Third Rome

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The term Third Rome describes the idea that some European city, state, or country is the successor to the legacy of ancient Rome (the "first Rome") and, according to different perspectives, either via connection to the Byzantine Empire (also known as the "Eastern Roman Empire") as being the "second Rome"; or via connection to the Western Roman Empire through its claimed successors such as the Papal States or the Holy Roman Empire as being the "second Rome".

Russian claims[edit]

Coat of arms of the Russian Empire with the double-headed eagle, formerly associated with the Byzantine Empire.

Within decades after the capture of Constantinople by Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453, some Eastern Orthodox people were nominating Moscow as the "Third Rome", or the "New Rome".[1] Stirrings of this sentiment began during the reign of Ivan III of Russia who had married Sophia Paleologue. Sophia was a niece of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor. By the rules and laws of inheritance followed by most European monarchies of the time, Ivan could claim that he and his offspring were heirs of the fallen Empire, but the Roman traditions of the empire had never recognized automatic inheritance of the Imperial office.[2] A stronger claim was based on religion. The Orthodox faith was central to Byzantine notions of their identity and what distinguished them from 'barbarians." Vladimir the Great had converted Kievan Rus' to Orthodoxy in 989, in return for which he became the first barbarian to ever get an Imperial princess as a wife.

The story of "Third Rome" ("the second Constantinople") started in 14th century Bulgaria, under the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander. He aimed to raise the prestige of his land and capital, introducing the name Tsarevgrad Tǎrnov for it (in comparison to the Slavic name of Constantinople - Tsarigrad), which was later supported by the words of Patriarch Callistus I of Constantinople that "Tǎrnovo is the capital of the Bulgarians and second both in words and deeds after Constantinople". After the fall of Tǎrnovo to the Ottoman Turks in 1393, a number of Bulgarian clergymen sought shelter in the Russian lands and transferred the idea of the Third Rome there, which eventually resurfaced in Tver, during the reign of Boris of Tver, when the monk Foma (Thomas) of Tver had written The Eulogy of the Pious Grand Prince Boris Alexandrovich in 1453.[3][4] The idea crystallized with a panegyric letter composed by the Russian monk Philotheus (Filofey) of Pskov in 1510 to their son Grand Duke Vasili III, which proclaimed, "Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!". Contrary to the common misconception, Filofey [5] explicitly identifies Third Rome with Muscovy (the country) rather than with Moscow (the city). In addition, Moscow is placed on seven hills, as is Rome and Constantinople. The terms Muscovy (The City) and the boundaries of the Russian Empire were considered both in Russia and abroad to be synonymous at the time.

Austrian and German claims[edit]

Austrian Empire
German Empire
Both empires claimed to be the heir of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Austrian Empire sought to lay claim as the heir of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).[6] Austria's Hapsburgs attempted to unite Germany under their rule.[6] Later the German Empire in 1871 also claimed to be the Third Rome, also through lineage of the HRE.[7][8] The title for German emperors was Kaiser, the German word for "Caesar".[7]

The Germanic-led Carolingian Empire has been claimed to have deliberately sought to revive the Roman Empire in the West.[6] The Carolingian Empire transformed into the HRE, the HRE was a predominantly German state that claimed to be a continuation of the Western Roman Empire.[6] In 800, the title of Holy Roman Emperor was granted to Charlemagne by Pope Leo III. The HRE for a long period of time was dominated by the Hapsburg dynasty.[6]

After the HRE was dismantled in 1806, Austria's Hapsburgs attempted to unite Germany under their rule.[6]

Claims by the German Empire of 1871 to 1918 of being a "Third Rome" have been criticized because of the fact that the German Empire was led by a Protestant ruler and no concordat had been achieved with the Catholic Church (that was a major basis of the continuation of Roman culture in the West).[8]

Italian claims[edit]

An aquila clutching a fasces was a common symbol used in Fascist Italy.

