This is a rapid rundown of the first 1000 years of “German” history starting with Julius Caesar and the battle of the Teutoburg forest and ending with the demise of the Carolingian empire
Out of the ruins of the Carolingian empire a new polity emerges. It is not yet Germany, but it is no longer a pan-European Frankish empire. King Henry the Fowler elected by barely half the country forges a viable kingdom through cunning diplomacy and personal charm. His son, Otto the Great, elevates the role of King to Roman emperor, incorporates Italy, expands east beyond the Elbe, defeats the marauding Hungarians and gets recognition from the Emperor in Byzantium.
Under his son, Otto II, the empire almost collapsed after a defeat against Muslim Sicily and a violent uprising of the pagan Slavs in the East. At his death, his son, Otto III is just 4 years old. He gets crowned in the nick of time but gets kidnapped by his cousin who wants to usurp the throne. Thanks to some cunning manoeuvring of his mother, Theophanu, his grandmother, Adelheid, and Gerbert of Aurillac, the smartest man in the 10th century, little Otto III is saved and the kingdom is stabilised. Otto III embarks on a madcap attempt to rebuild the Western Roman Empire with its capital in Rome. After his death the last of the dynasty, Henry II refocuses on Germany and creates the most powerful European state in the 10th/11th century.
During the century of the Salians emperors (1024-1125) the Investiture Controversy pits Popes against Emperors. The dispute is nominally about the role secular powers play in the selection of bishops and abbots. But in reality, it is about much more than that. It is about whether the monarch acts as the representative of God, or as a mere mortal, subject to Papal authority. It is about whether Europe becomes a coherent political entity ruled by an all-powerful emperor or whether it becomes a system of interlocking states, cities, and lordships under a parallel church infrastructure. It is about whether Europe becomes a uniform society or the diverse structure that will give birth both to endless warfare and misery for common people, as well as to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment (to name just a few).
Join us as we trace the steps and missteps of the 4 Salian emperors as they move from the unexpected election of Konrad II to his son Henry III becoming the undisputed senior ruler in Western Europe. The backlash against the emerging command monarchy culminates in Emperor Henry IV kneeling in the snow outside the Castle of Canossa begging Pope Gregor VII to receive him back into the mother church.
Most other medieval German rulers are all but forgotten, so why has interest in the Hohenstaufen never completely disappeared. They were by no means the most successful emperors, that crown has to go the Ottonians, nor was their reign the most fateful, that award goes to the later Salians.
Frederick Barbarossa and his grandson Frederick II have been such fascinating personalities that almost any age could project their own perceptions and expectations onto them, from champion of national unity to modern man before his time. Time to find out what really happened, who they actually were.
As always a great many things keep happening, some good, some bad.
The capture of Richard the Lionheart, the conquest of Sicily, the battle of Bouvines, the Fifth Crusade, the court of Frederick II, Cortenuova and the epic final struggle between the pope and the emperor.
Saxony and the EasterWard Expansion
I promised you a History of the Germans but I am afraid there is no such thing. All I can give you is the histories of the German people. The previous 94 episodes you have heard one of the histories of the Germans, the one about the mighty emperors and their political, military and spiritual struggle with the papacy. It is a great story, and it was fun to tell it.
But today we kick off another of the histories, the history of the North of Germany, the part that looked east, rather than south. It is a story of a frontier culture where an estimated 7% of the population of the western part of the empire pack up their belongings and move east, sometimes under the cover of expansionary princes or knightly orders, sometimes invited by local potentates looking to grow their economies. It is a story about the creation and expansion of trade networks, the foundation of cities, some that will remain modest in size, others that turn into important European capitals. It is the story of a periphery that will in time become the centre.
The Hanse of the Merchants of the Holy Roman Empire described itself as neither a corporation, nor an organisation nor any definable entity at all.
But still it existed and it dominated the Baltic Sea for centuries, not only economically but also militarily and politically. They chose kings and mad eothers disappear. They opnened trade routes and forced cities and rulers to grant them privileges.
But underneath ran a network of medium sized merchants who helped each other out with information, trading and storing each other’s goods and handling their finances. The Hanse is unique in not one but every conceivable way….