Translatio imperii

Translatio imperii (Latin for "transfer of rule") is a historiographical concept, originating in the Middle Ages, in which history is viewed as a linear succession of transfers of an imperium that invests supreme power in a singular ruler, an "emperor".


Jacques Le Goff[1] describes the translatio imperii concept as "typical" for the Middle Ages for several reasons:

Each medieval author described the translatio imperii as a succession leaving the supreme power in the hands of the monarch ruling the region of the author's provenance:

Later, continued and reinterpreted by modern and contemporary movements and authors (some known examples):

Medieval and Renaissance authors often linked this transfer of power by genealogically attaching a ruling family to an ancient Greek or Trojan hero; this schema was modeled on Virgil's use of Aeneas (a Trojan hero) as mythic founder of the city of Rome in his Aeneid. Continuing with this tradition, the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman authors Geoffrey of Monmouth (in his Historia Regum Britanniae) and Wace (in his Brut) linked the founding of Britain to the arrival of Brutus of Troy, son of Aeneas.[3]

In a similar way, the French Renaissance author Jean Lemaire de Belges (in his Les Illustrations de Gaule et Singularités de Troie) linked the founding of Celtic Gaul to the arrival of the Trojan "Francus" (i.e. Astyanax), the son of Hector; and of Celtic Germany to the arrival of "Bavo", the cousin of Priam; in this way he established an illustrious genealogy for Pepin and Charlemagne (the legend of "Francus" would also serve as the basis for Ronsard's epic poem, "La Franciade").


The translatio imperii of Europe runs somewhat parallel between the Holy See and the Holy Roman Empire, justified by series of events. A few examples below.

Holy See

See also: Papal primacy

Holy Roman Emperor/Western Europe

See also


  1. Le Goff, Jacques. La civilisation de l'Occident médieval. Paris. 1964; English translation (1988): Medieval Civilization, ISBN 0-631-17566-0 "translatio imperii" is discussed in Part II, Chapter VI, section on "Time, eternity and history".
  2. De Troyes, Chrétien. Cligès. Circa 1176.
  3. Bratu, Cristian. "Translatio, autorité et affirmation de soi chez Gaimar, Wace et Benoît de Sainte-Maure." The Medieval Chronicle 8 (2013): 135-164.
  4. See Alexander, et al., p. 423.
  5. Boussard, Jacques (1979). The Civilization of Charlemagne. World University Library, McGraw Hill. p. 23.
  6. Sullivan, R.E. (1967). Pepin III King of the Franks, New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11 page 114. Catholic University of America. p. 113-114.
  7. "Ravenna Document". Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Vatican Publishing House. 13 October 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  8. See Garland, p. 89, who explains that Aetios was attempting to usurp power on behalf of his brother Leo.
  9. 1 2 Norwich, John Julius, Byzantium - The Decline and Fall, p.446
  10. Nicol, Immortal Emperor, p. 116
  11. Runciman, Fall, p. 184
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