Throughout his discourses, Machiavelli gives a political and philosophical interpretation of the first ten books of Livy's History. Using such examples as ancient Athens, Sparta, and Rome he attempts to determine what made certain city-states survive into immense republics, while others came under the authority of those very same expansionistic regimes. Some of the basic reasoning he puts forth deals with the very ideas of liberty and greatness along with the relationship that both these ideas form. By clarifying this relationship, Machiavelli offers an insight to a possible conclusion to why the Roman Republic became such a successful empire. .
According to Machiavelli, Rome was the ultimate free state in the ancient world. No other empire before it matched its strength militarily, economically, and politically. Although Athens was a great state as well, its government quickly became corrupted therefore becoming vulnerable for conquest by other republics or principalities. One reason that Machiavelli gives for this is that while Athens enjoyed a period of liberty through a democratic government, it was quickly transformed into a tyranny once the composer of its laws, Solon, lost power. Liberty was temporary due to the fact that although the laws were democratic in nature, "Solon had not blended either princely power or that of the aristocracy" into the mixture (Machiavelli, 110). Rome, on the other hand, had institutions in place that in turn laid the ground work for liberty and greatness once the monarchy was abandoned and a republic was established. Liberty in the Roman Republic came in sporadic episodes while in its first stages. However, since Principality and Aristocracy were still present in the system that was in use, the Republic was able to maintain itself over time by constant shifting between the three estates leading to greatness for the Roman Empire. .
Another aspect for the explanation of Rome's greatness given by Machiavelli is the fact that Rome was fortunate to have the opportunity to achieve greatness.