The Economic Predicament of Italian Renaissance Ambassadors


History and Philosophy

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This article examines the nature and causes of the many complaints about money found in the dispatches of ambassadors in the second half of the 15th century in Italy. In a period when ambassadors increasingly served for long periods of time as residents in a single locale, the infrequency of regular remuneration became commonplace, as Italian states, with their lengthening list of pecuniary obligations, were notoriously unreliable paymasters. This article suggests that the language of complaints reflected the dynamics of Renaissance patron-client relationships and the rhetorical conventions that were shaped by both the medieval 'ars dictaminis' and humanistic topoi. While the laments could reflect real deprivation, ambassadorial service often provided a real path to office, influence, and enrichment. The article also demonstrates that the financial concerns of ambassadors differed whether they were short-term or long-term ambassadors and whether they were sent by princely or republican regimes. Based on diplomatic correspondence of ambassadors from several Italian states, the article suggests that the economic situation of these diplomatic envoys was analogous to that of condottieri: both served the cash-strapped Renaissance territorial state in areas of activity where institutions were becoming permanent.