was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

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Dominus Atheos
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was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Dominus Atheos » 2017-12-23 01:29am

Sure, there was that little tiff that they had over religion, but besides that several different languages were spoken, had many different cultures (Bohemia being the one that stands out to me, being one of the 7 prince-electors despite having a completely different language than the german core of the HRE).

I know that the HRE wasn't german, but were they actally several distinct cultures and languages but everyone still got along? (besides that one time with the religion thing :P ) Am I just ignorant? Was the HRE's languages and cultures actually a bigger deal than I know?

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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-12-24 03:29am

A big thing to remember is that in the medieval era from which the Holy Roman Empire sprang, the entire concept of 'state' and 'nationality' and 'culture' were very different. There was effectively zero expectation that the ruler would rule with the consent of his subjects, or represent his subjects in any concrete way. The ruling class was under little or no obligation to share cultural rituals, language, or tradition with the subjects.

This is an era when England was ruled by a French-speaking aristocracy for a century or two with relatively limited dissent once William the Bastard Conqueror did a proper census and the last generation of Saxon nobility who predated the Norman conquest gave up and intermarried with the Normans. An era when random Norman adventurers took over places in the Mediterranean of all freaking places.

From the point of view of the average peasant in, say, Hungary or Bohemia, being ruled by a German-speaking Holy Roman Emperor was functionally identical to being ruled by a Hungarian or Bohemian king. There were still about three or four intermediate layers of aristocracy between the peasant and the throne. The peasant had no direct say in who occupied that throne because even a fairly effective peasant revolt would generally accomplish nothing but to stir shit up, with the same dynasties on top at the end and just a bit of reshuffling of real estate. What language the nobility spoke was largely beside the point, because it was their tax collectors and brute squads hired from among the local population who actually mattered.

Running a "multi-cultural" state in those days was easy, because all the cultures involved had more or less identical niches at the top for "occasionally violent feudal overlord," and any feudal dynasty powerful enough to fill those shoes in one culture could probably fill them in other cultures at the same time.

...

This sort of thing only really got difficult after the rise of nationalist consciousness, and the declining prestige of monarchies and feudal institutions, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by K. A. Pital » 2017-12-24 04:36am

I would start with the fact that the “Holy Roman” Empire wasn’t a working state, not in the modern sense but neither in the sense the preceding Empires were “working”. A patchwork of feudal territories with aspirations does not exactly make a state, especially a working one.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Lord Revan » 2017-12-24 04:37am

It should also be noted that during the very long history of the Holy Roman Empire just how much influence the emperor had on the various local feudal lords varied a lot, especially towards the end the empire was more or less "in-name only" and the emperor had little true authority over the Elector-counts.

EDIT:while during reigns of especially influencal emperors the Holy Roman Empire started to resemble a unified nation (even by standards of the era), there's a reason for the saying that "The Holy Roman Empire was, not holy, roman or an empire"
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Thanas » 2017-12-24 08:26pm

I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-12-25 12:23am

Thanas wrote:
2017-12-24 08:26pm
I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
There certainly was a shortage of competitors in 800 AD or 962 AD; I'm not sure which date you're using for the founding of the Holy Roman Empire but it's a true statement either way.

The only candidate I can think of for a competitor would be the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines fared less well than the Holy Roman Empire in terms of weathering invasions and threats, although on the other hand they were under far more direct pressure, so I'm not sure it's an entirely fair contest.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by K. A. Pital » 2017-12-25 02:34am

Thanas wrote:
2017-12-24 08:26pm
I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
In what way was it “working”? I am just curious as to how a loose collection of kingdoms amd duchies was a working empire, that is all. I am not indicting it, just noting that it was not a nation-state in the modern sense and therefore saying it was a “working multicultural state” is plain wrong.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Solauren » 2017-12-25 09:40am

Also, any 'Empire, where two of the members can go to war with each other is not a functional state in the modern sense.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-12-25 12:17pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2017-12-25 02:34am
Thanas wrote:
2017-12-24 08:26pm
I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
In what way was it “working”? I am just curious as to how a loose collection of kingdoms amd duchies was a working empire, that is all. I am not indicting it, just noting that it was not a nation-state in the modern sense and therefore saying it was a “working multicultural state” is plain wrong.
The most likely candidates would be external defense against large outside threats (e.g. the Magyars early on or the Turks later on), the maintenance of internal peace (but see Solauren's remarks), or the promotion of communications, commerce, and culture across a large area where they would otherwise have broken down into barbarism and isolation.

