It’s the beginning of July of the year 936. King Henry the Fowler suffers a stroke and dies shortly thereafter. But the abrupt death of their ruler didn’t leave the East Frankish realm unprepared as Henry had designated successors some years before, dividing his lands and wealth between his four sons. The one to receive the crown was Otto, the second son, still young in the year 936, but already an experienced commander successfully contributing in the Slavic wars to the east. Otto’s coronation in Aachen was attended by the four most influential dukes whose domains jointly formed the majority of the state of East Francia. Their initial support was of vital importance for the young king as Otto had inherited the position of primus inter pares, first among equals, making him merely their formal overlord. This limited central authority soon became troublesome for this ambitious ruler. Upon making some unpopular office nominations it became clear that the young king wouldn’t just follow the path that his father had set for him: Otto made efforts to whittle down the power of the regional dukes. Unsurprisingly, Otto’s advances soon made him internal enemies, and just one year after his election, East Francia plunged into civil war. The dukes of Franconia and Bavaria convinced Otto’s older half-brother, Thankmar, to join the rebellion and force his way to the throne. The king had little time to solidify his rule, but he clearly showed his political awareness and commanding skills. A couple of months later Thankmar was defeated and killed while the two rebellious dukes were either subjugated or even outlawed. Yet the subjugation of the dukes appeared to be a short-term solution, as in 938 Duke Eberhard incited another revolt, recruiting the Duke of Lorraine and Otto’s younger brother, Henry. This time, Otto faced a couple of setbacks, but eventually defeated the insurgents in a pitched battle. Both Dukes were killed, and Henry submitted to his brother’s authority. Despite uneasy initial years on the throne, over the course of the next decade Otto strengthened his suzerainty over the East Frankish duchies, extended the frontiers of his kingdom thanks to his skilled and loyal margraves, and (with some initial failures) reclaimed Frankish control over the Duchy of Bohemia. With his solidified position as the King of the East Franks he was able to interfere in the local politics of his northern and western neighbours, pulling Burgundy inside of his sphere of influence. In early 951 Otto received a message from Adelaide, widowed queen of Italy, who fled the captivity of the usurper king, Berengar, and sought Otto’s help. The East Frankish king perceived this as a good opportunity to extend his rule over Italy and a half-year later marched his troops across the Alps. Being warmly welcomed by Italian clergy and nobility, Otto took Berengar’s capital city of Pavia, where he was crowned as King of Italy. Subsequently, Otto summoned the young widow queen Adelaide to Pavia, and married her, thus bolstering his claim to the Italian throne. Although it took a lot more effort than just one brief invasion and many more years to develop a solid grip on his new southern realm, Otto’s actions in Italy significantly worsened his relations with Liudolf, his only son and heir to the crown. Liudolf was a scion from Otto’s first marriage with deceased queen Edith, and, as soon as it became obvious that King Otto (being influenced by Adelaide) would rather advocate for their newborn son to be his heir, Liudolf planned a rebellion against his father. Many German nobles of East Francia were reluctant to accept Otto’s new heir because he came from a foreign wife and was perceived as a symbol of Otto’s changing and more Italo-centric political orientation. Thus, Liudolf had no problems with gathering followers willing to endorse his cause. Apart from many lesser known nobles, Liudolf secured the support of Conrad , Duke of Lorraine, who was insulted over Otto’s authoritative decisions regarding Conrad’s regency in Italy. Open war began in early 953, when both insurgents overthrew Otto’s brother Henry from his position as Duke of Bavaria and incited revolts in Franconia and Swabia. Although Otto managed to win the support of Lotharingian nobles, who were nominally Conrad’s vassals, he had three major duchies against him, and what was worse, some nobles of his own Duchy of Saxony also joined Liudolf’s side. Towards the end of the year 953 Otto faced the real threat of being deposed from the East Frankish throne. In spring of the next year a third belligerent joined the turmoil in Germany. A large Hungarian invasion force under Bulcsu crossed the border in Bavaria and began ravaging the lands of both the royal and rebel sides; both soon accused each other of summoning the Hungarians for help. While it is hard to judge who might really be responsible, it could also be that the Hungarian chieftains just saw war-torn East Francia as easy prey and decided to perform an extensive raiding attack, joining neither side. The Hungarians weren’t a new threat for the Germans the nomadic Magyar tribes had frequently raided the lands of Western Europe since their conquest of the Pannonian Basin in the late 9th century, even reaching as far as the Arab-ruled Iberian Peninsula. The primary goal of their raids was to acquire spoils rather than land. Through excellent use of light cavalry they could swiftly manoeuvre around defences and strike the countryside, plundering just enough for their horses to carry. On most occasions, by the time a sufficient defence was gathered to oppose the invaders, the Hungarian raiders were already far away, easily eluding pitched battles. While the Magyars ravaged the lands of Franconia and Bavaria, the domains of Liudolf and Conrad were left relatively unharmed. Otto’s son invited the Hungarian chieftains to a great feast, rewarding them with gold, whereas Conrad provided them with safe passage through Lorraine to Western Francia. Liudolf’s decision to cooperate with the Hungarians was soon exploited by his father. Otto’s retainers spread rumours that the rebels invited the Magyar raiders and planned to use them against the king. Upon hearing the news, many nobles who had previously sided with Liudolf now turned against him, supporting the crown. Even Liudolf’s most powerful ally, Conrad, gave up his cause and started peace negotiations with Otto. Left by his allies, Liudolf had no other choice but to swear fealty to his father, who stripped him of his ducal titles. The civil war came to an end. Otto took the time to restore order in his kingdom, but in the summer of the next year, while residing in Magdeburg, devastating news reached the king. Encouraged by their successful invasion one year earlier, the Hungarian chieftains, Bulcsu and Lehel, had crossed into the Frankish kingdom and raided into Bavaria and Swabia. But this invasion seemed different to Otto. While the Hungarians deployed raiding parties as usual, which ravaged the south-eastern part of Otto’s kingdom, their main force concentrated near the city of Augsburg, which they soon besieged. A possible reason for this new approach could have been that this time Bulcsu and Lehel were trying to gain control over Bavaria, or were even summoned by Otto’s local opponents, still fighting the civil war. Meanwhile the German king gathered his Saxon retinue and hurriedly departed Magdeburg, gathering troops on the go, as he was determined to intercept the Hungarian army and defeat it on the field. Camp was set near Ulm, where the royal army assembled. Apart from units from Swabia, Bavaria and Bohemia, the king’s army was reinforced by the recently pardoned Duke Conrad of Franconia, whose participation on Otto’s side boosted the morale of gathering troops. Though we can’t be sure about the numbers, Otto’s relief force was probably about 8,000 strong, consisting predominantly of heavy cavalry, supplemented by some infantry and light cavalry. In the first days of August, East Frankish troops crossed the Danube River and marched east to challenge the Hungarians. The old Roman road lead through heavily forested and rough terrain, thus the moving column stretched out to some degree. The vanguard was formed by indigenous Bavarian troops, who were familiar with the surroundings, followed by Franconian, Saxonian and Swabian units. The rear-guard, with the baggage train, comprised of allied Czech units from the Duchy of Bohemia. German scouts reported that the Hungarians were aware of the incoming relief force and had thus lifted the siege of Augsburg, preparing for an impending battle. This was just as Otto had hoped, as he feared the enemy would avoid a pitched encounter and scatter their force around south Germany. Yet not everything went as Otto expected. Soon after the lifting of the Augsburg siege, Hungarian horse archers struck the unsuspecting Bohemian rear-guard, routing them and capturing their baggage train. Some Swabian units tried to aid their troubled allies, but to no avail. The goal of the Hungarian ambush was probably to ravage Otto’s supplies and then disrupt his units from behind, causing chaos and forcing him to retreat. This plan was only partially successful, as Magyar riders seemed to be content with merely acquiring loot and so neglected any further harassment. This was crucially exploited by Duke Conrad, who rode back with his cavalry and attacked disarrayed Hungarian horsemen. His charge was an utter success, as the Franconians killed many enemies, routed the rest and even rallied some of the broken Bohemian units. In short time, the first Bavarian units emerged from the forest surrounding the old Roman road and entered the plain just north-west of Augsburg. They were surprised to find an even more surprised Hungarian army making their way back to camp. Chieftains Bulcsu and Lehel had received early reports of the successful attack of their horse archers at the German rear followed by the enemy’s retreat, and they intended to resume their siege of the city. Upon seeing the enemy, however, they quickly fixed this mistake, and both sides simultaneously deployed on the plain. Though the Hungarian numbers were uncertain, Bulcsu and Lehel most likely commanded an army twice as big as Otto’s, comprising predominantly of light cavalry and horse archers with some infantry support. They excelled in the highly mobile Eastern style of warfare inherited from the steppe tribes of the southern Ural Mountains to the east. But the area of Augsburg wasn’t the best place to face the Germans. A narrow plain, constrained by forest and the River Lech, considerably limited their tactical options, clearly favouring the less mobile but far more armoured German troops. Otto was aware of his advantage, and just when his army deployed on the field, he ordered a full frontal attack. While the Bavarian infantry pushed the centre, heavy cavalry on both flanks threatened the Hungarian horse archers, who, being unable to flank the enemy, hesitated and backed down, flattening the Hungarian line. Both lines eventually clashed and regular battle commenced. It quickly became clear that the disadvantaged Hungarian troops were not able to fight the East Frankish knightly cavalry on equal terms. Some of their units tried to perform a feigned retreat, hoping to lure the Germans out of their battle line, but Otto’s firm command undermined these efforts. Battle raged for hours, and the Hungarian morale gradually plummeted over the rising losses. Some of their units fled the battlefield and eventually the entire Hungarian army scattered. Otto commanded a pursuit of the fleeing enemy, killing many more of them. Magyar chieftains, Bulcsu and Lehel, were captured and executed by German troops. It was a huge victory for Otto over a much feared enemy. Although Otto didn’t keep the momentum and gave up plans to invade Hungary, the battle of Lechfeld soon turned out to be the last act of the Hungarian invasions into Western Europe. Otto gained immense popularity and a reputation as a saviour of Christendom, helping him gain full control of Italy in the following years and eventually helping him to crown himself as Holy Roman Emperor, thus establishing the Ottonian dynasty on the imperial throne. Magyars continued to raid southern Europe for some years to come, but their defeat near Augsburg served as a turning point after which they began to abandon their horse-warrior culture and to settle down in the Panonian Basin. Fifty years later they proclaimed the Christian Kingdom of Hungary, thus symbolically joining the European brotherhood of nations.