My submission to the UD library's AskRef service:
- I have looked high and low for attribution to the expression
"Divide and conquer" or the original context in which it
was issued (probably the military).
I would like to make an accurate reference to it as
quote-of-the-day for my course website as it
relates to the topic of the day.
Can you point me in the right direction?
(Perhaps it derives from an old Latin expression?)
The response (kudos to Rebecca Knight!):
According to the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and
The Dictionary also cites its use by Machiavelli.
Originally a Latin saying, "divide et impera" ("divide and rule"), the
saying has been in common use since "M. Hurault's Discourse upon the
Present state of France" (1588) ...
Also, the "Oxford English Dictionary" gives a definition:
Says that "divide et impera" is sometimes translated as "divide
and govern." It lists several usages beginning with 1602. It also lists
a dictionary usage in 1870 from Brewer "Dictionay of Phrases and Fables":
a statement of the policy of not allowing subject peoples or factions to make common
"Divide and govern. Divide a nation into parties, or set your enemies at
loggerheads, and you can have your own way. A maxim of Machiavelli."
The OED also lists a dictionary listing in 1948 from B. Stevenson "Home
Book of Proverbs":
"Divide et impera" was the motto of Philip of Macedon and of Louis XI of
France, in dealing with his nobles. It is the traditional motto of
Austria. Polybius, Bossuet, and Monteesquieu used it, but it is generally
ascribed to Machiavelli.
In contrast, James Morwood's "Dictionary of latin words and phrases"
published in 1998 says:
"divide et impera" -- "divide and rule". The motto of Louis XI of
France. Though this political axiom--conveying that government is more
easily maintained if factions are set against each other and not
permitted to unite against the ruler--is attributed to the Florentine
political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), he in fact
So, there is division, even in the phrase's origin. (Sorry I couldn't
resist.) Hope this helps.
Thanks for using the AskRef service.
Rebecca C. Knight