Born: May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy
Died: June 21, 1527, in Florence Italy
Niccolo Machiavelli was the son of a well known doctor of laws who had been barred from his profession because of unpaid debts. His family, although well known, had lost its status along with their financial security and they were unable to provide Niccolo with much formal education.
Machiavelli was a bright child and learned quickly under the tutelage he received at home. His appetite for books was insatiable which supplemented his parent's teachings.
Machiavelli was born during the Italian Renaissance, a period in time when Italian culture was being revitalized and the Italian language emerged as an accepted language for the expression of serious thought. It was also a time that marked the transition from the traditional feudal system to an economy based on trade and commerce.
Public service attracted Machiavelli and he entered the world of politics in 1498. He was appointed secretary to the second chancellor of the city of Florence and was sent on a number of minor diplomatic missions. Unfortunately, despite an exemplary record in the civil service, he drew suspicion from the Medici, one of the most powerful and political families in Italy at that time. Machiavelli was tortured and exiled under charges of conspiracy.
The conspiracy charges against Machiavelli were eventually dismissed and he was able to return to Florence in 1513. However, upon his return, he found he was without work and low on money so he turned to writing to alleviate his financial stresses. He began his first book at this time but it would be almost twenty years before The Prince was finally published.
The Prince describes the art and practice of politics with the underlying belief that society's ethical norms do not apply to rulers. A ruler's actions are therefore to be dictated only by following a course that produces a successful political outcome. One of the several notable lines from the work is "It is safer to be feared than to be loved." It is this work's underlying philosophy and chilling view of the political machine that gave rise to the adjective Machiavellian.
His writing did not only focus on politics but included a satire in 1518, Mandragola and a military work, Arte della Guerra (The Art of War), which he completed in 1520.