1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Empire
EMPIRE, a term now used to denote a state of large size and also (as a rule) of composite character, often, but not necessarily, ruled by an emperor—a state which may be a federation, like the German empire, or a unitary state, like the Russian, or even, like the British empire, a loose commonwealth of free states united to a number of subordinate dependencies. For many centuries the writers of the Church, basing themselves on the Apocalyptic writings, conceived of a cycle of four empires, generally explained—though there was no absolute unanimity with regard to the members of the cycle—as the Assyrian, the Persian, the Macedonian and the Roman. But in reality the conception of Empire, like the term itself (Lat. imperium), is of Roman origin. The empire of Alexander had indeed in some ways anticipated the empire of Rome. “In his later years,” Professor Bury writes, “Alexander formed the notion of an empire, both European and Asiatic, in which the Asiatics should not be dominated by the European invaders, but Europeans and Asiatics alike should be ruled on an equality by a monarch, indifferent to the distinction of Greek and barbarian, and looked upon as their own king by Persians as well as by Macedonians.” The contemporary Cynic philosophy of cosmopolitanism harmonized with this notion, as Stoicism did later with the practice of the Roman empire; and Alexander, like Diocletian and Constantine, accustomed a Western people to the forms of an Oriental court, while, like the earlier Caesars, he claimed and received the recognition of his own divinity. But when he died in 323, his empire, which had barely lasted ten years, died with him; and it was divided among Diadochi who, if in some other respects (for instance, the Hellenization of the East) they were heirs of their master’s policy, were destitute of the imperial conception. The work of Alexander was rather that of the forerunner than the founder. He prepared the way for the world-empire of Rome; he made possible the rise of a universal religion. And these are the two factors which, throughout the middle ages, went together to make the thingwhich men called Empire.
At Rome the term imperium signified generally, in its earlier use, the sovereignty of the state over the individual, a sovereignty which the Romans had disengaged with singular clearness from all other kinds of authority. Each of the higher magistrates of the Roman people was The Roman empire. vested, by a lex curiata (for power was distinctly conceived as resident in, and delegated by, the community), with an imperium both civil and military, which varied in degree with the magnitude of his office. In the later days of the Republic such imperium was enjoyed, partly in Rome by the resident consuls and praetors, partly in the provinces by the various proconsuls or propraetors. There was thus a certain morcellement of imperium, delegated as it was by the people to a number of magistrates: the coming of the Empire meant the reintegration of this imperium, and its unification, by a gradual process, in the hands of the princeps, or emperor. The means by which this process was achieved had already been anticipated under the Republic. Already in the days of Pompey it had been found convenient to grant to an extraordinary officer an imperium aequum or majus over a large area, and that officer thus received powers, within that area, equal to, or greater than, the powers of the provincial governors. This precedent was followed by Augustus in the year 27 B.C., when he acquired for himself sole imperium in a certain number of provinces (the imperial provinces), and an infinitum imperium majus in the remaining provinces (which were termed senatorial). As a result, Augustus enjoyed an imperium coextensive indeed with the whole of the Roman world, but concurrent, in part of that world, with the imperium of the senatorial proconsuls; and the early Empire may thus be described as a dyarchy. But the distinction between imperial and senatorial provinces finally disappeared; by the time of Constantine the emperor enjoyed sole imperium, and an absolute monarchy had been established. We shall not, however, fully understand the significance of the Roman empire, unless we realize the importance of its military aspect. All the soldiers of Rome had from the first to swear in verba Caesaris Augusti; and thus the whole of the Roman army was his army, regiments of which he might indeed lend, but of which he was sole Imperator (see under Emperor). Thus regarded as a permanent commander-in-chief, the emperor enjoyed the privileges, and suffered from the weaknesses, of his position. He had the power of the sword behind him; but he became more and more liable to be deposed, and to be replaced by a new commander, at the will of those who bore the sword in his service.
The period which is marked by the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine (A.D. 284–337) marks a great transformation in the character of the Empire. The old dyarchy, under which the emperor might still be regarded as an official of the respublica Romana, passed into a new monarchy, Development under Diocletian and Constantine. in which all political power became, as it were, the private property of the monarch. There was now no distinction of provinces; and the old public aerarium became merely a municipal treasury, while the fiscus of the emperor became the exchequer of the Empire. The officers of the imperial praetorium, or bodyguard, are now the great officers of state; his private council becomes the public consistory, or supreme court of appeal; and the comites of his court are the administrators of his empire. “All is in him, and all comes from him,” as our own year-books say of the medieval king; his household, for instance, is not only a household, but also an administration. On the other hand, this unification seems to be accompanied by a new bifurcation. The exigencies of frontier defence had long been drawing the Empire towards the troubled East; and this tendency reached its culmination when a new Rome arose by the Bosporus, and Constantinople became the centre of what seemed a second Empire in the East (A.D. 324). Particularly Division of the Empire. after the division of the Empire between Arcadius and Honorius in 395 does this bifurcation appear to be marked; and one naturally speaks of the two Empires of the West and the East. Yet it cannot be too much emphasized that in reality such language is utterly inexact. The Roman empire was, and always continued to be, ideally one and indivisible. There were two emperors, but one Empire—two persons, but one power. The point is of great importance for the understanding of the whole of the middle ages: there only is, and can be, one Empire, which may indeed, for convenience, be ruled conjointly by two emperors, resident, again for convenience, in two separate capitals. And, as a matter of fact, not only did the residence of an emperor in the East not spell bifurcation, it actually fostered the tendency towards unification. It helped forward the transformation of the Empire into an absolute and quasi-Asiatic monarchy, under which all its subjects fell into a single level of loyal submission: it helped to give the emperor a gorgeous court, marked by all the ceremony and the servility of the East. The deification of the emperor himself dates from the days of Augustus; by the time of Constantine it has infected the court and the government. Each emperor, again, had from the first enjoyed the sacrosanct position which was attached to the tribunate; but now his palace, his chamber, his charities, his letters, are all “sacred,” and one might almost speak in advance of a “Holy Roman Empire.”
But there is one factor, the greatest of all, which still remains to be added, before we have counted the sum of the forces that made the world think in terms of empire for centuries to come; and that is the reception of Christianity into the Roman empire by Constantine. That reception Influence of Christianity. added a new sanction to the existence of the Empire and the position of the emperor. The Empire, already one and indivisible in its aspect of a political society, was welded still more firmly together when it was informed and permeated by a common Christianity, and unified by the force of a spiritual bond. The Empire was now the Church; it was now indeed indestructible, for, if it perished as an empire, it would live as a church. But the Church made it certain that it would not perish, even as an empire, for many centuries to come. On the one hand the Church thought in terms of empire and taught the millions of its disciples (including the barbarians themselves) to think in the same terms. No other political conception—no conception of a πόλις or of a nation—was any longer possible. When the Church gained its hold of the Roman world, the Empire, as it has been well said, was already “not only a government, but a fashion of conceiving the world”: it had stood for three centuries, and no man could think of any other form of political association. Moreover, the gospel of St Paul—that there is one Church, whereof Christ is the Head, and we are all members—could not but reinforce for the Christian the conception of a necessary political unity of all the world under a single head. Una Chiesa in uno Stato—such, then, was the theory of the Church. But not only did the Church perpetuate the conception of empire by making it a part of its own theory of the world: it perpetuated that conception equally by materializing it in its own organization of itself. Growing up under the shadow of the Empire, the Church too became an empire, as the Empire had become a church. As it took over something of the old pagan ceremonial, so it took over much of the old secular organization. The pope borrowed his title of pontifex maximus from the emperor: what is far more, he made himself gradually, and in the course of centuries, the Caesar and Imperator of the Church. The offices and the dioceses of the Church are parallel to the offices and dioceses of the Diocletian empire: the whole spirit of orderly hierarchy and regular organization, which breathes in the Roman Church, is the heritage of ancient Rome. The Donation of Constantine is a forgery; but it expresses a great truth when it represents Constantine as giving to the pope the imperial palace and insignia, and to the clergy the ornaments of the imperial army (see Donation of Constantine).
