Kingship and Justice in the Ottonian Empire

Book Cover: Kingship and Justice in the Ottonian Empire
Laura Wangerin. Kingship and Justice in the Ottonian Empire. University of Michigan Press, 2019.

Laura E. Wangerin challenges traditional views of the Ottonian Empire’s rulership. Drawing from a broad array of sources including royal and imperial diplomas, manuscript illuminations, and histories, Ottonian kingship and the administration of justice are investigated using traditional historical and comparative methodologies as well as through the application of innovative approaches such as modern systems theories. This study suggests that distinctive elements of the Ottonians’ governing apparatus, such as its decentralized structure, emphasis on the royal iter, and delegation of authority, were essential features of a highly developed political system. Kingship and Justice in the Ottonian Empire provides a welcome addition to English-language scholarship on the Ottonians, as well as to scholarship dealing with rulership and medieval legal studies.

Scholars have recognized the importance of ritual and symbolic behaviors in the Ottonian political sphere, while puzzling over the apparent lack of administrative organization, a contradiction between what we know about the Ottonians as successful rulers and their traditional characterization as rulers of a disorganized polity. Trying to account for the apparent disparity between their political and military achievements, cultural and artistic efflorescence, and relative dynastic stability, which seemingly accompanied a disinterest in writing law or creating a centralized hierarchical administration, is a tension that persists in the scholarship. This book argues that far from being accidental successes or employing primitive methods of governance, the Ottonians were shrewd rulers and administrators who exploited traditional methods of conflict resolution and delegated jurisdictional authority to keep control over their vast empire. Thus, one of the important things that this book aims to accomplish is to challenge our preconceived notions of what successful government looks like.

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