Social Life in Medieval and Early Modern Italy
Nicolo Macchiavelli and The Prince
At the end of the 14th century, Italy was still politically organized by city-states. Emerging as one of the most influential writers of the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli was a political analyst,
whose aim was to free italy from foreign rule, as well as to unite and strengthen the Italian city
states. Machiavelli believed Italy could not be united unless its leader was ruthless. In 1513, he wrote his best-known work, The Prince, in which he describes the ways that a prince may gain and
maintain his power. Machiavellie advises his rulers to be kind only of it suited their purposes. Otherwise, he warned, it is better to be feared than loved.
Machiavelli is considered one of the great early modern analyzers of political power. Born in Florence in 1469 and living until 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli experienced what we now consider the height of the Italian Renaissance-a period that produced some of Italy's greatest achievements in the arts and sciences, but that also produced horrible scandals and the establishment of foreign domination over the peninsula (Microsoft Encarta 99). He grew up during the reign of the Medici family, and he learned to read and write in Latin while he studied the classics. Humanistic ideals were popular in Florentine government, and although Machiavelli’s family was neither rich nor aristocratic, they were supporters of the city’s leading humanists. Machiavelli showed a keen interest in the world around him, and from this interest he demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn. By the age of seven he had begun his formal education, and by age twelve he had graduated from primary school and was enrolled in private classes. He was later accepted into the University of Florence where he studied humanities, literature, and sciences.
In 1498, the year that Florence became a republic, Machiavelli was awarded a position in the government as a clerk. He rose quickly through governmental ranks and soon he became head of the second chancery. This position involved him in very important duties dealing with Florence's domestic, foreign, and military affairs. As head of the second chancery, Machiavelli was also soon assigned the further job of secretary to the Ten of War, the committee responsible for Florence's diplomatic relations. This meant that in addition to his routine office duties, Machiavelli sometimes traveled abroad to act as spokesman for the Ten.
During the next fourteen years, Machiavelli was sent on numerous diplomatic missions to France, Switzerland, and Germany. His...