Upon this world, informed by these ideas, there finally descended, in the 5th century, the avalanche of barbaric invasion. Its impact seemed to split the Empire into fragmentary kingdoms; yet it left the universal Church intact, and with it the conception of empire. With that Barbarian invasions. conception, indeed, the barbarians had already been for centuries familiar: service in Roman armies, and settlement in Roman territories, had made the Roman empire for them, as much as for the civilized provincial, part of the order of the world. One of the barbarian invaders, Odoacer (Odovakar), might seem, in 476, to have swept away the Empire from the West, when he commanded the abdication of Romulus Augustulus; and the date 476 has indeed been generally emphasized as marking “the fall of the Western empire.” Other invaders, again, men like the Frank Clovis or the great Ostrogoth Theodoric, might seem, in succeeding years, to have completed the work of Odoacer, and to have shattered the sorry scheme of the later Empire, by remoulding it into national kingdoms. De facto, there is some truth in such a view: de jure, there is none. All that Odoacer did was to abolish one of the two joint rulers of the indivisible Empire, and to make the remaining ruler at Constantinople sole emperor from the Bosporus to the pillars of Hercules. He abolished the dual sovereignty which had been inaugurated by Diocletian, and returned to the unity of the Empire in the days of Marcus Aurelius. He did not abolish the Roman empire in the West: he only abolished its separate ruler, and, leaving the Empire itself subsisting, under the sway (nominal, it is true, but none the less acknowledged) of the emperor resident at Constantinople, he claimed to act as his vicar, under the name of patrician, in the administration of the Italian provinces. As Odoacer thus fitted himself into the scheme of empire, so did both Clovis and Theodoric. They do not claim to be emperors (that was reserved for Charlemagne): they claim to be the vicars and lieutenants of the Empire. Theodoric spoke of himself to Zeno as imperio vestro famulans; he left justice and administration in Roman hands, and maintained two annual consuls in Rome. Clovis received the title of consul from Anastasius; the Visigothic kings of Spain (like the kings of the savage Lombards) styled themselves Flavii, and permitted the cities of their eastern coast to send tribute to Constantinople. Yet it must be admitted that, as a matter of fact, this adhesion of the new barbaric kings to the Empire was little more than a form. The Empire maintained its ideal unity by treating them as its vicars; but they themselves were forming separate and independent kingdoms within its borders. The Italy of the Ostrogoths cannot have belonged, in any real sense, to the Empire; otherwise Justinian would never have needed to attempt its reconquest. And in the 7th and 8th centuries the form of adhesion itself decayed: the emperor was retiring upon the Greek world of the East, and the German conquerors, settled within their kingdoms, lost the width of outlook of their old migratory days.
It is here that the action of the Church becomes of supreme
importance. The Church had not ceased to believe in the
continuous life of the Empire. The Fathers had
taught that when the cycle of empires was finally
ended by the disappearance of the empire of Rome,
The Church and the Empire.
the days of Antichrist would dawn; and, since Antichrist
was not yet come, the Church believed that the Empire
still lived, and would continue to live till his coming. Meanwhile
the Eastern emperor, ever since Justinian’s reconquest of
Italy, had been able to maintain his hold on the centre of Italy;
and Rome itself, the seat of the head of the Church, still ranked
as one of the cities under his sway. The imperialist theory of
the Church found its satisfaction in this connexion of its head
with Constantinople; and as long as this connexion continued
to satisfy the Church, there was little prospect of any change.
For many years after their invasion of 568, the pressure which
the Lombards maintained on central Italy, from their kingdom
in the valley of the Po, kept the popes steadily faithful to the
emperor of the East and his representative in Italy, the exarch
of Ravenna. But it was not in the nature of things that such
Growing divergence between East and West.
The popes. fidelity should continue unimpaired. The development of the East and the West could not but proceed along constantly diverging lines, until the point was reached when their connexion must snap. On the one hand, the development of the West set towards the increase of the powers of the bishop of Rome until he reached a height at which subjection to the emperor at Constantinople became impossible. Residence in Rome, the old seat of empire, had in itself given him a great prestige; and to this prestige St Gregory (pope from 590 to 604) had added in a number of ways. He was one of the Fathers of the Church, and turned its theology into the channels in which it was to flow for centuries; he had acquired for his church the great spiritual colony of England by the mission of St Augustine; he had been the protector of Italy against the Lombards. As the popes thus became more and more spiritual emperors of the West, they found themselves less and less able to remain the subjects of the lay emperor of the East. Meanwhile the emperors of the East were led to interfere in ecclesiastical affairs in a manner which the popes and the Western Church refused to tolerate. Brought into contact with the pure monotheism of Mahommedanism, Leo the Isaurian (718–741) was stimulated into a crusade against image-worship, in order to remove from the Christian Church the charge of idolatry. The West clung to its images: the popes revolted against his decrees; and the breach rapidly became irreparable. As the hold of the Eastern emperor on central Italy began to be shaken, the popes may have begun to cherish the hope of becoming their successors and of founding a temporal dominion; and that hope can only have contributed to the final dissolution of their connexion with the Eastern empire.
Thus, in the course of the 8th century, the Empire, as represented by the emperors at Constantinople, had begun to fade utterly out of the West. It had been forgotten by lay sovereigns; it was being abandoned by the pope, who had been its chosen apostle. But it did not follow that, because the Eastern emperor ceased to be the representative of the Empire for the West, the conception of Empire itself therefore perished. The popes only abandoned the representative; they did not abandon the conception. If they had abandoned the conception, they would have abandoned the idea that there was an order of the world; they would have committed themselves to a belief in the coming of Antichrist. The conception of the world as a single Empire-Church remained: what had to be discovered was a new representative of one of the two sides of that conception. For a brief time, it would seem, the pope himself cherished the idea of becoming, in his own person, the successor of the ancient Caesars in their own old capital. By the aid of the Frankish kings, he had been able to stop the Lombards from acquiring the succession to the derelict territories of the Eastern emperor in Italy (from which their last exarch had fled overseas in 752), and he had become the temporal sovereign of those territories. Successor to the Eastern emperor in central Italy, why should he not also become his successor as representative of the Empire—all the more, since he was the head of the Church, which was coextensive with the Empire? Some such hope seems to inspire the Donation of Constantine, a document forged between 754 and 774, in which Constantine is represented as having conferred on Silvester I. the imperial palace and insignia, and therewith omnes Italiae seu occidentalium regionum provincias loca et civitates. But the hope, if it ever was cherished, proved to be futile. The popes had not the material force at their command which would have made them adequate to the position. The strong arm of the Frankish kings had alone Coronation of Charle-magne as emperor of the West. delivered them from the Lombards: the same strong arm, they found, was needed to deliver them from the wild nobility of their own city. So they turned to the power which was strong enough to undertake the task which they could not themselves attempt, and they invited the Frankish king to become the representative of the imperial conception they cherished. In the year 800 central Italy ceased to date its documents by the regnal years of the Eastern emperors; for Charlemagne was crowned emperor in their stead.
