More ‘Last’ Roman Emperors

When I wrote the post ‘Who’s Really the Last Roman Emperor?’, I got a lot of suggestions about people I’ve left out, intentionally or

Crown of the Holy Roman Emperors

not.  Anyway, I’ve decided to round up more people who could be considered the ‘last’ Roman Emperor. From German emperors to Russian tsars to Ottoman sultans, I hope I’ve nailed down a lot more claimants with this post. Now, this list is a lot less of a serious list than last time, where I actually talked about people who had very serious and legitimate claims as Roman Emperors- these are more simply possible people who may not even have claimed the title of Roman Emperor for themselves, but their predecessors had.

Francis II

Francis II

When the Western Roman Empire fell in the mid 5th century (I’m avoiding an exact date so that I don’t have to make a choice between Julius Nepos and Romulus Augustulus as the last Roman Emperor). A few centuries after, however, the Western Roman Empire was resurrected in 800 A.D, when the Pope of Rome crowned Charlemagne, the King of the Frankish Kingdom, as Emperor of the Romans.

Why did the Pope choose to do this? Although nominally the Emperor was still the Eastern Roman Emperor living in Constantinople, at that time, the Pope chose to consider that there was no Emperor in the East. This was because Irene of Athens, a woman, had crowned herself as Emperor and the East had no other ruler. The Pope refused to acknowledge Irene as Emperor, and since the Byzantines couldn’t protect him as they were too far and too weak, the Pope looked instead to his protector, king Charlemagne.

Charlemagne’s own dynasty would eventually fall from power in Europe, but Otto I, a Saxon duke, proclaimed himself as another Emperor of the Romans, claiming his rightful title as a successor of Charlemagne, a King of Germany. Otto would be called the Holy Roman Emperor, and his Empire the Holy Roman Empire. 

This name has attracted particular ridicule. Writer Voltaire wrote:

The agglomeration that was called, and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

The reason that Voltaire remarked this was because the Holy Roman Empire was German, not Roman, was not particularly ‘holy’ and was not even a true empire- it was instead more of a federation of small German states that elected an overall Emperor. The last of these Emperors was Francis II, crowned in 1792. During the Napoleonic Wars, Francis suffered many defeats at the hands of the French and feeling his position as Holy Roman Emperor was untenable, he abdicated his position. Napoleon dissolved the Empire and replaced it with the Confederation of the Rhine. Francis, on the other hand, would continue ruling as the Emperor of Austria until 1835, while his family would stay in power until after the first World War.

Was Francis, or any of the Holy Roman Emperors, for that matter, really a Roman Emperor? Germany was never even truly a part of the Roman Empire proper while it was still in existence- and the Holy Roman Empire was a strictly German Empire. So…Francis might be the last Holy Roman Emperor, but the last Roman Emperor? Probably not.

Nicholas II

Nicholas II

The famous Nicholas II was, as we know, the last Tsar of Russia who was overthrown during the Russian Revolution. He came to a tragic end along with most of the Romanov royal family when he was executed, ending centuries of the Romanov monarchy.

Now, the question you’re probably asking is, what in the world is a Russian Emperor doing in a list of last Roman Emperors? The Russians have managed to come up with a reasoning as to why their Emperors could perhaps claim to be in the line of the Caesars. Ivan III of Russia had married Sophia Palaleologus, the niece of Constantine XI, the last Eastern Roman Emperor. This means that according to the traditions of succession that most of Europe observed at that time, Ivan could possibly claim to be an heir of the lost Emperor and his Empire…A Russian philosopher proclaimed:

Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one will replace your Christian tsardom!

Of course, note the word Christian. There’s another reason as to why Russia proclaimed itself the Third Rome. Byzantium was thoroughly Orthodox Christian, and this influenced its neighbor, Russia. With the fall of Byzantium, Russia could claim to become the new protectors of Orthodoxy, and thus worthy to be the successors of the Eastern Roman Empire.

It all comes down to your own personal opinion whether or not to consider Russia the ‘Third Rome’, and for all of the similarities that Russia had with Byzantium, in the end it was a distinct state with its own culture. To claim the Russian Tsars as in the same line of succession as the Roman Emperors is probably stretching it too far.

Mehmed VI

Mehmed VI

Here’s another strange name that you’d probably have never expected on a possible list of ‘last Roman Emperors’. Mehmed VI was the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire- which, as you might remember from the last post, was the Empire that conquered Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

When Mehmed II captured Constantinople, he proclaimed himself as the Caesar of Rome. His reasoning? Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire, and now that he owned it, shouldn’t its owner be able to claim to be a Roman Emperor? His successor, Orhan I, had also married a Byzantine princess, so Mehmed even had royal Byzantine blood.

His successors never adopted the title of Caesar of Rome, so technically Mehmed VI can’t be a Roman Emperor, but the Ottoman claim could possibly be seen as stronger than Russia’s or the Holy Roman Empire’s. After all unlike Russia or the HRE, the Ottomans actually owned the seat of the Roman Empire, and Mehmed II could be considered to be directly taking the place of Constantine XI, thus continuing the lines of Roman Emperors?

Of course, it’s all up to your own opinion. In my opinion, which I believe will be shared by the majority of the readers, we won’t ever consider any of the people here to be a Roman Emperor. However, it’s interesting to see how desperate many of the empires were to imitate ancient Rome, to become ancient Rome. So many claimants to be the successor of the Caesars! The power of Rome may no longer stand, but it seems like it is hard to forget.

-Ken

External related articles:

Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor

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