According to the school of realism in international politics, states operate in a type of system which has been dubbed the ‘balance of power.’ There are many definitions for it, but Morgenthau’s description of the theory as “an actual state of affairs in which power is distributed among several nations with approximate equality” sums it up well. While the term itself may be of the last few centuries, Hume writes that it “is founded so much on common sense and obvious reasoning, that it is impossible it could altogether have escaped antiquity.” That being said, the target region and period of time to be examined in this paper – the Great Italian Wars of 1494-1559 in Southern and Western Europe – is a prime example of balance of power politics because of the numerous alliance changes, as will be demonstrated below.
Before getting into the balancing policies, let us take a look at the key acting states during the warring period. Prior to the outbreak of the wars in 1494, the Italian city-states were enjoying a time of peace and prosperity thanks mostly to Lorenzo de Medici – the Magnificent – of Florence, who orchestrated peace between Florence, Naples and Milan to “curb the Venetians.” Once it had all begun, outside the Italian city-states (the Papal States, Ferrara and Genoa - amongst others – would have roles throughout), France and Spain were the main kingdoms at each other’s throats, with the Holy Roman Empire , and the Ottoman Empire all making appearances in the many separate wars.
The theory applies to this region mainly – as mentioned before – because of the many alliances formed and broken for the 63 years that “turned the Italian peninsula into the battleground of Europe.” The primary motor behind these alliances was one of the foundations of the balance of power theory in what Midlarsky dubbed as “the absence of alliance memory, making all other states potential allies or enemies, regardless of past friendships or hostility.”
Now, it is time to take a chronological look at the specific alliance changes throughout the whole time period, and to see if the balance of power hypotheses can be applied to them. The very first act of aggression that destroyed the peace Italy had enjoyed for a while was Lodovico Sforza’s (of Milan) appeal to Charles VIII of France to invade Naples in 1494, mainly because he feared that the “balance between the Italian states was shifting against him.” This was a clear demonstration of a small state trying to bandwagon with a larger one to advance its own goals (without taking any credit away from Charles VIII’s glory chase). However, once France had actually reached Naples, it provoked a reaction from the Italian city-states. Sforza – already regretting letting the French into Italy – realized the potential danger in allowing them to get too strong and decided to turn on them. The view was shared by the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, the Venetians (oddly, since they were mostly against papal authority)...