Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto II called the Red, was the third ruler of the Saxon
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 or Ottonian
The Ottonian dynasty was a dynasty of Germanic Kings , named after its first emperor but also known as the Saxon dynasty after the family's origin. The family itself is also sometimes known as the Liudolfings, after its earliest known member Liudolf and one of its primary leading-names...

 dynasty, the son of Otto the Great
Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto I the Great , son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda of Ringelheim, was Duke of Saxony, King of Germany, King of Italy, and "the first of the Germans to be called the emperor of Italy" according to Arnulf of Milan...

 and Adelaide of Italy
Adelaide of Italy
Saint Adelaide of Italy , also called Adelaide of Burgundy, was the second wife of Otto the Great, Holy Roman Emperor...


Early years and co-ruler with Otto I

Born in the year 955, Otto received his education under the care of his uncle, Bruno, archbishop of Cologne, and his illegitimate half-brother, William, archbishop of Mainz
William, Archbishop of Mainz
William was Archbishop of Mainz from 17 December 954 until his death. He was the son of the Emperor Otto I the Great and a Slav mother....

. Needing to put his affairs in order prior to his descent into Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, his father had Otto elected German king at Worms in 961, and crowned at Aachen Cathedral
Aachen Cathedral
Aachen Cathedral, frequently referred to as the "Imperial Cathedral" , is a Roman Catholic church in Aachen, Germany. The church is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe and was known as the "Royal Church of St. Mary at Aachen" during the Middle Ages...

 on May 26, 961. Later, he was crowned joint Emperor at Rome by Pope John XIII
Pope John XIII
Pope John XIII of Crescenzi family served as Pope from October 1, 965, until his death.Born in Rome, he spent his career in the papal court...

 on December 25, 967. Although the nominal co-ruler, he exercised no real authority until the death of his father.

He married Theophanu
Theophanu , also spelled Theophania, Theophana or Theophano, was born in Constantinople, and was the wife of Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor.-Family:...

, niece of the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimisces, in Rome on April 14, 972
Year 972 was a leap year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* The city of Satu Mare, Romania is founded.* Otto II marries Theophanu, Byzantine princess....

. After participating in his father's campaigns in Italy, he returned to Germany and became sole Emperor on the death of his father in May 973 at the age of seventeen, without meeting any opposition. Otto spent his reign continuing his father's policy of strengthening imperial rule in Germany and extending it deeper into Italy.

Rule in Germany

After suppressing a rising in Lorraine
Lorraine (région)
Lorraine is one of the 27 régions of France. The administrative region has two cities of equal importance, Metz and Nancy. Metz is considered to be the official capital since that is where the regional parliament is situated...

, difficulties arose in southern Germany, probably owing to Otto's refusal to grant the duchy of Swabia to Henry II of Bavaria
Henry II, Duke of Bavaria
Henry II , called the Wrangler or the Quarrelsome, in German Heinrich der Zänker, was the son of Henry I and Judith of Bavaria.- Biography :...

. In 974 Henry's mother, Judith, entered into a conspiracy against the Emperor, which included Henry, Bishop Abraham of Freising, the dukes of Bohemia and Poland
History of Poland
The History of Poland is rooted in the arrival of the Slavs, who gave rise to permanent settlement and historic development on Polish lands. During the Piast dynasty Christianity was adopted in 966 and medieval monarchy established...

, and several members of the clergy and the nobility who were discontented by the previous Emperor's policies. The plan was discovered and easily suppressed, however. In the same year, Otto's forces successfully opposed an attempt by Harald I of Denmark
Harald I of Denmark
Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson was the son of King Gorm the Old and of Thyra Dannebod. He died in 985 or 986 having ruled as King of Denmark from around 958 and King of Norway for a few years probably around 970...

 to throw off German overlordship; however, his expedition against the Bohemia
Bohemia is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands. It is located in the contemporary Czech Republic with its capital in Prague...

