I have read The Prince, Discourses on Livy and The Art of War. In none of these books did I find the quote oft-attributed to Machiavelli that “the ends justify the means”. Did he say it? If so, where? Or is it a misquote? If he didn’t say it, where did it originate?

  • 1
    basically, he didn't, see below
    – D3L
    Jul 29, 2014 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


It is incorrectly assigned to Machiavelli, when it should be to Ovid.

Exitus acta probat

is the original, in latin form for

The ends justify the means

Written by Publius Ovidius Naso a.k.a Ovid in the collection Heroides (The Heroines), Ovid's most influential work.

Full transcription and quotation can be found here Heroides, II, 85.

  • both good answers but yours has an origin of the term Jul 30, 2014 at 2:16
  • Indeed, if you are interested the book "Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince: New Interdisciplinary Essays" is.. interesting if you have the time, it does document around pg 111 (in the paper, Language and the prince) how Polybius, Aristotle, Livy, Ovid, and Lucretius were flagrantly plagiarised by Machiavelli
    – D3L
    Jul 30, 2014 at 6:35

There is none saying "verbatim" that.

We have in N.Machiavelli, Il Principe, cap. XVIII (see Il Principe ) :

"... e nelle azioni di tutti li uomini, e massime de’ principi, dove non è iudizio da reclamare, si guarda al fine. Facci dunque uno principe di vincere e mantenere lo stato: e mezzi saranno sempre iudicati onorevoli e da ciascuno lodati".

From Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, The Harvard Classics, 1909-14 :

Moreover, in the actions of all men, and most of all of Princes, where there is no tribunal to which we can appeal, we look to results. Wherefore if a Prince succeeds in establishing and maintaining his authority, the means will always be judged honourable and be approved by every one.

Note : see also this post for comments and interpretation.


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