TW Viewpoint | The Restoration of Rome Part 3 - Otto the Great

November 06, 2019 | Stuart Wachowicz

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Charlemagne or Charles the Great The early 900s had seen the decline of Charlemagne's once mighty empire and a period of utter corruption for the Catholic Church. The heart of Europe was again split into an array of quarrelling factions, waiting to be united. In part two of our Viewpoint series on the Restoration of Rome, it was discussed how in AD 800 the Frankish ruler Charlemagne, allied with the Roman Church established an Empire, uniting most of central and western Europe and Italy, and as historians affirm, restored the Roman Imperial system, being crowned by the Pope in AD 800, a new Roman Emperor.

After the death of Charlemagne in 814, division and weak leadership began a rapid decay of the restored tradition of the Roman Caesars. In the early 900's, in the territory northeast of the Rhine, one Henry the Saxon is elected king, and he founds a continental Saxon dynasty. In AD 936, his son Otto is elected king by the local nobility, and crowned king by the bishops of Mainz and Cologne. Otto had married in 930, Edith, the daughter of the English Saxon king Edward the Elder, demonstrating the close relation between the English and German Saxons at the time.

Otto, a descendant of Charlemagne, is the first since his illustrious ancestor to assert his authority with effect. He suppressed the rebellious barons and brings centralized control to the Saxon and many of the German states. In AD 951 he achieves a victory in Northern Italy, adding Lombardy to his kingdom.

Between the death of Charlemagne and the crowning of Otto, Europe was plagued with internal strife as well as regular invasions of pagan forces from the east, especially the devastating and regular invasions of the Magyars. Otto alone, on the continent of Europe took a strong stand against the invaders. In AD 955 Otto delivered a crushing blow against the invaders at the Battle of Lechfeld (Augsburg). From henceforth he was known as the "protector of Europe".

During the period since the death of Charlemagne, the Papacy had fallen into one of the most corrupt periods in its history. Much of its authority was diminished as a result. After the Battle of Lechfeld a new Pope, John XII appealed to Otto for help. He made a desperate plea for assistance against numerous enemies who sought his destruction. Seizing this opportunity, Otto invades Italy and in 961 inflicts absolute defeat on the adversaries of John. This results in a remarkable coronation, that takes place on Feb 2, 962, seeing Otto crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor, the successor to Charlemagne, Justinian and the Ceasars.

The Empire is thus restored once again to the mutual benefit of both the secular and religious arms. There is a difference in the days of Otto I however. The papacy was weak and corrupt, but still influenced the general population and was thus useful to Otto. However Otto did not wish to have a competitor in the Rome. Hence only eleven days after the coronation, John XII signs a treaty Otto has drafted. It is known as the Privilegiumm Ottonianum. It was designed to regulate relations between the Emperor and the Papacy, but placed the Emperor in a superior position in terms of secular government and also suggested he had the power to confirm a pope in office.

The Pope signed the document, but realizing it ceded many of his powers to Otto, rebelled, by siding with Berengar II, the former king of Italy, whom Otto had deposed. Otto then deposed John XII and set up Leo VIII as pope in an open demonstration of the totality of his authority.

Although the full title Sacrum Imperium Romanum Nationis Germanicae (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) was not formally applied until the 15th century. Nonetheless it is not without reason that Otto I is also known as Otto the Great. By his will, diplomatic skills and courage he welded together many of German speaking states, and raised up what is known as the first German Reich (kingdom). But he also did so in a manner that strengthened the Roman Church, believing it would be a useful and stabilizing influence, not unlike the tradition set by Constantine six centuries before, resurrecting once more the Roman system.

Watch The Restoration of Rome Part 3 - Otto the Great on YouTube at Tomorrow's World Viewpoint