The king of the Franks was well fitted for the position which he was chosen to fill. He was king of a stock which had been from the first Athanasian, and had never been tainted, like most of the Germanic tribes, by the adoption of Arian tenets. His grandfather, Charles Martel, had saved Europe from the danger of a Mahommedan conquest by his victory at Poitiers (732); his father, Pippin the Short, had helped the English missionary Boniface to achieve the conversion of Germany. The popes themselves had turned to the Frankish kings for support again and again in the course of the 8th century. Gregory III., involved in bitter hostilities with the iconoclastic reformers of the East, appealed to Charles Martel for aid, and even offered the king, it is said, the titles of consul and patrician. Zacharias pronounced the deposition of the last of the Merovingians, and gave to Pippin the title of king (751); while his successor, Stephen II., hard pressed by the Lombards, who were eager to replace the Eastern emperors in the possession of central Italy, not only asked and received the aid of the new king, but also acquired, in virtue of Pippin’s donation (754), the disputed exarchate itself. Thus was laid the foundation of the States of the Church; and the grateful pope rewarded the donation by the gift of the title of patricius Romanorum, which conferred on its recipient the duty and the privilege of protecting the Roman Church, along with some undefined measure of authority in Rome itself. Finally, in 773, Pope Adrian I. had to appeal to Charles, the successor of Pippin, against the aggressions of the last of the Lombard kings; and in 774 Charles conquered the Lombard kingdom, and himself assumed its iron crown. Thus by the end of the 8th century the Frankish king stood on the very steps of the imperial throne. He ruled a realm which extended from the Pyrenees to the Harz, and from Hamburg to Rome—a realm which might be regarded as in itself a de facto empire. He bore the title of patricius, and he had shown that he did not bear it in vain by his vigorous defence of the papacy in 774. Here there stood, ready to hand, a natural representative of the conception of Empire; and Leo III., finding that he needed the aid of Charlemagne to maintain himself against his own Romans, finally took the decisive step of crowning him emperor, as he knelt in prayer at St Peter’s, on Christmas Day, 800.
The coronation of Charlemagne in 800 marks the coalescence
into a single unity of two facts, or rather, more strictly speaking,
of a fact and a theory. The fact is German and secular: it
is the wide de facto empire, which the Frankish sword had
conquered, and Frankish policy had organized as a single whole.
The theory is Latin and ecclesiastical: it is a theory of the
necessary political unity of the world, and its necessary representation
in the person of an emperor—a theory half springing
of the Carolingian empire. from the unity of the old Roman empire, and half derived from the unity of the Christian Church as conceived in the New Testament. If we seek for the force which caused this fact and this theory to coalesce in the Carolingian empire, we can only answer—the papacy. The idea of Empire was in the Church; and the head of the Church translated this idea into fact. If, however, we seek to conceive the event of 800 from a political or legal point of view, and to determine the residence of the right of constituting an emperor, we at once drift into the fogs of centuries of controversy. Three answers are possible from three points of view; and all have their truth, according to the point of view. From the ecclesiastical point of view, the right resides with the pope. This theory was not promulgated (indeed no theory was promulgated) until the struggles of Papacy and Empire in the course of the middle ages; but by the time of Innocent III. it is becoming an established doctrine that a translatio Imperii took place in 800, whereby the pope transferred the Roman empire from the Greeks to the Germans in the person of the magnificent Charles. One can only say that, as a matter of fact, the popes ceased to recognize the Eastern emperors, and recognized Charles instead, in the year 800; that, again, this recognition alone made Charles emperor, as nothing else could have done; but that no question arose, at the time, of any right of the pope to give the Empire to Charlemagne, for the simple reason that neither of the actors was acting or thinking in a legal spirit. If we now turn to study the point of view of the civil lawyer, animated by such a spirit, and basing himself on the code of Justinian, we shall find that an emperor must derive his institution and power from a lex regia passed by the populus Romanus; and such a view, strictly interpreted, will lead us to the conclusion that the citizens of Rome had given the crown to Charlemagne in 800, and continued to bestow it on successive emperors afterwards. There is indeed some speech, in the contemporary accounts of Charlemagne’s coronation, of the presence of “ancients among the Romans” and of “the faithful people”; but they are merely present to witness or applaud, and the conception of the Roman people as the source of Empire is one that was only championed, at a far later date, by antiquarian idealists like Arnold of Brescia and Cola di Rienzi. The faex Romuli, a population of lodging-house keepers, living upon pilgrims to the papal court, could hardly be conceived, except by an ardent imagination, as heir to the Quirites of the past. Finally, from the point of view of the German tribesman, we must admit that the Empire was something which, once received by his king (no matter how), descended in the royal family as an heirloom; or to which (when the kingship became elective) a title was conferred, along with the kingship, by the vote of electors.
But apart from these questions of origin, two difficulties have
still to be faced with regard to the nature and position of
the Carolingian empire. Did Charlemagne and his successors
enter into a new relation with their subjects, in virtue of their
coronation? And what was the nature of the relation between
the new emperor now established in the West and the old
emperor still reigning in the East? It is true that Charlemagne
exacted a new oath of allegiance from his subjects after his
coronation, and again that he had a revision of all the laws of
his dominions made in 802. But the revision did not amount
to much in bulk: what there was contained little that was
Roman; and, on the whole, it hardly seems probable that
Charlemagne entered into any new relation with his subjects.
The relation of his empire to the empire in the East is a more
difficult and important problem. In 797 the empress Irene had
deposed and blinded her son, Constantine VI., and usurped his
throne. Now it would seem that Charlemagne, whose thoughts
were already set on Empire, hoped to depose and succeed
Irene, and thus to become sole representative of the conception
of Empire, both for the East and for the West. Suddenly
there came, in 800, his own coronation as emperor,
of the Carolingian to the Eastern empire. an act apparently unpremeditated at the moment, taking him by surprise, as one gathers from Einhard’s Vita Karoli, and interrupting his plans. It left him representative of the Empire for the West only, confronting another representative in the East. Such a position he did not desire: there had been a single Empire vested in a single person since 476, and he desired that there should still continue to be a single Empire, vested only in his own person. He now sought to achieve this unity by a proposal of marriage to Irene. The proposal failed, and he had to content himself with a recognition of his imperial title by the two successors of the empress. This did not, however, mean (at any rate in the issue) that henceforth there were to be two conjoint rulers, amicably ruling as colleagues a single Empire, in the manner of Arcadius and Honorius. The dual government of a single Empire established by Diocletian had finally vanished in 476; and the unity of the Empire was now conceived, as it had been conceived before the days of Diocletian, to demand a single representative. Henceforth there were two rulers, one at Aix-la-Chapelle and one at Constantinople, each claiming, whatever temporary concessions he might make, to be the sole ruler and representative of the Roman empire. On the one hand, the Western emperors held that, upon the deposition of Constantine VI., Charlemagne had succeeded him, after a slight interval, in the government of the whole Empire, both in the East and in the West; on the other hand, the Eastern emperors, in spite of their grudging recognition of Charlemagne at the moment, regarded themselves as the only lawful successors of Constantine VI., and viewed the Carolings and their later successors as upstarts and usurpers, with no right to their imperial pretensions. Henceforth two halves confronted one another, each claiming to be the whole; two finite bodies touched, and each yet claimed to be infinite.
If, as has been suggested, Charlemagne did not enter into
any fundamentally new relations with his subjects after his
coronation, it follows that the results of his coronation,
in the sphere of policy and administration, cannot
have been considerable. The Empire added a new
of the Carolingian empire. sanction to a policy and administration already developed. Charlemagne had already showed himself episcopus episcoporum, anxious not only to suppress heresy and supervise the clergy within his borders, but also to extend true Christianity without them even before the year when his imperial coronation gave him a new title to supreme governorship in all cases ecclesiastical. He had already organized his empire on a new uniform system of counties, and the missi dominici were already at work to superintend the action of the counts, even before the renovatio imperii Romani came to suggest such uniformity and centralization. Charlemagne had a new title; but his subjects still obeyed the king of the Franks, and lived by Frankish law, in the old fashion. In their eyes, and in the eyes of Charlemagne’s own descendants, the Empire was something appendant to the kingship of the Franks, which made that kingship unique among others, but did not radically alter its character. True, the kingship might be divided among brothers by the old Germanic custom of partition, while the Empire must inhere in one person; but that was the one difference, and the one difficulty, which might easily be solved by attaching the name of emperor to the eldest brother. Such was the conception of the Carolings: such was not, however, the conception of the Church. To the popes the Empire was a solemn office, to which the kings of the Franks might most naturally be called, in view of their power and the traditions of their house, but which by no means remained in their hands as a personal property. By thus seeking to dissociate the Empire from any indissoluble connexion with the Carolingian house, the popes were able to save it. Civil wars raged among the descendants of Charlemagne: partitions recurred: the Empire was finally dissolved, in the Break-up
of the Carolingian empire.
