On 25 December 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne as Emperor, reviving the title in Western Europe after more than three centuries. The title continued in the Carolingian family until 888 and from 896 to 899, after which it was contested by the rulers of Italy in a series of civil wars until the death of the last Italian claimant, Berengar, in 924. The title was revived in 962 when Otto I was crowned emperor, fashioning himself as the successor of Charlemagne and beginning a continuous existence of the empire for over eight centuries. Some historians refer to the coronation of Charlemagne as the origin of the empire, while others prefer the coronation of Otto I as its beginning.Scholars generally concur, however, in relating an evolution of the institutions and principles constituting the empire, describing a gradual assumption of the imperial title and role.
The precise term "Holy Roman Empire" was not used until the 13th century, but the concept of translatio imperii was fundamental to the prestige of the emperor, the notion that he held supreme power inherited from the emperors of Rome. The office of Holy Roman Emperor was traditionally elective, although frequently controlled by dynasties. The German prince-electors, the highest ranking noblemen of the empire, usually elected one of their peers as "King of the Romans", and he would later be crowned emperor by the Pope; the tradition of papal coronations was discontinued in the 16th century. The empire never achieved the extent of political unification formed in France, evolving instead into a decentralized, limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities, and other domains. The power of the emperor was limited, and while the various princes, lords, and kings of the empire were vassals and subjects who owed the emperor their allegiance, they also possessed an extent of privileges that gave them de facto sovereignty within their territories. Emperor Francis II dissolved the empire on 6 August 1806, after its defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz.