The years between 1500 and 1789 were characterized by keen rivalries, at first primarily dynastic but later national in nature, as one state after another sought to establish its hegemony on the continent of Europe. Some powers, such as Spain and Sweden, declined. Others, such as Prussia and Russia, appeared for the first time as states to be reckoned with. Especially after about 1600 European diplomats, jealous of the relative position and security of their own countries, thought in terms of maintaining a balance of power, to prevent any one state or bloc of stats from dominating the Continent. This idea, like the practice of diplomacy, has been traced to the Italian city-states, whose leaders in the fifteenth century strove to prevent any one of their number from achieving a position from which it could control Italy. [excerpt]
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Bloom, Robert L. et al. "2. The European Balance of Power, 1500-1789. Pt IX: Early Modern Europe, 1500-1789." Ideas and Institutions of Western Man (Gettysburg College, 1958), 8-17.