Of the Beginnings of Cities in general, and in particular of
that of Rome.
NO ONE who reads how the city of Rome had its beginning, who
were its founders, and what its ordinances and laws, will marvel
that so much excellence was maintained in it through many ages, or
that it grew afterwards to be so great an Empire.
And, first, as touching its origin, I say, that all cities havebeen
founded either by the people of the country in which they stand, or
by strangers. Cities have their origins in the former of these two
ways when the inhabitants of a country find that they cannot live
securely if they live dispersed in many and small societies, each of
them unable, whether from its situation or its slender numbers, to
stand alone against the attacks of its enemies; onwhose approach
there is no time left to unite for defence without abandoning many
strongholds, and thus becoming an easy prey to the invader. To
escape which dangers, whether of their own motion or at the instance
of some of greater authority among them, they restrict themselves
to dwell together in certain places, which they think will be
more convenient to live in and easier to defend.Among many cities taking their origin in this way were Athens
and Venice; the former of which, for reasons like those just now
mentioned, was built by a scattered population under the direction
of Theseus. To escape the wars which, on the decay of the Roman
Empire daily renewed in Italy by the arrival of fresh hordes of Barbarians,
numerous refugees, sheltering in certain little islands in a
20Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius
corner of the Adriatic Sea, gave beginning to Venice; where, without
any recognized leader to direct them, they agreed to live together
under such laws as they thought best suited to maintain them.
And by reason of the prolonged tranquility which their position
secured, they being protected by the narrow sea and by the circumstance
that thetribes who then harassed Italy had no ships wherewith
to molest them, they were able from very small beginnings to
attain to that greatness they now enjoy.
In the second case, namely of a city being founded by strangers,
the settlers are either wholly independent, or they are controlled by
others, as where colonies are sent forth either by a prince or by a
republic, to relieve their countriesof an excessive population, or to
defend newly acquired territories which it is sought to secure at
small cost. Of this sort many cities were settled by the Romans, and
in all parts of their dominions. It may also happen that such cities
are founded by a prince merely to add to his renown, without any
intention on his part to dwell there, as Alexandria was built by
Alexander the Great.Cities like these, not having had their beginning
in freedom, seldom make such progress as to rank among the
chief towns of kingdoms.
The city of Florence belongs to that class of towns which has not
been independent from the first; for whether we ascribe its origin to
the soldiers of Sylla, or, as some have conjectured, to the mountaineers
of Fiesole (who, emboldened by the long peace whichprevailed
throughout the world during the reign of Octavianus, came down
to occupy the plain on the banks of the Arno), in either case, it was
founded under the auspices of Rome nor could, at first, make other
progress than was permitted by the grace of the sovereign State.
The origin of cities may be said to be independent when a people,
either by themselves or under some prince, areconstrained by famine,
pestilence, or war to leave their native land and seek a new
habitation. Settlers of this sort either establish themselves in cities
which they find ready to their hand in the countries of which they
take possession, as did Moses; or they build new ones, as did Æneas.
It is in this last case that the merits of a founder and the good fortune
of the city founded...