What Civilization Invented the "Divide & Conquer" Strategy?

by Michael Stratford
Julius Caesar used the "divide and conquer" tactic to increase his power and expand the Roman Empire.

Julius Caesar used the "divide and conquer" tactic to increase his power and expand the Roman Empire.

Divide and rule -- "Divida et Impera" -- said Julius Caesar, and since he divided Rome and "all Gaul" itself, no one ever contradicted him. However, earlier civilizations used the "divide and conquer" strategy long before Caesar; he may have been beaten to the punch, so to speak, by warring societies that were far more brutal, and far less all-encompassing, than the mighty Julius.

Dividing Babylon

Some 1200 years before Caesar's birth, the Assyrian nation conquered and divided the nation of Babylon under the leadership of Tukulti-Ninurta. They subsequently used the same procedure of conquest and annexation in building an empire, as they subjugated Syria, Palestine, Armenia and Mesopotamia. Their last great conquest was the division of the 12 tribes of Israel, an event lamented throughout the Old Testament. Ironically, the Jews were conquered and divided yet again by Babylon, another occasion for Biblical lament, as their temple was razed and the Jews exiled throughout Babylonia.

Dividing Macedonia

The republic of Rome, 68 years before Caesar's advent, used his "divide and conquer" strategy on Macedonia in the Battle of Pydna. The aftermath of this battle brought to light a second, ironic division: Insiders in the kingdom had betrayed the Macedonian forces to the Roman commanders. King Perseus' kingdom was ruthlessly fractured, with heavy injunctions laid against the separated states being able to interact; families and households were split forever. In a final purge, remaining Macedonian citizens were slaughtered -- most of them had already perished fighting in the streets.

Dividing Gaul, Et Al

By the time Julius Caesar, born 100 BC, arrived on the scene, "divide and conquer" was already firmly in place in Roman war strategy. Caesar took it to new heights, however, conquering and dividing the kingdom of Gaul into three equal states and recording the deed in his eight-volume history; chapter eight recaps the near-decade it took him for the conquest. He similarly conquered the Celtic nations of Great Britain, but holding the kingdom proved difficult; it was 40 years after his last battle that the Celts were finally overcome.

Dividing Today, In Politics

"Divide and conquer" is still key to warring strategies today, but not on battlefields; political commentators note that the division of right and left political systems is splitting American politics as effectively as Caesar's war plans. Some disagree, citing political division as a smokescreen for maintaining economic unrest. The disagreement is ironic; perhaps public opinion itself is being subjected to "Divida et Impera."

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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