil's work".

In his extensive work Machiavelli, who was a staunch republican , developed his idea of ​​an ideal state, with the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 BC to 17 AD) providing the central theme, “because only Livy was concerned with the establishment of the Roman state. ”Machiavelli worked out that history repeats itself and in his work gives many examples from antiquity and the then current Italian contemporary history ( Italian wars ):

“If one carefully examines the past, it is easy to foresee future events and to use the same tools used by the ancients or to devise new ones according to the similarity of the incidents. But since such considerations are neglected or not understood or, if understood, are unknown to the rulers, the result is that the same disorders always take place. "


Machiavelli analyzes in three parts (books I - III) the different forms of state and government ( republic , autocracy , popular rule , aristocracy , tyranny , oligarchy and anarchy ), and already clarifies his intentions with the many chapter headings:

  • Which was the origin of a city and especially that of Rome in general.
  • How many types of government there are and to which the Roman state belonged.
  • What events in Rome led to the introduction of the tribunes of the people, which perfected the republic.
  • Why the disunity of the Roman people and Senate made the republic free and powerful.
  • Anyone who has a greater interest in causing unrest.
  • Of what importance it is to watch out for religions and how Italy fell into decline because, through the fault of the Roman Church, it no longer has a religion.
  • How the Romans used religion to order the state.
  • How can a free constitution be maintained in depraved cities if it already exists, and how can one be introduced if it does not exist?
  • Why, after an excellent prince, a weak prince can survive, but no kingdom can exist with two successive weak princes.
  • How reprehensible is the republic that has no arms.
  • That whoever wants to reform an old constitution in a state should at least keep the shadow of the old forms.
  • That people are extremely seldom completely good or completely bad.
  • That when an evil in a state has grown to a certain size, it is more salutary to gain time than to use force.
  • That dictatorial power was beneficial to the Roman Republic.
  • That when a republic makes a new law that goes back a long way and goes against ancient customs, it is very prone to riot.
  • That one often sees the same events among different peoples.
  • How easily people can be corrupted.
  • That men who fight for their own glory are good and loyal soldiers.
  • That a multitude without a head is useless.
  • That it is a bad example not to obey a law that you are the author of.
  • That no council or magistrate should be able to obstruct the state machine.
  • That a people often conjures up its downfall if it is deceived by an illusion of the good and is carried away by promises to high hopes.
  • What power a great man has to curb an indignant crowd.
  • How easy it is to rule in cities where the people are not corrupt.
  • That, where there is equality, no unrestricted monarchy, where it is not, no republic can be introduced.
  • That the people are wiser and more steadfast than the princes, but: gathered together the people are brave, individually weak.
  • Which alliances or alliances one could rely on more, those with a republic or those with a prince.
  • How the consulate and any other dignity in Rome was granted regardless of age.
  • Whether bravery or luck were the reasons for the Roman success.
  • With which peoples the Romans had to fight, and how tenaciously these peoples defended their freedom.
  • That Rome became a mighty city by destroying the neighboring cities and welcoming foreigners with equal rights.
  • Why peoples leave their homeland and flood other countries.
  • That good weapons and motivated soldiers are more important than money for a war.
  • That it is not wise to form an alliance with a prince whose reputation is greater than his military power.
  • That one reaches greatness from a lower class through deception rather than violence.
  • How wrongly and crookedly people often judge the most important things.
  • That truly powerful princes buy alliances not with money, but with bravery and fame in arms.
  • That it is very wise to act foolishness when the time comes.
  • On whom one can rely more, on a good general with a bad army or on a good army with a bad general.
  • Whether goodness is more necessary than punishment to lead a people.
  • How a state can perish because of women.
  • That the sins of the people arise through the princes.
  • That cheating is glorious in war.
  • That one shouldn't keep forced promises.
  • That one can often achieve more with impetuosity and boldness than in the usual way.


The main message of the pragmatic analyst is that effective political action is not always possible in harmony with morality , for in order to maintain power and leadership every means must be right, otherwise the world would sink into anarchy. The rules of political action could very well be obtained through an appropriate knowledge of history, whereby lies and deceit, blackmail, murder and war often lead to ultimately positive changes. One cannot always avoid one evil in order to prevent another:

"So in all of our decisions we have to consider on which side the fewest grievances are, and consider a decision made according to this to be the best, because there is no thing in the world without its dark side."

