Nicola Machiavelli- The author and his times. (background Notes)

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Living from 1469 to 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli saw 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. Brought up while members of the powerful Medici family were masters of Florence, he studied the classics and learned to read and write in Latin. He also showed a keen interest in, and the ability to learn from, the world around him. He was a diplomat, a student of history, and a writer of comedy- and his sharp and unique insights changed the face of political science forever.

Machiavelli was born in Florence on May 3, 1469. We first hear of him playing an active role in the affairs of his native city in 1498, when the government dominated by Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican friar whose puritanical views had influenced Florence for the preceding four years, fell from power.

One of Savonarola's supporters who lost his position as a result was Alessandro Braccesi, head of the second chancery, an office responsible for all correspondence related to the administration of Florentine territories. At first the post was left unoccupied, but after a short delay the little known name of Niccolo Machiavelli was put forward as a possible replacement. He was only twenty-nine years old at the time and apparently had no previous administrative experience. His nomination was confirmed, however, and he was appointed second chancellor of the Florentine Republic. It was an enormous opportunity, and the experiences and insights he would gain in the post would be used later in writing The Prince.

At the time Machiavelli entered public service, there were already well-established standards for filling...