In the 9th century, the Saxon count Liudolf held large estates on the Leine river west of the Harz mountain range and in the adjacent Eichsfeld territory of Thuringia. His ancestors probably acted as ministeriales in the Saxon stem duchy, which had been incorporated into the Carolingian Empire after the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne. Liudolf married Oda, a member of the Frankish House of Billung. About 852 the couple together with Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim founded Brunshausen Abbey, which, relocated to Gandersheim, rose to a family monastery and burial ground.
Liudolf already held the high social position of a Saxon dux, documented by the marriage of his daughter Liutgard with Louis the Younger, son of the Carolingian king Louis the German in 869. Liudolf's sons Bruno and Otto the Illustrious ruled over large parts of Saxon Eastphalia, moreover, Otto acted as lay abbot of the Imperial abbey of Hersfeld with large estates in Thuringia. He married Hedwiga, a daughter of the Babenberg duke Henry of Franconia. Otto possibly accompanied King Arnulf on his 894 campaign to Italy; the marriage of his daughter Oda with Zwentibold, Arnulf's illegitimate son, documents the efforts of the Carolingian ruler to win the mighty Saxon dynasty over as an ally. According to the Saxon chronicler Widukind of Corvey, Otto upon the death of the last Carolingian king Louis the Child in 911 was already a candidate for the East Frankish crown, which however passed to the Franconian duke Conrad I.
Upon Otto's death in 912, his son Henry the Fowler succeeded him as Duke of Saxony. Henry had married Matilda of Ringelheim, a descendant of the legendary Saxon ruler Widukind and heiress to extended estates in Westphalia.