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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Niccolò Machiavelli – writer



Political scientist came up with the idea ‘the ends justify the means’ 


Niccolò Machiavelli: detail from a
portrait by Santi di Tito
Statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the idea of political cunning, was born on this day in 1469 in Florence.

The ideas he put forward in his writing were to make the word ‘machiavellian’ a regularly used pejorative adjective and the phrase ‘Old Nick’ a term to denote the devil in English.

The son of an attorney, Machiavelli was educated in grammar, rhetoric and Latin. After Florence expelled the Medici family in 1494 he went to work for the new republic in the office that produced official Florentine documents.

Machiavelli also carried out diplomatic missions to Rome on behalf of the republic where he witnessed the brutality of Cesare Borgia and his father, Pope Alexander VI, as they tried to acquire large parts of central Italy .

He later became responsible for the Florentine militia and, because of his distrust of mercenaries, used citizens in the army. Under his command, Florentine soldiers defeated Pisa in battle in 1509.

But Machiavelli’s success did not last and in 1512 the Medici, using Spanish troops, defeated the Florentines at Prato . He was dismissed from office in Florence by a written decree issued by the new Medici rulers.

Machiavelli was forced to withdraw from public life and retired to his home in the Chianti region of Tuscany, where he wrote his most famous work, ‘The Prince’, which was to give the world the political idea of ‘the ends justify the means’.

In ‘The Prince’ he was able to write with first-hand knowledge about the methods he had seen used by Cesare Borgia on behalf of his father, Pope Alexander VI.

The book put forward the idea that the aims of princes, such as glory and survival, could justify the use of immoral means. 

Machiavelli also advocated that it is safer to be feared than to be loved, if you can’t achieve both, and he recommended that if an injury has to be done to a man ‘it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared’.

His ideas were to exert a lasting, profound influence on western political thought and are still referred to today. But in modern times, people have begun to interpret them as pragmatic observations rather than as encouraging ruthlessness, cruelty and violence in people.

Machiavelli never returned to public office and died at his home in 1527 at the age of 58.

Travel Tip:

Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince’ at his country home in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, south of Florence, in the heart of Chianti country near San Casciano Val di Pesa. The house where he is believed to have lived is now a bed-and-breakfast called La Fonte del Macchiavelli.

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, which
has a monument to Machiavelli
Travel Tip:

There is a monument to Machiavelli in the beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence , where many famous Florentines are buried. A marble structure by Innocenzo Spinazzi was erected in his memory in 1787. The Latin inscription on the front of the monument means: ‘No eulogy is equal to such a name’.

(Photo of the Basilica di Santa Croce by Diana Ringo CC BY-SA 4.0)


More reading:


Dismissal led Machiavelli to write seminal work The Prince

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