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Otto I


Otto I
Otto I

Following ancient German tradition, the kings of East Francia did not automatically inherit the throne. Instead, they were elected by the wealthiest and most powerful nobles of the realm at the time—a group that was subject to change as fortunes rose and fell. None of these families wanted to be subject to another family or to a strong king so they often chose weak kings who were not a threat to the nobles’ power.

Once elected, medieval German kings had three major concerns. One was checking rebellious nobles; for this they often relied on the support of bishops and abbots. The second was controlling Italy and preserving the imperial coronation by the pope, which they considered an essential part of the Carolingian heritage. The third was territorial expansion to the north and east, especially after 955, when the Viking and Magyar threats subsided.

The first strong king of East Francia was Otto I. Elected in 936, Otto combined extraordinary forcefulness, dignity, and military prowess with great diplomatic skill and genuine religious faith. Determined to create a strong centralized monarchy, Otto married his relatives into the families of the duchies in order to gain control over them. This plan backfired, however, as his family members began to plot against him to usurp his power. After several dangerous uprisings, Otto began to break up the duchies into nonhereditary fiefs granted to bishops and abbots. By bringing these church figures into the court, Otto ensured their loyalty and was able to use their literacy to produce correspondence and legislation. The counts maintained their judicial functions from Carolingian times, but the church leaders were used much as Charlemagne had used the missi dominici—as the king’s representatives throughout the realm.

Otto’s successors


Otto’s successors continued this Ottonian system of making alliances with the church and shifting toward a more formalized state.

Otto also defended his realm from outside pressures. In the west, he strengthened his hold on Lorraine and gained influence over Burgundy. In the north and east, he defeated the Danes and Slavs and permanently broke the power of the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. Wishing to emulate Charlemagne as the divinely sanctioned emperor, Otto established the archbishopric of Magdeburg in 968 and other dioceses as centers of civilization in the conquered lands.

In 951 Otto began the disastrous policy of German entanglement in Italy. He was perhaps tempted by the prosperity of the area and its political vacuum in the wake of feudal disorder and Saracen (Muslim) invasions. During his second Italian campaign in 962, Otto was crowned emperor by Pope John XII, who was grateful for Otto’s help against encroaching Italian nobles from the north and Byzantine Greeks and Saracens from the south. By a treaty called the Ottonian Privilege, Otto guaranteed the pope’s claim to most of central Italy in exchange for the promise that all future papal candidates would swear allegiance and loyalty to the emperor.

This treaty effectively united the German monarchy and the Roman Empire until 1806, when the Holy Roman Empire, as it came to be called, was dissolved. Otto’s successors in the 10th and 11th centuries continued his domestic and Italian policies as best they could. Otto II established the Eastern March (now Austria) as a military outpost; the influx on settlement from within the empire effectively Germanized the local population. He attempted to secure southern Italy, but was defeated by the Saracens. Otto III ruled from Rome. He supported the monastic reform movement originating in Cluny (Burgundy) that encouraged a more austere, disciplined, and prayerful life within monasteries and convents. The childless Henry II, gentle and devout, also encouraged the Cluniac movement and sent out missionaries from his court. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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