The First Reich, or Holy Roman Empire
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by John T. Cullen
Description: When Adolf Hitler promised the German nation he would make them in to a thousand year Reich, a Third Reich, he was not just chattering. He was a shrewd manipulator of public opinion, who recognized the suffering of his adopted people (he was Austrian, not German) after their massive losses and defeat in World War I. He made many promises, including a return to the original First Reich--the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. This article traces the history of the First Reich, and its surprising origins, including the Saxons who twice conquered Great Britain...which is why, at the deathbed of Queen Victoria, the two men holding her were her son, the future King George V, and her first grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. The two men would soon be bitter enemies, in one of history's many bizarre twists.
eBook Publisher: Clocktower Books and Far Sector SFFH (magazine), 2009
Filament eBookStore Release Date: October 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [49 KB]
Reading time: 22-31 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
These three things should not be mistaken for one another: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire.
The Holy Roman Empire was the original Thousand-Year Reich to which Hitler alluded as he invoked memories of past glory to promise the German people a new such realm he called the Third Reich.
In this article, we'll devote some time to understanding the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which Voltaire described as "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."
The stunning annihilation of three key Roman legions, by the Germans under a chief named Arminius at Teutoburg Forest in the Year 9, set the stage for the next several thousand years of European history. That moment in time would create a defining difference between the conquered Gauls on the left side of the Rhine (westward) and the unconquered Germanic tribes on the right side (eastward). The French often say that they are the oldest civilization in Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees. In this, reflect back on the long, peaceful, and prosperous centuries of colonial life under the Romans. The Germans remained loosely affiliated in a tribal lifestyle that led to there being more than 360 jealously independent Germanic nations as late as the 1800s.
Celtic Europe, at the time of the Teutoburg defeat under Arminius, was in the process of being overrun by Germanic peoples, but how this happened is not entirely clear. We know that, for thousands of years, right down to the invasions of the Mongols in the 14th Century, a series of migrations came westward out of the Pontic-Carpathian steppes of Central Asia. Each of these migrations pressed behind the previous, causing those people (Goths, Alans, Vandals, and many more) to migrate into Europe. The subcontinent had been under Celtic control for over a thousand years before Christ. When Julius Caesar invaded Gaul, he found that the Germans under Arminius had conquered parts of Celtic Alsace, and he drove Arminius back across the Rhine. Caesar's intentions were ultimately directed at securing his personal power over Rome, and he was not interested in waging a long war with the Germans. Instead, he conquered Gaul--the region that today includes France, Switzerland, western Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland.
After Teutoburg, the Germans would continue in their loose affiliations, which morphed into a so-called Holy Roman Empire of the Germans after the empire of Charlemagne (800-942). This empire was the First Reich. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I would finally unite the Germans as a nation under warlike Prussian Juncker rule. That brief, disaster-bound (1871-1918) Spartan-like warrior cult would be referred to by Hitler as the Second Reich. In their humiliation after World War I, and in the weak democracy of the Weimar Republic, Hitler would emerge to promise the German people a return to glory. He painted for them a fantasy out of history that convinced them to repeat the folly of the Second Reich. The Kaiser was in exile, seen as a traitor, and could never return. Like his fellow comedian in Rome, Mussolini, Hitler promised the renaissance of a glorious past. Mussolini strutted and puffed, promising new glories like those of ancient Rome. Hitler did the same in Germany, promising the Germans a second thousand-year Reich. His thousand-year Reich was no idle boast in that sense. It was a clear message to ignore the failure of the Prussian adventure--the rule of the Juncker aristocracy that goose-stepped the nation into World War I and utter disaster at the hands of the citizen armies of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Instead, he would give them a new thousand-year Reich such as they had known under the Holy Roman Empire. By coincidence, that empire had indeed lasted almost exactly a thousand years, from the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome on Christmas Day 800, to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon I in 1806. The Holy Roman Empire's long shadow would continue long after Napoleon's time, however.
Napoleon I's First French Empire lasted less than a generation. In 1815, the ministers of European nations met to try and put Europe back together again in the mold of its feudal monarchies. The result would be, for Europe, a century almost free of major wars. The 'almost' refers to an ominous exception, the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, which brought about the defeat of Napoleon III's Second French Empire, and the unification of Germany into the warlike Second Reich under the Kaisers. Learning from the American Civil War, the German General Staff had already begun building a massive, strategic railway system whose network hovered like a deadly cloud over France, ready to ship rail guns, troops, and supplies when the long-desired war finally happened in 1914.
We will understand all that better by tracing the roots of those events to the early European Middle Ages and the time of Charlemagne.