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Niccolo Machiavelli

Home | Books about and by Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli - Biography

Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 in Florence, Italy. He is known for being a political philosopher, historian, writer, statesman, and diplomat.

Machiavelli is best known for his famous, influential work, "The Prince" (1513). This brought him a reputation of:

  • amoral cynicism,
  • being associated with corrupt government,
  • diabolical (Showing the cunning or ingenuity or wickedness typical of a devil).

Machiavellian and Machiavellianism are two concepts coined from Machiavelli's views as stated in The Prince.

Machiavelli is misunderstood because people judge him purely on the prince and because they do not read his Discourses as well.

Many people criticize Machiavelli's drastic suggestions in The Prince. These people do not consider the state Italy was in when The Prince was written. Machiavelli wrote The Prince to help save Italy from frequent foreign invasions. According to those that knew Machiavelli, he was a religious and moral man.

The Prince

The prince was written in a time of large-scale blackmail, violence and political conflicts. political instability, fear, invasion, intrigue, Italy was repeatedly won and controlled by foreigners.

The prince was Machiavelli's practical guide to Lorenzo Di Medici to act in this environment.

In the final chapter of the prince, Machiavelli calls for an end to this choas, by suggesting Italy stand together with an army of their own against foreign invaders.

Machiavelli wrote The Prince to help Lorenzo the Magnificent Di Medici to stay in power. He also wrote it to get back an advisory position in the Medici government.

Unfortunately, Lorenzo did not agree with the suggestions in the book, so Machiavelli did not get a job.

The Prince was different from the other documents of the time in that the prince had practical suggestions on how to deal with the current, existing problems of the period. The other documents were much more theoretical.

There is a difference of opinion by readers of the prince, whether Machiavelli is essentiallly a good, religious person or someone that is bad and cruel.

For example, Machiavelli praise Caesar Borgia, a cruel, vicious, dictator - hated and despised by many. Does this mean Machiavelli agrees that Ceasar's actions are justified?

Machiavelli thought that Caesar's quick and deliberate qualities were just what is required to unite Italy. Machiavelli admired the qualities, not Caesar as a person.

The Prince was written in 1513 but only published in 1532 after Machiavelli's death.

In 1559 The Prince appeared on the pope's Index of Prohibited Books.

The following are some world leaders that studied and put suggestions from The Prince into practice: Cromwell, Frederick the Great, Louis the XIV, Napoleon, Bismark and Kennedy.

Machiavelli's occupations

In 1498 Machiavelli was made the head of the second chancery. This is an office of archives for public or ecclesiastic records.

Machiavelli was the secretary of a council that held diplomatic negotiations in the state.

This included missions to the French king (1504, 1510-11), the Holy See (1506), and the German emperor (1507-8). It was during these diplomatic missions that Machiavelli could study political tactics.

For example, in 1504 he spend 5 months in France and studied how a strong nation is united by the ruling of one prince.

In 1502 he saw how Cesare Borgia revenged his rebellious captians at Sinigaglia.

When Piero Soderini became chief magistrate, Machiavelli worked for him. Machiavelli persuaded him to pass a law in 1505 to have a small army of Italian soldiers.

In 1509 Machiavelli led this small army to help free Pisa. They succeeded.

Machiavelli was suspected as a conspirator involved in the downfall of Gonfaloniere Soderini. He was arrested and later tortured for this - he continued saying that he was innocent. Later, when he was released from prison, he was forced to retire from public life. He was banished to his country estate at San Casciano. This is where he wrote The Prince, Discourses and two plays, amongst some other minor works as well.

From 1521 till 1525 he was employed as a historiographer.

Machiavelli's other major works

  • History of Florence, (1525)

    In this work, Machiavelli explains the historical records of Florence in terms of its causes and its effects.

  • Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius (1531)

    This is Machiavelli's comments on the History of Rome as written by the Roman historian Titus Livius. This is commonly known just as: The Discourses

  • Life of Castruccio Castracani, (1520)

    This is the biography of Castruccio Castracani.

  • On the Art of War, (1521)

    Machiavelli's main point in this work is the considerable advantage of using your own troops over using mercenary troops.

  • The Mandrake, (1524)

    This is a biting play (satire) on the corruption of the Italian society during his time.

Machiavelli also wrote many letters, poems and state papers.

Italy's leaders during Machiavelli's life

Lorenzo's son, Piero de'Medici, was his successor,

Piero de'Medici was followed by the Dominican monk, Savonarola. He set up a true Florentine Republic.

A second Republic was set up under Soderini in 1498, the follower of Savonarola.

From 1512 the Medici's ruled Florence once again

In 1527 the citizens of Firenze overthrew the Medici rule and established the Third Republic of Firenze. Machiavelli wanted to work for this new government, but was not allowed to - he worked too long for the Medici and was not trusted.

The end of the biography of Niccolo Machiavelli

He died of ill health 7on June 22, 1527.

Unfortunately Machiavelli did not live to see Italy unified as he wanted it to be. This only happened more than 300 years later.


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