Divide and Rule


Divide and rule in politics and sociology is gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

Sociology is the study of social behaviour or society, including its origins, development, organization, networks, and institutions.

Politics is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group.

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The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and especially prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people.

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Traiano Boccalini cites "divide et impera" in La bilancia politica as a common principle in politics.


The use of this technique is meant to empower the sovereign to control subjects, populations, or factions of different interests, who collectively might be able to oppose his rule.


Machiavelli identifies a similar application to military strategy, advising in Book VI of The Art of War, that a Captain should endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy, either by making him suspicious of his men in whom he trusted, or by giving him cause that he has to separate his forces, and, because of this, become weaker.

Niccolò Machiavelli, or more formally Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer.


The maxim divide et impera has been attributed to Philip II of Macedon, and together with the maxim divide ut regnes was utilised by the Roman ruler Caesar and the French emperor Napoleon.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars.

Philip II of Macedon was the king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC.


The strategy, but not the phrase, applies in many ancient cases: the example of Gabinius exists, parting the Jewish nation into five conventions, reported by Flavius Josephus in Book I, 169-170 of The Wars of the Jews.

Titus Flavius Josephus, born Joseph ben Matityahu, was a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.


Strabo also reports in Geography, 8.7.3 that the Achaean League was gradually dissolved under the Roman possession of the whole of Macedonia, owing to them not dealing with the several states in the same way, but wishing to preserve some and to destroy others.

Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

The Achaean League, also known as the Aegean League, was a Hellenistic-era confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese.


The strategy of division and rule has been attributed to sovereigns ranging from Louis XI to the Habsburgs.

Louis XI, called the Prudent, was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1461 to 1483.


Edward Coke denounces it in Chapter I of the Fourth Part of the Institutes, reporting that when it was demanded by the Lords and Commons what might be a principal motive for them to have good success in Parliament, it was answered: "Eritis insuperabiles, si fueritis inseparabiles.

Sir Edward Coke SL PC was an English barrister, judge and, later, opposition politician, who is considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.


Explosum est illud diverbium: Divide, & impera, c*m radix & vertex imperii in obedientium consensus rata sunt."


[You would be insuperable if you were inseparable.


This proverb, Divide and rule, has been rejected, since the root and the summit of authority are confirmed by the consent of the subjects.]


On the other hand, in a minor variation, Sir Francis Bacon wrote the phrase "separa et impera" in a letter to James I of 15 February 1615.

Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, PC KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author.


James Madison made this recommendation in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of 24 October 1787, which summarized the thesis of The Federalist #10: "Divide et impera, the reprobated axiom of tyranny, is under certain qualifications, the only policy, by which a republic can be administered on just principles."

James Madison Jr. was a political theorist, American statesman, and the fourth President of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.


In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch by Immanuel Kant, Appendix one, Divide et impera is the third of three political maxims, the others being Fac et excusa and Si fecisti, nega.


Elements of this technique involve:


creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign


aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign


fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers

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