Niccolò Machiavelli was born May 3, 1449 in Florence, Italy. Although not much is known of his early life, he was born to a wealthy, prominent family.[1] Machiavelli had a post with an official governing body in Florence. His responsibilities included—diplomatic missions and organizing a citizen army. However, he soon lost his position due to power struggles in Florence between two rival parties; when the Medici family resumed power, Machiavelli was arrested, tortured and imprisoned on suspicions he conspired against them. Eventually he was released but failed to secure another position within the government. Thus, he spent the rest of his life writing political and military theory among other things.[2] This analysis will consider how Machiavelli’s theories reflected political, social, and cultural values of his day, and whether he was able to break free from culture conventions.

According to Robert Bireley’s publication in World History in Context, Machiavelli removed Christian values from politics, which was the foundation for humanities fulfillment at the time. He accomplished this by advancing secularization within politics. Machiavelli’s objective was to develop a powerful state. Machiavelli argued that to be successful in politics, occasionally, the abandonment of moral principles was required, and this action was impossible for the traditional Christian because it was in opposition to their philosophy.[3] Machiavelli’s ideas contributed to the strategic positions on statecraft and the acquisition of power rather than on tactics. He was influenced by the classics and based most of his theories on the classical Rome model. Considering Machiavelli inhabited the area where the Renaissance began (Florence) his theories very much reflected the cultural values of the time.[4] However, is not to be confused with breaking away from cultural conventions as described earlier regarding religion. Machiavelli did break from the cultural norms in that since, but not in the area of reviving the classics. Machiavelli offers lessons learned from Rome regarding the republic such as, keeping the citizens in poverty but the government rich. He was also influenced by German cities, praising them, believing some of them were model republics. According to Julie L. Rose, assistant professor at Dartmouth College, in Machiavelli’s Discourses he claims, “after the fall of the Roman Empire the virtue of the world scattered and within Europe remains only with the peoples of Germany today.” His writings are a romanticized version of the German people. Further, considering he did not speak German he was probably influenced by Tacitus’ Germania.[5]

In The Prince, Machiavelli states: “A Prince, therefore, should have no care or thought but for war, and for the regulations and training it requires, and should apply himself exclusively to this and his peculiar province; for war is the sole art looked for in one who rules, and is of such efficacy that it not merely maintains those who are born Princes…”[6]

Machiavelli does not specify how war assimilates into the State or what the art of war is that the prince needs to master in The Prince. However, some scholars have suggested these answers can be found in Machiavelli’s Art of War—based on ancient Rome’s model of military virtue and the need to return to these concepts in order to overcome modern military corruption and solve the military crisis of sixteenth century Italy. For Machiavelli, virtue is the republic in Rome which he uses as a template for organizing and reconditioning an army. The primary objective is to minimize the danger a soldier poses to the state by making citizens into soldiers. According to Yves Winter, Art of War does not offer much to future Princes; it turns into a lecture on tactics, better suited for a technical manual rather than a “conceptual engagement” with the theory of war. Furthermore, according to Winter, some scholars dismiss the book as it becomes dull and tedious the more the work progresses, focusing on tactics now outdated rather than theory or strategy.[7] Still, other scholars insist that Machiavelli’s ideas held their validity over time. For example, according Felix Gilbert, author of Machiavelli: Renaissance of the Art of War, Machiavelli’s insight on war and the role of the military in society and the questions they produced were not restricted to a specific historical period. Also, to validate a remark mentioned earlier regarding Machiavelli’s theories in relation to cultural conventions, Gilbert states, “Machiavelli’s attempt to present the Roman military organization as the model for the armies of his time was therefore not regarded as extravagant.”[8] Although, Machiavelli’s idea of Rome was a utopia, and he may have used chosen facts from Rome’s history to validate a picture already created in his mind.[9]  

The primary premise in Machiavelli’s military strategy in Art of War was—the existence of the state depends on its ability to wage war. And “the aim of war is to subject the enemy to your will”. To accomplish this task a military campaign must be planned under a unified command by a general whose full confidence and trust is bestowed upon by the country. However, Machiavelli’s conscript idea was not practiced by the following two to three centuries. Instead, the professional solider was used in war. He also misjudged the importance of equipping the soldiers and the future role of artillery. For example, he was conscious of the financial needs of the military, but he failed to account for the expense of equipping soldiers with firearms. Machiavelli’s view of Roman military organization may have caused him to underestimate the importance of new weapons. However, his admiration for Rome led to the development of his Roman model which was fundamental to the role of war in modern times.[10] Carl von Clausewitz, a military strategist who is often critical of other military theorist contends that Machiavelli showed good judgment in military affairs. He agreed with Machiavelli on his basic points and “that the validity of any special analysis of military problems depended on a general perception, on a correct concept of the nature of war.”[11]

The fictitious battle in the Art of War is eccentric and much of the book is concerned with technical aspects of marching, weaponry, organization, etc. It can be argued that the book also focuses on courage, obedience, and other qualities needed in war. Furthermore, he wrote that the rulers in ancient times inspired their subjects, particularly their soldiers, promoting peace and fear of God. Yet, in The Prince, Machiavelli advocated for none of these qualities. Thus, it’s doubtful his writings in Art of War represent his true sentiments.[12] Perhaps they need not reflect his true intentions considering he did emphasize the importance of appearances. For example, he argued in The Prince—that a ruler does not need morals, only the appearance of morals in the public’s view. A mutual theme in both publications is: do whatever necessary to ensure victory both in war and politics. However important Machiavelli’s theories were at the time, as warfare became modernized it’s clear that military theory extends far beyond organization and making rules for correct battle order. Modern warfare requires an evaluation of the events during the course of battle. The entire campaign had to be planned, analyzed, critiqued and adjusted as the course of action shifted. Modern war was much more complex than Machiavelli could have possibly imagined.[13]


[1] Britannica Academic, s.v. “Niccolò Machiavelli,” Last modified June 4, 2017, accessed December 9, 2017,

[2] Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 135.

[3] Robert Bireley, “Machiavelli, Niccol;ago: Machiavelli’s Influence.” In Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, edited by Paul F. Grendler. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 200). World History in Context, accessed December 9, 2017,

[4] Ibid.,

[5] Julie l. Rose, “Keep the Citizens Poor: Machiavelli’s Prescription for Republican Poverty.” Political Studies 64, no. 3 (October 2016): 735-737. Accessed December 8, 2017,

[6] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Thrift ed.(New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992), xiv.

[7] Yves Winter, “The Prince and His Art of War: Machiavelli’s Military Populism,” Social Research: An International Quarterly, 81, no.1(Spring, 2014):166-168. Accessed December 8, 2017,

[8] Felix Gilbert, “Machiavelli: The Renaissance of the Art of War,”in Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, eds., Peter Paret (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986), 28-29.

[9] Ibid., 22.

[10] Ibid., 23, 25-29.

[11] Ibid., 31.

[12] Ibid., 24.

[13] Ibid., 30.

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