‘Tis related of many great leaders that they have had certain books in particular esteem, as Alexander the Great, Homer; Scipio Africanus, Xenophon; Marcus Brutus, Polybius; Charles V., Philip’de Comines; and ’tis said that, in our times, Machiavelli is elsewhere still in repute; but the late Marshal Strozzi, who had taken Caesar for his man, doubtless made the best choice, seeing that it indeed ought to be the breviary of every soldier, as being the true and sovereign pattern of the military art. And, moreover, God knows with that grace and beauty he has embellished that rich matter, with so pure, delicate, and perfect expression, that, in my opinion, there are no writings in the world comparable to his, as to that business.
I will set down some rare and particular passages of his wars that remain in my memory.
His army, being in some consternation upon the rumour that was spread of the great forces that king Juba was leading against him, instead of abating the apprehension which his soldiers had conceived at the news and of lessening to them the forces of the enemy, having called them all together to encourage and reassure them, he took a quite contrary way to what we are used to do, for he told them that they need no more trouble themselves with inquiring after the enemy’s forces, for that he was certainly informed thereof, and then told them of a number much surpassing both the truth and the report that was current in his army; following the advice of Cyrus in Xenophon, forasmuch as the deception is not of so great importance to find an enemy weaker than we expected, than to find him really very strong, after having been made to believe that he was weak.
It was always his use to accustom his soldiers simply to obey, without taking upon them to control, or so much as to speak of their captain’s designs, which he never communicated to them but upon the point of execution; and he took a delight, if they discovered anything of what he intended, immediately to change his orders to deceive them; and to that purpose, would often, when he had assigned his quarters in a place, pass forward and lengthen his day’s march, especially if it was foul and rainy weather.
The Swiss, in the beginning of his wars in Gaul, having sent to him to demand a free passage over the Roman territories, though resolved to hinder them by force, he nevertheless spoke kindly to the messengers, and took some respite to return an answer, to make use of that time for the calling his army together. These silly people did not know how good a husband he was of his time: for he often repeats that it is the best part of a captain to know how to make use of occasions, and his diligence in his exploits is, in truth, unheard of and incredible.
If he was not very conscientious in taking advantage of an enemy under colour of a treaty of agreement, he was as little so in this, that he required no other virtue in a soldier but valour only, and seldom punished any other faults but mutiny and disobedience. He would often after his victories turn them loose to all sorts of licence, dispensing them for some time from the rules of military discipline, saying withal that he had soldiers so well trained up that, powdered and perfumed, they would run furiously to the fight. In truth, he loved to have them richly armed, and made them wear engraved, gilded, and damasked armour, to the end that the care of saving it might engage them to a more obstinate defence. Speaking to them, he called them by the name of fellow-soldiers, which we yet use; which his successor, Augustus, reformed, supposing he had only done it upon necessity, and to cajole those who merely followed him as volunteers: