Was not holy, roman, nor an empire.
The collective body of hundreds of city-states in Germany. Was not holy. Wasn't even Italian, let alone Roman. Didn't have any domestic power so not an empire. Prussia rose from among the most powerful of these states. The fragmented nature of these principalities prevented the unification of Germany until the rise of Prussia.

The Holy Roman Empire always walked a fine line with total disintegration. A collection of almost, but not-quite autonomous city-states, baronies, princedoms, bishoprics and miscellaneous other political units, which ranged in size from literally a few city blocks to a few thousand square miles (or square kilometers, if that's your thing), all of differing degrees of power, allegiance to each other, and religious, ethnic and ideological orientations, united by a vague allegiance to an elected (though not democratically in any modern sense) Emperor, whose powers would be overstated by calling them purely symbolic.

Internal politics in the Holy Roman Empire ranged from byzantine to totally incomprehensible, as alliances between statelets rose up, shifted and collapsed over the course of months or even weeks. This suited the more unified foreign powers with interests in the Empire rather well indeed, since the feuding statelets were easy to manipulate, and after the Thirty Years War, which was mostly fought on Holy Roman Empire soil, and which some historians claim was so devastating it set the Empire back a hundred years, this diffusion of power was codified at the Peace of Westphalia.

The upshot of this was that Germany, as a modern state, would not materialize until the late 19th century, later than any other Western European state except Italy, which had problems of its own. The catalyst for the unification of Germany was the ascencion of Prussia, and more specifically the Junker class of Prussian landowners, as the unparalled regional power, and the subjection of the rest of Germany to Prussian rule.

Actually, it is not true that the Emperor's power was only symbolic; the truth is that only people who already were quite powerful could gather the support to be voted Emperor. And they wouldn't have bothered if it didn't mean anything. For one thing, most of the city-states actually owed direct allegiance to the Emperor, and were usually quite happy to support him with money because this direct relationship kept them out of the grasp of the surrounding dukes. Furthermore, the Emperor was crowned by the pope and thus could claim support of God himself, which was quite a big factor in medieval power games.

The Holy Roman Empire, (which Nazis refer to as the First Reich; the second being the German Empire of 1871-1918, the third Nazi Germany), was a political situation brought about by Charlemagne. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800 by Pope Leo III, but normally used the title "King of the Franks". The "Holy Roman Empire" is considered to have been founded by Otto I in 862, but this title was not used for it until 1254.

You will often hear historians referring to the Holy Roman Empire as "Germany", but the term "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" was not used until the 15th century, by which time the Empire had lost most of its possessions in Italy. At its height the Empire owned Germany, Austria (after the Holy Roman Empire was disbanded, the descendants of the last Emperor continued to be "Emperors of Austria"), Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, eastern France, northern Italy and western Poland.

Unusually in these times, the Emperor was elected from the 12th century onwards by the most powerful of the Princes in the Empire. As can be seen from the list below, despite the fact the position was not hereditary, it usually stayed within the same families for extended periods. The most notable of these families is the house of Habsburg, which was perhaps the dominant ruling family of Europe for many centuries.

It was Voltaire who famously said the Holy Roman Empire was "neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire."

List of Holy Roman Emperors

At times, two people claimed the title. These are denoted by the Rival next to their names. Most Holy Roman Emperors were also Kings of Germany, and this is noted next to them also. Interregnum means "between Kings".

Carolingian Dynasty
Charlemagne, 800-814
Louis the Pious, Louis I of France and of Germany, 814-833 and 834-840
Lothar I, Holy Roman Emperor, 833-834 and 840-855
Louis the German, Louis II of Germany, 855-875
Charles the Bald, Charles II France, 875-877
Charles III, Holy Roman Emperor, the Fat of France (as Charles II) and Germany, 881-887

Italian Successions
Guido of Spoleto, or Wido, 891-894
Lambert of Spoleto, 894-896, and on restoration 896-898
Arnulf of Carinthia, 896
Louis III, Holy Roman Emperor, 901-905
Berengar of Friuli, 911-924

Ottonian Saxon Dynasty
vacant, 924-962
Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, (the Great), king of Germany 936-973, emperor 962-973
Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor, (the Red), king and emperor 973-983
Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, king 983-1002, emperor 996-1002
Henry I, Holy Roman Emperor from Saxony, king of Germans 1002-1024, emperor 1014-1024

Salian Frankish Dynasty
Conrad II, king 1024-1027, emperor 1027-1039
Henry II, king Henry III of Germany 1039-1046, emperor 1046-1056
Empress Agnes, regent 1056-1068
Henry IV, king 1056-1084, emperor 1084-1105
Henry V, king 1105-1125, emperor 1111-1125

Lothar II, Holy Roman Emperor, king 1125-1133, emperor 1133-1137

Staufen or Hohenstaufen
Conrad III, king 1138-1152
Frederick I Barbarossa, king 1152-1155, emperor 1155-1190
Henry VI, king 1190-1191, emperor 1191-1197
Philip of Swabia, king 1198-1208