Attitude of the papacy.sense that the old realm of Charlemagne fell asunder, in 888. But the Empire, as an office, did not perish. During the 9th century the popes had insisted, as each emperor died, that the new emperor needed coronation at their hands; and they had thus kept alive the conception of the Empire as an office to which they invited, if they did not appoint, each successive emperor. The quarrels of the Carolingian house helped them to make good their claim. John VIII. was able to select Charles the Bald in preference to other claimants in 875; and before the end of his pontificate he could write that “he who is to be ordained by us to the Empire must be by us first and foremost invited and elected.” Thus was the unity of the Empire preserved, and the conception of a united Empire continued, in spite of the eventual dissolution of the realm of Charlemagne. When the Carolingian emperors disappeared, Benedict IV. could crown Louis of Provence (901) and John X. could invite to the vacant throne an Italian potentate like Berengar of Friuli (915); and even when Berengar died in 924, and the Empire was vacant of an emperor, they could hold, and hold with truth, that the Empire was not dead, but only suspended, until such time as they should invite a new ruler to assume the office.
Various causes had contributed to the dissolution of the
realm of Charlemagne. Partitions had split it; feudalism
had begun to honeycomb it; incessant wars had destroyed its
core, the fighting Franks of Austrasia. But, above all, the rise
of divisions within the realm, which, whether animated by the
spirit of nationality or no, were ultimately destined to develop
into nations, had silently undermined the structure of Pippin
and Charlemagne. Already in 842 the oath of Strassburg shows
us one Caroling king swearing in French and another in German:
already in 870 the partition of Mersen shows us the kings of
France and Germany dividing the middle kingdom which lay
between the two countries by the linguistic frontier of the Meuse
and Moselle. The year 888 is the birth-year of modern Europe.
France, Germany, Italy, stood distinct as three separate units,
with Burgundy and Lorraine as debatable lands, as they were
destined to remain for centuries to come. If the conception of
Empire was still to survive, the pope must ultimately invite the
German kingdom and the empire. ruler of the strongest of these three units to assume the imperial crown; and this was what happened when in 962 Pope John XII. invited Otto I. of Germany to renew once more the Roman Empire. As the imperial strength of the whole Frankish tribe had given them the Empire in 800, so did the national strength of the East Frankish kingdom, now resting indeed on a Saxon rather than a Frankish basis, bring the Empire to its ruler in 962. The centre of political gravity had already been shifting to the east of the Rhine in the course of the 9th century. While the Northmen had carried their arms along the rivers and into the heart of France, Louis the German had consolidated his kingdom in a long reign of sixty years (817–876); and at the end of the 9th century two kings of Germany had already worn the imperial crown. Early in the 10th century the kingship of Germany had come to the vigorous Saxon dukes (919); and strong in their Saxon basis Henry I. and his son Otto had built a realm which, disunited as it was, was far more compact than that which the Carolings of the West ruled from Laon. Henry I. had thought in his later years of going to Rome for the imperial crown: under Otto I. the imperial idea becomes manifest. On the one hand, he established a semi-imperial position in the West: by 946 Louis IV. d’Outremer is his protégé, and it is his arms which maintain the young Conrad of Burgundy on his throne. On the other hand, he showed, by his policy towards the German Church, that he was the true heir of the Carolingian traditions. He made churchmen his ministers; he established missionary bishoprics on the Elbe which should spread Christianity among the Wends; and his dearest project was a new archbishopric of Magdeburg. The one thing needful was that he should, like Charlemagne, acquire the throne of Italy; and the dissolute condition of that country during the first half of the 10th century made its acquisition not only possible, but almost imperative. Begun in 952, the acquisition was completed ten years later; and all the conditions were now present for Otto’s assumption of the imperial throne. The Holy Roman Empire. He was crowned by John XII. on Candlemas Day 962, and thus was begun the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted henceforth with a continuous life until 1806.
The same ideas underlay the new empire which had underlain that of Charlemagne, strengthened and reinforced by the fact that they had already found a visible expression before in that earlier empire. Historically, there was the tradition of the old Roman empire, preserved by the Church as an idea, and preserved in the Church, and its imperial organization, as an actual fact. Ecclesiastically, there was the Pauline conception of a single Christian Church, one in subjection to Christ as its Head, and needing (so men still thought) a secular counterpart of its indivisible unity. To these two sanctions philosophy later added a third; and the doctrine of Realism, that the one universal is the true abiding substance—the doctrine which pervades the De monarchia of Dante,—reinforced the feeling which demanded that Europe should be conceived as a single political unity. But if the Holy Roman empire of the German nation has the old foundations, it is none the less a thing sui generis. Externally, it meant far less than the empire of Charlemagne; it meant simply a union of Germany and northern Italy (to which, after 1032, one must also add Burgundy, though the addition is in reality nominal) under a single rule. Historians of the 19th century, during the years in which the modern German empire was in travail, disputed sorely on the advantages of this union; but whatever its advantages or disadvantages, the fact remains that the union of Teutonic Germany and Latin Italy was, from an external point of view, the essential fact in the structure of the medieval Empire. Internally, again, the Empire of the Ottos and their successors was new and unprecedented. If Latin imperialism had been combined with Frankish tribalism The Empire and feudalism. in the Empire of Charlemagne, it now met and blended with feudalism. The Holy Roman emperor of the middle ages, as Frederick I. proudly told the Roman envoys, found his senate in the diet of the German baronage, his equites in the ranks of the German knights. Feudalism, indeed, came in time to invade the very conception of Empire itself. The emperors began to believe that their position of emperor made them feudal overlords of other kings and princes; and they came to be regarded as the topmost summit of the feudal pyramid, from whom kings held their kingdoms, while they themselves held directly of God. In this way the old conception of the world as a single political society entered upon a new phase: but the translation of that conception into feudal terms, which might have made Diocletian gasp, only gave it the greater hold on the feudal society of the middle ages. Yet in one way the feudal conception was a source of weakness to the Empire; for the popes, from the middle of the 12th century onwards, began to claim for themselves a feudal overlordship of the world, and to regard the emperor as the chief of their vassals. The theory of the Translatio buttressed their claim to be overlords of the Empire; and the emperors found that their very duty to defend the Papacy turned them into its vassals—for was not the advocatus who defended the lands of an abbey or church its tenant by feudal service, and might not analogy extend the feudal relation to the imperial advocate himself?
