First there was the Roman Empire (27 B.C. to A.D. 476), and then, several hundred years later, came the Holy Roman Empire - so called because it had the blessing of the Pope.
Following the Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the Roman Empire split into eastern and western branches. Constantine ruled in the Byzantine Empire in the east with Constantinople as his capital. The western part of the Roman Empire was divided among German tribes, such as the Franks and the Lombards.
The French writer Voltaire famously commented that the Holy Roman Empire was "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire." This empire came about in the Middle Ages under the rule of the Frankish king Charlemagne, who ruled much of continental Europe with the Catholic pope's blessing.
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