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The Book of Emperors

A Translation of the Middle High German Kaiserchronik

edited by Henry A. Myers

Publication Year: 2013

The Kaiserchronik (c.1152–1165) is the first verse chronicle to have been written in a language other than Latin. This story recounts the exploits of the Roman, Byzantine, Carolingian, and Holy Roman kings and rulers, from the establishment of Rome to the start of the Second Crusade. As an early example of popular history, it was written for a non-monastic audience who would have preferred to read, or may only have been able to read, in German. As a rhymed chronicle, its combined use of the styles of language found within a vernacular epic and a factual treaty was a German innovation. The Book of Emperors is the first complete translation of the Kaiserchronik from Middle High German to English. It is a rich resource not only for medieval German scholars and students, but also for those working in early cultural studies. It brings together an understanding of the conception of kingship in the German Middle Ages, from the relationship between emperor and king, to the moral, theological, and legal foundations of claims and legitimacy and the medieval epistemological approaches to historiography. This translation includes a substantial introduction that discusses the historical and philological context of the work, as well as the themes of power and kingship. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction that distinguishes historical truths from the epic fiction found within the original text.

Published by: West Virginia University Press



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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-6

Table of Contents

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This translation intends to provide a useful source of intellectual history. The Book of Emperors is a primary source without equal for an account of the ideology of the Holy Roman Empire in medieval Germany. Intended to be chanted or read in verse form to an audience without much...

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pp. 1-63

The Book of Emperors is the first history of the Roman Empire of any sort written in the West since antiquity and the first attempt at a world or universal history in any Western vernacular language. It assumes that world history funnels naturally enough into Roman history, and...

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pp. 65-79

In the love of Almighty God, I shall begin this song, which you should pay decent attention to. You really would do well to listen and learn about all great and true deeds. Ignorant people think it is hard labor whenever they are to learn anything to broaden their knowledge....

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I. Rome’s Founding: Gods for Each Day of the Week and the Bells that Warned of Revolt

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pp. 67-70

Long ago in heathen times, people everywhere worshipped unclean idols. With no exceptions the heathens had to honor them and pray to them exactly as their kings decreed. Rome with its magnificent buildings and displays was already exalted in the eyes of the world back...

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II. Julius Caesar

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pp. 71-79

In modern times no Romans are counted as emperors before Augustus Caesar, in whose name the Roman Senate put an end to the old Republic’s checks on monarchical power in 27 BC, thus inaugurating the Empire; however, a medieval historian did not feel

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III. Augustus Caesar

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pp. 80-81

Augustus Caesar, son of a niece of Julius Caesar, is normally called the first Roman emperor since he effectively established his one-man rule between 31 and 27 BC and occasionally used the title “imperator,” governing Roman territories with little challenge...

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IV. Tiberius

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pp. 82-89

Very soon after the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312, Christian writers began to treat the past relationship of the Roman Empire to their religion much less critically than before. Constantine’s own historian, Eusebius, went to...

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V. Caius Caligula (Jovinus Legend)

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pp. 90-92

Gaius or Caius Caligula (r. 37–41) presided over a short reign increasingly characterized by decadence and a display of arbitrary power, exemplified in his making his horse a consul. He plays no meaningful part in our author’s version of the legend of the unquenchable...

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VI. Faustinian

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pp. 93-133

This story has roots in possibly the oldest surviving novel with Christian themes, The Recognitions of Saint Clement, written in Syria in the early third century. The title reflects the climax of the original story near the end, when young Clement in separate...

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VII. Claudius

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pp. 134-135

Claudius (r. 41–54), Caligula’s successor, enjoyed a certain reputation as a good emperor in the Middle Ages because of his supposed attempt to punish the Jews for harassment of Christians by expelling them from Rome and, in Christian legend...

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VIII. Nero

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pp. 135-139

Nero (r. 54–68) has served from his own century to our own as the embodiment of evil in a ruler. Claudius, who adopted Nero as a son, had died in 54, poisoned on the orders of Agrippina, his wife of five years and Nero’s mother. She had helped arrange her son’s...

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IX. Tarquin

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pp. 140-148

According to Roman tradition, Tarquin the Proud was the final king of Rome from 534 to 510 BC. The crime of his son, Sextus Tarquin, who raped the wife of a Roman nobleman, was enough to cause Romans not only to depose the bad king, sending him and his...

