Diplomacy has been well documented in China and India to as far back as 300 BCE. The earliest writing about diplomacy is attributed to Sun Tzu (d. 496 BCE), the Chinese author of The Art of War, and Kautilya Chanakya, the Indian author of Arthashastra, in the 3rd century BCE.
One of the first modern diplomats was an Italian, Francesco Sforza (1401-1466). Sforza conceived the idea of the balance of power. He was active in diplomacy outside Italy to counter threats from neighboring states such as France. Local and state alliances were intended to prevent cross-border conflict.
The balance of power doctrine influenced two of the greatest diplomats of all times, Talleyrand and Metternich. Charles Maurice Talleyrand (1754-1838) was foreign minister under Napoleon I. Talleyrand was one of the key agents of the restoration of the monarchy that resulted in Louis XVIII's succession in April 1814. At the Congress of Vienna, Talleyrand was the chief French delegate. He signed the Treaty of Paris and negotiated lenient terms for France. On January 3rd, 1815, Talleyrand, Metternich and Britain's Castlereagh created the triple alliance. This ended the anti-France coalition of the time. The three agreed to the use of force, if necessary, against Russian or Prussian aggression.
Count Klemens von Metternich of Austria (1773-1859) began as foreign minister of the Holy Roman Empire, which became the Austrian Empire during his term in office. He eased the strained relations with France including arranging the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise, the Austrian Arch-Duchess. He also brought Austria into the War of the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon. Metternich signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau which resulted in Napoleon's exile. At the Congress of Vienna, Metternich was influential in the division of post-Napoleonic Europe. He was also Austrian Chancellor from 1821 until he was forced to resign after the liberal revolutions in 1848.
Another advocate of the balance of power, but at the same a strong believer in Realpolitik (power politics), was Otto von Bismark of Prussia (1815-1898). From 1862 to 1890, he oversaw the unification of Germany, became the first chancellor of the German Empire and dominated its affairs until he was removed by Wilhelm II in 1890. He negotiated an axis with Austro-Hungary, Russia and Italy to counter threats from France, Britain. Russia later broke off its alliance with Germany.
Another famous proponent of Realpolitik was the Unites States Secretary of State (1973-1977) Henry Kissinger (b.1923). Under United States Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, from 1969 to 1977, Kissinger pioneered the policy of détente with the Soviet Union. Kissinger reopened relations with the People's Republic of China. He was also responsible for taking America out of Vietnam through the Paris Peace Accords. Controversial policies while he was in office included the bombing of Cambodia.
Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952) was probably the world's first female ambassador. She represented the Soviet Union in Norway in 1923. Later she became the Soviet Ambassador to Sweden and then Mexico.
Cicely Mayhew was the first woman to join the British diplomatic service, on an assignment to Belgrade around 1947. A marriage bar persisted until 1973. Anne Warburton became the first female British Ambassador in 1976, representing Britain in Denmark. Veronica Sutherland was the first married female British ambassador with children, representing Britain in the Ivory Coast from 1987.
The first diplomatic post that the former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright (1937-) held was Ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. Albright became the first female Secretary of State in 1997, as well as the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States Government.
The first African-American diplomat was Ebenezer D. Bassett (1833-1908), who was appointed the United States Ambassador to Haiti in 1869. He maintained a strong United States presence there during eight years of civil war and coups d'état.
Colin Luther Powell, a retired four-star general in the United States Army, became the first African-American to be appointed as United States Secretary of State in 2001. He was also the first African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He advocated diplomacy and containment, rather than military intervention, where possible.
In 1997 the then United States President Bill Clinton (1946-) appointed James Hormel (1931-) as the USA's first openly gay Ambassador, to Luxembourg.
The breakdown of diplomacy in the nineteenth century was a central factor in the outbreak of both world wars of the twentieth century. Arguably, greater equality globally and within the diplomatic service may have avoided the escalation of international conflicts that occurred in the twentieth century.