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Summary of Machiavelli's Discourses on Levi

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The Discourses on Livy is a famous work of Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian writer and political theorist, who is believed to be the father of the political science. Furthermore, it is regarded as a one of the best written in the 16th century works of political history and philosophy. It is interesting that this author is best known for The Prince, nevertheless the Discourses on Livy are also worth talking about. Needless to mention, that it was in 1531 when the Discourses posthumously with the papal privilege first were published.


Frankly speaking, the full title of the book is the “Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius”. The main idea of Discourses on Livy is in the fact that the general purpose of politics should be in the promotion of a “common good.” The author tries to show his fundamental preference for the ancient Rome republicanism. It is obvious that the writerfocuses on the republics’ structure, nature, and even evolution. Meanwhile, the work is rather long, facing almost all main political science subjects.

To start with, the Discourses on Livy consists of the following: Dedicatory Letter, three books, in total, 142 numbered chapters. It is interesting to add that two first books feature unnumbered prefaces. According to the writer, the first book shows us the things, which happened inside of Rome after the public counsel (I 1.6). Meanwhile, in the second book the reader can find out about various decisions, aiming to increase the empire, made by the Romans (II Pr.3). When it comes to the third book, you can see how a number of the actions, done by particular people, made Rome great (III 1.6). Generally speaking, the following issues are described: development of the republic's internal structure, warfare conduct and a number of exhibiting leadership qualities.

Dedicatory Letter

Dedicated to two Niccolò’s friends- Zanobi Buondelmonti and Cosimo Rucellai, Discourses on Livy will always be regarded as a rather abstract book because the historical examples, used by the author, tend to teach us more general truths regarding the political reality. It should be added that these two friends also appear in his Art of War. When Cosimo died in 1519, the author found a new dedicatee. By the way, Machiavelli stated that both his friends had a lack of principalities, but despite this, he said they both deserved to be princes. Meanwhile, he also criticized the begging letter, which has been written while dedicating The Prince.

Book I

So, the first book describes the events, which were inside Rome after the public counsel. In fact, it is a commentary on the primary 10 books of the Roman historian, named Titus Livy. The books he wrote are about Roman history, starting from Rome’s mythic origins till the end of the Third Samnite War (290 BCE). It is important to notice that not only these books of Livy’s history survived (such books regarding the Second Punic War along with the conquest of Greece also survived). Nevertheless, Niccolò did not use them in the title of the Discourses. In addition, he did not mention the fact that he would also tell about some of the Caesars. There are 60 chapters in this book and it is the biggest of the three books.

Book II

The book tells the readers about various decisions to increase the empire, which the Roman people did. The author argues in the first chapter what kind of the cause -a fortune or virtue- was real for the Empire, which was acquired by the Romans. What is more, further, we can find lots of information about the Roman people combat, and how they tried to defend their liberty, expansionary strategy etc. Chapter 3 is regarded as one of the main in the second book and it tells about the fact how in the past, republics used to employ three different ways for aggrandizing themselves. The last chapter tells about the unreality of the central government for wise decisions to be taken. In total, this book counts 43 chapters.

Book III

In the third book, the writer tells about possible preservation and governance of the State. There are 49 chapters. The author reviews the following issues: corruption, possible ways to overcome the enemies, the value of discipline, Unity of Command, etc. In general, the book is about the ways the generals should behave and think and their relationships with the people. Finally, Niccolò stresses that it is of vital for the republic to start “freshening precautions to preserve the liberty”.


The Discourses on Livy, written by Niccolò Machiavelli, is regarded as one of the books, which have founded the political science. The work is focused, in general, on structure, nature, and evolution of republics. Consisting of Dedicatory Letter and three books, Discourses on Livy still remains a rather abstract book, describing general truths of the political reality of those times. Nevertheless, it does cover almost all currently available policy science issues.

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