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As I understand it,

Reich = Empire, Realm, Country — Kaiserreich = Empire — Kaiserzeit = Imperial Period — Weltreich = World Empire

The Roman Empire (Römisches Reich) and Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich) are both empires ruled by a Kaiser (Kaiserreichs), but they (and all other empires) aren't called Kaiserreich, even though that word exists.

Following that, the Roman Empire isn't even called Reich (as other sources call it) on Wikipedia, instead being called Römische Kaiserzeit (Roman imperial period? Even though the Latin name was Imperium Romanum, which was Roman Empire in English).

And the British Empire (which was a imperial period if I understand it, though the kings/queens did go by Emperor/Empress like Queen Victoria, Empress of India) is called Weltreich (World Empire) instead of Kaiserzeit?

So what makes the Roman Empire (the greatest world empire) a Kaiserzeit (imperial period) but the British Empire a Weltreich instead of Kaiserzeit, meanwhile the Holy Roman Empire is a Reich? And where does the term Kaiserreich come in, considering it seems to be an accurate word for all of these?

And why are some countries themselves called -reich (like Frankreich, Österreich) independant of their official governing names?

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  • Have you read the overview of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor ? Especially the fact that "'Empire' became identified instead with vast territorial holdings rather than the title of its ruler by the mid-18th century." might clarify things: In German, only if the ruler is a Kaiser (emperor) the realm might be called Kaiserreich; and there was never an "Emperor of Britain".
    – Dodezv
    Commented May 16 at 8:55

2 Answers 2

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A Reich is a realm of several dukedoms and kingdoms, and a Kaiser is the head of that structure.

The Roman Empire is called Römisches Reich in German. But it had several periods and the time when it had a Kaiser is called Kaiserzeit. Before it was the Römische Republik.

The British Empire was called Weltreich because it was just that: a realm of several dukedoms and kingdoms, and the British King/Queen acted as a king of kings for that, though he or she never adopted a Kaiser title.

For Frankreich, the name goes back to the time when Germany and France were one and called Frankenreich. Again, Charlemagne was a Kaiser of that superstructure of several dukedoms and kingdoms.

For Österreich, it's similar with several central and eastern European dukedoms and kingdoms.

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According to their etymology Reich and empire are pretty similar.

"Reich" comes from the celtic -rig which means might. And it's old high german form "rîhhi" apparently meant rule, violence, government. So it's essentially the territory over which a ruler has control.

Apparently the English word "realm" comes from the latin word for king = rex, regis. So Realm originated from regaliem or "that which belongs to the king".

And empire and imperium seem to stem from imperare = to rule or to command (see: imperative). So empires can be synonymous with realms and Reich, but usually imperialism implies a larger spread and includes spheres of influence and dominion that are not necessary part of the realm, but which are just under it's effective control.

So empires, might have subdivided into realms where a king rules, but those kings are subject to the emperors command.

Now a "Weltreich" is just a global realm upon which the distinctions fade as the result would look the same. So rather a matter of preference whether you go with the Latin or Celtic/Germanic origin.

And apparently the origin of Kaiser is just a variation of the name of the Roman dictator Gaius Iulius Caesar, or rather his grand-nephew Octavian who was adopted by Caesar and thus took the title "Imperator Caesar Augustus" which became the official title of the rulers of the Imperium Romanum. Apparently over time they dropped the "imperator" as that was implied and "Caesar Augustus" became the title of the monarch.

Later Karl der Große revived the interest in the Roman empire and created the institution of Kaiser as "king of kings". Interestingly Caesar is also where the word Tsar comes from which apparently was first used in Bulgaria as a claim to their east-roman origin, but is nowadays more famous for the title of the former Russian leaders.

And yeah as Janka has already covered Kaiserzeit, referring to the Imperium Romanum is likely to acknowledge the distinction from the Roman Republic which would also have some roman empire but not necessarily a king or dictator (or not for lifetime).

Also "Reich" technically refers to the territory not to the period, so speaking of "Kaiserzeit" when referring to the era is the more correct way to address them, especially when considering how the actual "Reich"/"Empire" has changed over time. That being said it could also be used as a reference to that form of government or state, in which case it could again denote the period of it's existence...

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