Accessibility statement


Tutor: David Wootton

Module type: Special Subject

Module Code: HIS00086H

This module will explore the life, times and works of Machiavelli (1469-1527). Machiavelli is one of the most important figures in the history of political thought, yet there has always been sharp disagreement about what he believed in and how his work is to be interpreted. Understanding him requires a close examination of his life and context – and he proves to be an exceptionally complex and interesting person.

The major source for this special subject will be the three volume Chief Works of Machiavelli, trans. Gilbert, which will (I trust) be available on line as well as in paper copies. We will also be reading texts by significant contemporaries, such as Guicciardini.

In recent years there has been a series of attempts to argue that Machiavelli was not an unprincipled opportunist simply concerned with the pursuit of power but a man of principle – he has been variously presented as a republican (Skinner), a nationalist (Viroli), a constitutionalist (Bobbit) and a believer in liberty (Benner). One of our central concerns will be to establish whether Machiavelli had principles and if so what they were, and this will involve a consideration of the varying principled positions that were available to a Renaissance author.

Machiavelli has also been read as someone responding not only to contemporary events, such as the restoration of the Medici, but also to a set of texts inherited from classical Rome (Cicero, Lucretius) and Greece (Plutarch), and we will seek to place Machiavelli in this broader humanist intellectual context of the imitation of the ancients.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

    • Savonarola
    • Soderini
    • The Militia
    • Cesare Borgia
    • Lucretius
    • The Restoration of the Medici
    • The Prince I
    • The Prince II
    • The Discourses I
    • The Discourses II
    • The History of Florence
    • The Art of War
    • Mandragola
    • The Correspondence
    • The Restoration of the Republic
    • Machiavelli in the Sixteenth Century
    • Machiavelli in the Twentieth Century                        


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.