III. THE EMPIRE AND THE NEW MONARCHIES (800-1000 A.D.)
It is possible that, if the opportunity had been forthcoming, he would at once have proceeded to Rome for an imperial coronation. But the Pope, who alone could make an Emperor, was the nominee of a Roman faction, headed by the ambitious Alberic the Senator who aspired to build up a secular lordship on the basis of the Papal patrimony. Otto was not invited to visit Rome. After some hesitation he decided, instead of himself assuming the unprofitable duties of an Italian King, to restore Berengar on condition of a renewal of homage. Perhaps the arrangement was intended to be temporary. Otto was still menaced by conspiracies in Germany; and Berengar might serve to guard Italy against ambitious Dukes, until the hands of his overlord were free for Italian adventures. Later events justify some such hypothesis. Within a few years the chief difficulties of Otto were removed. A great ducal rising collapsed; the Hungarians were so decisively beaten at the Lechfeld (955) that they ceased to trouble Germany; death relieved Otto of his most dangerous rivals, Archbishop Frederic of Mainz and his own son, Duke Liutolf. Then, in 960, arrived the long-delayed call from Rome. John XII, a dissipated youth of twenty-two, the son of Alberic (died 954) but devoid of his father's ability, invoked the aid of Germany to protect the temporal possessions against Berengar. Otto required no second summons. Descending upon Italy, he expelled his vassal, assumed the Italian crown at Pavia (961) and then repaired to Rome. Here in 962 he was crowned by the Pope as lord of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. For good or for evil the prerogative of Charles the Great was inseparably united to the German monarchy.
From this complicated series of events some interesting conclusions may be deduced. The Empire, which has so often been abused as a source of countless woes to Germany, was revived in the interests of a purely German policy. Unlike his son and his grandson, Otto I never submitted to the spell of Italy. Since the time of Charles the Great it had been taken for granted that the Empire could only be conferred by the Pope and only held by a King of Italy. Otto did not greatly value his Italian dominions, though circumstances forced him to reside in Italy for a large part of his later years. For a time he had thoughts of recovering Apulia and Calabria from the Greeks, Sicily from the Arabs. But he abandoned his claims against the Eastern Empire as the price of a marriage-alliance, and he left Sicily untouched. The Crown of Italy was valuable to him chiefly as a qualification for his imperial office. To the ecclesiastical duties of that office he was not indifferent. His bishops, though largely employed as secular administrators, were chosenwith some regard to their spiritual duties; he was a friend to the Cluniac movement for monastic reform. But clearly he did not visit Rome in pursuit of any plans for cleansing that Augean stable the Papacy. The vices of John XII were notorious; but, as a Pope who could legally confer the Empire, he was good enough for Otto's purpose. Only when John repented of his bargain and turned traitor was he evicted in favour of a more reputable successor (963). And John's successor was a layman until the time of his election. Otto's chief concern was to secure a trustworthy partisan; this remained the Saxon policy till the days of his grandson.
Otto was not indifferent to the splendour or the more ambitious claims of his office. He paraded before the world the benevolent protectorate which he exercised over the young rulers of Burgundy and France; he insisted upon the homage of the Polish and Bohemian dukes. He held magnificent Diets to celebrate his new position, and made great efforts to win recognition from the Byzantine court. But in substance his ambitions were those of a German national king. He had a keen sense of realities, a keen appreciation of concrete results; from first to last his thoughts centred round the problems of his native land. The extension of the eastern frontier, the alliance with the Church, the management of the duchies - these were his main achievements as they had been his main ambitions. But he had built better than he knew; and the Empire acquired before his death a nobler significance than he perhaps had ever contemplated.
The work of Otto I was skilfully done, since it survived the follies of his son and grandson. For twenty years after his death (973) the titular rulers of the Empire were boys and women-regents. At Rome, in Germany, on the western and eastern frontiers all the beaten factions and humiliated rivals plucked up courage to make another bid for victory. The old Empress Adelaide, and her daughter-in-law the Empress Theophano, divided or disputed the control of the administration until 991; from that date till 998 the elder woman, freed from interference by the death of Theophano, exercised a great though a declining influence. Neither Empress was competent to handle the singular difficulties of the situation. Adelaide, though true to the German ambitions of her husband, was guided by personal prejudice in the selection of her ministers. Theophano, a woman of remarkable abilities and attainments, despised the monotonous intricacies of German politics, encouraged both her husband and her son to regard Italy as the worthiest field for the activities of an Emperor, and in Italy looked rather to Rome and the South than to Lombardy. It was the church party, both in Germany and in Lombardy, which in these years kept the subjects of the Empire true to their allegiance. The German dukes were less disinterested. But the precedents which Otto I had established proved invaluable when his son was required to deal with a rebellion, or had the opportunity of appointing to a vacant dukedom.