Translatio imperii

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Translatio imperii ( Latin for "transferring the empire") is a political theory of the Middle Ages and early modern times, according to which one world empire replaces the other.

It is based on the theologically founded view of history, which was widespread in the Middle Ages , that history is linear and the rule of one prince or one country always leads to the subsequent rule of another prince or country. With this eschatological concept, medieval historians did not differentiate between divine and secular history, which were regarded as an inseparable unit.

Translatio imperii in the Middle Ages

The idea of ​​the translatio imperii is based on the doctrine of the four kingdoms , which in turn goes back to the book of Daniel ( Dan 2.21  EU ). In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, the late antique church father Jerome assigned the text passage to other realms: Babylon , Persia , Greece and Rome . The end of the world should follow after the last kingdom .

In 476 the Roman Empire died out in the west, while the Eastern Roman / Byzantine Empire continued to exist in the east . After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople / Istanbul in 1453, the sultans saw themselves in the continuity of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was finally conquered. Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” expressed this by taking over the imperial title. In the Middle Ages , after the imperial coronation of Charlemagne in Rome by Pope Leo III. on December 25th, 800 represented the idea of ​​a renewed Roman Empire, with which the “4th Reich ”had not perished. However, direct references to the fact that the Roman imperial dignity had passed to the Franks are not tangible until the middle of the 9th century. The four kingdoms scheme was later resumed in the eschatological sense. After the collapse of the Franconian Empire , the East Franconian Empire finally took its place, whose ruler Otto I achieved the dignity of emperor in 962. The idea that the empire would succeed the Roman Empire only came about in the course of 10/11. Century, and since the 13th century the empire has been known as the Holy Roman Empire .

Thus, in the Middle Ages, translatio imperii primarily referred to the transfer of the Roman imperial dignity, whereby a curial translation theory also emerged, according to which the emperor could only be transferred by the Pope. The emperors of the Holy Roman Empire relied on their Roman predecessors, deriving their authority to legislate. In connection with this doctrine is the application of the Corpus Iuris Civilis , a legal work of the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I. The regulations were adopted according to customary law, but in the Middle Ages there was a need to base the validity of these legal principles on an authority. This is how the legend arose that Emperor Lothar rediscovered this body of law and declared it to be applicable law ( Lothar legend ). On the basis of the translatio imperii , it also seemed logical to continue Roman law.

Scholars of different origins tried to put their country at the end of a chain of rule and developed alternative interpretations of the translatio imperii :

Translatio imperii in modern times

In modern times, the emerging great powers Spain (16th century), France (17th century) and England (17th century) followed the tradition of the translatio imperii , partly in the belief that the kingdom of God would be realized as the fifth kingdom, partly without the apocalyptic reference.

In the meantime another conception emerged, that of the civilizing wandering west. Following the course of the sun ( ex oriente lux ) , the country that dominated its age and thus the center of civilization at that time had shifted further and further to the west. B. Persia → Greece → Rome → Spain or Persia → Greece → Rome → England .

This view was particularly widespread in the young United States . The former colonists saw themselves and their form of government as superior to the absolutist systems of the Old World and, in their optimism for progress, derived from this a transition of civilization from the English Empire to the Fifth Empire, god's own country . For the establishment of an empire comparable to the previous empire, a further settlement of the American continent was necessary (see Manifest Destiny ). As a justification for American imperialism around 1900, the idea was taken up again to carry the “light of civilization” further west across the Pacific (e.g. to the Philippines ).

Representatives of the idea of ​​a fifth empire in America were z. B. George Berkeley and Josiah Strong .

See also



  1. ^ De Troyes, Chrétien. Cligès . Circa 1176.