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After Charlemagne's death the Carolingian empire gradually broke up and France became separated. Otto I, who became king of Germany in 936, wanted to revive the old Roman empire. In 955 he defeated the Magyars at the battle of Lechfeld. In 961 he made another expedition to Italy to protect the pope. The following year he was crowned Holy Roman emperor 'Augustus', founding a line of emperors which lasted until 1806.

Otto was a powerful ruler who brought stability by subduing his vassals (the nobility who owed him allegiance), and by his defeat of the Magyars. He conquered Bohemia, Austria and north Italy. His empire became the Holy Roman Empire. In 966 he made a third expedition to Italy. His son, Otto II, was crowned that year as future emperor.

The empire was made up of many separate duchies, counties and bishoprics (districts ruled by a bishop). Although they all owed allegiance to the emperor, they were independent of each other. After Otto died in 973 there were clashes as one or another struggled for power. The emperor was chosen by members of the nobility called electors, but they usually 'chose' the king of Germany.

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