Until the 15th cent. any formal communication or negotiation among nations was conducted either by means of ambassadors specially appointed for a particular mission or by direct correspondence among heads of states. This procedure was not always satisfactory, however, and by the mid-16th cent. several countries had established permanent representatives in foreign states. One of the first powers to do this was Venice, which in 1496 appointed two merchants as representatives in London because the journey to England was "very long and very dangerous." Other countries later followed suit.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.