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Leopold I, Margrave of Austria : biography

- 994

Leopold I ( died 10 July 994), known as Leopold the Illustrious (), was the first Margrave of Austria from the House of Babenberg, ruling from 976 to his death in 994.Lingelbach 1913, p. 89. He is known today as the progenitor of the Babenberg dynasty in Austria.


The origins of Leopold the Illustrious are not known. According to early traditions, documented by Bishop Otto of Freising in the twelfth century, he is descended from Count Adalbert of Bamberg (died 906) and the Franconian Babenberg family whose genealogy is documented in Franconia Nobility. According to some sources, his father Berthold was count of the Nordgau, the region north of Ratisbon in Bavaria. A more recent theory identifies Leopold as the son of Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria.Wegener 1965, p. 77. While his descendance is disputed, some affiliation with the ducal Luitpoldings dynasty is probable.

Leopold is first mentioned in a document from 962 as count of the Bavarian Donaugau region by Ratisbon,Pohl 1995, p. 12. count of the Traungau region, and a faithful follower of Emperor Otto I.Brooke 1938, p. 52. After Otto I defeated the Magyars, he re-established the marchia in the conquered territories, placing them under the command of Burkhard, a brother-in-law of Duchess Judith of Bavaria. When Burkhard joined the uprising of Henry the Wrangler against Emperor Otto II, he was deposed at the Imperial Diet of Regensburg in 976. According to a charter dated 21 July 976, Leopold was appointed margrave of the East Mark, the core territory of the later Archduchy of Austria.Leeper 1940, p. 153.

The resettlement of the east was a slow process that centered around the Danube. Leopold's margravate originally coincided with the present-day Wachau valley, and whose eastern boundary was the Traisen river near Sankt Pölten east of Krems.Leeper 1940, p. 158. With the Magyar threat largely reduced following their defeat at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, Leopold focused on securing his holdings from internal threats and dissensions. In 984, he engaged in the reduction of the fortress at Melk, which was still controlled by supporters of the late margrave. Once Melk was secured, Leopold most likely used it as his residence, founding a monastery there for twelve secular priests. By 987, Leopold extended the boundary of his margravate to the east as far as the Wienerwald.Leeper 1940, p. 159.

In 994, Leopold travelled to Würzburg to mediate a dispute between his cousin Henry of Schweinfurt and Bishop Bernward von Rothenburg of Würzburg, one of whose knights Henry had seized and blinded.Leeper 1940, p. 164.Lechner 1976, p. 54. At a tournament held on 8 July, Leopold was hit in the eye by an arrow directed at his cousin. Two days later, on 10 July 994, Leopold died from his injuries.Thietmar 2001, pp. 166–167. He was buried in Würzburg. In 1015, his son Ernest I, Duke of Swabia, was buried next to his father. In the thirteenth century, their remains were returned to Melk.Leeper 1940, p. 159.

Leopold ruled over the East Mark for eighteen years, had organized and expanded it with great ability, and left behind a margravate that had assumed the character of "an ordered and civilized land". The chronicler Thietmar wrote that no man was wiser that he in all his actions, or of a worthier nature.Thietmar 2001, p. 21. Perhaps the highest testimony to Leopold's life and reputation came from the actions of Emperor Otto III, who immediately invested his son Henry I with his father's margravate.

Although Leopold is not mentioned in the Babenberger Chronicle written by his descendant Otto of Freising—which only starts with Leopold's grandson Adalbert—he is known today as the progenitor of the Babenberg dynasty. Otto of Freising's claim of ancestry to the Franconian Babenbergs, who are remembered for the Babenberger insurgency of the early tenth century, has not been proven, but cannot be completely ruled out.

In 1976, the millennial anniversary of Leopold's appointment as margrave was celebrated as a "Thousand Years of Austria". Celebrations under the same title were held twenty years later at the anniversary of the famous 996 Ostarrîchi document first mentioning the Old German name of Austria.


Leopold married Richardis of Sualafeldgau, the daughter of Erenfried II of Sualafeldgau and the aunt of Adalbero, Duke of Carinthia.Lechner 1976, p. 45. Their marriage produced eight children:

  1. Henry I (died 1018), second Margrave of Austria
  2. Judith
  3. Ernest I (died 1015), Duke of Swabia
  4. Adalbert (985–1055), third Margrave of Austria
  5. Poppo (986–1047), Archbishop of Trier
  6. Kunigunda
  7. Hemma, married Count Rapoto of Dießen
  8. Christina, a nun at Trier
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Living octopus

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