<<Tell me you stones, O speak you towering palaces! Streets, say a word! Spirit of this place, are you dumb? All things are alive in your sacred walls. Eternal Rome only for me all is still. Who will whisper to me? At what window will I see the sweet thing who will kindle me, and quicken? Already I guess the ways, walking to her and from her, ever and always I’ll go, while sweet time slips by. I’m gazing at church and palace, ruin and column, like a serious man making sensible use of a journey, but soon it will happen, and all will be one vast temple. Love’s temple, receiving its new initiate. Though you are a whole world, Rome, still, without Love the world’s not the world, Rome cannot be Rome>>
We find the birth of this political entity when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor in the year 800, on a return to Rome of the seat of the ancient Roman Empire. The then known as the Carolingian Empire, gathered under its crown the Franks and Lombards, the defense of Christianity in Hispania against the Muslims and the spread of the Faith among the peoples of the newly conquered Germania.
Although the political relationship with Byzantium was not as close as it should have been, from the Eastern Empire the titles of imperator and basileus were granted to the Western Empire in consideration for the return of Venice and Dalmatia to the Byzantine world. The rulers of the Holy Empire stood out for having the same eagerness as the Byzantines to call councils and to intervene in the election of the Pope.
The emperor situated the capital in Aachen, an enclave located near Cologne, where his predecessors had raised a sturdy castle and was previously crowned King of the Franks in 768.
Charlemagne had great military successes: he liberated Italy from the Lombard occupation of the king Desiderius, fought and subjected after thirty long years of conflict to the pagan Saxons, converting them to the Christian faith and integrating their territories to the Empire, fought in the Iberian Peninsula against the Muslims, thus strengthening the foundations of the imminent Reconquista through the Spanish March on the southern slope of the Pyrenees, and also subdued Bavarians and Avars.
To one of his exploits, back after the campaigns of Hispania, corresponds the legend immortalized in the chanson de geste “the Song of Roland”. This knight lost his life in the gorge of Roncesvalles, in an ambush suffered in the rearguard by Vascones and Gascons. It was after this disaster when Charlemagne definitively promoted the creation of the Spanish March, as a protectorate, conforming in this region a kind of limes to the south of the empire, with the objective of containing the constant threat of Islam, and as a starting point for the future Reconquista of Hispania for Christianity. Over the centuries and after a tenacious and fierce resistance to the invader, in this march were born political entities in the form of counties and kingdoms that in parallel and in communion with those located in the Cantabrian Range would liberate the peninsula from the Saracen occupation.
The force that had just born, wobbled soon before the breakdown of Christian unity, invasions on several fronts by Muslims and Normans, and civil conflicts between Carolingian sovereigns, because the conception of the nation was of federalist court.
Charles II the Bald tried unsuccessfully a restoration, and a time of anarchy continued. His successor, Charles III the Fat, was more successful, and gathered under his dominions the same territories that Charlemagne possessed (at the end of the 9th century), but his death would mean a division into six kingdoms and the consolidation of a feudal world.
Later the figure of Otto I the Great of Saxony, which at the end of the 10th century restored the previous order, reunifying the Empire with the territorial base of the duchies of Saxony, Thuringia, Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia and Lotharingia (with Germanic languages, the original nucleus of Germany) giving them the hegemony, and linking to the papacy. Militarily obtained in the year 955 two important victories against the Hungarians in Lechfeld and against the Slavs in Rechnitz. And he got crowned in Pavia as Rex Francorum et Longobardorum, shortly after getting the imperial anointing in Rome by Pope John XII. Here is considered by the historiography the founding moment of the Holy Roman Empire of the West with this name, also known as the First Reich or Old Empire.
It should be noted that the territorial unit was broken: France was outside its borders, so it can be considered that after two centuries of existence, the Carolingian Empire with such a name disappeared definitively giving way to the Holy Empire that was ruled from Germanic territories. The emperors began to be crowned in Germany under the name of “King of the Romans”, before going to Pavia to be crowned as kings of Italy and emperors of Rome.