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X. Galba and Piso

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p. 149-149

Servius Sulpicius Galba (3 BCAD 69) enjoyed a reputation as a competent administrator who governed several of Rome’s outlying provinces with integrity. He was proclaimed emperor in 68 by Gallic legions who rose in revolt against Nero, but he soon lost his...

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XI. Otho

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pp. 150-165

Otho had been a friend and supporter of Nero, but he refused to divorce his wife—whom Nero had chosen as his imperial consort— and ended up in virtual exile as Roman governor in Spain. He briefly supported Galba after Nero’s overthrow in 68, but had...

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XII. Vitellius (Odnatus Legend)

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pp. 151-155

A favorite of emperors from Tiberius through Nero, Vitellius was appointed by Galba to command the legions of the Lower Rhine, where he was hailed as emperor in Cologne in 69 by some commanders of his troops. He put an end to Otho’s rule in Rome,...

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XIII. Vespasian

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pp. 156-160

Vespasian (r. 69-79) was introduced in the Book of Emperors Tiberius story as leading—together with his son, Titus—the Roman forces that put down the Jewish rebellion in Judea. This account is more or less historically accurate except for timing. The Jewish...

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XIV. Titus

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pp. 160-163

Titus (r. 70–81), Vespasian’s son, served with his father and took command of Roman forces in Judea when Vespasian returned to Rome upon being chosen emperor. As emperor in his own right following Vespasian’s death, Titus became famous for moderation and...

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XV. Domitian

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pp. 164-166

Domitian (r. 81–96) presented an image of faulty rulership in contrast with the good model of his brother, Titus. He had a welldeserved reputation for cowardice. When Vespasian was first hailed as emperor in Alexandria, Domitian went into hiding until forces...

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XVI. Nerva

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pp. 167-170

In his short reign, Marcus Cocceius Nerva (r. 96–98) contributed to the model of good rulership acknowledged by Romans of his own day. When Domitian was murdered in September 96, crowds of Roman soldiers and civilians hailed Nerva as emperor...

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XVII. Trajan

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pp. 170-175

Modern accounts of Trajan (r. 98–117), whom Nerva adopted and named as his successor, are full of praise for his military genius and administrative talents. They retain the ancient enthusiasm for the fairness of his rule of Rome and the provinces. In non-Christian...

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XVIII. Philip

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pp. 176-177

Marcus Julius Philippus (r. 244–249), came from Bostra in Arabia Trachonitis and is often called “Philip the Arab” because of that, although he enlisted in the Roman army at an early age. He rose through the ranks, and when the young emperor, Gordian III, embarked...

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XIX. Decius

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pp. 177-182

Sources friendly to Decius (r. 249-251) claim that he was proclaimed emperor against his will (see introduction to preceding chapter). After disposing of Philip, Decius was occupied mostly with fighting off the Goths, a conflict that put an end to his short...

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XX. Diocletian and Maximian

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pp. 182-185

Following Decius by a little more than thirty years, Diocletian (r. 284–305) outdid him in launching the most widespread and systematic of all the Roman imperial persecutions of Christians. In other ways, Diocletian was an efficient and successful administrator...

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XXI. Severus

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pp. 186-194

Lucius Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) was one of the more effective “soldier-emperors.” He introduced roughly a century of fairly overt military despotism characterizing Roman government between the death of Commodus in 192 and Diocletian’s assumption...

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XXII. Helvius (Helius) Pertinax

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pp. 194-196

Publius Helvius Pertinax (r. 193) was of humble family background. His father was a freed slave who had become a charcoal burner. After teaching grammar, Pertinax rose through political and military ranks, twice becoming a consul. Soldiers who assassinated....

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XXIII. Helius Adrianus (Hadrian)

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pp. 196-197

Hadrian (r. 117–138) was Trajan’s adopted son and designated successor. He is ranked with the “five good emperors,” who headed honest and efficient governments for most of the second century. In early Christian history, Hadrian’s fame was linked to his rebuilding...

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XXIV Lucius Accommodus

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pp. 197-200

This chapter contains many historical names, sometimes with hints of their actual place in Roman history, sometimes without even those. While Hadrian had originally named Lucius Coeionius Commodus to succeed him—and that may have suggested our...

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XXV. Achilleus

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pp. 201-223

Achilleus is briefly mentioned by some early Christian historians, including Orosius (VII, 25), as a rival, would-be emperor, who gathered forces together in Alexandria during Diocletian’s reign. These references put him in the last part of the third century or the...

