From Christendom to Europe: Nation, Identity, and Authority in the Jagiellonian Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Habsburg Spanish Empire

Friday, January 5, 2018: 9:10 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Krzysztof Odyniec, University of California, Berkeley
The years (1519-1532) that Johannes Dantiscus, ambassador of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, spent in Spain at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V coincided with transformational events of the modern world—the discovery and conquest of the New World, the Protestant Reformation, the Habsburg-Valois Italian Wars, and the dramatic expansion of the Ottoman into Europe—making this diplomat a very interesting historical witness and actor. Both Dantiscus’s Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita, or Respublica) and Charles’s Habsburg Empire contained many “nations” (gentes, peoples) and Dantiscus participated in supranational Renaissance courts and networks. Dantiscus also made political alliances at the Spanish court that led him to participate in the development of a vision of empire rooted in the traditions of the ancient Caesars, medieval Carolingians, and expanded by Spanish acquisitions in the New World. Dantiscus’s own political writings, especially his De Nostrorum Temporum Calamitatibus Silva (1530) appealed to the many nations of Europe (gentes, narodów) to join in a defensive Polish-Lithuanian bulwark of Europe (antemurale Christianitatis) and an offensive anti-Turkish crusade.In practice however, contemporary monarchs were moved by raison d’État, preferring to fight each other and even making Ottoman alliances in the process. In centuries since, European empires and their successor nation-states remade the world in their image, not through the ecclesial or imperial unit of Christendom that Dantiscus wanted, but through the rivalry, productive and destructive, that replaced it. Ultimately it was that fecund competition—and not elusive unity—that propelled European technology and institutions to the global hegemony they enjoyed for the next 400-plus years.