Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor

Otto the Great
Siegel Otto I Posse.JPG
Depiction of Otto I on his seal in 968
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign2 February 962 – 7 May 973
Coronation2 February 962[1]
Old St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
PredecessorBerengar of Friuli
SuccessorOtto II
King of Italy
Reign25 December 961 – 7 May 973
Coronation10 October 951[a]
PredecessorBerengar II
SuccessorOtto II
King of Germany (East Francia)
Reign2 July 936 – 7 May 973
Coronation7 August 936
Aachen Cathedral
PredecessorHenry the Fowler
SuccessorOtto II
Duke of Saxony
Reign2 July 936 – 7 May 973
PredecessorHenry the Fowler
SuccessorBernard I
Born23 November 912
possibly Wallhausen, East Francia[2]
Died7 May 973(973-05-07) (aged 60)
Memleben, Holy Roman Empire
SpouseEadgyth of England (930–946)
Adelaide of Italy (951–973)
IssueWilliam, Archbishop of Mainz
Liutgarde of Saxony
Liudolf, Duke of Swabia
Matilda, Abbess of Quedlinburg
Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor
FatherHenry the Fowler
ReligionRoman Catholic
Signum manusOtto the Great's signature

Otto I (23 November 912 – 7 May 973), traditionally known as Otto the Great (German: Otto der Große, Italian: Ottone il Grande), was German king from 936 and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until his death in 973.[b] He was the oldest son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda.

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.

After putting down a brief civil war among the rebellious duchies, Otto defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, thus ending the Hungarian invasions of Western Europe.[3] The victory against the pagan Magyars earned Otto a reputation as a savior of Christendom and secured his hold over the kingdom. By 961, Otto had conquered the Kingdom of Italy. The patronage of Otto and his immediate successors facilitated a so-called "Ottonian Renaissance" of arts and architecture. Following the example of Charlemagne's coronation as "Emperor of the Romans" in 800, Otto was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962 by Pope John XII in Rome.

Otto's later years were marked by conflicts with the papacy and struggles to stabilize his rule over Italy. Reigning from Rome, Otto sought to improve relations with the Byzantine Empire, which opposed his claim to emperorship and his realm's further expansion to the south. To resolve this conflict, the Byzantine princess Theophanu married his son Otto II in April 972. Otto finally returned to Germany in August 972 and died at Memleben in May 973. Otto II succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor.

Early life and family

Otto was born on 23 November 912, the oldest son of the Duke of Saxony, Henry the Fowler and his second wife Matilda, the daughter of Dietrich of Ringelheim, a Saxon count in Westphalia.[4] Henry had previously married Hatheburg of Merseburg, also a daughter of a Saxon count, in 906, but this marriage was annulled, probably in 909 after she had given birth to Henry's first son and Otto's half-brother Thankmar.[5] Otto had four full siblings: Hedwig, Gerberga, Henry and Bruno.[4]


On 23 December 918, Conrad I, King of East Francia and Duke of Franconia, died.[6] According to the Res gestae saxonicae by the Saxon chronicler Widukind of Corvey, Conrad persuaded his younger brother Eberhard of Franconia, the presumptive heir, to offer the crown of East Francia to Otto's father Henry.[7] Although Conrad and Henry had been at odds with one another since 912, Henry had not openly opposed the king since 915. Furthermore, Conrad's repeated battles with German dukes, most recently with Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria, and Burchard II, Duke of Swabia, had weakened the position and resources of the Conradines.[8] After several months of hesitation, Eberhard and the other Frankish and Saxon nobles elected Henry as king at the Imperial Diet of Fritzlar in May 919. For the first time, a Saxon instead of a Frank reigned over the kingdom.[9]

Burchard II of Swabia soon swore fealty to the new king,[10] but Arnulf of Bavaria did not recognize Henry's position. According to the Annales iuvavenses, Arnulf was elected king by the Bavarians in opposition to Henry, but his "reign" was short-lived; Henry defeated him in two campaigns. In 921, Henry besieged Arnulf's residence at Ratisbon (Regensburg) and forced him into submission. Arnulf had to accept Henry's sovereignty; Bavaria retained some autonomy and the right to invest bishops in the Bavarian church.[11]