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XXVI. Gallienus

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pp. 202-205

The historical Emperor Gallienus (r. 260–268) had been joint emperor with his father, Valerian, beginning in 255. But when Valerian was taken prisoner by Shapur of Persia in 260, Gallienus did nothing to get him back and seemed quite content to rule as...

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XXVII. Constantius Chlorus

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pp. 205-208

The story of Constantine I, “the Great,” who became the first Roman emperor to tolerate Christianity and who favored it in a way that led to mass conversions of Romans, is predictably one of the high points in the Book of Emperors. What follows is the story of...

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XXVIII. Constantine I, “the Great”

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pp. 209-249

The fame of Constantine I (r. 312–337) rests largely on his role as the first emperor—rather than the semi-legendary figure of Philip—to espouse Christianity. After winning a key battle in 312 with a monotheistic symbol painted on the shields of his soldiers...

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XXIX. Sylvester

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pp. 250-254

Sylvester I (bishop of Rome 314-335) never served as anything like emperor, although it is easy to see why he became a quasi-emperor in medieval legend. He was pope during the period of Constantine’s gradual conversion to Christianity from generic monotheism...

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XXX. Julian

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pp. 254-262

Julian (r. 361–363), who was often called “Julian the Apostate,” was a nephew of Constantine I, “the Great.” After Constantine’s death, however, Julian was thoroughly alienated from the family by the murders among them committed by those who...

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XXXI. Heraclius

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pp. 263-266

Heraclius (r. as Eastern emperor 610–642) led a successful rebellion against the usurper, Phocas, and was proclaimed emperor in 610. He defeated the Persian armies, which, after conquering Egypt and Syria, were camping opposite Constantinople. From...

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XXXII. Narcissus (Legend of the Two Theodorics)

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pp. 267-289

The theme of a chaste wife pursued by an evil brother-in-law, followed by her trials, tribulations, and eventual vindication, emerges in a large number of stories that reached medieval Europe in various adaptations, probably from an Indian original. In Europe...

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XXXIII. Justinian

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pp. 289-294

Justinian I, “the Great” (r. as Eastern emperor 527–565), is easily the most famous of all Byzantine emperors. He restored much of what had been lost from the Roman Empire and, for a time, united its eastern and western parts. He is best remembered...

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XXXIV. Theodosius

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pp. 294-304

Early in his reign, Theodosius I, “the Great” (r. 379–395), established what became Roman Catholicism as the Roman state religion and, after some disputes with Saint Ambrose, accepted the principle that the emperor should be guided by the church in matters...

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XXXV. Constantine Leo

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pp. 304-308

The Byzantine Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–755), son of Leo III (r. 717–741), is the most likely historic emperor—if indeed there is one—behind the figure of Constantine Leo, since father and son lived roughly at chronologically appropriate times and were distinguished...

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pp. 308-315

This chapter introduces most of the main players in the replacement of the Roman Empire in the West by the rule of Germanic or other non-Roman kings. Attila the Hun had negotiated his marriage to the sister of the feeble Western Roman Emperor Valentinian...

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XXXVII. Constantine VI

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pp. 316-317

Although our author calls the next emperor “Constantius,” it is clear that he has in mind Constantine VI, nominal ruler of the Eastern Empire (780–97), whose mother, Irene, did most of the decisionmaking for him. The name “Herena” is probably a fusion of Irene and...

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XXXVIII. Charles I, “the Great”

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pp. 318-333

Charles (Karl) the Great, king of the Franks (768-814) and emperor (800-814), figures very prominently in both French and German medieval history and legends. Familiar to the English-speaking world by his French name, Charlemagne, the French count...

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XXXIX. Louis I, “the Pious”

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pp. 334-336

Louis I (r. 813–840), sole surviving son of Charlemagne, was called “the Pious” because of his theological interests, liberality to the church and moral strictness, banishing even his sisters for sexual misconduct. Twice he sent his second wife, Judith, to a convent...

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XL. Lothair I

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pp. 336-338

Lothair I (r. 840–855) was the eldest son of Louis I, “the Pious,” who made him joint emperor with himself in 817. Lothair, however, spent most of the 830s in conflict with his father over who ruled what. When Louis I died in 840, Lothair claimed the whole empire...

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XLI. Louis II

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pp. 338-340

Louis II (r. 850 – 875) was the eldest son of Lothair I. In 850, he was crowned joint emperor with his father by Pope Leo IV, and, upon Lothair’s death in 855, he became sole emperor. Later, Louis’s power in Italy was sufficient to require Pope Adrian II to accept...

