To the empire the long contest was as disastrous as to the papacy. When Frederick II, at one time the most splendid monarch of Europe, died in 1250, a crushed and defeated man, Germany sank into such anarchy as it had not known since the days of the Hunnish invasion. “When the Emperor was condemned by the Church,” says an ancient chronicle, “robbers made merry over their booty. Ploughshares were beaten into swords, reaping hooks into lances. Men went everywhere with flint and steel, setting in a blaze whatsoever they found.” The period from 1254 to 1273 is known as the “Great Interregnum” in German history. There was no emperor, no authority, and every little lord fought and robbed as he pleased. The cities, driven to desperation, raised armed forces of their own and united in leagues, which later developed into the great Hanseatic League, more powerful than neighboring kings. The anarchy spread to Italy. Bands of “Free Companies” roamed from place to place, plundering, fighting battles, storming walled cities, and at last the Pope sent thoroughly frightened word to Germany that the lords must elect an emperor to keep order or he would appoint one himself.
The Church had learned its lesson, that without a strong civil government it could not exist. And perhaps the government had at least partly seen what later ages learned more fully, that without religion it could not exist. Church and state were gentler to each other after that. They realized that, whatever their quarrels, they must stand or fall together.
So, in 1273, it was the Pope’s insistence that led to the selection of another emperor, Rudolph of Hapsburg. He was one of the lesser nobles, elected by the great dukes so that he should be too feeble to interfere with them. But he did interfere, and overthrew Ottocar of Bohemia, the strongest of them all, and restored some measure of law and tranquillity to distracted Germany. His son he managed to establish as Duke of Austria, and eventually the empire became hereditary in the family; so that the Hapsburgs remained rulers of Germany until Napoleon, that upsetter of so many comfortable sinecures, drove them out. Of Austria they are emperors even to this day.
As though poor, dishevelled Germany had not troubles sufficient of her own, she suffered also in this century from the last of the great Asiatic invasions. About the year 1200 a remarkable military leader, Genghis Khan, appeared among the Tartars, a Mongol race of Northern Asia. He organized their wild tribes and started them on a bloody career of rapine and conquest.
He became emperor of China; his hordes spread over India and Persia. In 1226 they entered Russia, and after an heroic struggle the Russian duchies and republics were forced into submission to the Tartar yoke. For nearly two centuries Russia became part, not of Europe, but of Asia, and her civilization received an oriental tinge which it has scarce yet outgrown.