ns in 975 was a partial failure owing to the outbreak of further trouble in Bavaria. The following year he restored order for the second time in Lorraine and forced Henry II to flee from Regensburg to Bohemia, Bavaria being assigned to his relative Otto of Bavaria. In 977 the king made another expedition into Bohemia, where King Boleslaus II
Boleslaus II of Bohemia
Boleslaus II the Pious was the duke of Bohemia from 972, a member of the Přemyslid dynasty.The son of Boleslaw also called Boleslaus I and Biagota, Boleslaus II became Duke in on his father's death. Boleslaus maintained good relations with the Ottonian German kings, and in 975 supported Otto II...

 promised to return to his earlier allegiance. Also Mieszko I of Poland
Mieszko I of Poland
Mieszko I , was a Duke of the Polans from about 960 until his death. A member of the Piast dynasty, he was son of Siemomysł; grandchild of Lestek; father of Bolesław I the Brave, the first crowned King of Poland; likely father of Świętosława , a Nordic Queen; and grandfather of her son, Cnut the...

 submitted. (See also War of the Three Henries
War of the Three Henries (977-978)
The War of the Three Henries was a brief rebellion of three German leaders, all called Henry, against the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II in 977. While Otto was campaigning against Boleslaus II of Bohemia, a conspiracy arose in Bavaria...


Meanwhile in the west of the kingdom, Otto attempted to quell the ambitions of the great landed magnates by restoring land and privileges to them. In 973 he restored the lands of Reginar IV, Count of Mons
Reginar IV, Count of Mons
Regnier IV, Count of Mons was the son of Reginar III, Count of Hainaut. Lambert I of Leuven was his brother.-History:His father was Count of Hainaut until 958, but fell in disgrace with Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor and lost his County to Godfrey I, Duke of Lower Lorraine.He received the County of...

 and Lambert I of Leuven
Lambert I of Leuven
Lambert I of Leuven nicknamed "The Bearded" was the first Count of Leuven in 1003...

 which his father had confiscated. Then in 977, he appointed Charles
Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine
Charles of Lorraine was the son of Louis IV of France and Gerberga of Saxony and younger brother of King Lothair. He was a sixth generation descendant of Charlemagne...

, the brother of King Lothair of France
Lothair of France
Lothair , sometimes called Lothair IV, was the Carolingian king of West Francia , son of Louis IV and Gerberga of Saxony.-Regency:...

, as Duke of Lower Lotharingia
Lotharingia was a region in northwest Europe, comprising the Low Countries, the western Rhineland, the lands today on the border between France and Germany, and what is now western Switzerland. It was born of the tripartite division in 855, of the kingdom of Middle Francia, itself formed of the...

, which infuriated the French king, who claimed the duchy as his own. After Otto had crushed an attempt by Henry to regain Bavaria, King Lothair of France invaded Lorraine
Lorraine (province)
The Duchy of Upper Lorraine was an historical duchy roughly corresponding with the present-day northeastern Lorraine region of France, including parts of modern Luxembourg and Germany. The main cities were Metz, Verdun, and the historic capital Nancy....

 with an army of 20,000 and occupied the capital Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

 for five days.

Otto retired first to Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

 and then to Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

. Otto’s mother, who was of French origin, sided with Lothair and moved to the court of her brother Conrad
Conrad of Burgundy
Conrad the Peaceful was the king of Burgundy from 937 until his death. He was the son of King Rudolph II, the first king of a united Burgundy and Bertha of Swabia...

 at Bourgogne
Burgundy is one of the 27 regions of France.The name comes from the Burgundians, an ancient Germanic people who settled in the area in early Middle-age. The region of Burgundy is both larger than the old Duchy of Burgundy and smaller than the area ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy, from the modern...

. In September 978, having mustered 30,000 men, Otto retaliated by invading France. He met with little resistance, but sickness among his troops compelled him to raise the siege of Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, and on the return journey the rearguard of his army was destroyed and the baggage seized by the French. An expedition against the Poles was followed by peace with France: Lothair renounced his claim on Lorraine (980), and in exchange Otto recognized the rights of Lothair's son Louis
Louis V of France
Louis V , called the Indolent or the Sluggard , was the King of Western Francia from 986 until his early death...


