Barbarian popes and imperial pretenders
This is the third book in a series about the end of the classical world and the development of modern Europe. The first centered on the fall of the Western Empire, and the second was on the change in Europe from a Germanic dominated to a Slavic dominated eastern Europe and Balkans.
The Restoration of Rome covers another aspect of post-Roman Europe – the attempt to recover the idea of the Empire in a new world. First, came the attempts to physically duplicate the Empire – starting with Theodoric the Ostrogoth.
Within 20 years or so of the Fall of the West, Theodoric took a faction of Goths into the Eastern Empire to make their fortune, just as many other groups had in the last several hundred years. With a little luck and cleverness, his faction grew to be powerful enough to be considered a threat to the Empire. Thus they were ‘invited’ to move into Italy to take it away from Odovacar, who had put the final nail in the Western Empire.
Theodoric succeeded very well, and managed to dominate the successor states and become the arbiter of the region. For a short time he even acquired south France and Spain. He and his court saw himself as a true successor of Rome. And he might well have pulled it off – except he did not produce an heir.
This left an opening for the second attempt to physically recover the Western Empire – Justinian’s attempt to recover the West. He managed to destroy the Ostrogothic state in the end, but did not have the strength to hold on when faced with the subsequent threats of the Lombards in Italy and the Muslims in the East.
The third successor to claim Imperial honors was Charlemagne and the Frankish Empire in North France and Germany. This was the first successor to move beyond the Mediterranean core and set up an Empire in Europe proper. Again, they managed to produce a mini Enlightenment that lasted a while, but soon the power of the Empire faded, this time for structural reasons. Dr Heather notes that a feudal state has a fundamental issue with rewarding followers – a state like Rome can give jobs and money from tax revenues perpetually. A feudal state leader needs to give land to followers, which results in a permanent transfer of power from the central government to the aristocracy. Eventually, central power fades away. This happened to the Frankish Empire, and the subsequent Ottonian Empires in Germany.
The final chapter is a new take on claiming the mantle of Rome – the Papacy. Rather than using force to make a physical copy of Rome, that could not be sustained in a post-Roman world, the Papacy claimed a moral successorship to Rome and became a moral arbiter of the successor states in Europe. They had to pull some interesting tricks to pull it off, but the Middle Ages until the Reformation and later centered around the power of the Papacy in Europe.
This is a great, readable series on not only the history of this period, but also its reflection on other times.