Christine de Pizan, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry (circa 1410)

Pizan wrote The Book of Deeds around 1410 during the Hundred Years’ War, a time of conflict between France and England, as well as among various factions for control of France itself. In most of her writings related to politics, her purpose was “to advise the French royal family against the disastrous political infighting that brought the monarchy to the brink of civil war.” The work was written in “the plainest language possible” (Middle French) instead of Latin because she wanted to have an impact on the French military, nor just the court.  As a military manual it tells us a great deal about the strategy, tactics, and technology of medieval warfare and is one of our most important sources for early gunpowder weapon technology.

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François de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy (1716)

In The Art of Diplomacy, secret diplomacy is considered as embedded in the art of negotiation. In this regard, Callières notes that secrecy is absolutely necessary for the generation of confidence and understanding. He advocates that secret negotiations could help maintain peace and thus are necessary to manage relationships between states. Callières believes that before a diplomat could progress towards a negotiated settlement of a dispute, confidence and confidentiality have to be established. He explains that “an able minister will take care that no man shall penetrate into his secret before the proper time.”

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Herodotus, The Histories (5th Century BCE)

Herodotus, who wrote a generation after the Persian Wars, puts these battles in the context of a great clash of civilizations, between Greek freedom and Asian despotism. He seeks to explain why and how a relatively poor, small, and divided collection of Greek-speakers were able to defeat a much larger, wealthier, and centralized empire. On the battlefield itself, on land and at sea, the Greeks were better disciplined and employed superior close-order tactics, such as staying in ranks rather than attempting to kill the greatest number of enemy soldiers in open combat. But Herodotus' generic answer reflected the views of his contemporaries and greatly influenced the West's understanding of itself: "As long as the Athenians were ruled by a despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbors. Once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world."

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Machiavelli, The Art of War (1521)

In The Art of War, the only one of his major writings published during his lifetime, Machiavelli sets out to consider that topic from the standpoint of the superintending military commander. The Art of War is divided into a preface and seven books (chapters), presented as a series of dialogues that take place in the garden of Cosimo Rucellai, a friend of Machiavelli, who had died two years before the book was published. Cosimo and his guests, including a silent Machiavelli, respectfully question a visitor, Fabrizio Colonna, who is treated as a military authority. Fabrizio discusses how an army should be raised, trained, organized, deployed and employed. His model is the Roman Legion of the Republic, which he argues should be adapted to the contemporary situation of Renaissance Florence.

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Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

In addition to elucidating Montesquieu’s account of the liberalizing and pacifying effects of commerce, this essay will examine Montesquieu’s reflections on the practical foreign policy implications of the right of national self-preservation. Of particular importance in this connection are his accounts of the variation in foreign policy according to regime type, the value of confederation, and the role and limits of conquest. Examining these reflections, along with Montesquieu’s praise of England as the best regime, will help us to determine the character of a Montesquieuian foreign policy.

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Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1532)

Few, if any, works of political philosophy have been more important for grand strategy and diplomacy than The Prince. Written by the Florentine philosopher and statesman, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), The Prince, along with Machiavelli’s other major work, Discourses on Livy, brought about a transformation in political theory and political practice.

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Plato, Laches (Fourth Century BC)

One might wonder what someone as supposedly “abstract” or “metaphysical” as Plato could offer by way of strategic insight. Why should practical men, not philosophers, read Plato? Although one could point to a number of examples showing both the speculative and practical worth of the Platonic corpus, the Laches stands out for two reasons. The first is that it is a dialogue on courage, or more literally “manliness,” which seems a quality above all necessary for the successful conduct of warfare.

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Tacitus, Agricola (circa 98 AD)

The Agricola (On the Life and Character of Julius Agricola) is a riveting read. A classic work crafted by the Roman politician and historian Cornelius Tacitus at the very end of the first century AD, modern students of strategy and diplomacy continue to find the account of Roman general and politician Agricola’s exploits in Britain timely and relevant. Part eulogy, part history, part anthropological study, and part military analysis, among other things, the short work explores diverse topics while ostensibly being Tacitus’s way of honoring his father-in-law. Three topics stand out – Agricola as a study of leadership, politics, and counterinsurgency strategy.

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Tacitus, The Annales (early Second Century AD)

Like many of the great historians and thinkers of antiquity, Tacitus was renowned as a rhetorician and capable in the use of language, a skill that no doubt aided him as a writer of political history during the reign of the tyrannical Domitian. Indeed, his cognomen, meaning “the silent” is both ironical and true. For while Tacitus was known for speaking, in the Annales we see a deft use of omission and quietness in discussing the banal brutality of a Tiberius or a Nero, as well as double-meaning and discreet satire. Tacitus’ project is the problem of tyranny, and the possibility of virtue under tyranny.

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