Affairs in Italy

Otto now felt himself free to travel to Italy. Influenced by his wife who was hostile to the return of the Macedonian Dynasty
Macedonian dynasty
The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder,...

 in the shape of Emperor Basil II
Basil II
Basil II , known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.The first part of his long reign was dominated...

 after the assassination of John I Tzimisces, she persuaded Otto to bring the whole of Italy under the authority of the Western Emperor. The government of Germany was left to arch-chancellor Willigis
Saint Willigis was Archbishop of Mainz from 975 until his death as well as a statesman of the Holy Roman Empire.-Life:...

 and to duke Bernard I of Saxony. He was accompanied by his wife, his son, Otto of Bavaria, the bishops of Worms, Metz and Merseburg and numerous other counts and barons. Crossing the Alps in what is today Switzerland, he reconciled with his mother at Pavia
Pavia , the ancient Ticinum, is a town and comune of south-western Lombardy, northern Italy, 35 km south of Milan on the lower Ticino river near its confluence with the Po. It is the capital of the province of Pavia. It has a population of c. 71,000...

 where he received the Iron Crown of Lombardy
Iron Crown of Lombardy
The Iron Crown of Lombardy is both a reliquary and one of the most ancient royal insignia of Europe. The crown became one of the symbols of the Kingdom of Lombards and later of the medieval Kingdom of Italy...

 before celebrating the Christmas of 980 in Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...


The situation at Rome was chaotic. Pope Benedict VI
Pope Benedict VI
Pope Benedict VI was pope from January 19, 973 to June 974.He was born in Rome as the son of Hildebrand and was chosen with great ceremony and installed as pope under the protection of the Emperor Otto I on January 19, 973. During his pontificate, Benedict VI confirmed the privileges of some of...

, elected by his father, had been imprisoned by the Romans in Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo
The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as the Castel Sant'Angelo, is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, Rome, Italy. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family...

, where he had died in 974. His successor Boniface VII had fled to Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and Benedict VII, former bishop of Sutri, was now pope. Preceded by Benedict, Otto ceremoniously entered Rome on Easter day of 981.

Otto proceeded to hold his court in the ancient Imperial capital, attended by princes and nobles from all parts of western Europe. He was next required to stop the inroads of the Saracen
Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arabs. In Europe during the Middle Ages the term was expanded to include Arabs, and then all who professed the religion of Islam...

s on the Italian mainland and, most of all, the aggressive policy of the Sicilian emir Abu al-Qasim, whose fleet was harassing Apulia and whose troops had invaded Calabria
Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

. As early as 980 he had demanded a Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

n fleet to help him in carrying on his war in the south of Italy, and in September 981 Otto marched into southern Italy. He was first entangled in the quarrels between the local Lombard princes who had divided the area after Pandulf Ironhead
Pandulf Ironhead
Pandulf I Ironhead was the Prince of Benevento and Capua from 943 until his death. He was made Duke of Spoleto and Camerino in 967 and succeeded as Prince of Salerno in 977 or 978...

's death. Otto unsuccessfully besieged Manso I of Amalfi
Manso I of Amalfi
Manso I was the duke of Amalfi and prince of Salerno . He was the son of Duke Sergius I and the greatest independent ruler of Amalfi, which he controlled for nearly half a century...

 in Salerno
Salerno is a city and comune in Campania and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea....

, but in the end obtained the recognition of his authority from all the Lombard principalities. In January 982 the German troops marched towards Byzantine Apulia to annex this region as well to the Western Empire. His descent caused the Byzantine Empire to seek the assistance of the Saracens to hold onto their possessions in southern Italy.

Otto besieged and captured Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 in March 982, and when he moved from Taranto he initially defeated a Saracen army in early July. However, he soon met with a severe defeat near Stilo
Battle of Stilo
The Battle of Stilo or Cape Colonna was fought on 13 or 14 July 982 near Crotone in Calabria between the forces of the Emperor Otto II and his Italo-Lombard allies and those of the Kalbid emir of Sicily, Abu al-Qasim...

 in July 982 (in which, among the others, al-Qasim was killed). Without revealing his identity, the Emperor escaped on a Greek vessel to Rossano. He returned to Rome on November 12, 982.

