The bimillennial anniversary of the death of Emperor August (14 AD), the death of Charlemagne (814), The Vienna Congress (1814-15) and the outbreak of the First World War (1914) are European affairs with a global dimension. Although the Roman Empire did not last as long as the Holy Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire, it beat the short lived Carolingian or Napoleonic Empires by almost four centuries. The devastating European ideological empires of the twentieth century did not make it into a next century and only a very few regret their disappearance.
All other European empires contributed positively to the development of the European economic, cultural and social development, notwithstanding their often belligerent and authoritarian character and system. The significance of Charlemagne (768-814) is not in the first place political, but cultural. Although today’s European politicians celebrate Charlemagne as predecessor of European unity, the legacy of this emperor strongly contributed to European political conflicts and wars. The rivalry between the German Empires and the French Kingdom and the long dispute over territories (a consequence of the Treaty of Verdun 843) lasted until 1945. Charlemagne had no European unity in mind at all, but a Christian Frankish dynasty, established by ruthless conquests. From this point of view he rather ressembles Emperor Napoleon (1768-1821). It goes without saying that Charlemagne paved the way for western-European cultural revival after the decline of the West-Roman Empire however.
Napoleon’s contribution to Europe is the concept of nation state, the reform of the law, administration and education.
The Roman empire, just as ruthless as the previously mentioned empires, is by far the most relevant for Europe’s and worldwide history. This Empire created the conditions for the Christian sect to become a global religion. The First World War created the conditions for the European totalitarian ideologies, the Roman Empire paved the way for Christianity. The cultural, social, economical, political and legal significance of this Empire are proverbial today, but were far from self evident when August (63 BC – 14 AD) took over control. Emperor August rebuilt Rome and created the foundations of the eternal city and within two generations the whole Roman Empire was covered with copies of Rome. (Source: P. Zanker, The power of images in the Age of Augustus (Ann Arbor 1988).