While it seems like “United we stand divided we fall” would be the war cry of some famous soldier, its actual first recorded use dates back to Aesop and his fables. This quote can be found as a direct statement in “The Four Oxen and the Lion.” It can also be found indirectly in “The Bundle of Sticks.”
Aesop was a slave in ancient Greece and lived during the 6th Century B.C. Most people know him for the fables that have been handed down through time in his name. Because storytelling was an oral tradition, true authorship of these fables have been lost. Aesop may have penned some of the fables, but others have just been told in his name.
The fable reads as follows:
A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to warn another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling [sic] among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in the separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.
United we stand, divided we fall.
The quote, “United we stand divided we fall,” is not used directly in this fable. However, the moral of the story is the same.
This short fable tells of a man whose sons often quarrel among themselves. To show them the benefit of working together, he brings them a bundle of sticks. He asks them to break the bundle of sticks. As expected, the brothers cannot break the sticks when they are together. However, they can easily be broken individually. The moral of this story is written:
My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.
Although his sentiment can be found in two of his fables, Aesop was certainly not the last one to use this quote. It has endured for thousands of years and remains an important life lesson to learn.