The present text, entitled “The Roman Empire divided into two parts and eventually became a ghost”, is the 33rd letter of Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter in the book “Glimpses of world history”. In this letter, Nehru takes a brief look at the era of the Christian Roman Empire, which consisted of two parts, Eastern and Western Rome.
Nehru’s 72nd letter to his daughter in “Glimpses of world history”
Letter date: April 24, 1932
“In the early fourth century AD – in 326 AD – Constantine founded Constantinople city near the ancient city of Byzantium and moved his imperial capital from the old city of Rome to this “new Rome” along the Bosporus.
Take a look at the map. You will see that this new city of Constantinople stands on the edge of Europe, looking toward the great continent of Asia and is a kind of link between the two continents. Many land and sea trade routes passed through this city and its location was very causal and suitable for a city and a capital.
Constantine made a very good choice, but he himself, or rather his successors, had to pay a high price for this change of capital. Just as the city of Rome was far from Asia Minor and the eastern regions of the Roman Empire, so the new capital was far from the territories and western regions of the empire such as Gaul (France) and Britain and Spain.
To deal with this problem, for a time two emperors ruled in Rome at the same time, one based in Rome and the other in Constantinople. This actually led to the division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern governments, but the Western Empire, whose capital was Rome, did not last long and could not defend itself against the people whom it called “Barbarian”. Soon “the Getaes”, one of the Germanic tribes, invaded Rome and looted it. Then came “the Vandals” and “the Huns”, and the Western Roman Empire collapsed.
You must have heard the word “Hun” used many times. During the recent war, the British used the word to refer to the Germans to indicate that the Germans were very cruel and savage. In fact, during the war, everyone or almost everyone loses their intellect and logic, forgets what they have learned from civilization, benevolence and humanity, and behaves cruelly and savagely. The Germans behaved like that, but the British and the French did the same, and there was not much difference between them in this case.
The word “Hun” has become a special word and phrase to blame, and in the same way the word “vandal” has found such a meaning. It is possible that the Huns and Vandals were very violent and cruel and inflicted great damage, but we must bear in mind that what we know about them is what their enemies, the Romans, have quoted and cannot be expected to be judged neutral and impartial.
In any case Getaes, Vandals, and Huns kicked and crushed the Western Roman Empire like a cardboard house. Perhaps one of the reasons they were able to do this so easily was that the peasants had become extremely poor and so much taxed during Roman rule that they were so under debt that they welcomed any change in situation. Just as the poor peasants of India today will welcome any change in their dreadful poverty and misery.
Thus the Western Roman Empire became extinct, but was revived a few centuries later in a new and different form. Although it was very difficult for the Eastern Roman Empire to withstand the attacks of the Huns and others, not only withstood these attacks, but also it continued, despite constant wars with the Arabs and later with the Turks, for centuries and centuries and it survived an amazing period of 1100 years until it finally became extinct in 1453 AD when the Ottoman Turks besieged and conquered Constantinople. Since then, about 500 years ago, Constantinople, or “Istanbul” as the Turks call it, has been occupied by the Turks, from where they repeatedly invaded Europe and even reached the foot of the walls of Vienna. But in recent centuries they have been gradually pushed back.
The Turks almost lost Constantinople a few years ago after defeating in the Great War (1918-1914). The British occupied the city and the Ottoman sultan was like a puppet in their hands. But a great leader named Mustafa Kemal Pasha rose up to help his people and won and succeeded after brave battles. Today, Turkey is a republic, and the rule of the sultan is gone forever and Kemal Pasha is president.
Constantinople, which for 1500 years was first the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and then the capital of the Turks, is still a part of Turkey, but is no longer even the capital. The Turks preferred to stay away from this imperial headquarters and move their capital to the city of Ànkyra (Ankara), which is a long distance from Asia Minor.
We rapidly went through a 2,000-year-old and quickly overlooked the changes that followed the construction of the Constantinople city, which transformed the capital of the ancient Roman Empire into a new city. But Constantine, the city’s founder, has a different story. He was the first Roman emperor to become a Christian, and this obviously means that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
This sudden change in Christianity is truly astonishing how it almost suddenly became the official religion of the empire from a banned religion under pressure. This change of status did not bring much benefit, as the various Christian denominations began to quarrel and oppose each other, and eventually a split took place between the two main parts, one of which was Latin Christian, and the other Greek Christian. Latin Christians were centered in Rome, and the Archbishop of Rome was recognized as their leader, who later became Pope of Rome. The center of the Greek Christians was also Constantinople city.
