Political History of Post-Carolingian Europe: The Emergence, Expansion and Decline of East Francia and Germany
The article explores the political history of Europe after the fall of the Carolingian Empire. It speaks about the emergence of East Francia as the most powerful state, the reign of Arnulf of Carinthia, and the subsequent rise of regional rulers known as dukes. It also discusses how Saxon Duke Henry established his supremacy and how his son Otto I succeeded him and cemented the Ottonian dynasty. The article also evaluates how the Ottonians divided and ruled and their heavy dependence on armies and powers of patronage to keep control. It compares the political structures of Italy and Germany and their aristocracies and discusses their dynastic patterns. Lastly, the article talks about the decline of West Francia due to personal kingship and political instability.
Table of Contents
- The Emergence of East Francia
- Arnulf of Carinthia and the Rise of Regional Rulers
- The Supremacy of Saxon Duke Henry and the Rise of the Ottonian Dynasty
- Ottonian Rule and the Governance of Germany and Italy
- The Decline of West Francia
The Emergence of East Francia
Despite its heavily forested terrain and dependence on rivers for transportation, East Francia emerged as the most powerful state after the Carolingian Empire due to its strategic position between the eastern Slavs and the western Magyars or Hungarians. The East Frankish leaders, especially the Saxon dukes, took advantage of this strategic location and established a powerful military machine. They depended on their army, which drew its strength from the Saxon heartland, to expand their territories and maintain control over their realm.
Arnulf of Carinthia and the Rise of Regional Rulers
Arnulf of Carinthia was a dominant ruler who seized power from his uncle Charles the Fat and ruled from Bavaria. His territory included Burgundy and Italy. After Arnulf’s death, the power vacuum was filled by regional rulers known as dukes who controlled individual regions such as Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony, and Lotharingia. This marked the beginning of the era of regional rulers in post-Carolingian Europe.
The Supremacy of Saxon Duke Henry and the Rise of the Ottonian Dynasty
Saxon Duke Henry was the duke of Saxony who gained momentum and established his supremacy after defeating Magyars or Hungarians. He created efficient administrative structures and managed his lands effectively, becoming the pattern for other dukes to follow. After his death, his son Otto I succeeded him and inherited the throne, laying the foundation for the Ottonian dynasty. Otto I’s political structure was stronger than his predecessors, as he removed dukes everywhere and ruled directly over the Frankish heartland.
Ottonian Rule and the Governance of Germany and Italy
The Ottonians relied heavily on their large army and powers of patronage to maintain control of their realm, which was divided into duchies and marked by a decentralized political structure. They encroached on the eastern lands and subdued the Slavs, dividing and ruling as they expanded their territories. The kingdom of Italy was a much more institutionalized and regionalized polity, marked by county-based judicial assemblies. The aristocracy of Lombardia was localized, with most of the aristocratic players having interests in only one territory. The Ottonians ruled Italy with a hands-off approach, promoting episcopal immunities and not importing new families. The southern principalities, which were not very internally coherent, looked like possible new conquests to the Ottonians but were ultimately too far away from the main power-bases and were not conquered. Rome and the independent principality under its own ruling dynasty moved towards the dynastic pattern, appointing their bishops just as the southern princes and the Ottonians did.
The Decline of West Francia
West Francia was the least successful post-Carolingian kingdom due to the combination of personalized kingship with political instability. Odo of Paris became king of West Francia in 888, and after civil war and peace with Charles, was succeeded by him in 898. However, Charles was cut out of a large section of the traditional royal lands in the Paris region and spent the 910s trying to make good his control of Lotharingia. West Francia lacked political unity and had to face many internal conflicts that weakened its power and hindered its progress.
The political history of post-Carolingian Europe was marked by the emergence, expansion and decline of various states. The emergence of East Francia and the rise of regional rulers marked the beginning of a new era. The supremacy of Saxon Duke Henry and the rise of the Ottonian dynasty established a new order of governance characterized by decentralized political structures, a large army, and patronage. The Ottonians divided and ruled as they expanded their territories and subdued the Slavs, while Italy had a much more institutionalized and regionalized polity marked by county-based judicial assemblies. In contrast, West Francia’s personalized kingship and political instability led to its decline. The different political structures that emerged in post-Carolingian Europe were instrumental in shaping the continent’s political landscape for centuries to come.