Giuseppe Mazzini, Italian nationalist and patriot promoted the notion of the "Third Rome". He said, "After the Rome of the emperors, after the Rome of the Popes, there will come the Rome of the people", addressing Italian unification and the establishment of Rome as the capital.[9] After the unification of Italy into the Kingdom of Italy, the state was referred to as the Third Rome by Italian figures.[10]

After the unification, Mazzini spoke of the need of Italy as a Third Rome to have imperial aspirations.[11] Mazzini said that Italy should "invade and colonize Tunisian lands" as it was the "key to the Central Mediterranean", and he viewed Italy as having the right to dominate the Mediterranean Sea as ancient Rome had done.[11]

In his speeches, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini referred to his Fascist Italy as a "Third Rome."[12] Terza Roma (Third Rome; the Fascist Rome after the Imperial and the Papal ones) was also a name for Mussolini's plan to expand Rome towards Ostia and the sea. The EUR neighbourhood was the first step in that direction.[13]

Ottoman claims[edit]

After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmed II declared himself Kayser-i Rum, literally "Caesar of Rome".[14] The claim was recognized by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, but not by Roman Catholic Western Europe. Gennadios (Georgios Scholarios), a staunch enemy of the West, had been enthroned Patriarch of Constantinople with all the ceremonial attributes of Byzantium by Mehmed himself posing as Roman Emperor and in turn Gennadios recognized Mehmed as successor to the throne.[15] Mehmed's claim rested with the concept that Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire, after the transfer of its capital to Constantinople in 330 AD and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Mehmed also had a blood lineage to the Byzantine Imperial family; his predecessor, Sultan Orhan I had married a Byzantine princess, and Mehmed may have claimed descent from John Tzelepes Komnenos.[16] The Ottoman Empire also captured Otranto during that period, and Mehmed II was planning on taking Rome itself when the Italian campaign was cut short by his sudden death.[17] The title fell into disuse after his death, but the imperial bodies created by Mehmed II lived on for centuries to come. The Turkish historian İlber Ortaylı is a proponent of this claim, citing the multicultural make-up of the state and Sultan Mehmed's acceptance of certain Byzantine court customs. Professor Ortaylı finds Russia's claim to the title to be only nominal, and that Sultan Mehmed based his court policies and conquests on creating a third, Islamic Rome (the first Rome being polytheistic, the second one Christian).

After Suleiman the Magnificent defeated the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V he had a treaty signed which addressed the latter with the plain title "King of Spain" rather than Roman Emperor, leading Suleiman to consider himself the true successor to Caesar.[citation needed]

The Ottoman claims as the heir to the Roman empire were largely ignored by most European rulers and was largely a political aim to keep the populace as united as it had been under Roman rule.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parry, Ken; David Melling (editors) (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing. p. 490. ISBN 0-631-23203-6. 
  2. ^ Nicol, Donald MacGillivray, Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1993, p. 72
  3. ^ Robert Auty, Dimitri Obolensky (Ed.), An Introduction to Russian Language and Literature, p.94, Cambridge University Press 1997, ISBN 0-521-20894
  4. ^ Alar Laats, The concept of the Third Rome and its political implications, p.102
  5. ^ Filofey
  6. ^ a b c d e f Craig M. White. The Great German Nation: Origins and Destiny. AuthorHouse, 2007. P. 139.
  7. ^ a b Warwick Ball. Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. London, England, UK: Routledge, 2000. P. 449.
  8. ^ a b Craig M. White. The Great German Nation: Origins and Destiny. AuthorHouse, 2007. P. 169.
  9. ^ Rome Seminar
  10. ^ Christopher Duggan. The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796. New York, New York, USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. P. 304.
  11. ^ a b Silvana Patriarca, Lucy Riall. The Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Italy. P. 248.
  12. ^ Martin Clark, Mussolini: Profiles in Power (London: Pearson Longman, 2005), 136.
  13. ^ Discorso pronunciato in Campidoglio per l'insediamento del primo Governatore di Roma il 31 dicembre 1925, Internet Archive copy of a page with a Mussolini speech.
  14. ^ İlber Ortaylı, "Büyük Constantin ve İstanbul", Milliyet, 28 May 2011.
  15. ^ Dimitri Kitsikis, Türk-Yunan İmparatorluğu. Arabölge gerçeği ışığında Osmanlı Tarihine bakış – İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 1996.
  16. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1995). Byzantium:The Decline and Fall. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 81–82. ISBN 0-679-41650-1. 
  17. ^ Bunson, Matthew. "How the 800 Martyrs of Otranto Saved Rome". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  18. ^


  • Dmytryshyn, Basil (transl). 1991. Medieval Russia: A Source Book, 850-1700. 259–261. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Poe, Marshall. “Moscow, the Third Rome: the Origins and Transformations of a ‘Pivotal Moment.’” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas (2001) (In Russian: “Izobretenie kontseptsii “Moskva—Tretii Rim.” Ab Imperio. Teoriia i istoriia natsional’nostei i natsionalizma v postsovetskom prostranstve 1: 2 (2000), 61-86.)
  • Martin, Janet. 1995. Medieval Russia: 980-1584. 293. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK.