Otto I Defeats the Magyars Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Otto I’s defeat of the Magyars halted their raids of Central Europe and encouraged their peaceful settlement in the plains of Hungary as a settled and Christianized nation.

Summary of Event

Otto I Otto I , whom contemporaries named the Great, has been called the Charlemagne of Germany proper. His reign marked the beginning of Germany’s First Reich, known for almost a thousand years (until 1806) as the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. Otto I Defeats the Magyars (August 10, 955) [kw]Magyars, Otto I Defeats the (August 10, 955) Magyars Otto I Germany;Aug. 10, 955: Otto I Defeats the Magyars[1200] Religion;Aug. 10, 955: Otto I Defeats the Magyars[1200] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 10, 955: Otto I Defeats the Magyars[1200] Otto I (912-973) Saint Adelaide Berengar II John XII

Otto I inherited the kingship from his father, Henry I, the Fowler. Although exercising little royal power over the strong and independent tribal dukes, Henry nevertheless increased the prestige of the Crown by his charismatic personality. His successor, the twenty-four-year-old Otto, took a different view of the German kingship than his father. The great Frankish emperor Charlemagne was his model. Consequently, he held his coronation at Charlemagne’s favorite residence, Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). The ceremony was attended by all the tribal dukes of Germany, who unanimously elected him king. The archbishop of Mainz anointed him king and invested him with Charlemagne’s gigantic crown, scepter, sword, and golden mantle.

King Henry’s death became a signal of revolt among the Slavic and Hungarian peoples to the east of the kingdom. In 895, the Magyars, a nomadic people, began taking possession of the ancient Roman province of Pannonia, from which they raided central Europe for more than half a century. In 937, they made their first incursion into Germany during Otto’s reign, raiding Saxony and ransacking their way to the borders of France. They were defeated by forces led by Otto himself at a place unknown.

In addition, the early part of Otto’s reign was fraught with insurrection and challenges to his crown by the independent-minded dukes of Germany, aided by archbishops and his own brother, Henry, and half brother, Tankmar. Otto was able to defeat these rebellious nobles and consolidate his power by giving their territories to faithful relatives and other followers. In addition to these internecine challenges, Otto had to fight incursions of the Danes to the north, the Slavs and Wends to the east, Bohemians and Hungarians to the southeast, and the duke of Lorraine on the western frontier. Being the embodiment of the Germanic warrior king at the head of his troops, he succeeded in beating back these onslaughts. In many instances he was able not only to secure the borders but also to subjugate and Christianize these pagan peoples and bring them into the orbit of the German realm. During his reign, Germany extended its colonization of Slav territory from the Elbe to the Oder River. These policies, in imitation of Charlemagne, earned Otto the title “the Great.”

His most decisive victory came over the marauding Magyars, who had made repeated incursions into Germany in 937, 944, 948, and 950. In 955, they were invited into Germany Germany;Magyar invasions of by some Bavarian nobles as part of their civil strife against Otto. The Hungarian hordes, arrogant of success on account of their sheer numerical strength (contemporaries estimated 100,000 horsemen; the Hungarians boasted that their horses could drain every river in Germany), laid siege to the city of Augsburg, which was heroically defended by its bishop. Badly outnumbered and with only dilapidated walls to protect it, the city seemed incapable of withstanding the assault. When Otto heard of the Magyar invasion, he hastily assembled an army from all parts of Germany and hurried to Augsburg. The decisive Battle of Lechfeld Lechfeld, Battle of (955) took place on August 10, 955, outside the city on the Lech River. Before the battle started, Otto and his armies consecrated themselves in a mass where they took the Holy Eucharist and the king vowed to found a bishopric at Merseburg if God granted him victory. The upcoming battle took on the characteristic of a crusade.

In the scorching heat of August, the Magyar troops were attacked by three waves of Bavarians, followed by a wave of Franks, a fifth wave of elite Saxon troops led by the king himself, followed by five lines of Swabians and a rear guard composed of Bohemians, under the banner of the archangel Michael. At first, the Magyars were able to avoid the direct attack, even causing havoc by falling into the rear of Otto’s army. Nevertheless, valor saved the day. Sword in hand, Otto himself fought in the thick of battle. Conrad of Lorraine, the most valiant warrior of the day who led the Franks in combat, died from an arrow in his throat while lifting his helmet to wipe his face and catch some air. As the tide of battle turned, the Hungarians tried to escape across the Lech River, where many of them drowned. The rest of the Magyar invaders were routed and killed. If one can believe the statistics of the age, some 100,000 Hungarians died.


So decisive was the victory at Lechfeld, the Magyars gave up their wandering, accepted Christianity Christianity;Magyars , peacefully settled on the plains of Hungary, and eventually became allies of the Holy Roman Empire.

With his prestige enhanced by this victory, Otto tried to further consolidate the German monarchy by seeking to extend his influence to Italy and eventually to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Adelaide Adelaide, Saint , widow of the Lombard king, had lost her northern Italian kingdom to the local pretender Berengar II Berengar 02"> . In 951, Otto, in response to a call for help, crossed the Alps and defeated Berengar. A widower himself at the time, Otto married Adelaide and reincorporated her lands into the empire. This began Germany’s fateful involvement in the chaotic affairs of Italy. In an attempt to win an empire, the German emperors lost Germany, as later history was to witness.

While Otto’s attention was absorbed with his rebellious and disloyal vassals in Germany and his defense against the Magyars, Berengar had reconquered the Lombard kingdom, seeking independent sovereignty in Italy. Consequently, in 961, Otto crossed the Alps again, expelled Berengar, and continued on to Rome, where the reluctant Pope John XII John XII (pope) on February 2, 962, crowned him Holy Roman Emperor. This union of Germany and Italy under the imperial crown created the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire;creation of .

This coronation marked the apex of Otto’s emulation of Charlemagne. Yet with it he also had set the agenda for the Holy Roman Empire for the remainder of the Middle Ages. His successors would see the need to keep the reluctant northern Italians in the empire as the rationale to obtaining the Roman Crown. Their dream of an empire would prevent the consolidation of the monarchy in Germany.

The eastward expansion of Germany into Slavic territory became a constant theme of German history, as did the colonization of eastern central Europe, where the Poles, Bohemians, and Hungarians remained in the orbit of the Holy Roman Empire. The Battle of Lechfeld, however, not only ended Hungarian incursion into central Europe but also marks the beginning of the Magyars as a sedentary people and Christian nation.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arnold, Benjamin. Medieval Germany, 500-1300. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1997. This survey of medieval German history emphasizes both the fragmented, provincial nature of that history—a history divided between different peoples with different customs and social structures—and the global nature of the Western Roman Empire that had Germany at its center. Includes significant discussion of the role of Otto I in developing and strengthening the empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Falco, Georgio. The Holy Roman Empire. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. This general history of the Holy Roman Empire profiles the Middle Ages in German history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fichtenau, Heinrich. Living in the Tenth Century: Mentalities and Social Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. A survey of the Carolingian and post-Carolingian era in the Annales style.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hill, Boyd H., Jr. Medieval Monarchy in Action: The German Empire from Henry I to Henry IV. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1972. A history of the reigns of German emperors with emphasis on their domestic and foreign policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leyse, Karl J. Rule and Conflict in Early Medieval Society: Ottonian Saxony. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. This collection of studies includes a discussion of Otto I and his enemies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Macartney, C. A. Studies on Early Hungarian and Pontic History. Edited by Lóránt Czigány and László Péter. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Provides crucial background information on the early Magyars and the developments leading up to the Battle of Lechfeld.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reuter, Timothy. Germany in the Early Middle Ages. London: Longman, 1991. A largely political history of medieval Germany and its realm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Róna-Tas, András. Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History. New York: Central European University Press, 1999. This highly technical historiography includes detailed discussion of the encounter between the Magyars and medieval Germanic peoples.

Categories: History