Otto the Great

Otto the Great

(912-973)

The first true imperial ruler of Germany, Otto the Great, was the son of King Henry I, known as Henry the Fowler. Though Henry was called “king” of Germany, he was actually first among equals of the five German dukes of Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria and Lorraine. Otto married Edgitha, the daughter of Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Elder in A.D. 929. King Henry died in A.D. 936, and the dukes elected Otto to succeed his father. He was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, in mod¬ ern-day France.

From the start, Otto was determined to turn Germany into an empire. He ruled Saxony by right of inheritance. He did away with the independent duchy of Franconia, reserving that area for himself. His most suc¬ cessful endeavors came through cooperation with the Christian Church. He treated the German bishops as if they were counts or dukes, giving them land and titles. In return, they owed allegiance to Otto and provided him with knights and soldiers in times of war.

Otto fought to maintain the German hold on Lorraine, an area that was disputed by the Franks to the west. He led a campaign deep into Frankish territory and brought the French kingdom of Burgundy under German influence (a.D. 940). Having secured his west¬ ward flank, Otto turned to the East and start¬ ed to expand the German domains. He gained dominance over the Slavic Wends and obtained recognition of German sovereignty in Bohemia by A.D. 930.

The greatest foe of Otto’s Germany was the Magyar tribe. Located in present-day Hungary, the Magyars were a fierce warrior tribe that had migrated from Central Asia around A.D. 893. The Magyars attacked Germany, France, present-day Switzerland, and Italy in numerous raids. In A.D. 955,Otto met the Magyars in battle at Lechfeld, near Augsburg, and utterly defeated them.This victory earned him the title “Otto the Great” and ended the raids from the East.

Triumphant in central Europe, Otto turned his attention southward. He cultivated good relations with the papacy, and on February 2, A.D. 962, Pope John XII crowned him Holy Roman Emperor, a title that had previously gone to the descendants of Charlemagne (see no. 20). Pope John turned against Otto when he saw that the German ruler wanted Italian lands. Otto used his influence in Italy to have the pope deposed and went so far as to nominate his own candi¬ date, who became Pope Leo VIII.Though he was secure in his lifetime,

Otto’s ambitions led to great troubles for his successors, who would fight both in Germany and Italy to hold their positions. Having formed a united German empire, Otto died in May A.D. 973 and was buried in Magdeburg Cathedral.