This is a somewhat an ice breaker, a conversation starter, semi-joke story that I have told for a while now. My frequent companions heard this so many times, they simply talk to someone else or leave completely when I decide to take hostage new inocent audiences.
The Roman Empire jokes were and still are a common thing between my friends. Most noticeable one is “inviting” people who practices unexpected culinary choices to the north of the Alps. We also sometimes try to come up with some stupid proofs that culture only resides where Roman Empire has reached. My most prized joke is trying to pick a silly fight with anyone who comes from lands of western empire and compare the achievements of the eastern empire with them.
This concept of romanization of every little stupid thing led us to illiterately theorize about who carries the legacy of the Roman Empire today. While it is easy to say that Roman Empire, east or west, ceased to exist today, I think it is fun to pretend it is not. This will be my case for Roman Empires modern existence.
This piece does not aim or even try to be historical accurate. If you plan to face your history teacher with this information you will most likely get a L for laughs which is the only thing aimed here.
What is Roman Empire⌗
Imperium Romanum or Roman Empire is history of a city state to become one of the most influential super powers of all time. Until fall of the west, a half milenia long life of the empire shaped western culture so much we literally still use many Latin words and legal system of that era. Anywhere Roman Empire touched one can still see it’s marks from great ruins to great destruction
Where is Roman Empire now? It is gone and Istanbul is not Constantinopolis.
West fell somewhere late 400 A.D under consistent threat of German raids, invasion from Huns and Scourge of God. It is all sad and sorry for anyone living in the empire if one remember Pax Romana is the longest peaceful and prosperous times of the land and most probably the basis for many of our “independence but for what cost” stories in modern culture. Rome copied, stole and plundered the old world into modern era of western civilization.
And then there is east, poor east. A great city state in front of the city of the blind, Bzyantium gets the flag from West and begins it’s life as the capital of Roman Empire after 330 A.C. It was Constatine I who took the flag of Roman empire to east and named “the city” after his name. Constantinopolis was the most crowded city in the old world with a prosperous and cultural life almost until modern times maybe with the exception of 4th Crusade’s sack of the city in 12nd century. Eastern Roman empire stood it’s ground another millennia after west fell. Ottoman Empire took Constantinopolis in 1453 and an era has ended. At least many think that way.
Through out it’s history, Roman Empire changed political structure, religion and capital. This means there is nothing fundamentally inherent to Roman Empire in any way. Roman Empire may be once a specific political structure but after a millennia nothing stays the same. This fact alone means anyone who gets a decent enough claim on being the next Ceaser, Kaiser, Kral or King can claim their rightful throne to the Empire. Some tried. Really hard.
First people who jumped the opportunity were Russians as they claimed to be the heir to orthodox church of Constantinopolis. They claimed to be the third Rome as tradition follows. It was all good and fun while it lasted but Communists had other plans. Bolshevik revolution of 1917 topples the monarchy and never claim to have any title it used to have. The most dramatic political power change of the century puts an end to third Rome.
From the hearth of Europa, here comes the Holy Roman Empire. From 800 A.D until dissolution by Napoleon himself at 1809 Holy Roman Empire was a good contestant. Blessed by Pope and rose on the ashes of the Roman camps once burned by Barbaric tribes. Ceaser would have been proud.
I don’t think, nobody but person who ceased Nova Roma by himself had the best claim on the throne.
Most would consider the end of Roman Empire with fall of Constantinopolis in 1453 A.D to Ottoman. While this makes sense in a general sense there are still some issues with this claim. First off all, Roman Empire is not a certain thing. Changed religion once (perhaps twice), changed capital twice, invaded totally twice. At that point all one can claim is Roman Empire is nothing but a loose group of ideas.
This was not the first fall of Constantinopolis either. Sack of Constantinopolis was an invasion by V. crusaders where Latins claimed the the empire, several small states formed within the borders and a whole power strugle started. Only after several decades one of the contestant for the power took the city and empire back. So fall of Constantinopolis is not a indication of empires existence. Byzantians never forgot that and official resolution of this atrocity between catholic and orthodox christian churches resolved only, wait for it, in 1965 A.D.
Empire was not the land either. Well before Constantinopolis’s fall empire was bleeding territory already. Right before the siege, Ottomans almost took every land empire had. By this extent the only thing left to call from Roman empire was the city it self.
Religion was not the answer either. Roman Empire was once pagan. Even two different kind of pagans for a while. They nailed a guy to a cross who transformed their empire forever. Then they started hunting pagans like they did to Christians before. They divided the understanding of Christianity into two groups and had an century long argument over that too. It is safe to assume religion had nothing to do with empire.
Nationality was never an issue either. Most would think of Europa when they think of anything Roman but that was far from the truth. When at widest Roman empire encompassed Mediterranean where myriad of people lived. Also transfer of capital from west to east shows a change in who got to rule the Empire does not matter either. Latin or Greek.
This brings us to the fact that Ottomans took over Roman Empire, not to end it but keep it.
