Translatio imperii

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Translatio imperii (Latin for "transfer of rule") is a historiographical concept, originating in the Middle Ages, in which history is viewed as a linear succession of transfers of an imperium that invests supreme power in a singular ruler, an "emperor".


Jacques Le Goff[1] describes the "translatio imperii" concept as typical for the Middle Ages for several reasons: the idea of linearity of time and history was typical for the Middle Ages; the "translatio imperii" idea typically also neglected simultaneous developments in other parts of the world (of no importance to medieval Europeans); the "translatio imperii" idea didn't separate divine history from the history of worldly power: medieval Europeans considered divine (supernatural) and material things as part of the same continuum, which was their reality. Also the causality of one reign necessarily leading to its successor was often detailed by the medieval chroniclers, and is seen as a typical medieval approach.

Not surprisingly, each medieval author described the "translatio imperii" as a succession leaving the supreme power in the hands of the monarch ruling the region of the author's provenance:

Medieval and Renaissance authors often linked this transfer of power by genealogically attaching a ruling family to an ancient Greek or Trojan hero; this schema was modeled on Virgil's use of Aeneas (a Trojan hero) as mythic founder of the city of Rome in his Aeneid. Continuing with this tradition, the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman authors Geoffrey of Monmouth (in his Historia Regum Britanniae) and Wace (in his Brut) linked the founding of Britain to the arrival of Brutus of Troy, son of Aeneas.[3]

In a similar way, the French Renaissance author Jean Lemaire de Belges (in his Les Illustrations de Gaule et Singularités de Troie) linked the founding of Celtic Gaul to the arrival of the Trojan "Francus" (i.e. Astyanax), the son of Hector; and of Celtic Germany to the arrival of "Bavo", the cousin of Priam; in this way he established an illustrious genealogy for Pepin and Charlemagne (the legend of "Francus" would also serve as the basis for Ronsard's epic poem, "La Franciade").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Le Goff, Jacques. La civilisation de l'Occident médieval. Paris. 1964; English translation (1988): Medieval Civilization, ISBN 0-631-17566-0 – "translatio imperii" is discussed in Part II, Chapter VI, section on "Time, eternity and history".
  2. ^ De Troyes, Chrétien. Cligès. Circa 1176.
  3. ^ Bratu, Cristian. "Translatio, autorité et affirmation de soi chez Gaimar, Wace et Benoît de Sainte-Maure." The Medieval Chronicle 8 (2013): 135-164.