The Holy Roman Empire emerged in the Middle Ages as a loosely integrated union of German states and city-states under the supreme rule of an emperor.
Around 1500, it took on a more formal structure with the establishment of powerful institutions — such as the Reichstag and Imperial Chamber Court—that would endure more or less intact until the empire’s dissolution by Napoleon in 1806.
Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger provides a concise history of the Holy Roman Empire, presenting an entirely new interpretation of the empire’s political culture and remarkably durable institutions, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Rather than comparing the empire to modern states or associations like the EU, Stollberg-Rilinger shows how it was a political body unlike any other — it had no standing army, no clear boundaries, no general taxation or bureaucracy.
She describes a heterogeneous association based on tradition and shared purpose, bound together by personal loyalty and reciprocity.