These were the main functions of large pre-modern states, I would argue.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by ray245 » 2017-12-25 10:04pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2017-12-25 02:34am
Thanas wrote:
2017-12-24 08:26pm
I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
In what way was it “working”? I am just curious as to how a loose collection of kingdoms amd duchies was a working empire, that is all. I am not indicting it, just noting that it was not a nation-state in the modern sense and therefore saying it was a “working multicultural state” is plain wrong.
I don't think Thanas ever said it was a state. Was it working in comparison to other regimes/kingdom/polities of its era? Pretty much unless you want to compare to the Byzantines.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by K. A. Pital » 2017-12-26 02:38am

Once again, it was not a kingdom. And most feudal entities, whether with or outside HRE, operated in a similar fashion. You could say the feudal world was “working” and “multicultural”, but that is a bit strange.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Thanas » 2017-12-26 11:23am

Solauren wrote:
2017-12-25 09:40am
Also, any 'Empire, where two of the members can go to war with each other is not a functional state in the modern sense.
So the USA was not a functional state in the 19th century? I don't even know what you are talking about here in the modern sense anyway considering the question asked whether the HRE was working.

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-12-25 12:23am
Thanas wrote:
2017-12-24 08:26pm
I firmly believe that it was working far better and far longer than any of its competitors of its time at the founding.

That it became unworkable around 600 years after its founding is not an indictment of the HRE.
There certainly was a shortage of competitors in 800 AD or 962 AD;
There was at no time during the existence of the HRE a shortage of competitors, no matter the 800 or 962 date. Even the founding of the HRE was a direct result of competition, namely about who gets to keep the Imperial dignity awarded to Charlemagne. I would love for you to point out to me a specific time period in which the HRE was not in competition with any of its neighbours.
I'm not sure which date you're using for the founding of the Holy Roman Empire but it's a true statement either way.

The only candidate I can think of for a competitor would be the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines fared less well than the Holy Roman Empire in terms of weathering invasions and threats, although on the other hand they were under far more direct pressure, so I'm not sure it's an entirely fair contest.
You can compare the HRE directly to any other European kingdom of the time and you will find that it worked better or at least as good as any of them.

Spain? Nearly completely destroyed by arabs, utterly failed in their mission to protect against external threats, completely fractured and only became powerful again due to a lot of luck and outside help.
France? Had two-thirds of their territory occupied by foreign powers, lost the Imperial dignity and crown to the HRE, was the site of the bloodiest wars during the medieval ages in western Europe. They even lost accesss to the coronation capital to enemies. Finally got their shit together but still had not recovered all territory lost to the HRE at the end of the medieval period.
England? The backwater of Europe that lost a war against (of all things) a motley confederation of north germanic cities (who were also committing acts of piracy against each other to boot). Lost against Scotland as well. Barely managed to win against weakened french forces due to committing what were at best heavily unchivalrous actions and at worst war crimes.
Other european nations of today are not really worth talking about as they were either part of the HRE (Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Northern Italy, Croatia etc.) or - at least partly - ruled by the HREmperor (Southern Italy).

If we look over the starting period of the medieval age, the HRE was the poorer half of the Carolingian Empire. The western half - what would become france - was the traditional seat of power. And yet at the end of the medieval period (lets just take 1453 or 1525) there was no state in Europe that was more powerful than the HRE. That the HRE was eventually eclipsed by Spain as the leading power of Europe after 1525 has not much to do with the HRE but everything to do with the changes in technology and the beginning colonial empires - which I think is not fair to lay blame at the feet of the HRE for.
K. A. Pital wrote:
2017-12-25 02:34am
In what way was it “working”? I am just curious as to how a loose collection of kingdoms amd duchies was a working empire, that is all. I am not indicting it, just noting that it was not a nation-state in the modern sense and therefore saying it was a “working multicultural state” is plain wrong.
It was working as it being the victors of the competition over who gets to keep the Imperial dignity, it was working as a provider of external security (as in defeating the challenges of invading forces, the greatest being the French, Arabs (later Ottoman), Magyars etc. It was also working as a provider of internal security. The typical feudal feuds happened in any other kingdom as well. But the HRE not only limited the feuds (as in allowing them to happen under certain requirements) but also tried to completely abolish them and in that process started codification of important lawws regarding internal security which are still important today. The HRE was guaranteeing trade and it was the first european nation to have something of a constitutional court that was always in session and that resolved hundreds of cases peacefully through mediation and judgements.

It was not a working multicultural modern state but it was a working multicultural medieval state which I feel rarely gets enough credit for its achievements, especially considering it is a bit harder to hold multicultural states together in the medieval times than it is today. People often cite Voltaire's quip about it but that only shows that neither Voltaire or themselves know anything about the context in which the HRE was born, struggled and survived in.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-12-26 01:02pm

Thanas wrote:
2017-12-26 11:23am
There was at no time during the existence of the HRE a shortage of competitors, no matter the 800 or 962 date. Even the founding of the HRE was a direct result of competition, namely about who gets to keep the Imperial dignity awarded to Charlemagne. I would love for you to point out to me a specific time period in which the HRE was not in competition with any of its neighbours.
My apologies, I was thinking in terms of specifically similar entities (i.e. claimants to the Roman legacy, that made systematic attempts to stretch their sway over multiple local cultures). As a result, I largely misunderstood your comments and the terms on which you were making the comparison, and thought to compare the Holy Roman Empire only to the Byzantines. A standard by which I did not think the Holy Roman Empire would be found lacking, on the whole.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Thanas » 2017-12-27 01:21pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-12-26 01:02pm
Thanas wrote:
2017-12-26 11:23am
There was at no time during the existence of the HRE a shortage of competitors, no matter the 800 or 962 date. Even the founding of the HRE was a direct result of competition, namely about who gets to keep the Imperial dignity awarded to Charlemagne. I would love for you to point out to me a specific time period in which the HRE was not in competition with any of its neighbours.
My apologies, I was thinking in terms of specifically similar entities (i.e. claimants to the Roman legacy, that made systematic attempts to stretch their sway over multiple local cultures). As a result, I largely misunderstood your comments and the terms on which you were making the comparison, and thought to compare the Holy Roman Empire only to the Byzantines. A standard by which I did not think the Holy Roman Empire would be found lacking, on the whole.
Ah, my apologies. I could have phrased some of the stuff better.

If we compare it only to the Byzantines then I would definitely think the HRE to be lacking until 1204. But the Byzantines weren't really a multi-ethnic state on the same scale and had a much better starting point. But there is no disputing that the Byzantines also faced greater challenges.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Zixinus » 2017-12-30 03:15pm

It depends on what you mean by "multi-cultural".

What has to be kept in mind that before the rise of nationalism, there was little to no culturally unifying force beyond the Church. Even that had limits on the extent of its influence, especially once its power began to be broken. Feudal lords had mayor influence but were more concerned with themselves and enforcing their policies.

Let me give you a simple example: language. Before state schools started enforcing one unified, systematized language, you could have several different languages being spoken (and to a lesser extent, written) in the same county, never mind "country". And genuinely different languages, not just regional differences. You would have not just different ethnicities, you'd have different peoples with their own stlyes, clothes, practices, etc. All that mixed with each other. These people spread around freely as the idea of containing ethinicities did not quite exist. In fact, kings would encourage migrating in certain peoples for their skills or just to repopulate war-torn areas.

You have to understand that the idea of a monoculture (a large one that may or may not be composed of several approved/allowed subcultures) is a modern (particularly 19th century) inventions of large states. It is a creation of the rulers (more or less). This creation includes a "national mythology" as well as "official" folklore and a rewriting of history to fit the idea of "one people, one culture, one nation".


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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by K. A. Pital » 2017-12-31 05:13am

You’ve elaborate exactly on what I was thinking about.

Multicultralism in a feudal context is not the same as in modern context. It does not mean acceptance of other cultures, it means fragmented entities struggling for their land borders and nobles trying to win more land and clout in power games, if there is any sort of overarching structure such as an empire, league, union or the like.

Before the formation of proper nation-states and the rise of absolutism, consolidation of the nations, national culture wasn’t even a thing.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Thanas » 2017-12-31 12:21pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2017-12-31 05:13am
Before the formation of proper nation-states and the rise of absolutism, consolidation of the nations, national culture wasn’t even a thing.
I think Aligheri and Petrarca for example qualify as ethnic culture, which is enough to differentiate their culture from, say, the culture of Vogelweide.
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Re: was the Holy Roman Empire a working multi-cultural state?

Post by Zixinus » 2018-01-01 08:45am

To elaborate:

Multiculturalism both existed and didn't. It existed in the real sense that you had multiple cultures and multiple varieties of culture, living together in the same region or even in the same space. This was a relatively "natural" state of affairs in the sense that it just happened this way, there was no artificial force to make it happen. In fact, it requires an artificial source to make a mono-culture happen. Historical movies that show, say, the Egyptian people as one kind of people with one set of dresses that EVERYONE wore (barring context, such as showing only nobles) are false. That idea is a new one, a modern one. There were many kinds of people that today we would call, say, "German", yet back then would view themselves as separate peoples. They might go so far as to admit that they're related or even just similar. There was no defined limits if relationships were friendly and ideas were exchanged, mixed, merged. I recall a Hungarian novel that was set in old-world Hungary where the peasants did not speak Hungarian, as that was a language mostly restricted to aristocracy or gentry.

It didn't in the sense that multiculturalism was celebrated, enjoyed, wanted and encouraged. It was certainly not policy. Conflicts between cultures were facts of the day, from minor ones to outright civil wars. Just think of the term "pogrom". The government in the form of ruling aristocrats were not concerned about a culture that was not their own. If they manipulated ethnicity and culture, it was primarily for their own reasons rather than an attempt to preserve a culture or ethnicity for its own sake (of course, aristocrats did have their own preferences and hatreds). The idea that each culture being different and good was not an obvious one, with the ruling class's culture being the predominant and preferred one. The idea of diversity making one stronger may seem strange. Take a non-European and famous example, the Chinese writing system that was similar but forcefully unified. This is certainly apparent in religion, that was not rarely a kindle for conflict.
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