Previously, we covered the first four revivals of the ancient Roman Empire, after its demise. The fourth revival under Justinian occurred about 554 A.D., but it too would come to an end and go back into the “abyss” of history. But almost 250 years later, the world would observe the next revival.
The Fifth Revival under Charlemagne
The Living World of History states:
“Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel, made 732 a memorable year in European annals. The Moslems, who were then the masters of Spain, surged into France with a great host. But Charles smashed their armies and destroyed their hopes for further conquests in the decisive battle of Poitiers. Charles’ son, Pepin the Short… presented the Papacy with certain districts in central Italy which he had captured from the barbarous Lombards. Thus the Pope, besides being the spiritual head of Western Christendom, became a territorial prince as ruler of the Papal States.
“From these victorious ancestors sprang the most illustrious hero of the Dark Ages, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. He reigned over the reunited kingdom from 771 to 814 and he made it his aim to bring all the German peoples into one great Christian empire… His commanding figure… made him the idol of his warriors… His sword never rusted. He extinguished the Lombard kingdom; drove the Moslems from the buffer province he created south of the Pyrenees; and hounded the pagan Saxons till he had subdued them and forced them to accept Christianity… But the peak of his glory was scaled in Rome. The Roman Emperor of Constantinople, who reigned over the East and, nominally, over the West, had been dethroned. In 800, the Pope [Leo III] crowned Charlemagne emperor in his place…”
In the book, “Kingdoms of Europe,” we read the following about Charlemagne:
“On Christmas day of the year 800, as Carl the Frank [Charlemagne] knelt down before the altar of St. Peter’s [in Rome], the pope placed the crown on his head, and the Roman people cried out, ‘To Carlus Augustus, crowned by God, the great and peaceful emperor of the Romans, life and victory!’ So the empire of the West, which had died away for a time or been merged in the empire of the East at Constantinople, was brought to life again in the person of Charlemagne…”
Under the headline, “The Holy Roman Empire”, the book continues:
“Charlemagne succeeded through relentless military and missionary campaigns in bringing the areas of present-day Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy and Low Countries within a precariously unified administration. His coronation as emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day, A.D. 800, marked the emergence of a successor in western and central Europe to the defunct Western Roman empire, which could protect the papacy and assume equality with the Byzantine successor of the empire in the east… The death of Charlemagne in 814 was followed by the rapid dissolution of the empire…
“Charlemagne, who ruled Germany as king from 771 to 800, and then as emperor from 800 to 814, was considered by future historians as the greatest European ruler of all time. Even Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm admitted that they ‘dreamed of being another Charlemagne.’… Because he was crowned emperor in 800 by Pope Leo III, he is considered by many scholars as the father of the Holy Roman Empire.”
In P.M. History, 4/99, the following is stated:
“In the year 1000 A.D., King Otto III opened the tomb [mausoleum] of Charlemagne in the citadel in Aachen. According to legend, he found the great predecessor sitting on his throne, without any indication of decay.”
Following the death of Charlemagne, the fifth revival of the Roman Empire would gradually come to an end. It took over 150 years until the next revival would begin to occur under the German emperor, Otto the Great.
The Sixth Revival under Otto the Great
Under the headline, “Germany and the Holy Roman Empire,” the book “The Living World of History” states the following:
“Otto had made himself the most powerful monarch in Europe… the ideal of the old Roman Empire, as a civilized community embracing all Christendom under the enlightened rule of Pope and Emperor, still lingered on. To Otto, with Italy already swallowed, it was a tempting banquet and in 962, he sat down to it; the Pope (John XII) crowned him Emperor. Thus begun the so-called Holy Roman Empire [of the German Nation] that was to stagger on till 1806.”
However, as the book also points out, it would not survive uninterruptedly. Referring to the time after the demise of the empire under Otto and his successors, the book writes: “All hope of establishing a strong and united Germany was ruined, and not until the late fifteenth century did the empire, under the Habsburgs, again speak with its former authority in Europe.”
Returning to Otto the Great, the book, “Kingdoms of Europe” explains:
“The formal revival of the Holy Roman Empire dates from 962, when Otto I (the Great) received the title Imperator et Augustus in Rome… [He] ruled until his death in 973. Under Otto I, the Great, Germany became the greatest nation in Europe in the tenth century.”
The book, “The Rise of Europe,” by Reader’s Digest, states: “[Under Otto], the brightness [of Europe] was renewed which the occidental empire possessed at one time under Charlemagne.”
The Wikipedia Encyclopedia states:
“Otto I is considered the first Holy Roman Emperor from the Kingdom of Germany, though Charlemagne of the Carolingian Dynasty was the first to receive papal coronation as Emperor of the Romans. Charles V was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope [but see our comments below]. The standard designation of the Holy Roman Emperor was ‘August Emperor of the Romans’ (Romanorum Imperator Augustus). When Charlemagne was crowned in 800, his was styled as ‘most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire,’ thus constituting the elements of ‘Holy’ and ‘Roman’ in the imperial title. The word Roman was a reflection of the translatio imperii (transfer of rule) principle that regarded the (Germanic) Holy Roman Emperors as the inheritors of the title of Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, a title left unclaimed in the West after the death of Julius Nepos in 480.
“After Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope, his successors maintained the title until the death of Berengar I of Italy in 924. No pope appointed an emperor again until Otto the Great (912-973). Otto is considered the first Holy Roman Emperor. Under Otto and his successors, much of the former Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia became the Holy Roman Empire.”
As we have seen, Charlemagne was also referred to as the “first” Holy Roman Emperor. It would therefore be more accurate to refer to Otto the Great as the “first” Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation. (It is still hotly debated among historians whether Charlemagne, a Frank, belonged to the German, the Belgium or the French people.) As we will also see later on, Charles V of Habsburg was another Holy Roman Emperor who was crowned by a pope, establishing the seventh revival, but so was Napoleon (the eighth revival), even though he was technically crowned as Emperor of France, taking the crown from the pope and placing it himself on his own head.
The book “The Rise of Europe” also gives some interesting information about the “holy lance”:
“Otto I carried the holy lance which, according to legend, was used by the Roman soldier to pierce Christ’s side. It allegedly protected the warrior and gave him victory.”
The Wikipedia Encyclopedia confirms the existence of the belief in the “holy lance” and other “holy” insignia:
“The Holy Roman Emperors had a lance of their own, attested from the time of Otto I (912-973)… The Imperial Regalia, insignia, or crown jewels… are the regalia of the Emperors and Kings of the Holy Roman Empire. The most important parts are the Imperial Crown, the Holy Lance and the Imperial Sword… The Imperial Crown… was made probably somewhere in Western Germany, either under Conrad I or by Otto I…
“Along with the Imperial Cross, the Imperial Sword, and the Holy Lance, the crown was the most important part of the Imperial Regalia. During the coronation, it was given to the new king along with the sceptre and the Imperial Orb… Currently, the crown and the rest of the Imperial Regalia are exhibited at the Hofburg in Vienna — officially ‘until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation’…
“The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire was… selected as the main motif for a high value commemorative coin, the €100 Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire commemorative coin, minted in 2008. The obverse shows the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The reverse shows the Emperor Otto I with old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the background, where his coronation took place.”
The dream of a Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation) is still very much alive, and one may wonder whether the Imperial Regalia will play any role during the last revival (as we will see, they did play a role during the ninth revival). The dream of a unified Europe, patterned after the Roman Empire, never really died, even though Rome’s eighth revival did not begin to form until the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, over 450 years after Otto’s death.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link