Babenberg, House of

   In 976, German Emperor Otto II invested a certain Luitpold, or Leopold, with the Ostmark (Eng.: Eastern March) and the title of margrave associated with it. Part of what is today Lower Austria, the territory was one of several such units that Charlemagne had established for defensive purposes along the sprawling boundaries of his empire. Later historians, most notably Bishop Otto of Freising (d. 1158), himself a descendant of Luitpold, attached the name Babenberg to the house.
   Much about the early background of Luitpold and his family remains unclear. The term Ostmark itself first came into widespread use among 19th- and 20th-century historians. Nevertheless, it was he and his heirs whose acquisitions and policies gave geopolitical shape to modern Austria. South of the Danube River, Luitpold enlarged the lands of the Ostmark to the Vienna Woods. To roughly the middle of the 12th century, the Babenbergs were very active in expanding their holdings in all directions; they never abandoned this policy altogether. It was only in 1186, for example, that they acquired claims to the duchy of Styria from a local and fading dynasty, the Otakars. Often cooperating with the German emperors—who rewarded them accordingly—the Babenbergs built their territorial complex at the expense of the Hungarians and Bohemians on their borders, as well as by purchase and inheritance of lands from local noble families and ecclesiastical foundations. They made good use of dynastic alliances as well. Some married into the families of their regional territorial aristocracies; a few wedded the daughters or widows of both German and Byzantine emperors.
   Under Margrave Leopold III (r. 1095–1136), after 1663 the patron saint of Lower Austria, signs of a specific sense of Babenberg, even Austrian, territoriality began to appear. Documents issued by the margrave characteristically refer to him as a prince of the land (principatus terrae). One literary source, Bishop Altmann of Passau’s chronicle of his life, refers to specific legal custom (ius illius terrae) practiced in the Babenberg lands.
   The most important step in this development was the Privilegium minus, given by the German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (ca. 1125–1190) to Leopold III’s son, Henry II, in 1156. Called Henry Jasomirgott (“Yes, so [help] me God”) because of the oath he swore on the occasion, Henry agreed to give up claims that he had recently acquired to the duchy of Bavaria. As compensation, Frederick I granted him wide-ranging privileges in his Austrian lands. The margravate was raised to a duchy, and the Babenbergs received the title “duke.” Both the male and the female lines of the house had rights of inheritance in these lands. Should Henry and his wife be childless, they, not the emperor, could name their successor. No foreign legal codes were operative in the territory without the new duke’s consent. The imperial military obligations of the dukes were limited to defending the borders of their territory.
   The generosity of the Privilegium minus has led some historians to question its authenticity, especially because there is no extant original document. What we know of it comes from copies. Contemporaries, such as Otto of Freising (d. 1158), speak of its existence however, and the general opinion is that it is genuine. Although the Privilegium certainly was not intended to detach the Austrian lands from the Holy Roman Empire, centered in Germany, it was nevertheless a milestone on the way to distinctive Austrian territoriality. By the end of the 12th century, the Babenbergs had effectively freed their lands from claims of princes who lived outside of their duchies and from many of the sprawling ecclesiastical jurisdictions interspersed throughout their holdings.
   Henry II also shifted his court from Klosterneuburg to Vienna. He gave the future Austrian metropolis some of its most distinctive institutions. He was the founder of the Vienna Benedictine monastery (Schottenkloster) and constructed a Hofburg, literally a court castle, which would be enlarged and reconstructed throughout the centuries to come.
   Babenberg rule came to an end in the Austrian lands with the reign of Duke Frederick the Quarrelsome (r. 1230–1246). Few men were ever more accurately described by their epithets. Embroiled in conflicts with the cities and officials in his own lands, he also tangled episodically with the Bohemians, the Hungarians, and the Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria. Even his own mother, the Byzantine princess Theodora, complained about him to Emperor Frederick II. The latter placed an imperial ban on Frederick’s head in 1235 after the duke refused to appear before him. He died in battle against the Hungarians in 1246, with no heirs.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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