Latin Christianity spread to northern and western Europe and became known as Roman Catholicism. Greek Christianity became known as Orthodoxy. After the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, Russia became the most important center of Orthodox Christians. Now, with the spread of Bolshevism in Russia, this religion or any other religion no longer has a position and official and governmental status, and religion is separated from the government and the state.
I told you about the Eastern Roman Empire, but in fact this empire has little to do with Rome. Even the language used in the empire was Greek, not Latin. In a way, it can be said that this empire was almost following the Greek empire of Alexander. Although it did not even allow Western countries to consider themselves independent, it had little to do with Western Europe. With all these details, the Eastern Empire was attached to the word Rome, and its inhabitants were called Romans, as if there was magic in the word “Rome.”
It is so strange that the city of Rome, despite the fall of the empire and the loss of leadership, did not lose its prestige and prestige, and even the Barbarians who came to conquer it seemed to hesitate and treat it with respect. Such is the power of a great name and the power of thoughts!
Western Rome lost its empire, but soon planned a new one of a different kind. It is said that a disciple of Christ named Peter (Petrus) came to Rome and became the first priest of that city. This made it a sacred place in the eyes of many Christians and they attached special importance to the high priest of Rome. The high priest of the Rome Church was no different from other priests in the beginning, but after the transfer of the Roman Empire from this city to Constantinople, the importance of the position of bishop of Rome increased.
From then on, no one was superior to him, and since the bishop of Rome was the successor and deputy of “St. Peter”, he was considered the head of other bishops and priests. He was later nicknamed the “Pope” and, as the pope is still known, is the head of the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity.
Interestingly, one of the reasons for the difference between the Roman Catholic religion and the Greek Orthodox religion was the use of statues and images. Rome encouraged the worship of images of saints, especially Mary, the mother of Christ, while Orthodoxy strongly opposed the worship of images.
The city of Rome was occupied for several generations by the chiefs of the northern tribes. But even they often accepted the supreme presidency of the Constantinople Empire, and at least nominally accepted it. At the same time, the power of the bishop of Rome as the religious leader was constantly increasing, to the point that he found himself so strong that he began to disregard and openly oppose Constantinople. As the controversy over the praise of images intensified, the Pope of Rome decided to cut ties with the East altogether. There have been many incidents since then, which we will talk about later. For example, a new religion called Islam emerged in Saudi Arabia, and the Arabs conquered all of North Africa and Spain and even attacked the heart of Europe, and new states were formed in northwestern Europe. The Eastern Roman Empire was also severely attacked by the Arabs.
The pope asked help from the great chief of the Franks, a Germanic tribe living in the north of Rome, and crowned the Frankish chief, “Charles”, known as Charlemagne, as emperor in Rome. This empire was a whole new emperor, nevertheless called the “Roman Empire” and later the “Holy Roman Empire”.
It was as if they could not imagine that an emperor could exist without being a Roman, so although “Charlemagne” or, as it is known, “Charles the Great” had little to do with “Rome”, he won the titles “Emperor”, “Caesar” and “Augustus”. It is even thought that the new empire is a continuation of the old empire, but a new word was added to its name. This new empire was called sacred because it was especially a Christian empire, and the pope was its spiritual and heavenly father.
Once again you see the strange power of thought, a “Frank” or “German” living in Central Europe becomes the “Emperor of Rome”. The future history of this “holy” empire is even stranger, because as an empire it was very dark and shaky. At a time when the Eastern Roman Empire existed and continued as a great state, the Western Empire was in decline and undergoing changes, and only occasionally manifested itself. This empire was a kind of ghost and shadow that existed nominally and used the prestige of the name “Rome” and its Christian church, and was an imaginary imperial state that was not very real. Someone I think is Voltaire has described the “Holy Empire” as something that was neither “Holy” nor “Roman” nor “Empire”! …
This “Holy Empire of Rome”, although it was nothing more than a ghost, lasted at least for 1,000 years nominally, and finally ended about 150 years ago in Napoleon time officially. The end of this empire was not very conspicuous or unfortunate, because few people realized it, because in fact, a long time ago, this empire had nothing but a name and it was completely gone, but at least the ghost still remained and “Kaisers” (German emperors) and “Tsars” and the like remained. But many of these titles and things like that disappeared during the Great War that ended fourteen years ago (World War I).”
Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.