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I know that the Byzantine Empire was technically the Eastern Roman Empire, but did they carry over actual Roman traditions with them? Also, did the Holy Roman Empire have anything to do with the original Roman Empire, because I feel like since they were more Germanic, they weren't the same. So, were there any legitimate empires that succeeded the Roman Empire, and if so who?

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How do you define "legitimate empires"? If you asked an inhabitant of either empire, they would have confirmed that they were legitimate successors, but mgb argues that they were wrong. You disqualify the HRE because you "feel" they aren't the same. Who defines legitimacy? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 4 '13 at 12:07
@MarkC.Wallace I meant any actual successors, not actual empires. My bad for wording that wrong. – Chris Loonam Apr 4 '13 at 18:07
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Andrew Wheatcroft's The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe contains the argument that both the Habsburg Empire (in the West) and the Ottoman Empire (in the East) considered themselves to be successors of the Roman Empire by the 17th century.

Wheatcroft points out that both empires ascended almost in parallel: Frederick III became the first Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor in 1452, Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1483. (They also exited finally in parallel after WW I.) In this author's opinion they were bound to clash once the intermediate Kingdom of Hungary had declined, which was the case e.g. by the late 17th century.

As for the Habsburg Empire, its ruler bore the title Holy Roman Emperor (also King of Jerusalem, among many others) and it was variously connected to the papacy in Rome. (Wheatcroft's account specifically argues that pope Innocent XI contributed vital funds, without which the Battle of Vienna may have ended in Habsburg's disfavor. John Stoye's account of the same historical event argues that the pope's diplomats may have been instrumental in brokering the alliance between the Emperor and King Sobieski of Poland, which was also clearly vital for the Habsburgs in 1683.) On the other hand, Voltaire's quip is also instructive as to whether the Holy Roman Empire had "actually" anything to do with the Roman Empire:

This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

As for the Ottoman Empire, its capital was Constantinople, obviously the last bastion of the (Eastern) Roman Empire but with rulers ultimately from the central Asian plains.

IHO due to their sustained military power over several centuries and their (somewhat legitimate) claims these two empires had somewhat (relatively) better claims than other pretenders as "successors of the Roman Empire", of which there must obviously have been (perhaps still will be) many in history.

P. S.: It's nice: I've now encountered already several (1, 2, 3) reasons and opportunities to cite from a book I've been reading recently on the Battle of Vienna and its historic embedding. A conversation (4) on History StackExchange triggered my reading of that book in the first place, and it was a good read too :-)

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What the Ottomans and Habsburgs were fighting over in the 15th century was the remnants of the Byzantine Empire, not the Roman Empire. – T.E.D. Apr 4 '13 at 13:19
@T.E.D. but my point was what line of distant succession they chose to see themselves in (not what more immediate remnants they battled over). – Drux Apr 4 '13 at 16:35
Over the centuries 'Rome' became a geographical name as much as the name of an empire. The medieval Seljuq sultanate in what today is Anatolia was also known as Rūm (Arabic, ar-Rūm) – Mario Elocio Jan 15 '14 at 0:52

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