How do you run an empire once you have one?

What would you do if a handful of kingdoms—inhabited by tribes who fought with each other a lot—were thrown together and styled “The Holy Roman Empire” and you were put in charge? How would you get the empire up and running? Here are your main problems:

Communication. Each of those tribes is speaking some weird variation of Latin and other languages so they don’t understand each other too well. The economy. There’s been a constant, dreary, never-ending state of war for the past few centuries. Unless they sell swords, it’s been tough for regular shmoes to make a living. Farmers might sell their crops if (apart from the usual worry of late frost or early frost or too much rain or drought) a battalion of soldiers doesn’t march through your field. Banking, finance and the stock market haven’t been invented yet so wealth accumulation isn’t something that most serfs do. Culture. Forget about being a writer or an artist or a musician: those sensitive plants have been drafted into the army. Hardly anybody reads—even Charlemagne has to sound out the letters. Except for a few monks in monasteries, nobody writes. Architecture is mostly about fortifications. There may have been music but nobody wrote down any tunes. So, not much culture. Religion. Not every tribe in the Holy Roman Empire is Christian. Do we force those non-Christians to get with the program?

The Holy Roman Empire is a hot mess. Those countries have been conquered, all right, because Charlemagne came from a family that’s good at commanding a large military. He was great at it. But how was Charlemagne going to run this empire in peacetime?

What would you do?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

2 responses to “How do you run an empire once you have one?

  1. Well, hindsight is always 20/20. Religion, usually pagan and based on goddess worship, was an essential component of early mostly agrarian cultures. But at some point it also became the core of most of history’s horrors. Were I in Charlemagne’s position, given his wide respect and acceptance of his wise, mostly benevolent leadership, I’d have made it clear that we are all children of a divine deity whose multitude of aspects includes masculine/feminine, every ethnicity, language and mode of worship, none of which are special, only equally important and deserving of respect. Meaning that proselytizing through inquisitions and wars/land or power grabs over religious practices would be considered a grave holy offense. As such, these activities would be an abdication of our task as stewards of harmonious living and of our planet.

    My dream of a utopia that should have begun thousands of years ago…but you asked for it!😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a lovely thought indeed. This old fallen world isn’t meant to be perfectible, maybe. It’s still difficult to look back at the horrors we human beings have contributed to it.


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