The Holy Roman Empire refers to a political entity in central Europe that came into existence in the 9th century and continued to exist all the way until the 19th century. The Empire was mostly centred on the Kingdom of Germany and through most of its history, including the Kingdom of Italy.
The earliest foundations of the Empire were laid when Frankish ruler Charlemagne annexed Saxonia, Bavaria and Italy to his kingdom of Franconia. He was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in 800. Later, Otto I revived the title in 962 by truly recovering most of the territories of the original Empire. The Empire continued to exist until 1806.
The Holy Roman Empire was a title borrowed from the legacy of the defunct Western Roman Empire. The Latin title for the Empire was “Sacrum Romanum Imperium”. The “Sacrum” or “Holy” was added to the name in the 12th century by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
By the 16th century, the name had been changed to “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”, representing the fact that the Empire increasingly drew its power from German princes and regions.
At the time of its revival in the 10th century, Otto I drew power from his kingship of Germany when ruling the Holy Roman Empire. This became a permanent part of the feature in that Germany became a decisive entity when it came to the fate of the Empire. The territorial extent of the Empire comprised a large number of other territories as well.
Most notably, these included northern Italy, the eastern portion of modern-day France, modern-day Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria as well as portions of Poland and Slovenia. The territorial extent of the Empire kept changing throughout the course of its history and by the 16th century, the Empire was a decentralised entity with a huge number of semi-independent constituents.
During the early period of its existence, the Empire was ruled by an Emperor elected by seven Prince-electors. These Prince-electors enjoyed considerable influence over the election and were essentially Emperor-makers. The Emperor also had to gain acceptance and coronation from the Papacy in order to cement his claim to the throne.
In time, the seven Prince-electors expanded to an entire assembly of Prince-electors and other notable dukes. The electors voted to elect the Emperor while the lesser dukes would vote on other important matters. The office of the Emperor, all-powerful at the beginning of the Empire in the 9th century, eventually became a titular office with nominal power and few territories directly under him.
Throughout its history, the Empire’s territories included a number of urban centres. These centres eventually evolved into Imperial Cities, many of them thriving centres of commerce and trade. During the early period of the Empire, cities such as Rome and Regensburg were the key urban centres. By the 14th century, Vienna, Prague, Cologne and Nuremberg were among the largest cities.