Welfs (Guelphs)
Otto IV of Brunswick, king 1208-1209, emperor 1209-1215

Staufen (Hohenstaufen)
Frederick II, emperor 1211-1250
William of Holland (1247-1256) Rival
Conrad IV, (1250-1254)

Interregnum (1254-1273)

Richard (1257-1272) Rival
Alfonso X of Castile, (1257-1275) Rival
Rudolph I of Habsburg, (1273-1291)
Adolf of Nassau, (1292-1298)
Albert I of Habsburg, (1298-1308)

Henry VII of Luxemburg, (1308-1313)

Wittelsbach Dynasty
Louis IV Wittelsbach, (1314-1346)
Frederick III (1314-1326) Co-regent

Charles IV of Luxemburg, (1346-1378)
Wenzel of Luxemburg, (1378-1400)
Ruprecht III Wittelsbach of Palatinate, (1400-1410)
Sigismund of Luxemburg, (1410-1437)

House of Habsburg
Albert II of Habsburg, (1438-1439)
Frederick III, (1440-1493)
Maximilian I, (1493-1519)
Charles V, (1519)-1556)
Ferdinand I, (1556-1564)
Maximilian II, (1564-1576)
Rudolf II Habsburg, (1576-1612)
Matthias, (1612-1619)
Ferdinand II, (1619-1637)
Ferdinand III, (1637-(1657)
Leopold I, (1658-1705)
Joseph I, (1705-1711)
Charles VI, (1711-1740)

Interregnum (1740-1742)

House of Wittelsbach
Charles VII Albert, (1742-1745)

Francis I, (1745-1765)
Joseph II, (1765-1790)
Leopold II, (1790-1792)
Francis II, (1792-1806)

The politics of the Holy Roman Empire, from beginning to end, are quite complex. Most of these politics have been covered in the above nodes, and therefore I shall only cover the politics concerning its conception. This stems back as far as 600 B.C. and stretches right through to the events at the beginning of the Early Medieval period in 1000 A.D.

Around 600 B.C. was, of course, the foundation of Rome as an independent city state. While this has little to do with the German principates of Medieval Europe, its history has a lot to do with it. Rome flourished into the largest European empire ever known, and even in its early stages of expansion, Rome controlled up to the banks of the River Rhine in Germany. Roman culture was well developed over the years here, and later in the stage of Rome's history it even managed to cross the Rhine and push into Upper Germany. It didn't ever conquer all of Germany, but it left a long lasting impression, to say the least.

Rome's influence in France was significantly greater, and all of Gaul, more or less, had been quite Romanised. The Gallic people had more or less become Romans, so Rome's impression here was almost absolute. Thus, when the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed, it left a heavy impression on both France and Germany with culture and society. Therefore, its not that surprising that one of their subject peoples might one day dream of reviving the Empire.

By this stage, in early 900, the Papacy had been established, and the Pope resided in Rome, therefore any Roman Empire was going to be a Holy Roman Empire. It was Charlemagne, who lived in France, that first conceived this vision, and he was incredibly effective. He united Gaul beneath him, conquered all of Germany, then pushed on to Rome where he was crowned King of the Romans, continued down the Italian Peninsular, then conquered many Slavic regions, brining him into contact with the Byzantine Empire. War with the Byzantines seemed inevitable, but when Charlemagne died in 936 A.D. the three heirs to the Empire began squabbling.

The Empire was split in three, the Frankish domain, the German domain and the Italian domain. The German domain retained the official name of the Empire, and thus the Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the medieval period was born. The Emperor, in the same fashion that Charlemagne was coronated King of the Romans, was declared Holy Roman Emperor, and the German princedoms, principates and duchies swore an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. His power was real, and quite extensive, but there were problems with the loalty of the states in reality. They were generally happy to remain under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, as in most cases they prospered. Whether they remained under this rule to Emperor A or Emperor B, however, was inconsequential to most of them.

Thus, the oppurtunity for people such as Henry the Lion was present, and quite often there would be rebellions and uprisings. The stronger Emperors, such as Fredrick Barbarossa, were quite able to secure loyalty, eventually, but this ebbed away with their death, and it was always far from stable. Throughout its history the Emperors often sought to reclaim the Empire, and some invaded Italy and even took Rome. The disloyal home states, however, always caused the Empire to return to its original state, and eventually saw its collapse in the post-Medieval period when the Ottoman Turks invaded. When Bavaria was lost a powerful Austrian Duke seized the province for himself. Austria outlasted the Ottomans and eventually expanded into Hungary, but without its most powerful province, the Holy Roman Empire quickly crumbled under the weight of Ottoman expansionism.

So there you have it, the political, historical and cultural reasons behind the formation of the Holy Roman Empire.

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