Between the years 1000 and 1300 there was a struggle for the Dominium mundi between the pontificate and the Empire.
After years of clashes with the papal power and a series of internal struggles in the cities, ascended to power Frederick I (Barbarossa), who was another staunch supporter of the imperial idea, but like the last great emperor of the Middle Ages, Frederick II, encountered significant obstacles to achieve his goals. After his death, he was followed by a period of internal strife between 1250 and 1273, of generalized anarchy without a monarch. At the end of the 13th century, important adversaries appeared: France, England and Castile.
In this period we find clashes for power: Conrad IV as the son of Frederick II against guelph William of Holland proclaimed by the pope. They die in 1254 and 1256 respectively. The struggle for the imperial crown continues between Alfonso X the Wise of Castile and Richard of Cornwall. After the death of both ends this period of disputes with the enthronement of the desired by the pontificate at that time: Rudolf of Habsburg.
The Empire that at first had received support and impulse from Rome for the interest of expanding religion among the heathen peoples of the North and East, little by little, the sovereignist causes are now the recipients of that support, and a decline began at a political level leading to the loss of territories. In the mid-14th century the imperial power could be recognized only in Germany, and also increasingly limited.
During the 15th and 16th centuries the Empire approached the Church again, but the political consequences of the emergence of Protestantism divided its people. Charles V of the House of Habsburg was the last to be crowned by the Pope (1530) and after him, the Holy Empire never again became to link with Christian power. Furthermore, in the next century it was immersed in the terrible Thirty Years War and was reduced to a federation of 300 States, which were becoming increasingly detached from imperial power.
In the 18th century, the Prussian kingdom acquired control of the federation and confronted Austria, which was at the center of the nation’s territories. After this contest, the decline is inevitable, with the duchies of Saxony, Bavaria and Württemberg with great power and total independence, Prussia and Saxony fighting for the rule of the crown, the West Rhine under French influence, and Austria with conflicts in Italy and the Balkans.
In the year 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte (military genius, admirer and erudite scholar of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Julius Caesar, that dreamed the creation of a French Empire taking as a model the Roman Empire adapted to his time) overwhelmed the Austrian forces, and his monarch, Francis II of Austria, was forced to renounce the title of emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, causing the end of its millenary history.
Later, in the 20th century, Nazism tried to repeat a dream of a united Europe under a sovereign, the famous Third Reich, the coveted empire of the thousand years that so obsessed Adolf Hitler, this time at the service of the alleged superior race and with inhuman means that annihilated millions of lives. His appropriation of the Roman imperial symbology in imitation of Italian fascism has dirtied customs and aesthetics that are now undeservedly associated with the far-right. Within these unreason, until Benito Mussolini proclaimed himself as the new emperor of Rome.
In the present we enjoy a political entity, the European Union, born after the Second World War with the firm intention of avoiding a new fight between Europeans and as an axis of cooperation and supranational integration.
Leaving aside the economic aspects that govern it, I would like to highlight, in a personal capacity, that it is a pity that its leaders have not been able to agree and recognize an indelible truth in its Constitution, which refers to the cultural roots of which all European peoples come without exception: classical culture (Greek and Roman), Christianity and Enlightenment. It is never too late to correct political mistakes and that does not mean that multiculturalism is demonized, it is only about recognizing where we come from, what we are and honoring the ancestors. Until this recognition is made explicit, there will be no solid basis to create a true united state, and the people will continue to see the institution as a bureaucratic conglomerate led by technocrats at the service of economic interests.
But Rome is above people, it is a dream, a dream that can be amounted to thousands of years, that flies above its descendents, that is palpated in its languages, in its customs, a dream that is reborn before the vision of its ruins and that still overwhelms those who imagine what it was and what it could have been. Rome was what the pride and strength of its people wanted it to be, and many of us live in the settlements that they chose, travel the roads they opened, and enjoy the culture they gave us. Let’s never forget it.
Author: Eduardo Ortiz Pardina