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The ability to practice diplomacy is an integral aspect of any state. It has been practiced since the formation of the first city-states. Also called a foreign mission, a diplomatic mission refers to a group of people from one state or organization existing in another state. The group represents the sending state officially in the receiving state. It is usually embodied by the embassy: the main office of a country’s diplomatic representatives located in the capital city of another country.
Consulates are smaller diplomatic missions often located outside the capital of the receiving state, but can still be in the capital, usually when the sending country has no embassy in the receiving state. Diplomatic missions can likewise be non-resident permanent missions to more than one country.
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Diplomats were originally sent only for specific negotiations and come back home when the mission is finished. These people were often either relatives of a state’s ruling family or high-ranking officers, giving them legitimacy during negotiations.
The beginning of modern diplomacy can be traced to the states of Northern Italy during the early Renaissance period, with the first embassies having been established in the 13th century. Soon all the major European powers were exchanging representatives. Spain was the first to send a permanent representative when it appointed an ambassador to the Court of England in 1487. By the late 16th century, permanent missions were common in Europe.
The Congress of Vienna of 1815 established an international system of diplomatic rank, after the fall of Napoleon. Disputes on precedence among nations and the appropriate diplomatic ranks used continued for over a century until after World War II, when the rank of ambassador became the norm.