Nationalism was a common denominator of several revolutions in 1848. It prompted the disunited Germans and Italians to attempt political unification, and it inspired the subject peoples of the Habsburg Empire to seek political and cultural autonomy. The new nationalism tended to focus on language.
Early in Nicholas’s reign, Russian professors and students, influenced by German philosophers, were devoting themselves to discussions on art, philosophy, and religion. Russian universities were generally excellent and at the cutting edge of the great variety of modernizing ideas associated with the nineteenth century.
The term Old Regime is used to describe the institutions prevailing in Europe, and especially in France, before 1789. This was the “Old Regime” of the eighteenth century, in contrast to the “New Regime” that was to issue from the French Revolution.
On the surface, the Old Regime followed the pattern of the Middle Ages, though the forces that were to transform the economy, society, and politics of modern Europe were already at work. To be sure, the economy was still largely agrarian, for most Europeans lived in farming villages and retained the localized outlook of the peasant.
The incalculably rich legacy left by the Greeks in literature w-as well matched by their achievements in the public arts. In architecture their characteristic public building was a rectangle, with a roof supported by fluted columns. Over the centuries, the Greeks developed three principal types or orders of columns, still used today in “classical” buildings: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. Fluting gave an impression of greater height than the simple cylindrical Egyptian columns.
We still know relatively little about Mycenaean politics and society. We can tell from excavated gold treasures that Mycenae itself was wealthy, which is not surprising considering that it had conquered Crete. But the Mycenaeans seem not to have been overseas empire builders, even in the sense that the Cretans had been; their occupation of Crete may well have been undertaken by an invading captain.
In the Nineteenth Century one Western democracy led all others—Britain. At its height Britain possessed the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Nineteenth-century Britain grew into a Greater Britain, and its domestic history was inextricably bound up in imperial history, as foreign affairs were yoked to economic and industrial developments.
Few subjects have been more debated than the reasons for the long decline of the Roman Empire. The celebrated eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon blamed Christianity, charging that it destroyed the civic spirit of the Romans by turning their attention to the afterlife and away from their duties to the state. Michael Rostovtzeff, a Russian scholar who wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, attributed the decline in part to the constant pressure by the underprivileged masses to share in the wealth of their rulers, of which there was not enough to go around anyhow.
With the revival of the study of Roman law during the twelfth century went a corresponding interest among churchmen in the systematization of canonical law. As the texts of Justinian’s civil law became familiar to the students in the law schools—of which Bologna in Italy was the most important—the Bolognese monk Gratian about 1140 published the Decretum, a similar effort to codify for the first time past decrees of popes, enactments of church councils, and decisions of church fathers dating back a millennium.
In 1156 Frederick married the heiress to Burgundy, which had slipped out of imperial control during the Investiture Controversy. He made Switzerland the strategic center of his policy, for it controlled the Alpine passes into Italy. In Swabia he tried to build a compact, well-run royal domain, but he needed the loyalty of cooperative great vassals. And in Lombardy he also needed an alliance with the communes in the towns.
The concept of an enlightened despot has proved attractive in many cultures.
Those rulers who were versed in the thought of the Enlightenment, may have realized that great social and economic changes were at hand, but some were more adept than others in their understanding of these changes and of how best to prepare their states for the future.
Of course, a bookish knowledge of Enlightenment thinkers was not always translated into enlightened actions.