After the death of Charles the Fat in 888, the briefly reunited Carolingian Empire broke apart, and was never restored. According to Regino of Prüm, the parts of the realm “spewed forth kinglets”, and each part elected a kinglet “from its own bowels”. After the death of Charles the Fat, those crowned emperor by the pope controlled only territories in Italy. The last such emperor was Berengar I of Italy, who died in 924.
Berengar I (c. 845 – April 7, 924) was the king of Italy from 887. He was the Roman Emperor between 915 and his death in 924. He is usually known as Berengar of Friuli, since he ruled the March of Friuli from 874 until at least 890, but he had lost control of the region by 896.
Berengar rose to become one of the most influential laymen in the empire of Charles the Fat, and he was elected to replace Charles in Italy after the latter’s deposition in November 887. His long reign of 36 years saw him opposed by no less than seven other claimants to the Italian throne. His reign is usually characterised as “troubled” because of the many competitors for the crown and because of the arrival of Magyar raiders in Western Europe. He was the last emperor before Otto the Great was crowned in 962, after a 38-year interregnum.
Otto I (November 23, 912 – May 7, 973), traditionally known as Otto the Great, was German king from 936 and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until his death in 973. He was the oldest son of Heinric I the Fowler and Matilda of Ringelheim, the daughter of the local count Dietrich and his wife Reinhild, a noblewoman of Danish and Frisian descent.
Otto inherited the Duchy of Saxony and the kingship of the Germans upon his father’s death in 936. He continued his father’s work of unifying all German tribes into a single kingdom and greatly expanded the king’s powers at the expense of the aristocracy. Through strategic marriages and personal appointments, Otto installed members of his family in the kingdom’s most important duchies. This reduced the various dukes, who had previously been co-equals with the king, to royal subjects under his authority. Otto transformed the Roman Catholic Church in Germany to strengthen royal authority and subjected its clergy to his personal control.
The Hungarians (Magyars) invaded Otto’s domain as part of the larger Hungarian invasions of Europe and ravaged much of Southern Germany. Though Otto had installed the Margraves Hermann Billung and Gero on his kingdom’s northern and northeastern borders, the Principality of Hungary to the southeast was a permanent threat to German security. The Hungarians took advantage of the kingdom’s civil war and invaded the Duchy of Bavaria in spring 954. Though Liudolf, Duke of Swabia, and Conrad, Duke of Lorraine, had successfully prevented the Hungarians from invading their own territories in the west, the invaders managed to reach the Rhine River, sacking much of Bavaria and Franconia in the process.
The Hungarians, encouraged by their successful raids, began another invasion into Germany in the spring of 955. Otto’s army, now unhindered by civil war, was able to defeat the invasion, and soon the Hungarians sent an ambassador to seek peace with Otto. The ambassador proved to be a decoy: Otto’s brother Henry I, Duke of Bavaria, sent word to Otto that the Hungarians had crossed into his territory from the southeast. The main Hungarian army had camped along the Lech River and besieged Augsburg. While the city was defended by Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg, Otto assembled his army and marched south to face the Hungarians.
Otto and his army fought the Hungarian force on August 10, 955 at the Battle of Lechfeld. Under Otto’s command were Burchard III, Duke of Swabia and Bohemian troops of Duke Boleslaus I. Though outnumbered nearly two to one, Otto was determined to push the Hungarian forces out of his territory. According to Widukind of Corvey, Otto “pitched his camp in the territory of the city of Augsburg and joined there the forces of Henry I, Duke of Bavaria, who was himself lying mortally ill nearby, and by Duke Conrad with a large following of Franconian knights. Conrad’s unexpected arrival encouraged the warriors so much that they wished to attack the enemy immediately.”