Under pressure from the Saxon magnates, who were concerned over the invasion of northern Germany by the Danes, Otto was forced to hold a diet
Diet (assembly)
In politics, a diet is a formal deliberative assembly. The term is mainly used historically for the Imperial Diet, the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire, and for the legislative bodies of certain countries.-Etymology:...

 at Verona
Verona ; German Bern, Dietrichsbern or Welschbern) is a city in the Veneto, northern Italy, with approx. 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of North-Eastern Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona...

 in May 983. Largely attended by German and Italian princes, he had Otto III
Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto III , a King of Germany, was the fourth ruler of the Saxon or Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire. He was elected King in 983 on the death of his father Otto II and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 996.-Early reign:...

 confirmed as king and prepared a new campaign against the Saracens. He also obtained a settlement with the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

, whose help was much needed after the defeat of Stilo. Proceeding to Rome, Otto secured the election of Peter of Pavia as Pope John XIV
Pope John XIV
Pope John XIV was Pope from December, 983 to August 20, 984, successor to Pope Benedict VII He was born at Pavia, and before his elevation to the papal chair was imperial chancellor of Emperor Otto II , and was the latter's second choice.His original name was Pietro Canepanova, but he took the...


Just as the news reached him of a general rising of the Slav tribes on the eastern frontier of Germany, he died in his palace in Rome on December 7, 983. He was survived by the future Emperor Otto III and three daughters. He was buried in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

, and when the church was rebuilt his remains were removed to the crypt, where his tomb can still be seen.


Otto was a man of small stature, by nature brave and impulsive, and by training an accomplished knight. He was generous to the church and aided the spread of Christianity in many ways. According to one of the chroniclers of the time, he was given the epithet of the "Red" when in 981 he invited the most troublesome of the Roman families to a banquet, and proceeded to butcher them at dinner. More sympathetic chroniclers said that it was due to his reddish complexion.

Marriage and issue

On April 14, 972, Otto II married Theophanu
Theophanu , also spelled Theophania, Theophana or Theophano, was born in Constantinople, and was the wife of Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor.-Family:...

. They had the following children:
  • Sophie I, Abbess of Gandersheim and Essen
    Essen Abbey
    Essen Abbey was a collegiate foundation for women of the high nobility in Essen. It was founded in about 845 by the Saxon Altfrid , later Bishop of Hildesheim and saint, near a royal estate called Astnidhi, which later gave its name to the religious house and to the town...

    , born 975, died 1039.
  • Adelheid I, Abbess of Quedlinburg
    Adelheid I, Abbess of Quedlinburg
    Adelaide I was Abbess of Quedlinburg and Gandersheim, as well as highly influential kingmaker of medieval Germany.- Early life :...

     and Gandersheim, born November or December 977, died 1040.
  • Matilda
    Matilda of Germany (979–1025)
    Matilda of Germany or Matilde of Saxony Was the third daughter of Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Empress Theophanu.- Life :...

    , born 979, died 1025; who married Ezzo, count palatine
    Count palatine
    Count palatine is a high noble title, used to render several comital styles, in some cases also shortened to Palatine, which can have other meanings as well.-Comes palatinus:...

     of Lotharingia
    Lotharingia was a region in northwest Europe, comprising the Low Countries, the western Rhineland, the lands today on the border between France and Germany, and what is now western Switzerland. It was born of the tripartite division in 855, of the kingdom of Middle Francia, itself formed of the...

  • Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor
    Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor
    Otto III , a King of Germany, was the fourth ruler of the Saxon or Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire. He was elected King in 983 on the death of his father Otto II and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 996.-Early reign:...

    , born June or July 980
  • A daughter, a twin to Otto, who died before October 8, 980



  • Reuter, Timothy, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. III: c. 900-c. 1024, Cambridge University Press, 2000
  • Duckett, Eleanor (1968). Death and Life in the Tenth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Comyn, Robert. History of the Western Empire, from its Restoration by Charlemagne to the Accession of Charles V, Vol. I. 1851
  • Sismondi, J. C. L. History of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages. 1906

External links

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