Try Machiavelli. There’s an excellent post about Machiavelli over at Ex Urbe, which describes what he was up against:
Let us zoom both in and out, for a moment, and take stock of Florence’s situation in the world of Europe as the 1400s close. Florence is one of the five most populous cities in the European world, well… four, now that Constantinople has fallen (1453). Its population is near 100,000, and it rules a large area of farmland and countryside and several smaller nearby cities. It is also one of the wealthiest cities in the world, thanks to the vast private fortunes of its numerous wealthy merchants and banking families, of whom the Medici are but the wealthiest of many. We live in an era before standing armies, but Florence has a force of soldiers for enforcing law, and some modest mercenary armies which it hires….
With the sole exception of the Swiss, all these powers want more territory, and there is no territory juicier than Italy, with its fat, rich little citystates, booming with industry, glittering with banker’s gold, situated on rich agricultural fields, and with tiny, tiny populations capable of mustering only tiny, tiny armies. The southern half of Italy has already fallen to the French… no wait, the Spanish… no, it’s the French again… no, the Spanish. The north is next….
This, now, was Machiavelli’s job when he worked in that little office in the Palazzo Vecchio:
•Goal: Prevent Florence from being conquered by any of 10+ different incredibly enormous foreign powers.
•Resources: 100 bags of gold, 4 sheep, 1 wood, lots of books and a bust of Caesar.
“Desperation” does not begin to cover it. There are armies rampaging through Italy expelling dukes and redrawing borders.
Keep this in mind the next time you read some pundit who claims how ‘hard’ things are. And as the kids used to say, read the whole thing.