The relation of the Empire to the Papacy is indeed the cardinal
fact in its history for the three centuries which followed the
coronation of Otto I. (962–1250). For a century
(962–1076) the relation was one of amity. The pope
and the emperor stood as co-ordinate sovereigns,
Empire and the Papacy. ruling together the commonwealth of Europe. If either stood before the other, the emperor stood before the pope. The Romans had sworn to Otto I. that they would never elect or ordain a pope without his consent; and the rights over papal elections conceived to belong to the office of patricius, which they generally held, enabled the emperors, upon occasion, to nominate the pope of their choice. The partnership of Otto III., son of a Byzantine princess, and his nominee Silvester II. (already distinguished as Gerbert, scholasticus of the chapter school of Reims) forms a remarkable page in the annals of Empire and Papacy. Otto, once the pupil of Silvester in classical studies, and taught by his mother the traditions of the Byzantine empire, dreamed of renewing the Empire of Constantine, with Rome itself for its centre; and this antiquarian idealism (which Arnold of Brescia and Cola di Rienzi were afterwards, though with some difference of aim, to share) was encouraged in his pupil by the pope. Tradition afterwards ascribed to the two the first project of a crusade, and the institution of the seven electors: in truth their faces were turned to the past rather than to the future, and they sought not to create, but to renovate. The dream of restoring the age of Constantine passed with the premature death of Otto; and after the death of Silvester II. the papacy was degraded into an appendage of the Tusculan family. From that degradation the Church was rescued by Henry III. (the second emperor of the new Salian house, which reigned from 1024 to 1125), when in 1046 he caused the deposition of three competing popes, and afterwards filled the papal chair with his own nominees; but it was rescued more effectually by itself, when in 1059 the celebrated bull In nomine Domini of Nicholas II. reserved the right of electing the popes to the college of cardinals (see Conclave). A new era of the Papacy begins with the decree, and that era found its exponent in Hildebrand. If under Henry III. the Empire stands in many respects at its zenith, and the emperor nominates to the Papacy, it sinks, under Henry IV., almost to the nadir of its fortunes, and a pope attempts, with no little success, to fight and defeat an emperor.
The rise of the Papacy, which the action of Henry III. in 1046 had helped to begin, and the bull of 1059 had greatly promoted, was ultimately due to an ecclesiastical revival, which goes by the name of the Cluniac movement. The aim of that movement was to separate the Church from The Investiture contest. the world, and thus to make it independent of the laity and the lay power; and it sought to realize its aim first by the prohibition of clerical marriage and simony, and ultimately by the prohibition of lay investiture. A decree of Gregory VII. in 1075 forbade emperor, king or prince to “presume to give investiture of bishoprics,” under pain of excommunication; and Henry IV., contravening the decree, fell under the penalty, and the War of Investitures began (1076–1122). Whether or no Henry humiliated himself at Canossa (and the opinion of German historians now inclines to regard the traditional account as exaggerated) the Empire certainly suffered in his reign a great loss of prestige. The emperor lost his hold over Germany, where the aid of the pope strengthened the hands of the discontented nobility: he lost his hold over Italy, where the Lombard towns gradually acquired municipal independence, and the donation of the Countess Matilda gave the popes the germ of a new and stronger dominium temporale. The First Crusade came, and the emperor, its natural leader, could not lead it; while the centre of learning and civilization, in the course of the fifty years’ War of Investitures, gradually shifted to France. The struggle was finally ended by a compromise—the Concordat of Worms—in 1122; but the Papacy, which had fought the long War of Investitures and inspired the First Crusade, was a far greater power than it had been at the beginning of the struggle, and the emperor, shaken in his hold on Germany and Italy, had lost both power and prestige (see Investiture). It is significant that a theory of the feudal subjection of the emperor to the pope, foreshadowed in the pontificate of Innocent II., and definitely enounced by the envoys of Adrian IV. at the diet of Besançon in 1157, now begins to arise. The popes, who had called the emperors to be heads of the European commonwealth in 800 and again in 962, begin to vindicate that headship for themselves. Gregory VII. had already claimed that the pope stood to the emperor, as the sun to the moon; and gradually the old co-ordination disappeared in a new subordination of the Empire to the papal plenitudo potestatis. The claim of ecclesiastical independence of the middle of the 11th century was rapidly becoming a claim of ecclesiastical supremacy in the middle of the 12th: the imperial claim to nominate popes, which had lasted till 1059, was turning into the papal claim to nominate emperors. Yet at this very time a new period of splendour dawned for the Empire; and the rule of the three Hohenstaufen emperors, Frederick I., Henry VI. and Frederick II. (1152–1250), marks the period of its history which attracts most sympathy and admiration.
Frederick I. regained a new strength in Germany, partly because he united in his veins the blood of the two great contending families, the Welfs and the Waiblingens; partly because he had acquired large patrimonial possessions in Swabia, which took the place of the last Saxon The Hohen-staufen emperors. demesne; partly because he had a greater control over the German episcopate than his predecessors had enjoyed for many years past. At the same time the revival of interest in the study of Roman law gave the emperor, as source and centre of that law, a new dignity and prestige, particularly in Italy, the home and hearth of the revival. Confident in this new strength, he attempted to vindicate his claims on Italy, and sought, by uniting the two under his sway, to inspire with new life the old Ottonian Empire. He failed to crush Lombard municipal independence: defeated at Legnano in 1176, he had to recognize his defeat at the treaty of Constance in 1183. He failed to acquire control over the Papacy: a new struggle of Empire and Papacy, begun in the pontificate of Adrian IV. on the question of control over Rome, and continued in the pontificate of Alexander III., because Frederick recognized an anti-pope, ended in the emperor’s recognition of his defeat at Venice in 1177. The one success was the acquisition of the Norman kingdom for Henry VI., who was married to its heiress, Constance. But the one success of Frederick’s Italian policy proved the ruin of his house in the reign of his grandson Frederick II. On the one hand, the possession of Sicily induced Frederick II. to neglect Germany; and by two documents, one of 1220 and one of 1231, he practically abdicated his sovereign powers to the German princes in order to conciliate their support for his Italian policy. On the other hand, the possession of Sicily involved him in the third great struggle of Empire and Papacy. Strong in his Sicilian kingdom in the south, and seeking, like his grandfather, to establish his power in Lombardy, Frederick practically aimed at the unification of Italy, a policy which threatened to engulf the States of the Church and to reduce the Papacy to impotence. The popes excommunicated the emperor: they aided the Lombard towns to maintain their independence; finally, after Frederick’s death (1250), they summoned Charles of Anjou into Overthrow of the Empire in Italy. Sicily to exterminate his house. By 1268 he had done his work, and the medieval Empire was practically at an end. When Rudolph of Habsburg succeeded in 1273, he was only the head of a federation of princes in Germany, while in Italy he abandoned all claims over the centre and south, and only retained titular rights in the Lombard plain.
Thus ended the first great chapter in the history of the Holy Roman Empire which Otto had founded in 962. In those three centuries the great fact had been its relation to the Papacy: in the last two of those three centuries the relation had been one of enmity. The basis of the enmity had been the papal claim to supreme headship of Latin Christianity, and to an independent temporal demesne in Italy as the condition of that headship. Because they desired supreme headship, the popes had sought to reduce the emperor’s headship to something lower than, and dependent upon, their own—to a mere fief held of St Peter: because they desired a temporal demesne, they had sought to expel him from Italy, since any imperial hold on Italy threatened their independence. They had succeeded in defeating the Empire, but they had also destroyed the Papacy; for the French aid which they had invoked against the Hohenstaufen developed, within fifty years of the fall of that house, into French control, and the captivity at Avignon (1308–1378) was the logical result of the final victory of Charles of Anjou at Tagliacozzo. The struggle seemed to have ended in nothing but the exhaustion of both combatants. Yet in many respects it had in reality made for progress. It had set men thinking of the respective limits of church and state, as the many libelli de lite imperatorum et pontificum show; and from that thought had issued a new conception of the state, as existing in its own right and supreme in its own sphere, a conception which is the necessary basis of the modern nation-state. If it had dislocated Germany into a number of territorial principalities, it had produced a college of electors to represent the cause of unity: if it had helped to prevent the unification of Italy, and had left to Italy the fatal legacy of Guelph and Ghibelline feuds, it had equally helped to produce Italian municipal independence.
