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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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@MarkC.Wallace I meant any actual successors, not actual empires. My bad for wording that wrong. – Chris Loonam Apr 4 '13 at 18:07
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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 1453. (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
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@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
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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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Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, not 1483. – NSNoob Jun 8 at 21:15

Case for Italy and/or Vatican

Italy was the place where Roman Empire originated and Rome is located. They still speak a language descendant from Latin. Rome was the most important city throughout Middle Ages and the Pope usually was the one with monopoly on conferring the imperial title. Also to become an emperor it was usually required to become king of Italy first. The Pope still holds ancient Roman title Pontifex Maximus ("Great Priest"). Vatican in Rome is the only area on Earth where Latin language remains official and there is even a POS terminal in Latin.

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Case for Germany

Germany was the core of the Holy Roman Empire that claimed being a successor to Rome. German emperors bore the title of Roman Emperor. Later German Empire was instituted in the place where the emperor was still called Kaiser ("Caesar" in German). The Nazi Germany claimed being successors to both Holy Roman Empire (First Reich) and German Empire (Second Reich). By the way, Nazi Germany claimed Jews to be their state property because allegedly they became personal property of Roman Emperor Titus after the Judean war and the claim was maintained throughout Middle Ages in Holy Roman Empire as well.

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Case for Austria

Austria is the dynastic successor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1804, Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor had just renamed the Habsburg possessions from Holy Roman Empire into Austrian Empire.

Case for France

It is of no coincidence that exactly in 1804 with the dissolution of Holy Roman Empire, the imperial title became vacant so Napoleon I decided to become one. Incidentally, he proclaimed himself Emperor of France rather than Roman Emperor, but otherwise he followed all the formalities: he became the king of Italy first and had Pope crowned him. Worth to note that Napoleon himself was of Italian origin and France speaks a language derived from Latin.

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Case for Turkey

After Turks conquered Constantinople, Turkish Sultan proclaimed himself Kaisar i-Rum ("Caesar of Rome" in Turkish), the title that remained in force until 20th century. The chair of Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Church still remains in Istanbul. Worth of note that all Turkish sultans trace lineage from the last Byzantine emperor of Kantacuzenos dynasty.

Case for Greece

Until about 19th century Greeks called themselves "Romaioi" that is "Romans" in Greek. The last Byzantine emperors were of Greek origin. Byzantine imperial chair is stored in Athos monastery.

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Case for Spain

The last successor to the Byzantine imperial dynasty Andreas Palaiologos had sold the claims to Byzantine crown to Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The title was inherited by the Spanish kings. Worth of note that Spain still speaks a language descendant of Latin.

Case for Russia

The sister of Andreas Palaiologos, Sofia Palaiologos married Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan III the Great and brought with herself imperial Byzantine regalia. Since then Moscow monarchs started to call themselves "Czars" ("Cesar" in Russian of the time). Ivan III's reign referred to as "empire" in the inscription in Latin over the gates of Moscow Kremlin. The idea was furthered out by hegumen Philotheus of Pskov in 16th century who claimed that Moscow was the third Rome (after Rome itself and Constantinople). Peter I the Great officially adopted the title of emperor and instituted Senate in Russia. Based on this claim Russia strived to conquer Constantinople and the straits during WWI. enter image description here

Case for Serbia

In 1346 Stefan Dušan of Serbia had crowned himself "Emperor and autocrat of Serbians and Romans"

Case for Bulgaria

Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria was crowned Roman Emperor in 1331.

Case for Romania

Romania means "land of the Romans" and they speak language very closely resembling Latin.

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For some years (a couple centuries?) the official language of Byzantium was Latin; it slowly transitioned to Greek and for a time both were in use. The Turkish Archaeological Museum has a sarcophagus with the inscription in both Greek and Latin. Some of the offices of the empire had Latin titles, and the most popular public attraction was the Hippodrome -- chariot races.

They continued Roman construction practices and public works -- the city's water was provided by aqueducts coming in from surrounding hills -- and customs like public baths. The court system was the same, as well, allowing for a handful of minor reforms and additions, up until Justinian's complete reform.

The sarcophagus, photo taken by me: http://i.stack.imgur.com/3dH3v.jpg

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