The effect of the Italian adventure was to increase the disunity in Germany, which now expanded haphazard
1 Originally Welfs and Weiblingens designated German political parties in the war between Henry the Proud and Conrad of Hohenstaufen. About 1200 the names Guelf and Ghibelline came into usage to denote respectively the Italian patriotic and Papal Party, and the Party that supported the domination in Italy of the German emperors.
instead of being directed by a great controlling mind. The interregnum was a confession that the whole theory of the Holy Roman Empire had broken down, although the name was to survive for centuries. What had been a statesman's dream had become a political absurdity. When in 1273 Rudolf of Habsburg was elected Emperor the conditions were such as to make an empire of Germany impossible.
Rudolf's election was, however, symptomatic. It was not merely a personal recognition, but a recognition of Germanism's eastern " mission," for Rudolf's duchy of Austria was, in fact, not merely the eastern marches of Germanism but the spearhead of German penetration into the south-east. Situated in the centre of Europe, served by a good river system, with easy access to the east, Germany was a centre of trade, and despite all the political and constitutional confusion, the trading towns gained rapidly in importance and wealth. The Hansa League of the northern seaports was in itself a great power which was the devoted champion of the principle that trade followed the flag of German expansion. Towns like Nuremberg, whose burgomaster was later to be made a margrave, were of far greater importance than similar manufacturing and trading towns further west. In the southeast, German settlers had penetrated the towns of Bohemia and settled in masses on its borders, and had even penetrated into Transylvania; in the north-east, the proclamation of a crusade against the still pagan inhabitants of the Baltic lands led rapidly to their Germanisation. In the Danubian-Carpathian area, Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland played a complicated game of dynastic diplomacy, the more complicated as beneath it nationalism consolidated and in the end effectively prevented the efforts of ambitious monarchs to make permanent any of their fantastic schemes of unions of crowns.
In the Balkans, where French and Italian adventurers were finding happy hunting-grounds for duchies, Byzantine influence had entirely gone, and the Eastern Empire, despite occasional revivals, had almost ceased to be a power. As the result of the defeat of the Seljuks by the Crusaders, the Eastern emperors had been able to recover not a little of Asia Minor, but the effort was wrecked by the fall of Constantinople before the Fourth Crusade. Although the Latin Empire failed to last, it had completed the ruin of the Eastern Empire. Power in the Balkans passed gradually from the
adventurers to the vigorous stock of the Serbs, who a little later were only prevented from putting an end to the Byzantine Empire by the death of their great king, Stephen Dushan, when the van of his army was almost within sight of Constantinople (1355). That feat was left to the Ottoman Turks who succeeded the defeated Seljuks and were already a power in Asia Minor.