Historians group European empires into three phases: an ancient period of Greek and Roman Empires that extended into the mid 5th century CE. A second phase of successor empires to the Roman Empire that overlapped between the Byzantine of the East that continued until 1453 and the Holy Roman Empire that derived as a consortium of Frankish, Germanic and Austrian kingdoms that survived as a coalition in various forms until the abdication of the Austrian-Habsburg dynasty to Napoleon’s invading army in 1806. A third phase of empires emerged in around 1500 with the modern world system, the conquest of the New World and the production of European colonial empires. The separate and rival Spanish, British, Dutch, French and later empires of other European states came to dominate the world system alongside the Euro-Asiatic empires of the Ottomans and Chinese.
The choice of how to write about European empires crosses the division of history into conventional theories found in three dominant approaches: Eurocentric, Nation-State or Nationalistic, and Core-Periphery. Eurocentric approaches are founded upon Hegel’s theory of European civilization as the root of progress in which Greek civilization and its European successors are superior to their Oriental counterparts. The national approach is found in Leopold von Ranke, whose nation-state approach positioned nationalism as the division of Europe and with it the division of the world into European spheres of imperial control of influence. Immanuel Wallerstein represents the revisionist approach that sees the modern world system as a competition between a European and other core areas and their semi-periphery and peripheries that are exploited by the former. It is common then to find historians who blend one or two of these approaches, but rarely do we find all three approaches attempted, for the various theories contain self-enclosed arguments that exclude one or another of the other theories.
An interpretive survey of the thousand-year history of the Holy Roman Empire forces a historian to confront these theories. Peter Wilson’s The Holy Roman Empire (2016) offers seeks to present analogies with the contemporary formation of the European Union with the political organization and administrative theory and practice of the Holy Roman Empire. The book is organized into four parts: ideology and the relation between church and state; power over land in local kingdoms, principalities and national allegiances; and the relative administrative and dynastic control of territories; and a final section on judicial and governmental powers.
For Part Two, the author surveys the various overlapping and competing dynasties. These are grouped into the following: Continue reading