Holy Roman Empire, a realm in medieval and early modern times that consisted primarily of Germany and that part of Italy governed by the German ruler. The empire, which lasted from 962 to 1806, was in theory a revival of the Western Roman Empire—the political counterpart of the Roman Catholic Church.

Holy Roman Empire.Holy Roman Empire. This map shows the Holy Roman empire at its height. During the 1000's, the Holy Roman Empire extended from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

The emperor generally dominated the various states and principalities that made up the German nation (which included present-day Austria, the Czech Republic, part of Poland, Luxembourg, and other bordering areas) as well as northern Italy. The emperor was chosen by electors representing certain states and dioceses, but the position tended to become hereditary, as the electors usually selected the ruler's natural heir. He customarily was crowned emperor by the pope in Rome.

Holy Roman Empire flag.Holy Roman Empire flag. The Holy Roman Empire flag flew in what is now Germany from the 1200's until 1806. It features a large bird on a yellow background.

The emperor's power depended largely on his personal and family inheritances, and on alliances. Charles V, for example, when elected emperor in 1519, was also king of Spain and his domain included the Netherlands, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Spanish America. His son, Philip, was the husband of the ruling queen of England (Mary I). Charles gave Austria to his brother Ferdinand, who was also king of Bohemia and of Hungary and succeeded him as emperor. Spain, however, went to his son, who became Philip II of Spain.