On this occasion, therefore, the Campanians were misled by imagining themselves stronger than they really were. For often, from defect of judgment, men take upon them to defend others, when they have neither skill nor ability to defend themselves. Of which we have a further instance in the Tarentines, who, when the Roman and Samnite armies were already drawn up against one another for battle, sent messengers to the Roman consul to acquaint him that they desired peace between the two nations, and would themselves declare war against whichsoever of the two first began hostilities. The consul, laughing at their threats, in the presence of the messengers, ordered the signal for battle to sound, and bade his army advance to meet the enemy; showing the Tarentines by acts rather than words what answer he thought their message deserved.
Having spoken in the present Chapter of unwise courses followed by princes for defending others, I shall speak in the next, of the methods they follow in defending themselves.
I have often heard it disputed by men well versed in military affairs, whether, when there are two princes of nearly equal strength, and the bolder of the two proclaims war upon the other, it is better for that other to await attack within his own frontier, or to march into the enemy’s country and fight him there; and I have heard reasons given in favour of each of these courses.
They who maintain that an enemy should be attacked in his own country, cite the advice given by Croesus to Cyrus, when the latter had come to the frontiers of the Massagetae to make war on that people. For word being sent by Tomyris their queen that Cyrus might, at his pleasure, either enter her dominions, where she would await him, or else allow her to come and meet him; and the matter being debated, Croesus, contrary to the opinion of other advisers, counselled Cyrus to go forward and meet the queen, urging that were he to defeat her at a distance from her kingdom, he might not be able to take it from her, since she would have time to repair her strength; whereas, were he to defeat her within her own dominions, he could follow her up on her flight, and, without giving her time to recover herself, deprive her of her State. They cite also the advice given by Hannibal to Antiochus, when the latter was meditating a war on the Romans. For Hannibal told him that the Romans could not be vanquished except in Italy, where an invader might turn to account the arms and resources of their friends, whereas any one making war upon them out of Italy, and leaving that country in their hands, would leave them an unfailing source whence to draw whatever reinforcement they might need; and finally, he told him, that the Romans might more easily be deprived of Rome than of their empire, and of Italy more easily than of any of their other provinces. They likewise instance Agathocles, who, being unequal to support a war at home, invaded the Carthaginians, by whom he was being attacked, and reduced them to sue for peace. They also cite Scipio, who to shift the war from Italy, carried it into Africa.