The term Third Rome describes the idea that some European city, state, or country is the successor to the legacy of the Roman Empire (the "first Rome") and it successor state the, Byzantine Empire (the "second Rome").
Within decades after the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453, some were nominating Moscow as the "Third Rome", or the "New Rome". Stirrings of this sentiment began during the reign of Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow who had married Sophia Paleologue. Sophia was a niece of Constantine XI, the last Eastern Roman Emperor and Ivan could claim to be the heir of the fallen Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire).
At the beginning, the notion of "Third Rome" was not necessarily imperial in nature, but rather apocalyptic. Its purpose was to point out the role of Russia as the last small remainder "in the wilderness", of the once-great Christian civilization, most of which had succumbed to heresy - Roman Catholicism was considered a heretical offshoot of the Christian stem by many Orthodox believers. Thus Russia was seen as comparable to the seven thousand Israelites who had refused to worship Baal during the lifetime of the prophet Elijah, an immensely popular Biblical figure in Orthodoxy.
The idea crystallized with a panegyric letter composed by the Russian monk Philoteus (Filofey) 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 explicitly identifies Third Rome with Russia (the country) rather than with Moscow (the city).
After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmed II declared himself Kayser-i Rum, literally Caesar of the Romans. The Ottoman Empire also captured Otranto during that period, and it has been speculated that Mehmed II was planning on taking Rome itself when the Italian campaign was cut short by his sudden death. 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).
It should also be noted that Suleiman the Magnificent, after defeating the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, had a treaty signed which addressed him with the plain title King of Spain, rather than Emperor, leading Suleiman to consider himself the true successor to Caesar.
Evidence of this identification can be seen in many cases, such as when Ibrahim Pasha, Grand Vizier to Suleiman, erected Roman-style statues in Constantinople despite it being against Islamic custom, stating that it was natural since the Ottoman Empire was the successor of Rome.
It is noteworthy, that before Ivan III, Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, related to the last Byzantine dynasty, facing the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 14th century, made similar claims. Bulgarian manuscripts advanced the idea that Turnovo, the capital of the Bulgarian Empire, was the new Constantinople. These plans were never realized as the Ottomans defeated the Serbs at Kosovo Polje in 1389, and put an end to the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396 with the occupation of the Despotate of Vidin. However, the doctrine, which developed in this respect earlier in Turnovo, were imported to Moscow by Cyprian, a clergyman of Bulgarian origin, who became the Metropolitan of Moscow in 1381.
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.
In his speeches, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini referred to his Fascist Italy as a "third Rome." 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 Esposizione Universale Roma neighbourhood was the first step in that direction.
- Second Ecumenical Council, 381 AD, Canon III. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. and Henry Wace, D.D., ed. (1994), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14, "The Seven Ecumenical Councils", Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, p. 178 et seq.
- Parry, Ken; David Melling (editors) (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing. p. 490. ISBN 0-631-23203-6.
- Giuseppe Mazzini
- Rome Seminar
- Martin Clark, Mussolini: Profiles in Power (London: Pearson Longman, 2005), 136.
- 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.
- 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.
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