All of the Rulers of Europe Over the Past 2,400 Years Presented in a Timelapse Map (400 B.C. to 2017 A.D.)

The­o­ries of pow­er, from Machi­avel­li and Hobbes to Locke and Jef­fer­son, have drawn their lessons from the tow­er­ing fig­ure of the Sov­er­eign, the prin­ci­ple actor in dra­mas of old Euro­pean state­craft. One philoso­pher advis­es cun­ning, anoth­er fear and awe. When we come to ideas of civ­il soci­ety based in prop­er­ty rights, we see the­o­rists argu­ing with pro­po­nents of monar­chi­cal divine right, or strug­gling, con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly, mil­i­tar­i­ly, with a mad king.

Maybe this sur­vey seems banal, passé, bor­ing, blah.

It can be dif­fi­cult for post-post-mod­erns to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the Sovereign’s once-crush­ing weight. (See John Mil­ton’s many defens­es of regi­cide and rev­o­lu­tion, for exam­ple.) Maybe, schooled in the work of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Fou­cault, George Orwell, Han­nah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, etc., we have learned to think of power—whether from below or above—as dif­fuse, inter­re­lat­ed, net­worked, spread across class­es, imper­son­al bureau­cra­cies, insti­tu­tion­al prac­tices.

The word “despot,” for exam­ple, sounds so exot­ic, an ossi­fied term from antiq­ui­ty. Study­ing the video above could bring it to life again, if dis­cours­es around cur­rent events haven’t. Sprint­ing through two-thou­sand, four-hun­dred, and sev­en­teen years of his­to­ry, this dra­mat­ic pre­sen­ta­tion names the names of every ruler in Europe, from 400 B.C.E. to 2017.

Despite its Euro­cen­tric asso­ci­a­tion with the East (as in the stereo­type of the “Ori­en­tal Despot”), West­ern his­to­ry offers hun­dreds of exam­ples of despo­tism. Put sim­ply, “despo­tism,” says Fou­cault in his lec­ture series The Birth of Biopol­i­tics, “refers any injunc­tion made by the pub­lic author­i­ties back to the sovereign’s will, and to it alone.”

Despo­tism, he argues, stands in con­trast to the police state, or absolute rule by admin­is­tra­tors and enforcers, and to the Rule of Law, in which rulers and ruled are both osten­si­bly bound by exter­nal char­ters and legal codes.

Watch the pro­ces­sion of emper­ors, kings, usurpers, tyrants…. Do we know the names of any of their func­tionar­ies? Do we need to? If Claudius or Con­stan­tine decreed, what does it mat­ter who car­ried out the order? When and where do those terms change—when do the names become a kind of synec­doche, stand­ing in for admin­is­tra­tions, par­ties, jun­tas, etc. rather than the sin­gu­lar will of indi­vid­u­als, benev­o­lent, enlight­ened, or oth­er­wise?

How many of these rulers’ names are unfa­mil­iar to us? Why haven’t we heard them? At what peri­od in his­to­ry does Europe become pre­dom­i­nant­ly ruled by oth­er forms of gov­ern­ment? Does despo­tism ever dis­ap­pear? Does it reap­pear in the 20th cen­tu­ry (were Lenin, Fran­co, or Mar­shall Tito despots?), or must we use anoth­er rubric to describe dic­ta­tors and auto­crats? (Does it make any sense to call con­tem­po­rary fig­ure­heads like Eliz­a­beth II “rulers of Europe”?)

Pick your own mode of analy­sis, explore the out­er edges and obscure inte­ri­ors of empires, and you might find your­self get­ting very inter­est­ed in Euro­pean his­to­ry (learn more here), or curi­ous about how “despo­tism” divid­ed, meta­mor­phosed, and metas­ta­sized into what­ev­er var­i­ous forms of rule the names “Merkel,” “Macron,” “Putin,” “Poroshenko,” or “Erdo­gan,” for exam­ple, rep­re­sent today.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es 

The His­to­ry of Europe: 5,000 Years Ani­mat­ed in a Time­lapse Map

Watch the His­to­ry of the World Unfold on an Ani­mat­ed Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

Free: Euro­pean Cul­tur­al His­to­ry in 91 Lec­tures by Emi­nent His­to­ri­an George L. Mosse (1500–1920)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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