In his Discorsi, Machiavelli repeatedly makes it clear that everything has to be done for the benefit of the people (not for the benefit of its rulers) and sums it up with the well-known phrase: "Republics are states in which the people are princes!" criticizes that up to now people have unfortunately not bothered to learn the technique of correct action in politics, but rather acted according to feeling, instinct, habit and mood, admired the elderly, but not systematically evaluated their actions.

The little book Der Fürst, which is much easier to read than the Discorsi, has often been misunderstood (glorification of the unscrupulous ruler, Machiavellianism ), especially by those who have not read the Discorsi . The German politician Carlo Schmid assessed the Discorsi as a description of the emergence, coming into constitution and decline of a nation and a state and continues:

“Machiavelli shows us there, above all, what has to happen so that a state can last and so that the dilemma of freedom and power does not result in anarchy and, above all, the loss of freedom or the fall of the state. Here Machiavelli writes - more relaxed, richer, more colorful than in the Principe - not for those who, as princes, have power over people, but for those who would be worthy of being princes, namely for those who are capable of a state create and realize in which the virtue of the citizen allows the exercise of power without sacrificing the freedom of the citizen. He is modeled on republican Rome and the free imperial cities of Germany. "

Aphorisms from the Discorsi

  • Everything that happens in the world has its counterpart in things that happened in the past.
  • Man is naturally impatient and cannot long postpone satisfying his passions. He likes to be mistaken in the things that concern himself, and most of all in those he most longed for. Out of impatience or self-deception, he gets involved in ventures that are against the times and fails.
  • So far, unfortunately, people have not bothered to learn the technique of correct action in politics, but rather acted according to feeling, instinct, habit and mood, admired the old, but not systematically evaluated their actions.
  • People are always greedy for new things. That is why those who are doing well are almost always as eager to change as those who are doing badly.
  • Citizens' poverty bears better fruit than their wealth. The former brought cities, countries and religions to honor; this has let them perish.
  • Weak states never take a clear position.
  • When one begins to come into the position of not having to fear anything, it begins to become terrible for others.
  • Whoever wants to establish a state of legally regulated freedom in a country in which there are many nobles can only achieve his goal if he first exterminates the entire nobility.
  • A ruler who is not wise by himself cannot be well advised.
  • A republic has a longer duration and enjoys all happiness longer than a principality. This is because it, which is based on the multitude of citizens, is better able to adapt to the variety of the times than a prince. Because a man who is used to acting in the same way never changes. So it naturally has to fail when time in its interplay can no longer accommodate its way of acting.
  • Since everything new worries people's minds, one must try very hard to leave the innovations as much of the traditional as possible.
  • In a well-managed state, violations cannot be offset against merits.
  • It is not the good of the individual but the public good that makes states great.
  • A war can be started at will, but not ended at will.
  • Because it is not the title that makes the man, but the man the title.



  • Josef Lehmkuhl: Erasmus - Machiavelli, two in one against stupidity . Königshausen & Neumann Verlag, Würzburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8260-3889-1 .
  • Karl Mittermaier : Machiavelli. Morals and Politics at the Beginning of Modern Times. Katz-Verlag, Gernsbach 1990, ISBN 3-925825-27-4 .
  • Carlo Schmid (Ed.): Machiavelli . Fischer-Taschenbuchverlag, Frankfurt am Main 1956 (books of knowledge; 133).
  • Francesco Guicciardini : Seguiti dalle considerazioni intorno ai "Discorsi" del Machiavelli . Einaudi, Turin 2000, ISBN 88-06-15608-X (Machiavelli's friend wrote critical remarks on many chapters of the Discorsi ).
  • Christoph Wurm : Don't admire the Romans, but imitate them - Machiavelli as the reader of Titus Livius. In: Forum Classicum 4/2011, p. 278 - p. 284 (detailed investigations into the Latin and Italian original text).

Web links


  1. ^ Rudolf Zorn : Introduction, S. XLI, In: Niccolò Machiavelli: Discorsi , Stuttgart 1977.