A new chapter of the history of the Empire fills the three centuries from 1273 to 1556—from the accession of Rudolph of Habsburg to the abdication of Charles V. Italy was now lost: the Empire had now no peculiar connexion with Rome, and far less touch with the Papacy. A The Empire from the election of Rudolph of Habsburg, 1273. new Germany had risen. The extinction of several royal stocks and the nomination of anti-kings in the course of civil wars had made the monarchy elective, and raised to the side of the emperor a college of electors (see Electors), which appears as definitely established soon after 1250. With Italy lost, and Germany thus transmuted, why should the Empire have still continued to exist? In the first place, it continued to exist because the Germans still found a king necessary and because, the German king having been called for three centuries emperor, it seemed necessary that he should still continue to bear the name. In this sense the Empire existed as the presidency of a Germanic confederation, and as something analogous to the modern German empire, with the one great difference that the Hohenzollerns now derive from Prussia a strength which enables them to make their imperial position a reality, while no Luxemburg or Habsburg was able to make his imperial position otherwise than honorary and nominal. In the second place, it continued to exist because the conception of the unity of western Europe still lingered, and was still conceived to need an exponent. In this sense the Empire existed as a presidency, still more honorary and still more nominal, of the nations of western Europe. In both capacities the emperor existed to a great extent because he was a legal necessity—because, in Germany, he was necessary for the investiture of princes with their principalities, and because, in Europe, he was necessary, as the source of all rights, to bestow crowns upon would-be kings, or to act as the head of the great orders of chivalry, or to give patents to notaries. With the history of the Empire regarded as a German confederation we are not here concerned. The reigns of the Habsburg, Luxemburg and Wittelsbach emperors belong to the history of Germany. Yet two of these emperors, Henry VII. and Louis IV., should not pass without notice, the one for his own sake, the other for the sake of his adherents, and both because, by interfering in Italy, and coming into conflict with the Papacy, they brought once more into prominence the European aspect of the Empire.
Henry VII., the contemporary and the hero of Dante, descended into Italy in 1310, partly because he had no power and no occupation in Germany, partly because he was deeply imbued with the sense of his imperial dignity. Coming as a peacemaker and mediator, he was driven by Guelph opposition into a Ghibelline rôle; and he came into conflict with Clement V., the first of the Avignonese popes, who under the pressure of France attempted to enforce upon Henry a recognition of his feudal subjection. Henry asserted his independence: he claimed Rome for his capital, and the lordship of the world for his right; but, just as a struggle seemed impending, he died, in 1313. During the reign of his successor, Louis IV., the struggle came. Louis had been excommunicated by John XXII. in 1324 for acting as emperor before he had received papal recognition. None the less, in 1328, he came to Rome for his coronation. He had gathered round him strange allies; on the one hand, the more advanced Franciscans, apostles of the cause of clerical disendowment, and inimical to a wealthy papacy; on the other hand, jurists like Marsilius of Padua and John of Jandun, who brought to the cause of Louis the spirit and the doctrines which had already been used in the struggle between Boniface VIII. and Philip IV. of France. Marsilius in particular, in a treatise called the Defensor Pacis, insisted on the majesty of the lay state, and even on its superiority to the Church. Perhaps it was Marsilius, learned as he was in Roman law, and remembering the lex regia by which the Roman people had of old conferred its power on the emperor, who suggested to Louis the policy, which he followed, of receiving the imperial crown by the decree and at the hands of the Roman people. The policy was remarkable: Louis embraced an alliance which Frederick Barbarossa had spurned, and recognized the medieval Romans as the source of imperial power. Not less remarkable was the new attitude of the German electors, who for the first time supported an emperor against the pope, because they now felt menaced in their own electoral rights; and the one permanent result which finally flowed from the struggle was the enunciation and definition of the rights and privileges of the electors in the Golden Bull of 1356 (see Golden Bull).
In this struggle with the Papacy the Empire had shown something of its old universal aspect. It had come into connexion with Italy, and into close connexion with Rome: it had enlisted in defence of its rights at once an Italian like Marsilius and an Englishman like Ockham. The same universal aspect appeared once more in the age of the conciliar movement, at the beginning of the 15th century. One of the essential duties of the emperor, as defender of the Church, was to help the assembling and the deliberations of general councils of the Church. This was the duty discharged by Sigismund, when he forced John XXIII. to summon a council at Constance in 1414, and sought, though in vain, to guide its deliberations. The journey which Sigismund undertook in the interests of the council (1415–1417) is particularly noteworthy. He sought to make peace throughout western Europe, acting as international arbitrator—in virtue of his presidency of western Europe—between England and France, between Burgundians and Armagnacs; but he failed in his aim, and when he returned to the council, it was only to witness the defeat of the party of reform which he championed. National The Empire and the rise of the idea of national states. feeling and national antipathies proved too strong for Sigismund’s attempt to revive the medieval empire for the purposes of international arbitration: the same feeling, the same antipathies, made inevitable the failure of the council itself, in which western Europe had sought to meet once more as a single religious commonwealth. Early in the 15th century, therefore, the conception of the unity of western Europe, as a single Empire-Church, was already waning in both its aspects. The unity of the Church Universal was dissolving, and the conception of the nation-church arising (as the separate concordats granted by Martin V. to the different nations prove); while the unity of the Empire was proved a dream, by the powerlessness of the emperor in the face of the struggle of England and France.
Renaissance and Reformation combined to complete the fall
which the failure of Sigismund to guide the conciliar movement
had already foreshadowed. The Renaissance, revolting
against the medievalism of the studium and not
sparing even the sacerdotium of the middle ages, had
of the Reforma-tion. little respect for the medieval imperium; and, going back to pure Latin and original Greek, it went back beyond even the classical empire to find its ideals and inspirations. But it is the coming of the Reformation, and with it of the nation-church, which finally marks the epoch at which the last vestige of the old conception of the political unity of the world disappears before the nation-state. Externally indeed it seemed, at the time of the Reformation, as if the old Empire had been revived in the person of Charles V., who owned territories as vast as those of Charlemagne. But Charles’s dominions were a dynastic agglomeration, knit together by no vivifying conception; and, though Charles was a champion of the one Catholic Church against the Reformation, he did not in any way seek to revive the power of the medieval empire. Meanwhile the reforming monarchs, while they cast off the Roman Church, cast off with it the Roman empire. Henry VIII. declared himself free, not only of the pope, but of all other foreign power; not only so, but as he sought to take the place of the pope with regard to his own church, so he sought to take the place of the emperor with regard to his kingdom, and spoke of his “imperial” crown, a style which recurs in later Tudor reigns. The conception of one Empire passed out of Europe, or, if it remained, it remained only in an honorary precedence accorded by other sovereigns to the king of Germany, who still entitled himself emperor. In Germany itself the honorary presidency which the emperor enjoyed over the princes came to mean still less than before, when religious differences divided the country, and the principle of cujus regio ejus religio accentuated the local autonomy of the prince. When Charles abdicated in 1556, the change which the accession of Rudolph of Habsburg had already marked was complete: there was no empire except in Germany, and in Germany the Empire was nothing more than a convenient legal conception. The Reformation, by sweeping away the spiritual unity of western Christendom, had swept away any real conception of its political unity, and with that conception it had swept away the Empire; while it had also, by splitting Germany into two religious camps, and making the emperor at the most the head of a religious faction, dissipated the last vestiges of a real Empire in the country which had, since 962, been its peculiar home.
From 1556 to 1806 the Empire means a loose federation of
the different princes of Germany, lay and ecclesiastical, under
the presidency, elective in theory but hereditary in
practice, of the house of Habsburg. It is an empire
much in the same sense as the modern German empire,
a German confedera-tion. with a diet somewhat analogous to the modern Bundesrat, and a cumbrous imperial chamber for purposes of justice, hardly at all analogous to the highly organized system of federal justice which prevails in Germany to-day. The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire into this loose federation had already been anticipated by the concessions made to the princes by Frederick II. in 1220 and 1231; but the final organization of Germany on federal lines was only attained in the treaty of Westphalia of 1648. The attempt of Ferdinand II., in the course of the Thirty Years’ War, to assert a practically monarchical authority over the princes of Germany, only led to the regular vindication by the princes of their own monarchical authority. The emperor, who had tried in the 15th century to be the international authority of all Europe, now sank to the position of less than inter-state arbitrator in Germany. That the Empire and the emperor were retained at all, when the princes became so many independent sovereigns, was due partly to a lingering sense of quasi-national sentiment for a magni nominis umbra, partly to the need of some authority which should combine in one whole principalities of very different sizes and strengths, and should protect the weak from the strong, and all from France. But this authority only found its symbol in the emperor. Such real federal authority as there was remained with the diet, a congress of sovereign princes through their accredited representatives; and the emperor’s sole rights, as emperor, were those of granting titles and confirming tolls. The Habsburgs, emperors in each successive generation, never pursued an imperial, but always a dynastic policy; and they were perfectly ready to sacrifice to the aggrandizement of their house the honour of the Empire, as when they ceded Lorraine to France in return for Tuscany (1735).
