Holy Roman Empire

One legacy of the Holy Roman Empire is the vibrant regional cultures it left behind for us to experience. At the close of the Middle Ages, the Empire splintered into hundreds of small and largely independent states. They fractured along old tribal and geographic lines and new divisions caused by religion and politics. Though the Empire vanished long ago, some of these borders, set as far back as the 12th century, remain unchanged even today. Some borders, though, have also disappeared, and by redrawing them today, we can discover new narratives to experience as we travel.

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As the Empire entered its final decades at the end of the 17th century, it did so as a bloated morass of largely independent vassal states supervised by a byzantine bureaucracy and with no sense of shared identity. It was sarcastically referred to as the Empire of three lies, being neither holy, Roman, or an empire. Centuries of war and conflict between great powers had torn the fabric of the state asunder. What was left was nothing but a shadow, capable only of minor judicial arbitration between the states.

Ironically though, during its twilight, the Empire had achieved one of its foundational principles, the “Ewiger Landfriede,” or perpetual peace between its member states. The 18th century saw numerous conflicts in the Holy Roman Empire, but none as devastating as the Wars of Religion or the French Campaigns into the Rhineland. The old Empire became the guardian of a peace many would later romanticize in the following centuries. 

The Holy Roman Empire’s struggles in building a unified state created a legacy of regional identity and culture today. In particular, the long peace of the 17th century across much of the Empire reinforced regional identities. Many of these regional distinctions persisted until the 20th century, or in a few cases, even today. Using the internal borders of the Empire as a guide, we can try to uncover what remains of these regions. In many cases, the legacy of political and cultural independence is still evident in the architecture, food, and language of the people.