Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Roman Empire

  • Karl UblEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_452-2


The Empire and the papacy represented the unity of Latin Christendom. As secular head of Christianity the emperor did not enjoy the same stability in his position of leadership as the pope. An emperor only held office for roughly half the years elapsed between 962 and 1493, as long vacancies interrupted the chain of emperors. Moreover, the concept of Empire was in constant flux. Contrary to the papacy, which was defined by a corpus of canonical laws and conciliar decrees, the Empire was shaped by collective memory and by individual interpretation. The concept of Empire varied according to the knowledge held of the Empire of antiquity. Some authors characterized the office of emperor as an exclusively secular authority which had been established by Augustus. Others emphasized the Christian duties of the emperor, referring to the famous penance of the emperor Theodosius I in front of Ambrose of Milan. In Rome, the concept of the emperor as head of the city itself had never truly died out. Equally, a king was referred to as emperor in Spain and in England, if he dominated other kings in his region. Yet, in spite of this erratic concept of Empire, it inspired a philosophical discussion about the necessity of a political world order. This discussion emerged in the late Middle Ages and anticipated early modern theories about supranational institutions and the deficiency of nation-states.

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of CologneCologneGermany