It needed the cataclysm of the French Revolution finally to overthrow the Empire. Throughout the 18th century it lasted, a thing of long-winded protocols and never-ending lawsuits, “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.” But with Napoleon came its destroyer. As far back End of the Holy Roman Empire. as the end of the 13th century, French kings had been scheming to annex the title or at any rate absorb the territories of the Empire: at the beginning of the 19th century the annexation of the title by Napoleon seemed very imminent. Posing as the New Charlemagne (“because, like Charlemagne, I unite the crown of France to that of the Lombards, and my Empire marches with the East”), he resolved in 1806, during the dissolution and recomposition of Germany which followed the peace of Lunéville, to oust Francis II. from his title, and to make the Holy Roman Empire part and parcel of the “Napoleonic idea.” He was anticipated, however, by the prompt action of the proud Habsburg, who was equally resolved that no other should wear the crown which he himself was powerless to defend, and accordingly, on the 6th of August 1806, Francis resigned the imperial dignity. So perished the Empire. Out of its ashes sprang the Austrian Empire, for Francis, in 1804, partly to counter Napoleon’s assumption of the title of Emperor of the French, partly to prepare for the impending dissolution of the old Empire, had assumed the title of “Hereditary Emperor of Austria.” And in yet more recent times the German empire may be regarded, in a still more real sense than Austria, as the descendant and representative of the old Empire of the German nation.
What had been the results of the Holy Roman Empire, in the course of its long history, upon Germany and upon Europe? It has been a vexata quaestio among German historians, whether or no the Empire ruined Germany. Some have argued that it diverted the attention of the General influence of the Empire. German kings from their own country to Italy, and that, by bringing them into conflict with the popes, and by thus strengthening the hands of their rebellious baronage with a papal alliance, it prevented the development of a national German monarchy, such as other sovereigns of western Europe were able to found. Others again have emphasized the racial division of Saxon and Frank, of High German and Low German, as the great cause of the failure of Germany to grow into a united national whole, and have sought to ascribe to the influence of the Empire such unity as was achieved; while they have attributed the learning, the trade, the pre-eminence of medieval Germany to the Italian connexion and the prestige which the Empire brought. It is difficult to pronounce on either side; but one feels that the old localism and individualism which characterized the early German, and had never, on German soil, been combined with and counteracted by a large measure of Roman population and Roman civilization, as they were in Gaul and Spain, would in any case have continued to divide and disturb Germany till late in her history, even if the Empire had never come to reside within her borders. Of the larger question of the influence of the Empire on Europe we can here only say that it worked for good. An Empire which represented, as a Holy Empire, the unity of all the faithful as one body in their secular, no less than in their religious life—an Empire which, again, as a Roman Empire, represented with an unbroken continuity the order of Roman administration and law—such an empire could not but make for the betterment of the world. It was not an empire resting on force, a military empire; it was not, as in modern times empires have sometimes been, an autocracy warranted and stamped by the plébiscite of the mob. It was an empire resting neither on the sword nor on the ballot-box, but on two great ideas, taught by the clergy and received by the laity, that all believers in Christ form one body politic, and that the one model and type for the organization of that body is to be found in the past of Rome. It was indeed the weakness of the Empire that its roots were only the thoughts of men; for the lack of material force, from which it always suffered, hindered it from doing work it might well have done—the work, for instance, of international arbitration. Yet, on the other hand, it was the strength and glory of the Empire that it lived, all through the middle ages, an unconquerable idea of the mind of man. Because it was a being of their thought, it stirred men to reflection: the Empire, particularly in its clash with the Papacy, produced a political consciousness and a political speculation reflected for us in the many libelli de lite imperatorum et pontificum, and in the pages of Dante and Marsilius of Padua. Roman, it perpetuated the greatest monument of Roman thought—that ordered scheme of law, which either became, as in England, the model for the building of a native system, or, as in Germany from the end of the 15th century onwards, was received in its integrity and administered in the courts. Holy, it fortified and consolidated Christian thought, by giving a visible expression to the kingdom of God upon earth; and not only so, but it maintained, however imperfectly, some idea of international obligation, and some conception of a commonwealth of Europe.
The Holy Roman Empire of western Europe had in its own day a contemporary and a rival—that east Roman empire of which we have already spoken. From Arcadius to John Palaeologus, from A.D. 395 to 1453, the Roman empire was continued at Constantinople—not as a theory and an idea, but as a simple and daily reality of politics and administration. In one sense the East Roman Empire was more lineally and really Roman than the West: it was absolutely continuous from ancient times. In another sense the Western Empire was the most Roman; for its capital—in theory at least—was Rome itself, and the Roman Church stood by its side, while Constantinople was Hellenic and even Oriental. Between the two Empires there was fixed an impassable gulf; and they were divided by deep differences of thought and temper, which appeared most particularly in the sphere of religion, and expressed themselves in the cleavage between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. Yet, as when Rome fell, the Catholic Church survived, and ultimately found for itself a new Empire of the West, so, when Constantinople fell, the Orthodox Church continued its life, and found for itself a new Empire of the East—the Empire of Russia. Under Ivan the Great (1462–1505) Moscow became the metropolis of Orthodoxy; Byzantine law influenced his code; and he took for his cognizance the double-headed eagle. Ivan the Terrible, his grandson, finally assumed in 1547 the title of Tsar; and henceforth the Russian emperor is, in theory and very largely in fact, the successor of the old East Roman emperor, the head of the Orthodox Church, with the mission of vengeance on Islam for the fall of Constantinople.
In the 19th century the word “empire” has had a large and important bearing in politics. In France it has been the apanage of the Bonapartes, and has meant a centralized system of government by an efficient Caesar, resting immediately on the people, and annihilating the powers of Modern Empires. the people’s representatives. Under Napoleon I. this conception had a Carolingian colour: under Napoleon III. there is less of Carolingianism, and more of Caesarism—more of a popular dictatorship. While in modern France Empire has meant autocracy instead of representative government, in Germany it has meant a greater national unity and a federal government in the place of a confederation. The modern German empire is at once like and unlike the old Holy Roman Empire. It is unlike the old medieval Empire; for it has no connexion with the Catholic Church, and no relation to Rome. But it is like the Holy Roman Empire of the 17th and 18th centuries—for it represents a federation, but a more real and more unitary federation, of the several states of Germany. The likeness is perhaps more striking than the dissimilarity; and in virtue of this likeness, and because the memory of the old German Kaiserzeit was a driving force in 1870, we may speak of the modern German empire as the successor of the old Holy Roman Empire, if we remember that we are speaking of that Empire in its last two centuries of existence. The modern “Empire of Austria,” on the other hand, does not connote an empire in the sense of a federation, but is a convenient designation for the sum of the territories ruled by a single sovereign under various titles (king of Bohemia, archduke of Austria, &c.) and unified in a single political system. The title of Emperor was assumed, as we have seen, through an historical accident; and, though the Habsburgs of to-day are personally the lineal descendants of the old Holy Roman emperors, they do not in any way possess an empire that represents the old Holy Empire. In England, of recent years, the term “Empire” and the conception of imperialism have become prominent and crucial. To Englishmen to-day, as to Germans before 1870, the term and the conception stand for the greater unity and definitely federal government of a number of separate states. For the German, indeed, Empire has meant, in great measure, the strengthening of a loose federal institution by the addition of a common personal superior: to us it means the turning of a loose union of separate states already under a common personal superior—the King—into a federal commonwealth living under some common federal institutions. But the aim is much the same; it is the integration of a people under a single scheme which shall be consistent with a large measure of political autonomy. We speak of imperial federation; and indeed our modern imperialism is closely allied to federalism. Yet we do well to cling to the term empire rather than federation; for the one term emphasizes the whole and its unity, the other the part and its independence. This imperialism, which is federalism viewed as making for a single whole, is very different from that Bonapartist imperialism, which means autocracy; for its essence is free co-ordination, and the self-government of each co-ordinated part. The British Empire (q.v.) is, in a sense, an aspiration rather than a reality, a thought rather than a fact; but, just for that reason, it is like the old Empire of which we have spoken; and though it be neither Roman nor Holy, yet it has, like its prototype, one law, if not the law of Rome—one faith, if not in matters of religion, at any rate in the field of political and social ideals.
