Those who come to power by crime kill fellow citizens and betray friends. They are “treacherous, pitiless, and irreligious.” Princes who commit criminal acts can achieve power, but never glory.
King Agathocles of Syracuse is an example of a man who rose to power through crime. Agathocles was a common citizen who joined the militia, rose to a leading rank in the army, and then assembled a meeting of the senate at which he ordered his men to kill all the senators and to install him in power. Agathocles’ reign was characterized by constant difficulties and threats to his power. However, he withstood them and maintained his rule. Once in power, Agathocles proved as competent as any eminent commander, but the severity of the crimes he committed during his ascension preclude his being considered great. Cruelty, which is itself evil, can be used well if it is applied once at the outset, and thereafter only employed in self-defense and for the greater good of one’s subjects. Regular and frequent perpetration of cruel actions earns a ruler infamy. If a prince comes to power by crime and wishes to be successful, he, like Agathocles, must only use cruelty in the first sense.
Therefore, when a prince decides to seize a state, he must determine how much injury to inflict.