Theophano Sklerina


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Otto II

Theophano Sklerina

  • Born: 955, Constantinople, Constantinople, Turkey
  • Marriage: Otto II on 14 Apr 972 in Rome, Rome, Italy
  • Died: 991 at age 36

  General Notes:

A Byzantine Princess who at the age of seventeen was given to the young Saxon emperor Otto II and crowned Coimperatrix as the only German Empress and Consors Regni. Though elegant and a delicate beauty, she was high-spirited and a superb politician who brought with her an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of court life. When her husband died, leaving her with a three year old son, she took the title "Imperator Augustus" and defended her son Otto III's title for seven years from those who challenged him. For seven years Theophano with tact and firmness administered the empire in her son's name. She was called by a contemporary "a woman of discreet and firm character...with truly masculine strength." Sometimes she used the male title "imperator augustus, and lived (ca.955-991)

Theophanu (960 - June 15, 991) (Greek:"Te?fa??" Theophano), also spelled Theophania, was born in Constantinople, and was the wife of Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor.

Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor had requested a Greek princess for his son, Otto, to seal a treaty between the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Theophanu duly arrived in 972, arriving in grand style with a magnificent escort and bearing great treasure. However, according to the chronicler Thietmar, she was not the virgo desiderata, the Imperial princess, that was expected. Theophanu is identified in the marriage contract as the neptis (niece or granddaughter) of Emperor John I Tzimisces. At one time it was believed Theophanu was the daughter of the Emperor Romanus III, but no mention is made of her being porphyrogenita, purple-born, nor are her parents identified. It is unlikely that Theophanu was the daughter of any emperor -- the current theory is that her father was Konstantinos Skleros (brother of the pretender Bardos Skleros) and her mother was Sophia Phokaina (niece of Emperor Nicephorus II and the sister of Tzimisces' wife Maria Skleraina).

Theophanu and Otto were married by Pope John XIII on April 14, 972 at Saint Peter's and she was crowned the same day in Rome. Their children were:

Adelaide, Abbess of Quedlinburg, born November or December 977
Sophia, Abbess of Gandersheim, born 978
Matilda of Saxony, born 978
Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, born June or July 980
A daughter, a twin to Otto, who died before October 8, 980
Theophanu accompanied her husband on all his journeys, and issued diplomas in her own name as Empress. It is known she was frequently at odds with her mother-in-law, Adelaide of Italy, and this caused an estrangement between Otto II and Adelaide. According to Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, Adelaide was very happy when "that Greek woman" died. Albert of Metz describes Theophanu as being an unpleasant and talkative woman. Theophanu was also criticized for introducing luxurious garments and jewelry into Germany. The theologian Peter Damian even asserts that Theophanu had a love affair with John Philagathos, a Greek monk who briefly reigned as Antipope John XVI.

Otto II died suddenly on December 7, 983 and was buried in Rome. That Christmas Theophanu had their three-year-old son crowned as Otto III, with herself ruling as Empress Regent on his behalf. Henry II, Duke of Bavaria seized Otto in spring 984, but was forced to surrender the child to his mother. With the cooperation of Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz, and Hildebald, Bishop of Worms, Theophanu reigned until her death in 991. She was buried in the church of Saint Pantaleon at Cologne. The chronicler Thietmar eulogized her as follows: "Though [Theophanu] was of the weak sex she possessed moderation, trustworthiness, and -- which is not often found in Greece -- good manners. In this way she protected with male vigilance the royal power for her son, friendly with all those who were honest, but with terrifying superiority against rebels."

Because Otto III was still a child, his grandmother Adelaide of Italy took over the regency until Otto III became old enough to rule on his own

From Quedlinburg homepage:
She was born around 960 in the then-called East Roman Empire, which since the 17th century is being called the Byzantine Empire. She was the daughter of Constantine Skleros and his wife Sophia Phokaina, and a niece of the Byzantine Emperor Johannes I Tzimisces. In 972 at the age of 12 she married Otto II, the successor to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. She was crowned empress on the day of her wedding and the fact that her name often appears on scripts connected with Otto II shows that she took lively interest in politics.

While she and Otto II mainly resided in Italy in Otto’s later years, the successor to the throne, Otto III, was snatched by his uncle, Henry the Quarrelsome, who demanded right of succession in the case of Otto II’s death. This happened in 983, and Theophanu and her mother-in-law Adelheid rushed back to Germany to retrieve the crown prince from the powers of Henry. In 985 Theophanu was finally officially declared Empress regent for her son. At the same time her brothers ruled the East Roman Empire in Constantinople, and for a blink in world history the fate of both East and West Empires were in the hands of the same family. Theophanu remained Empress regent until her untimely death in 991. The fact that she has official documents created in her own name breaks the rules of power of medieval Empresses of her time. In Byzantine tradition the signs documents as Emperor instead on Empress - her signature on a document from 990 reads Theophanius gratia divina imperator augustus - Theophanius, Divine Emperor by God’s Grace.

Theophanu died in 991 after a short illness, aged just 31, and as per her request she was buried in the abbey St Pantaleon in Cologne. After her death her mother-in-law Adelheid was regent for Otto III until he became of age.

The time of Theophanu’s reign and thereafter saw a massive influence of Byzantine art and culture. It is believed that the tradition of Nikolaus in Germany (a sort of pre-Christmas party with gifts mainly for the children) started with Theophanu as well.

St Pantaleon was one of Theophanu’s favourite saints, this she requested to be entombed in his abbey. In 1962 a lead urn with the few remains of the late Empress was put into a sarcophagus made of white marble, which has the following inscription: Domina Theophanu, Imperatrix, uxor et mater Imperatoris, quae basilicam sancti Pantaleonis gummo honore coluit et rebus propriis munificenter cumulavit, hic sepulcrum sibi constitui iussit (Empress Theophanu, wife of an Emperor and mother of and Emperor, who conceded to this church special favours and granted it rich gifts from her posessions, requested to be buried here).

Theophano married Otto II, son of Emperor Otto I "The Great" of the Holy Roman Empire, King Of The Germans and Adelheid Princess of Burgundy, Empress Of Roman Empire, on 14 Apr 972 in Rome, Rome, Italy. (Otto II was born in 955, died on 7 Dec 983 in Rome, Rome, Italy and was buried in Rome, Rome, Italy.)

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