εἰς τὴν Πόλιν : to the City⌗
Constantinopolis was a target for a millennia for many. Prosperous city was a glorious monument to human culture and achievements. Only Hagia Sofia (Sancta Sapientia, Saint Wisdom), alone can still prove the claimed magnificence of the city at it’s highest. It was the most populous city in the old world until London took over before WW I. This glamour attracted many to conquer the city. Bulgarians failed, Vikings failed, Muslims failed, Ottomans tried twice and succeeded once, barely.
Nobody was aiming to destroy the city and by it’s extend the empire with apparent exception of Latin invasion. It was a cultural prize, a triumphant arch for victory. Fatih Sultan Mehmet or Mehmet II was definetly after the legacy of the city. Contemporary customs of city conquest aside Mehmet claimed the monuments and buildings of the city for protection and was deeply sad about the state they found the city. He promised security to anyone in the city who are willing to live. Most importantly he claimed the title of Ceaser (Kayser-i Rûm) and acted upon.
Besides signing letters or using the title in general, Ottomans actually fought for the title with Holy Roman Empire. A whole war broke out (obviously not for the title only) and Treaty of Constantinopolis dictates the right to use the title for Ottomans.
Anyone familiar with Ottoman history, political structure, architecture, art, music will see the aura of Roman influence. There is a common saying that “Ottoman empire is Muslim Byzantium”. This fact is reinforced by many ideals Fatih had and he planned an empire including the city of Rome and uniting Roman Empire once again.
Ottoman Empire was in terrible shape after a century long decline and a lost world war. World was on the brink of a new era with industrialized powers armed with capital rampaging over world’s resources and markets. Non-industrialized, non-nationalized Ottoman state was nowhere near the capability of seizing the era. Some political and technological modernizations have implemented but most was superficial and had the old understandings were wrapped around them. While it’s power is nowhere to be considered adequate a parliment established and politically, state looked like a democratic monarchy at the end of the Ottoman rule.
Nationalist independence movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk pushed invading countries from Anatolia and established a nation state in place of Ottoman Empire. It is the modern Turkey at this day. Many reforms made after, in a very short period and many claims that Turkey is a new state with no ties to underlying Ottoman roots. This claim is very much debatable and important for Roman Empire’s future.
People who joined the revolution are mostly the very same people who had official roles in Ottoman state. Atatürk was a commemorated military officer, many old parliament member took their seat in the new one, revolutionary army was just eastern province’s armed forces. Even revolution side was not unified about the future of the state after a successful recovery from invasion. There were clique’s of imperialists, islamists. It is safe to assume and in some ways to prove that revolution’s aims were not clear and many saw the movement as continuation of the Ottoman state to some extend.
This log is from the last gathering of Ottoman parliament. A new proposal about a tax is given and postponed to be discused later. Parliament is disbanded afterwards.
Here is the very first log of new Turkish parliament. One can see that they started where they left of. Changing the tax code.
New Turkish Republic also resembles Ottoman political structure very much. There is a president. Although it is claimed to be a symbolic one, legal truth was far away from it. Governors are still appointed by state, if not private almost all land belong to the state and some form of military/strong central power hype going on. If one wants to look for real clues, not so long ago, anyone who lives in eastern Turkey would call any official “Rum” as Roman which is also local name given christian Greeks in Anatolia.
In the end new Turkish state is almost only different because of it’s choice of a new capital while changing the name of Konstantiniye to Istanbul which literally means “to the city”. By this extend, not being indefinitely invaded, keeping a continuous political order, Turkey was and still is continuation of Ottoman Empire hence Roman Empire.
All hail Kayser⌗
All this leads us to the conclusion of Roman Empire still exists and Turkey as a state the continuation of it.
One particular fact that need to be noted is the denouncement of old title’s of sultan. After the revolution all of them listed and denounced with a law. With one very important exception is very important to this rant. Kayser-i Rum. Hence president of Turkey, as an analog of sultan, is the current Ceaser. What this means? Practically nothing. Unless someone tries to infringe some rules that still persists from Roman times.
There are still some rules written on ruins and I have one particular example I know from my personal knowledge. Kanlıdivane or Canytelis is a well preserved ancient city south east of Anatolia. City has many moseleum and one of them have a particular writing on in that curses anyone who burry someone else besides their family member there and than sentences them to pay a sum of 20.500 dinarii to city, province and Ceaser’s treasure! I think if anyone violates this rule, current president of Turkey as Ceaser has the right to enforce this law. How exactly is another matter but it would be fun to see a judge trying to decide on this matter if it comes to that point.
I really hope that one day we will have a cool president who will take it upon their self to remind everyone else the title they have. Call their self Kayser-i Rum in public broadcast and end Roman Empire by just declaring it. It would be so much fun to put their name in Wikipedia as the last emperor of the Roman empire! If nobody volunteers for this soon, you may vote for me when I get old enough to run for Ceaser of Roman Empire.