The Germans – Otto and the empire

Otto the Great is the progenitor of Germany and German history begins with him. During his reign, the four main tribes on German territory began to unite.

Otto is the king who brought the Saxon, Bavarian, Swabian and Franconian tribes to perceive themselves as a community.

This documentary examines his role as a unifier.

Otto the Great led his men to victory over Hungarian aggressors in the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. Some 12 thousand warriors followed the call to arms their king made near Augsburg. Together they successfully defended “their” country. External threats forged the tribes together. Something like a sense of belonging developed.

But Otto had more foes than the Hungarians. Power hungry princes and even his own family made life difficult. Again and again, regional rulers pressured him.

Many of the problems Otto the Great faced with the princes were something like those German Chancellor Angela Merkel has in a present-day form with the premiers of Germany’s federal states.

Yet now it’s above all about money rather than life itself. Otto fought wars with nearly every member of his family. His mother and siblings conspired against his rule. The trouble began when Otto’s father, Henry I – or Henry the Fowler – broke with tradition by not dividing his kingdom among his sons.

Instead, only one – Otto – would become king. Like Charlemagne, Otto wanted to claim the rights of a Roman Emperor. To do that, he had to travel to Italy, crossing the Alps with more than one thousand troops in 961.

He was also answering an appeal from Pope John XII, whose sovereignty over Rome was being challenged by a prince. Otto emerged victorious and cemented his reign in Italy.

Then on February 2, 962, Otto the Saxon was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. He remained in Italy for more than a decade. Otto the Great and his retinue travelled to Italy as Saxons, Swabians, Franks and Bavarians. They returned home with the Emperor’s crown and the name that the Italians had given them.

It was a name they would become used to and ultimately apply themselves – the Germans.

To European History

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