While Otto was fighting the Hungarians with his main army deployed in Southern Germany, the Obotrite Slavs in the north were in a state of insurrection. Count Wichmann the Younger, still Otto’s opponent over the King’s refusal to grant Wichmann the title of Margrave in 936, marauded through the lands of the Obotrites in the Billung March, causing the followers of Slavic Prince Nako to revolt. The Obotrites invaded Saxony in the fall of 955, killing the men of arms-bearing age and carrying off the women and children into slavery. In the aftermath of the Battle of Lechfeld, Otto rushed to the north and pressed far into their territory. A Slav embassy offered to pay annual tribute in return for being allowed self-government under German overlordship instead of direct German rule.Otto refused, and the two sides met on October 16, at the Battle of Recknitz. Otto’s forces gained a decisive victory; after the battle, hundreds of captured Slavs were executed.
Celebrations for Otto’s victory over the pagan Hungarians and Slavs were held in churches across the kingdom, with bishops attributing the victory to divine intervention and as proof of Otto’s “divine right” to rule. The battles of Lechfeld and Recknitz mark a turning point in Otto’s reign. The victories over Hungarians and Slavs sealed his hold on power over Germany, with the duchies firmly under royal authority. From 955 on, Otto would not experience another rebellion against his rule and as a result was able to further consolidate his position throughout Central Europe.
Liudolf’s death in the fall of 957 deprived Otto of both an heir and a commander of his expedition against King Berengar II of Italy. Beginning with the unfavorable peace treaty signed in 952 in which he became Otto’s vassal, Berengar II had always been a rebellious subordinate. With the death of Liudolf and Henry I, Duke of Bavaria, and with Otto campaigning in northern Germany, Berengar II attacked the March of Verona in 958, which Otto had stripped from his control under the 952 treaty, and besieged Count Adalbert Atto of Canossa there. Berengar II’s forces also attacked the Papal States and the city of Rome under Pope John XII. In autumn 960, with Italy in political turmoil, the Pope sent word to Otto seeking his aid against Berengar II. Several other influential Italian leaders arrived at Otto’s court with similar appeals, including the Archbishop of Milan, the bishops of Como and Novara, and Margrave Otbert of Milan.
After the Pope agreed to crown him as Emperor, Otto assembled his army to march upon Italy. In preparation for his second Italian campaign and the imperial coronation, Otto planned his kingdom’s future. At the Imperial Diet at Worms in May 961, Otto named his six-year-old son Otto II as heir apparent and co-ruler, and had him crowned at Aachen Cathedral on 26 May 961. Otto II was anointed by the Archbishops Bruno I of Cologne, William of Mainz, and Henry I of Trier. The King instituted a separate chancery to issue diplomas in his heir’s name, and appointed his brother Bruno and illegitimate son William as Otto II’s co-regents in Germany.
Otto’s army descended into northern Italy in August 961 through the Brenner Pass at Trento. The German king moved towards Pavia, the former Lombard capital of Italy, where he celebrated Christmas and assumed the title King of Italy for himself. Berengar II’s armies retreated to their strongholds in order to avoid battle with Otto, allowing him to advance southward unopposed. Otto reached Rome on January 31, 962; three days later, he was crowned Emperor by Pope John XII at Old St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope also anointed Otto’s wife Adelaide of Italy, who had accompanied Otto on his Italian campaign, as empress. With Otto’s coronation as emperor, the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy were unified into a common realm, later called the Holy Roman Empire.
The kingdom/Empire had no permanent capital city. Kings traveled between residences (called Kaiserpfalz) to discharge affairs. However, each king preferred certain places; in Otto’s case, this was the city of Magdeburg. Kingship continued to be transferred by election, but Kings often ensured their own sons were elected during their lifetimes, enabling them to keep the crown for their families. This only changed after the end of the Salian dynasty in the 12th century.
The Holy Roman Empire became eventually composed of four kingdoms. The kingdoms were:
* Kingdom of Germany (part of the empire since 962),
* Kingdom of Italy (from 962 until 1648),
* Kingdom of Bohemia (since 1002 as the Duchy of Bohemia and raised to a kingdom in 1198),
* Kingdom of Burgundy (from 1032 to 1378).