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Otto I, The Great


Otto I or the Great is considered by many historians to be the founder of the Holy Roman Empire.  He was an effective military warrior who encouraged military expansion, colonization, and missionary activity eastward into the Slavic world.  His campaign was to restore kingship on the Carolingian model. 

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Succeeding his father Henry I as the Duke of Saxony in 936, his military genius was tested early.  Otto I faced the continuous raids and sieges of the dukes, the Ducal Rebellions, which were led by his brother Henry of Bavaria.  The war was the result of him acquiring an increasing amount of power that others resented.  It ended with Otto's victory in 941 in which he replaced the rebellious dukes with his own relatives, thus compelling them to accept royal over lordship.  In 951, he commanded a successful invasion of Italy and declared himself King.  Magyars invaded the empire in 954, and this invasion forced the nobility to reunite with Otto in order to defend themselves.  He was able to defeat the Magyars in the battle of Lechfield in 955 and this temporarily restored peace throughout his empire.  Map of Ottonian Empire

In order to unify and control the major territories of Germany, he established the Church-State Alliance; this strengthened his power and decreased the power of the duchies. He gave large grants of royal land to bishops and abbots, who became his royal vassals and were obligated to provide him with military and political services. It was successful for both the Church and the State because it had church officials ruling the land, but allowed Otto the power to appoint them.  

Otto was crowned Roman Emperor in 962 by Pope John XII, the same office Charlemagne held in 800.  Pope John XII eventually turned against Otto and his increasing power, so the papacy was taken away from him.  Otto then imposed the rule that no pope could be elected without the approval of the emperor.  This proclamation opened an era of German domination of the papacy and, in effect, made him the head of the Christian community.  

Otto died in 973 and was succeeded by his son Otto II.   His policies continued with success until 1056.  Many people believe that Otto revived the Roman Empire and consider him one of the greatest Saxon rulers. 


Map from: http://wps.ablongman.com/wps/media/objects/73/75343/art/figures/KISH_09_209.gif


Dill, Marshall Jr.,  Germany,   (Ann Arbor; University of Michigan Press, 1961), pp. 7-9.

Heer, Freidrich,  The Holy Roman Empire, (New York; Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1968), pp. 26-41. 

Zophy, Jonathon W,  The Holy Roman Empire, A Dictionary Handbook,  (Westport; Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 350-354.

“Otto I, the Great” IN “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” <http:www.newadvent.org/cathen/11354a.htm> February 2000

“Otto, Holy Roman Empire” IN “The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia,” <>  February 2000.

  “Germany” <

“Otto the Great” February 2000.


Edited by: Therese Vogel
Researched by: Stephanie Fielder
Written by: Ernest Granda

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