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XLII. Charles III, “the Fat”

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pp. 340-343

Charles the Fat (Roman emperor 881–887) is numbered “the Third” in deference to Charles the Bald, skipped over by our author, who had received as king the western part of the three-way division of the Empire and later served as Emperor Charles II...

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XLIII. Arnulf

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pp. 343-345

Arnulf (Roman emperor 895–899) was the illegitimate son of Carloman, king of Bavaria and Italy, who saw to it that Arnulf became margrave of Carynthia in southeastern Austria. In 882, Arnulf did homage to Charles the Fat as Roman emperor and led...

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XLIV. Louis III, “the Child”

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pp. 345-347

Arnulf’s son, Louis (Roman emperor 900–911), was given the imperial title at age seven, soon after his father’s death. As long as he was still quite young, Bishop Hatto of Mainz oversaw the administration of the empire. The Book of Emperors is accurate...

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XLV. Conrad I

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pp. 347-349

Conrad I (r. as German king 911–918) never was crowned emperor, but functioned as one nonetheless. Election as German king had the effect of making the recipient of that title into heir apparent for Roman emperor. Several German kings were never consecrated...

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XLVI. Henry I

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pp. 350-351

Henry I (r. as German king 919–936) was duke of the Saxons, who had frequently opposed German kings and emperors since Charlemagne’s day. Henry himself had been an adversary of Conrad I, who surprised the other princes by asking that Henry be his...

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XLVII. Otto I, “the Great”

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pp. 352-355

Henry I’s son Otto succeeded in putting together the strongest European empire since that of Charlemagne. Often the German Empire of the Middle Ages is dated from his accession as emperor in 962. Born in 912, Otto was elected German king in 936 and made a serious...

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pp. 355-357

Otto II (r. as German king 961–983 and Roman emperor 967– 983), son of Otto the Great, married Theophano, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Romanus II. He led a campaign against the Bohemians that had to be abandoned because fighting had broken out...

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pp. 357-359

Otto III (r. as German king 983–1002 and Roman emperor 996–1002) was the son of Otto II and the Byzantine Princess Theophano. He was elected German king at age three. Having accompanied his troops in expeditions against the Wends and the...

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L. Henry II, “Saint Henry”

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pp. 359-362

Otto III died childless, and upon his death Frankish and Bavarian princes elected Henry II as German king (r. 1002–1024; r. as Roman emperor 1014–1024). He bought the allegiance of the Saxons and Thuringians, and soon Lorrainian and Swabian...

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LI. Conrad II

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pp. 362-364

King Stephen I ruled Hungary as a contemporary of Conrad I. According to most accounts he wanted peaceful relations with the German Empire, but Conrad attempted to invade Hungary, where his forces were defeated by those of Stephen. The Liutzen were a...

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LII. Henry III, “the Black, ”also “the Good”

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pp. 364-367

Henry III (r. as German king 1028–1056 and as Roman emperor 1046–1056) was the only son of Conrad II. As German king, he took part in a successful expedition to Burgundy. Not long before he died, Conrad gave his son the additional title of King of Burgundy...

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LIII. Henry IV

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pp. 368-374

Henry IV (r. 1056–1106) is one of the better-remembered German emperors, in considerable part because he personified secular claims against the reform attempts of Gregory VII, particularly in the dispute over whether kings or emperors could appoint bishops...

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LIV. Henry V

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pp. 375-376

With Henry IV opposed by much of the German nobility but generally supported by bishops whom he had appointed, his rebellious son, Henry V, found many allies among the German nobles and opponents among the bishops. At a council held in Worms...

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LV. Lothair II

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pp. 377-381

Lothair II (r. as German king 1125–1137 and as emperor 1133– 1137) along with his father had supported Henry V against Henry IV. Henry V made him duke of Saxony. Although they had some quarrels, Lothair was in good standing with Henry when the latter...

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LVI. Conrad III

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pp. 382-384

Conrad III (r. as German counter-king 1127–1135 and as German king 1137–1152) was the first German ruler of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. He had been elected by many of the German princes as king in opposition to Lothair II in 1127. He and his brother Frederick...


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pp. 385-389


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pp. 390-398

About the Author

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pp. 399-439

E-ISBN-13: 9781935978862
E-ISBN-10: 1935978861
Print-ISBN-13: 9781935978701
Print-ISBN-10: 1935978705

Page Count: 411
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st ed.