When, in the European consciousness, did the Roman Empire end? 404 or 476 make sense, but I wonder if the Reformation was the true end of imperial Rome. Protestants frequently saw continuities of some sort between the Roman imperial authority and papal authority, and what they saw opening before their eyes was an era in European history Ethe first era in the Christian era Ewhen large sectors of Europe were no longer beholden to Rome. Henry VIII ended not only a millennium of papal sovereignty over England, but ended a period of Roman interference that dated back to Julius Caesar himself.
Consistent with this is the often negative potrayal one finds of Rome in early modern English literature and historiography. This comment by William Thomas (History of Italy, 1577) is not untypical:
"[When] I beheld...the wonderful majesty of buildings...imagining, withal, what majesty the city might be of, when all these things flourished I remembered again the occasions whereof these glorious things have grown, what numbers of wars the Romans have maintained with infinite blood shedding, destructions of whole countries, ravishments of chaste women, sack, spoil, tributes, oppression of commonwealths, and a thousand other tyrannies without the which the Romans could never have achieved the perfection of so many wonders as mine eye did there behold. Then I perceived how just the judgment of God is, that hath made those antiquities a foul spoil of the Roman pride, and for a witness to the world's end of their tyranny."
The other side of this is that the newly minted centralized nations of post-Reformation Europe symbolized their sovereignty by gestures toward Rome. James I was called Emperor, and he adorned his reign with iconography of Empire. Roman dominance of Europe was broken, but each little piece wanted to proclaim itself as the true heir of empire.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 at 09:29 PM
Permission is given to use material on this site, provided the source is cited, blog entries are republished in full, and the author is notified in advance.