Authorities.—See, in the first place, J. Bryce, Holy Roman Empire (1904 edition); J. von Döllinger, article on “The Empire of Charles the Great” (in Essays on Historical and Literary Subjects, translated by Margaret Warre, 1894); H. Fisher, The Medieval Empire (1898); E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edited by J. B. Bury. It would be impossible to refer to all the books bearing on the article, but one may select (i.) for the period down to 476, Stuart Jones, The Roman Empire (1908), an excellent brief sketch; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit (1883–1888); O. Seeck, Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt (Band I., Berlin, 1897–1898, Band II., 1901) (a remarkable and stimulating book); and the two excellent articles on “Imperium” and “Princeps” in Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890); (ii.) for the period from 476 down to 888, T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (1880–1900); F. Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter (1886–1894; Eng. trans., London, 1894–1900); E. Lavisse, Histoire de France, II. i. (1901); J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire (1889); (iii.) for the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, W. von Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit (1881–1890); J. Zeller, Histoire d’Allemagne (1872–1891); R. L. Poole, Illustrations of Medieval Thought (1884); S. Riezler, Die literarischen Widersacher der Päpste Zeit Ludwigs des Baiers (1874); J. Jannsen, Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters (1885–1894); L. von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (1839–1847), and Zur deutschen Geschichte. Vom Religionsfrieden bis zum dreissigjährigen Krieg (1869); and T. Carlyle, Frederick the Great (1872–1873). On the fall of the Roman Empire and the transition to the modern German Empire see Sir J. R. Seeley, Life and Times of Stein (1878); H. von Treitschke, Deutsche Geschichte (1879–1894); and H. von Sybel, Die Begründung des deutschen Reichs (1890–1894, Eng. trans., The Founding of the Germ. Emp., New York, 1890–1891). For institutional history, see R. Schröder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (1894). On the influence of the Holy Roman Empire upon the history of Germany, see J. Ficker, Das deutsche Kaiserreich (1861), and Deutsches Königtum und Kaisertum (1862); and H. von Sybel, Die deutsche Nation und das Kaiserreich (1861). (E. Br.)
- Bryce points out, with much subtlety and truth, that the rise of a second Rome in the East not only helped to perpetuate the Empire by providing a new centre which would take the place of Rome when Rome fell, but also tended to make it more universal; “for, having lost its local centre, it subsisted no longer by historic right only, but, so to speak, naturally, as a part of an order of things which a change in external conditions seemed incapable of disturbing” (Holy Roman Empire, p. 8 of the edition of 1904).
- The de facto importance of the event of 476 can only be seen in the light of later events, and it was not therefore noticed by contemporaries. Marcellinus is the only contemporary who remarks on its importance, cf. Marcellini Chronicon (Mon. Germ. Hist., Chronica minora. ii. 91), Hesperium Romanae gentis imperium ... cum hoc Augustulo periit ... Gothorum dehinc regibus Romam tenentibus.
- A passage in Malchus, a Byzantine historian (quoted by Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, p. 25, note u, in the edition of 1904), expresses this truth exactly. The envoys sent to Zeno by Odoacer urge ὡς ἰδίας μὲν αὐτοῖς βασιλείας οὐ δέοι κοινὸς δὲ ἀποχρήσει μόνος ὤν αὐτοκράτωρ ἐπ᾽ ἀμφοτέροις τοῖς πέρασι. The envoys then suggest the name of Odoacer, as one able to manage their affairs, and ask Zeno to give him, as an officer of the Empire, the title of Patricius and the administration of Italy.
- According to the view here followed, the Church was the ark in which the conception of Empire was saved during the dark ages between 600 and 800. Some influence should perhaps also be assigned to Roman law, which continued to be administered during these centuries, especially in the towns, and maintained the imperial tradition. But the influence of the Church is the essential fact.
- In the 5th century the title patricius came to attach particularly to the head of the Roman army (magister utriusque militiae) to men like Aetius and Ricimer, who made and unmade emperors (cf. Mommsen, Gesammelte Schriften, iv. 537, 545 sqq.). Later it had been borne by the Greek exarchs of Ravenna. The concession to Pippin of this great title makes him military head of the Western empire, in the sense in which the title was used in the 5th century; it makes him representative of the Empire for Italy, in the sense in which it had been used of the exarchs.
- See the famous bull Venerabilem (Corp. Jur. Canon. Decr. Greg. i. 6, c. 34).
- Even on this view, an imperial coronation at the hands of the pope was necessary to complete the title; but this was regarded by the Germans (though not by the pope) as a form which necessarily followed.
- It is a curious fact that imperial titles (imperator and basileus) are used in the Anglo-Saxon diplomata of the 10th century. Edred, for instance (946–955) is “imperator,” “cyning and casere totius Britanniae,” “basileus Anglorum hujusque insulae barbarorum”: Edgar is “totius Albionis imperator Augustus” (cf. Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. c. vii. § 71). These titles partly show the turgidity of English Latinity in the 10th century, partly indicate the quasi-imperial position held by the Wessex kings after the reconquest of the Dane-law. But there seems to be no real ground for Freeman’s view (Norman Conquest, i. 548 sqq.), that England was regarded as a third Empire, side by side with the other Empires of West and East Europe. That the titles were assumed in order to repudiate possible claims of the Western Empire to the overlordship of England is disproved by the fact that they are assumed at a time when there is no Western emperor. The assumption of an imperial style by Henry VIII., which is mentioned below, is explained by the Reformation, and does not mean any recurrence to a forgotten Anglo-Saxon style.
- It is in virtue of this aspect that the Empire is holy. The term sacrum imperium seems to have been first used about the time of Frederick I., when the emperors were anxious to magnify the sanctity of their office in answer to papal opposition. The emperor himself (see under Emperor) was always regarded, and at his coronation treated, as a persona ecclesiastica.
- The emperor claimed suzerainty over the greater part of Europe at various dates. Hungary and Poland, France and Spain, the Scandinavian peninsula, the British Isles, were all claimed for the Empire at different times (see Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, c. xii.). The “effective” empire, if indeed it may be called effective, embraced only Germany, Burgundy and the regnum Italiae (the old Lombard kingdom in the valley of the Po).
- Cf. the Act 25 Henry VIII. c. 22, § 1: “the lawful kings and emperors of this realm.”
- The Papacy, consistent to the last, formally protested at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 against the failure of the Powers to restore the Holy Roman Empire, the “centre of political unity” (Ed.).
- The Turks, occupying Constantinople, have also claimed to be the heirs of the old emperors of Constantinople; and their sultans have styled themselves Keisar-i-Rûm.
- This does not, of course, apply to Hungary, which since 1867 has not formed part of the Austrian empire and is ruled by the head of the house of Habsburg not as emperor, but as king of Hungary.