Saturday, May 19, 2012

For a While, We Lived in SRI

I like to play with titles, so please indulge me. This post is really about the HRE, but since English was not commonly spoken there, the appropriate abbreviations for this space are HRR (taken from German), IRS (taken from Latin to please our tax collectors), and SRI (based on the Italian). That last is meaningful to me because I also, for a while, worked at MRI, and SRI was one of our formidable competitors. Well, stop playing in the mud, Arzénka.

All of those acronyms are for the Holy Roman Empire. It extended in time from 962 to 1806 and included (going top left down and then top right upwards) what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, a slice of France, Switzerland, most of Italy, Slovenia, much of Austria, the Czech Republic, a bit of Poland, and Germany in the center. Here is a nice map (clicking will enlarge it, going to the source, below, produces a detailed version):

The map (Wikipedia, link) is from a German source and identifies this region as the Ottonian and Salian dynasties that ruled the HRE; their predecessors were the Carolingians. The abbreviations briefly: HZT means Herzogtum, duchy. KGR means Königreich, kingdom. MGFT means Mark Grafschaft; the Mark is a march, now an obsolete English word meaning boundary, therefore a border region; the Graf is a count and a Grafschaft is a county.

Brigitte was born in Poland out of reach of the HRE; I saw the light in Hungary, also beyond the pale. But two of our children were born within the late Holy Roman Empire, Barbara to the Northeast, Monique almost in the center. Our third child, Michelle, now lives in Paris, which was beyond the HRE’s borders too; but she was born in a place no geographer could find in the year 1000, the date of this map.

I came across this splendid map yesterday in one of my efforts to correct my biases about the past. I looked first at the eleventh and then the eighth centuries. In the eighth Charles Martel fought the Battle of Tours; with that he stopped Saracen expansion into Europe and also, if indirectly, laid the foundations of what would ultimately become the HRE. Michelle, who spent some years in Tours as an exchange and later as a college student, may have been born far from the shores of HRE, but she was, as it were, in on the beginnings.

When we go as far back as the eighth, it becomes evident that Europe was very much still in the process of organizing itself. Tribes and bands held sway on its edges, regions which the Roman power of old had not yet civilized. These were being gathered into very rough kingdoms that treated war as a means of wealth-assembly. To be living in some parts of Europe then was not unlike living in certain parts of Africa now—and not as an American, European, or Asian there to trade or to do good works, but as a native. The establishment of ever larger regions of uniform and stable administration was a powerful trend in Europe then and carried out by violent means. In that process the formation of the HRE was one of the marvels although, as Voltaire is invariably quoted, it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Mind you, the process is still going on. It is the formation of a United Europe, presently at a rocky state because one of the countries on its economic “marches,” Greece, is acting unruly.

Now for those abbreviations. HRR is Heiliges Römisches Reich, although the full name added Deutscher Nation, thus “of the German nation.” IRS is taken from the Latin Imperium Romanum Sacrum. The SRI is Italian: Sacro Romano Impero. Our modern, American SRI is Stanford Research Institute, and I worked for Midwest Research Institute, MRI.

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